Inspiring people: true Aussies both

Two from last night’s Australian of the Year Award – with an eye to the future.

Young Australian of the Year 2013: Akram Azimi

"This bloke is a legend already," says one commenter.

Akram Azimi is a dedicated mentor to young Indigenous people.  Arriving in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan he went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. An outstanding student, he topped the tertiary entrance exam scores among his classmates. He’s now studying a triple major – law, science and arts – at the University of Western Australia. Intent on giving back to his adopted country, Akram uses his leadership and pastoral skills to help young people in remote and rural Western Australia.  In 2011 he co-founded a student-run initiative I am the other set up to raise awareness about Indigenous issues in universities. His philanthropic roles have included working with True Blue Dreaming, which helps disadvantaged remote Indigenous communities. For three years, Akram mentored young Indigenous people in the Looma community in the Kimberley region, and he has mentored primary school students in the small farming community of Wyalkatchem, in WA’s wheat belt. Akram is also mentoring a Special Olympics athlete to help raise community awareness of disability issues.

See also The Big Interview with Akram Azimi.

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Local Hero: Shane Phillips

REDFERN: According to the Sydney Morning Herald’s (Sydney) magazine, Shane Phillips of the Tribal Warrior Association is one of Sydney’s 100 most influential people writes Liesa Clague in the February 2012 edition of the South Sydney Herald.

It was an immense pleasure speaking to Shane about growing up in Redfern – what has inspired him with regards to his work now, and recalling, when he was young, the key events and people who have made him the leader he is today.

Shane (a Bundjalung, Wonnarua and Eora man) was born in Redfern, and grew up surrounded by role models such as Mum Shirl, Charlie Perkins, Joyce Clague, and other Aboriginal men and women who have contributed to the fight for equal opportunity, the right to be counted as part of the wider community and to help support Aboriginal people. Shane talked about the environment of Redfern in the ’70s and ’80s, which were “good times”.

Much has changed since then. Shane looks forward to new life for “working families” on The Block, better relationships with the police and among all people of good will in the community.

What inspires Shane is supporting his family and being true to them as well as doing the best he can for his community.

He believes that you need good work ethics and to follow through by doing the best job you can.

Shane started work at the age of 14, after being told by his Dad he had to work. The work experience for Shane was “tough but fair”, and he learnt a lot from the people he worked with and for. He learned there was value and pride in contributing to the greater good.

Shane recalls, when he was 14 years old, assisting another lad to break into a car. The other lad ran away but Shane was caught by police. He recalls that the police officer “kicked me up the bum” and “told me he didn’t want me being involved in any stealing again”. This event shaped Shane to realise that he did not want to do anything to get himself into trouble. “I respected that he gave me that chance – that he showed me that respect,” Shane said.

Being there for his family, maintaining humility and integrity, and developing programs that support young people in the community to achieve their goals are very important to Shane – more important than any accolades or awards.

Source: South Sydney Herald February 2012 www.southsydneyherald.com.au

See more from redwatch.

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See SBS video The Block for a profile of Shane.

In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

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The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.

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Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

sometimes
i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”

tomorrow

i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me
abo
schizo

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out

sometimes

i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out

sometimes

this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
dressmaking
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
tomorrow
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black

****

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1a

Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

Archie Roach at Cootamundra Girl’s 100 years playing ‘Mum’s Song’ by Kutcha Edwards.

Full of hatred and full of anger
Which I needed to release
But with love and understanding
I’ve moved on and I’m now at peace

Late at night I still remember
I would cry myself to sleep
The scars they hurt no longer
But the memories are deep

As we come up to Australia Day tomorrow it is time to reflect soberly and honestly on the full picture of our country’s history.

Dhakiyarr vs The King on NITV last night

In Three documentaries–one of them a surprise thanks to NITV and How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits… earlier this month I recommended Channel 34 should become a regular part of our viewing. Indeed, I can think of few better ways to celebrate Australia Day than to go on over to Channel 34 as much as possible. Don’t miss the News at 5.30 pm. It’s a revelation.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Jeremy Geia is a regular on the news. He is really very good. He is also an artist.

Last night NITV showed the 2004 documentary Dhakiyarr vs The King.

In his acceptance speech when the film won the Audiovisual History prize at the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2004, the producer of the film, Graeme Isaac remarked, "It has been said that history is written by he who holds the pen, but much of the Aboriginal history of Australia since white settlement has been unwritten history, a history conveyed orally rather than through books and letters. The court case of Takiyar vs The King and the following appeal to the High Court is a famous part of Australian legal history, often taught to undergraduate law students, but Dhakiyarr’s story has never really been told from the point of view of his own people. We fashioned this film project to rectify that imbalance, and to fill in the gaps in the white history created by our ignorance of the Aboriginal oral tradition. We wanted the film to be a mouthpiece for Dhakiyarr’s descendants to tell their side of the story from their own perspective.

They told it not just in words but also with their painting and their ceremony. And in commemorating Dhakiyarr’s memory in the way they did in the High Court in Darwin, with their generous offer of reconciliation with the system and the society that took their leader’s life, they have also changed the feelings and the views of many others, effectively becoming not just tellers of history but also makers of history" We made our film specifically to present the point of view of a participant, to enrich our understanding of a story that is important not just to the Yolngu but to all Australians, one of the great iconic stories of our frontier history – not a ‘black’ or a ‘white’ history but a shared history, where both sides must understand and learn from the other in order to glimpse the full story.

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Dhakiyarr

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When men of the law meet.

Northern Territory Supreme Court Justices Brian Martin (left) and David Angel (right) and High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson (second from right) meet Yolngu Law Man Wuyal Wirrpanda.
Date: Unknown
Photographer: Peter Eve

Just inspiring.

In 2004 my former SBHS student Sacha Molitorisz had this to say:

Tom Murray and Allan Collins have a remarkable story, and they’d prefer to let someone else tell it. It’s about a blackfella called Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda from north-east Arnhem Land.

In 1933 this Yolngu tribal leader came across a policeman who had broken Aboriginal law by trespassing on Yolngu land. He had also chained up Dhakiyarr’s wife. In accordance with black law, Dhakiyarr speared the policeman, Constable Albert McColl, through the leg. McColl died.

The retribution, in accordance with white law, was equally harsh. On the advice of a missionary, Dhakiyarr travelled to Darwin to face the Northern Territory Supreme Court, where he was sentenced to death for murder.

After lobbying by academics and unions, however, the High Court overturned the decision, ordering Dhakiyarr be freed. At the time, it was a hugely controversial result, recognising Aborigines should be treated equally before the law. "It was an amazing decision," Murray says.

But the Yolngu celebrations were short-lived: as soon as Dhakiyarr was released, he disappeared. Rumour had it he was killed, possibly by vengeful policemen, or by vigilantes. His remains have never been found.

Murray, a Manly resident with a deep love for Arnhem Land culture, has long been fascinated with Dhakiyarr. "I’ve spent a bit of time up there. I’d heard the story in whispers. It was such a significant trial of the time, so I’d read bits and pieces. And I thought to myself, ‘I bet Dhakiyarr’s family have an amazing story.’ When I went to meet them, this raw, unreconciled story of wanting to know what happened to Dhakiyarr revealed itself."

When Dhakiyarr’s descendants reconciled with the McColl family, Murray decided to make a film about them. As an experienced maker of radio documentaries who lacked film experience, he teamed up with Allan Collins, the cinematographer of Beneath Clouds.

Funding proved hard to raise – until Film Australia’s National Interest Program saw the project’s significance. So filming began, with the focus on two of Dhakiyarr’s grandsons, Wuyal and Dhukal.

"In the Yolngu way, they call themselves sons of Dhakiyarr," says Murray. "To us they’re his grandsons. The film is about Wuyal’s and Dhukal’s attempts to reconcile this raw wound after 70 years."

Last year, Wuyal and Dhukal sent a video letter to Clare Martin, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, asking for the return of Dhakiyarr’s remains. Alternatively, the brothers asked to hold a ceremony at Darwin’s Supreme Court, where Dhakiyarr was sentenced to death. Martin agreed to the latter, and the ensuing scenes – featuring a meeting of Dhakiyarr’s descendants and McColl’s family – form the climax of the finished film, Dhakiyarr vs The King, a powerful piece of work. Last week, the filmmakers learnt they’ve been nominated in the best doco category at this year’s Dendy Awards, scheduled during the Sydney Film Festival.

The Supreme Court ceremony had a reconciling effect on the Wirrpandas and the McColls. As Joan McColl of Narracan wrote to The Age last week: "The Wirrpanda family involved the McColl family in a wonderful healing Wukidi ceremony during which they apologised for Albert’s death and presented to Alan McColl, his nearest living male relative, a ceremonial headpiece. In turn, gifts were presented from the McColl family and the two families now are in close, friendly contact."

Says Murray: "I think it’s been a profound experience for the McColl family. Alan McColl is from Gippsland. He said to me a year ago he’d never even met a black person, and now he has a family of them."

In the process, the McColls have adopted a sporting legend: 24-year-old David Wirrpunda, a star with AFL team the West Coast Eagles. He spells his name differently, but he is Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda’s great-grandson. Wuyal is his dad. Yesterday, Murray, Wuyal and Dhukal went to a West Coast game in Melbourne.

"It’s the first time Wuyal has seen his son play football since he was a kid. David lives in Perth, and Wuyal is the leader of a community in north-east Arnhem Land," says Murray.

This week, Murray returns to his hometown for the Sydney big screen premiere of his film at the Chauvel in Paddington. Wuyal and Dhukal will attend. "It takes courage to acknowledge the past and to apologise, as Wuyal did to the McColls. That’s been missing from the national debate, where we don’t seem to have that leadership. Dhakiyarr going to face white law, that’s showing leadership … With Wuyal, his leadership was made very clear. He showed dignity and courage, and I think that’s what people are responding to. And the same is true of Alan McColl – the McColls were willing to reconcile their own past."

One of the film’s biggest strengths is that it lets the Wirrpandas tell their own story. "Where there is narration, the two brothers narrate," says Murray. "And I think the film was really affirming for them, especially now so many people are saying to them, ‘You’ve done something really important for the Aboriginal debate. You’ve told a really important story.’

"After the screenings, people have been saying that it’s the first time they’ve been given the privilege of gaining insight into an Aboriginal community, unmitigated by a white voice trying to explain it."

It will no doubt be repeated. Don’t miss it.

Mostly Australian…

First something that includes but goes beyond our patch: the annual summary State of the Climate Global Analysis 2012 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Climatic Data Center (USA) is now available.

Global Highlights

  • The year 2012 was the 10th warmest year since records began in 1880. The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). This marks the 36th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above average. Currently, the warmest year on record is 2010, which was 0.66°C (1.19°F) above average. Including 2012, all 12 years to date in the 21st century (2001–2012) rank among the 14 warmest in the 133-year period of record. Only one year during the 20th century—1998—was warmer than 2012.
  • Separately, the 2012 global average land surface temperature was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above the 20th century average of 8.5°C (47.3°F) and ranked as the seventh warmest year on record.
  • La Niña, which is defined by cooler-than-normal waters in the eastern and central equatorial Pacific Ocean that affect weather patterns around the globe, was present during the first three months of 2012. The weak-to-moderate La Niña dissipated in the spring and was replaced by ENSO-neutral conditions for the remainder of the year. When compared to previous La Niña years, the 2012 global surface temperature was the warmest observed during such a year; 2011 was the previous warmest La Niña year on record.
  • The 2012 global average ocean temperature was 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the 20thcentury average of 16.1°C (60.9°F) and ranked as the 10th warmest year on record. It was also the warmest year on record among all La Niña years. The three warmest annual ocean surface temperatures occurred in 2003, 1998, and 2010—all warm phase El Niño years.
  • Following the two wettest years on record (2010 and 2011), 2012 saw near average precipitation on balance across the globe. However, as ia typical, precipitation varied greatly from region to region.

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Bring that right back home, perhaps…  You recall earlier this month Flying Fox Dreaming–or nightmare?  Here is a follow-up from today’s Illawarra Mercury:

The region’s budding flying fox population was not immune to Friday’s scorching weather, as dozens of bats died in the heat.

WIRES volunteers spent hours on Saturday disposing of nearly 50 dead grey-haired flying foxes after they died in the hot weather.

The colony, numbering tens of thousands, had taken up a summer spot in a patch of bushland just north of the Figtree freeway exit…

WIRES Chairman Sam Joukador said volunteers had removed a wheelbarrow full of the dead bats and expected to find more on the other side of the freeway exit.

"The heat just brought a lot of them down … they can’t handle the hot weather," he said.

"During the last heatwave, we had the same problem but this time, the weather was a lot more intense … if it had lasted more than one day, we would have lost about 90 per cent of the colony.

"We found a lot of them in the creek; they’d drowned while they were trying to get some water, they can’t just take off and fly from a creek like that, they need to be up high.

"Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do … it’s just nature taking its course."…

On ABC News 24 yesterday afternoon was a pleasant surprise.

When Sydney-based Scott Bevan arrives in Newcastle to visit family and friends, he releases an audible sigh. ‘‘It’s that exhalation of pure comfort … aaaaah … I’m home now and I’m fine,’’ he says, laughing. Until 1993, when the intrepid journalist left town to pursue career opportunities, home was here in the Hunter (he returned in 2001 for a year with wife Jo to write) and even now, when asked where he is from, Bevan replies with great affection and pride, ‘‘Newcastle’’. ‘‘Some nearest and dearest correct me and say, ‘Well, that’s not true any more’, but yes it is. I am from Newcastle in my heart and soul.’’

That passion for his birthplace and a love of history motivated Bevan, who now works for ABC News 24, to embark in February 2011 on an ambitious and meaningful adventure, picking up where he had left off a decade earlier. ‘‘Back in 2001, I wrote a series for the Newcastle Herald about a canoe trip I did with Jo down the Hunter River, starting just below Glenbawn Dam,’’ he recalls. ‘‘Then I went overseas for work [Bevan became the ABC’s Moscow correspondent] but often while I was away I was reminded of the river and I felt strongly about revisiting it with the view to writing a book so I could reach a wider audience. When we came back to Australia, I talked to ABC Books and they were interested.’’

It still took a little while for Bevan’s resolve to turn into action. ‘‘When I got back from Russia and told my dear mate [film director] Bruce Beresford about my plan, he said, ‘Gee, I hope you don’t die’. I told him it was safe and he said, ‘No, I don’t mean that. I hope you don’t die of boredom’. [Laughs] And then I launched into a defence of the area and why it’s so wonderful. I knew I had to get going.’’

After visiting by foot the three streamlets in the Barrington Tops that form the beginning of the Hunter River, Bevan explores the Packers’ 27,000-hectare estate Ellerston before starting his paddling from the White family’s famous Belltrees property.

Had much changed in the decade since his last journey? ‘‘The main thing that struck me was how many areas along the river were unkempt, [with] weeds having taken over. In certain parts it may be because more and more land is no longer primarily used for agriculture, but is tied up with the mining industry.

‘‘That’s not to say mines don’t consider that stuff, but if you’re on the land, day in and day out, and it’s part of who you are and what you are, then you’re going to be more mindful of that aspect. There were parts that were like paddling through South-East Asia because of the profusion of bamboo and weeds.’’

Mining had also increased its reach. ‘‘In 2001, I remember being surprised by how close in places mining does come to the river, so this time, I was more prepared for the shock, but it is cheek by jowl and the mining industry is right there beside the river.

‘‘In places, it is an extraordinary presence when you paddle around a bend and see a range of overburden towering over the river. I felt a sense of loss; you couldn’t just do the Huck Finn thing and paddle down the river and wander up to the farmhouse and speak to the local farmer and say, ‘G’day, can I camp on your land?’ There are stretches now where that isn’t possible.’’

The effect of being a decade older also hit the 47-year-old hard. ‘‘It was a reaffirmation that I’m ageing,’’ laughs the father of five-year-old twin boys. ‘‘You wouldn’t think there would be much difference in 10 years, but there is. My muscles were testament to that every morning I woke up in a tent aching. I wasn’t prepared for feeling so old!’’

Bevan is an evocative and skilful writer with a journalist’s eye for detail. He captures the subtle characteristics of the people and landscape that enriched his adventure. Colourful historical detail is threaded through his account, as is personal reflection. ‘‘You paddle a river and it forces you to look around,’’ Bevan says. ‘‘It also allowed me to meditate on those two questions I set out to answer with the book – who am I and where am I from?’’

from the Newcastle Herald. See also HarperCollins on the book.

Very evocative for me as it showed many places my mother had lived in and often spoke about. See More tales from my mother 4 — Dunolly NSW — and conclusions.

Finally, here’s a thought if you are wondering what to watch on Australia Day: why not be as Australian as you possibly can get? Watch NITV.  Somewhere in there is some footage of 1988. Perhaps I may even see myself!  I will certainly see places, things and people I saw then or have seen since.

Last night NITV showed an excellent movie, Radiance. See my 2007 post One of our stories well told: Radiance (1998). Stephen Page on Talking Heads.

Three documentaries–one of them a surprise thanks to NITV

No matter how you look at it, the key fact in this country’s history since the 18th century is dispossession. On the other hand none of the current possessors/inhabitants is going anywhere.  That’s the paradox we have inherited and have to deal with.

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And then the strangers came…

On Sunday I watched the excellent episode of The First Australians dealing with Western Australia: Jandamarra, the revolting A O Neville, Moore River and so on.  Here were events from my grandparents’ generation, then from my parents’ generation and indeed my own lifetime. A fitting climax to the episode, even allowing for the disappointments one feels at times, was the Kevin Rudd apology of 2008.

In Redfern February 2008 – I was there.

Then last night ABC1 showed Coniston.

In 1928, following the murder of a white dingo trapper, Central Australia would witness the last known massacre of it’s indigenous people. With over one hundred killed during a series of punitive expeditions, now known as the Coniston Massacre, many lived to tell of the wholesale slaughter of innocent people. For the first time those who survived this bloody episode get to tell their side of the story in this new documentary on the Coniston Massacre co-produced by PAW Media and Rebel Films.

Not a single academic historian in sight – just the descendants of survivors or, indeed, actual survivors in some cases. Compelling stuff, and all happening in my parents’ lifetime. Just as my mother’s stories of the same years in another part of the country command my respect so, more so even, do these.

But of course Australia is far from the only country whose history is rooted in dispossession or where that dispossession has been followed by greater or lesser death of peoples and cultures and languages. So to North America, and the USA in particular. Last night NITV surprised with the showing of a 2012 German documentary, Bury My Heart in Dresden.

A Catholic cemetery in Dresden. A grey and weathered gravestone protrudes from the snow. At its foot stands a small American flag. The inscription on the old stone reveals who was laid to rest here in 1914: Edward Two Two, Sioux chief. Strange. How did one of the Sioux Indians, whose home is North America, end up in Dresden of all places? And why was he buried here?

Bettina Renner pursues this question, rummaging in archives and travelling to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation to visit Edward Two Two’s old homeland. Edward Two Two came to Germany as part of one of the so-called “human zoos”. In those days, people who fulfilled the local audience’s desire for the exotic would be taken from all over the world and presented in elaborately choreographed shows. The participants, who were sometimes paraded through town, would attract a lot of attention as soon as they arrived. Edward Two Two initially came with his wife and a granddaughter to Hagenbeck, based in Hamburg, later moving on to Dresden’s Sarrasani circus. At the time, Indians were the biggest attraction. Living in tepees in front of the circus tent, they were required to wear a feathered headdress and traditional clothing at all times as well as dance and sing. Flocking past, the large audiences loved them. They corresponded to a common, romanticised image of the Indians. Yet in their homeland the reality had long been far different. From their free life on the prairie, the Native Americans were forced into reservations and subjected to a programme of re-education. The consequences were fatal; hunger and disease were rife. How are things today in the reservation Edward Two Two left behind for Germany at the beginning of the last century? Bettina Renner embarks upon a journey, meeting descendants of Edward Two Two. Gradually she comes closer to the answer of why the Lakota Sioux Edward Two Two, who in real life was never a chief, was determined that his final resting place be in Dresden soil.

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“Chief” Edward Two Two of the Latoka Sioux

See also "Bury My Heart in Dresden" Makes North American Premiere in Chicago and Dokumentarfilmerin Bettina Renner — Ein Sioux in Sachsen.

And dispossession takes many guises.

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Click to see who, what and where.

Dispossession always comes at a cost – to the dispossessors as well as to the dispossessed.

Consider….

1. You know where you are…

Australia has been inhabited for at least 50,000 years. It was first inhabited by the remote Asian ancestors of the current Australian Aboriginal people. Australia was not discovered by Europeans until the 17th century


1768
Captain James Cook voyage of discovery in the Endeavour

1769
Captain James Cook reached Tahiti on 3 June

1770
Captain James Cook discovers New South Wales and takes possession of the Australian land in the name of Great Britain

1771
Captain James Cook returns to England

1772
13 July: Captain James Cook embarks on the voyage of discovery in the Resolution

1776
12 July: Captain James Cook with the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery look for the Northwest passage but bad weather drives him back to Hawaii

1779
14 February: Captain Cook is killed by natives

1779
Banks suggests founding a convict settlement at Botany Bay.

1783
Plans for the colonization in New South Wales are made in the UK

1788
Foundation of Sydney.

1795
1795-1796: George Bass and Matthew Flinders make voyages in the Tom Thumb

1798
George Bass discovers the Bass Strait and Westernport.

1803
Matthew Flinders circumnavigates Australia.

And so on…

2. Where I now sit there were people living, breathing and walking about 20,000 years ago and more. According to a family tradition I had ancestors among them.

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60,000 years ago:  Age of Lake Mungo 3 human remains (age range between 56,000 and 68,000 years), south-western NSW, 987 km west of Sydney. Footprints discovered at Lake Mungo are believed to be 23,000 years old….

22,000 years ago: Occupation site at Wentworth Falls, NSW.

16,000 years ago: Hearths, stone and bone tools, Shaws Creek near Yarramundi (60 kms north-west from Sydney), NSW. Sea levels begin to rise as ice caps melt. Inland lakes such as Lake Mungo have dried up.

8,000 years ago:  Earliest visible evidence of Aboriginal belief connected with the rainbow Serpent. This becomes the longest continuing belief in the world.

5,000 years ago:  Occupation site, Penrith Lakes (about 50 kms west of Sydney), NSW. Coastline of Australia takes its present form

And so on… Source Australian Aboriginal history timeline.

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28,000 thousand years old. How many generations of humanity before Abraham is that?

3. All of which makes it very difficult to treat the following with the awe and wonder it may have attracted in the past, or indeed in my own past. How do you reconcile the fact that in light of the above the grand cosmic narrative of the Abrahamic religions looks decidedly less impressive?

4004 B.C.
Creation of Adam and Eve – [Very few accept this “date” as having any connection whatever with anything that really happened in the history of this planet. -- NW]


2348 B.C.
Noah’s Flood – [never happened -- NW]

1996 to 1690 B.C.
The Biblical Patriarchs lived during this time – from Abraham to Jacob – [totally myth and legend, reflecting certain rather mundane developments in the movements of people and cultures, but having no resemblance to actual history. -- NW]

1491 B.C.
The Exodus

1451 B.C.
Joshua leads the children of Israel into the Promised Land

1410 – 1050 B.C.
Time of Israel’s Judges

1050 – 930
First Kings of Israel – King Saul, King David and King Solomon

960 B.C.
Building of the first temple in Jerusalem

930 B.C.
Division of the Kingdom of Israel

930 – 723
The period of the Kings of Israel from Jeroboam I to Hoshea

930 – 586 B.C.
The period of the Kings of Judah from Rehoboam to Zedekiah

840 – 400 B.C.
Period of the Minor Prophets

723 B.C.
The fall of Israel

586 B.C.
Destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple

515 B.C.
Temple at Jerusalem Rebuilt

63 B.C.
The Romans occupy Palestine

37 B.C.
Herod the Great is appointed ruler of Judea by Rome

Jesus was born either before 4 BC (when Herod the Great died) or in 6 AD (when the historical Census of Quirinius was undertaken).

jesus1

My childhood vision of Jesus, from one of the several “Uncle Arthur” books that were my primary source of religious imagery between the ages of 8 and 12. Any resemblance to the person born most likely in Nazareth (rather than Bethlehem) around 4BC is totally unlikely. Of course, symbolically…

aboriginal-easter-art

And yet, echoing Justin Erik Halldór Smith:

I know that I am picking and choosing, and that by many standards I’ve failed to meet the requirements of being a Christian. Many, like those with the banners at the sports events, take John 3:16 to contain the core message of the Gospels. I also claim to know what the core message of the Bible is: love and forgiveness (1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:13, Matthew 5:38), and I claim that there is much extraneous stuff too, which can have little to do with our understanding of the essence of Christianity: the rules concerning marriage, the disregard for animals, the cosmic significance of crucifixion. How do I justify my picking and choosing? Well, who wants me to justify it? The hoarse-voiced goon at the sports match shouting about how Jesus Christ died for my sins? What concern is he of mine?

Those who know me or have read me will probably know that I have often claimed that I am an atheist. I would like to stop doing this, but if I had to justify myself, I would say that it is for fear of being confused with that blowhard with the ‘John 3:16′ banner that I am unforthcoming about what I actually believe. I am infinitely closer, in the condition of my soul, to the people who feel God’s absence– the reasons for this feeling are a profound theological problem, and one might say that it is only smugness that enables people, atheists and dogmatists alike, to avoid grappling with this problem. I am with the people who detect God’s hand, perhaps without even realizing it, where the smug banner-holder sees only sin: in jungle music, dirty jokes, seduction, and swearing. I am with the preacher who puts out a gospel album, then goes to prison on fraud and drug charges for a while, then puts out a hip-grinding soul album, and then another gospel album. I am with the animals, who can’t even read, but can still talk to the saints of divine things. I am sooner an atheist, if what we understand by Christianity is a sort of supernatural monarchism; if we understand by it that God is love, though, then, I say, I am a Christian.

I will be exploring and developing the implications of this post in various ways in the future.

How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits…

… and enriched my life.

I do not jest. They really have, and I can only commend you follow suit, if you are here in Oz. On NITV I have posted several times lately.

  1. Twenty years after Redfern
  2. Bran Nue Day (2009)
  3. Jimmy Little — 1 March 1937 – 2 April 2012
  4. On NITV again and related issues
  5. Women of the Sun on NITV on Tuesday nights
  6. NITV best option for Christmas Night–in my opinion

Even last night instead of watching Edwin Drood on ABC – I am sure it was excellent – I could not bypass seeing the third episode of Women of the Sun (1982) and am so glad I did. Heaven knows what I made of it way back in the 80s. Did I believe it? Did I think it was exaggerated? I really don’t recall. But it certainly didn’t occur to me then that the key incident in the plot – the 1939 mass walkout by Aborigines from a government mission – was pretty much just as it happened. And the screenwriter, the late Hyllus Maris, would sure have known.

Hyllus Noel Maris (1933-1986), Aboriginal rights campaigner, community worker, educator, poet and scriptwriter, was born on 25 December 1933 at Echuca, Victoria, third of nine children of New South Wales-born parents Selwyn Roderick Briggs, labourer, and his wife Geraldine Rose, née Clements. Hyllus was of Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri (Woiworung) descent and spent her early childhood at Cummeragunja Aboriginal station, New South Wales. Her grandmother educated her in Aboriginal culture, genealogy and history, and both parents were activists; her father was also a prominent sportsman.

In 1939 more than 150 Aboriginal people ‘walked off’ Cummeragunja in protest at substandard conditions. Their actions provided a catalyst for the greater politicisation of Aboriginal people throughout Victoria. The Briggses were among a group who then settled on the ‘Flat’ in the Mooroopna-Shepparton area of Victoria. The Flat’s close-knit, family-based community championed social reform campaigns into the post-World War II era.

Growing up in a river-bank tent, Hyllus was acutely aware of the impoverished conditions under which many Aboriginal people lived. Her father was the first Aboriginal man to be employed by the Shepparton council, providing a regular income and stability for his family. She attended school and trained as a hospital dietician. Committed to securing basic human rights for Indigenous people, however, she decided not to follow that career path. In 1956 she married Andrew Marimuthu at Shepparton and adopted the surname Maris; they had no children and were later divorced. Moving to Melbourne, in 1970 she joined her mother, a sister—Gladys Nicholls, the wife of Pastor (Sir) Doug Nicholls—and others in founding the National Council of Aboriginal and Island Women, for which she worked as liaison officer. In 1973 she assisted in establishing the Victorian Aboriginal Health and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal services at Fitzroy…

See also Cummeragunja. Jimmy Little the singer also knew, as became apparent in the documentary about his life recently screened on NITV, though what follows is from ABC’s Message Stick, linked to the start of this sentence.

FRANCES PETERS-LITTLE: We go back now to Eddie Little, my dad’s grandfather. Now, his story is that he was born and found somewhere near a massacre site in Queensland. And he was found as a baby. And he was raised by a white family and they gave him the name Little. And then he came down to New South Wales and settled in the Southern Highlands area. And he met with Eliza Penrith and they married in 1902. And they had three sons and two daughters. And one of their sons was named James Edward Little, who we know now as Kunkas. And then he married Frances McGee at Cumeragunja. And their first child was James Oswald Little, which is Jimmy Little.
JIMMY LITTLE: I remember, fondly, Mum and Dad performing on stage. with other artists from the Cumeragunja Music Group, playing instruments, like mandolin, banjo, guitars of course, harmonicas. I thought – "Gee, that’s nice." Music had an attraction for me. As much as playing sport and just running loose around the bush… and hunting and all of that… One, two, three, four…

DEBORAH CHEETHAM: Well, it was three years ago I first discovered the story of the walk-off from Cumeragunja Mission. And I decided I wanted to create an opera around that story. And so writing an opera and writing a libretto around that story of the Cumeragunja walk-off, and then discovering that my own grandparents were part of that walk-off and that they took Jimmy as a young baby and walked across that river into Victoria in protest of how they were being treated To be writing an opera about that… (LAUGHS) ..to be in the process of writing it and then to discover that my own grandparents were part of it, I mean, it’s been a huge journey for me.
JAMES HENRY LITTLE: Right across the board, there are so many musical people in the family. Aunty Monica’s daughter, Deborah Cheetham, is a fantastic opera singer, who I never really got a chance to know growing up. I think she was taken away at an early age.
JIMMY LITTLE: I know about Deborah being part of the family… but I didn’t know the story behind her adoption.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I am a member of the Stolen Generation. I was taken from my mother when I was three weeks old. I was given to a family in Sydney. I’d be told, when I was very young, that I’d been abandoned by my mother, that she’d put me in a cardboard box and left me in a field. So as far as I knew, I’d been abandoned. Of course, this wasn’t the case but I didn’t learn that until much later in life.
JIMMY LITTLE: I was looking forward to eventually meeting her with her mum, my sister. And when that happened, there was a… there was a sadness and a gladness… to at least relate, family-wise, both ways.
DEBORAH CHEETHAM: I knew about the existence of Uncle Jimmy. In fact, I think when I was seven years old, I met him. My adoptive parents took me… I can remember quite distinctly, they took me to a shopping centre where he was making an appearance and I actually got to meet him…

Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls, eventually Governor of South Australia, was also A Boy From Cummeragunja.

Then just the other day I was delighted to be able to see again my good friend Kristina being beautiful and brilliant in the 1986-7 AFI winner The Fringe Dwellers.

The-Fringe-Dwellers

Kristina – just as she was when I first met her in Roy Garner’s Forest Lodge Coffee Shop in 1987.

There is a very strange Indian article on Aborigines in Australian cinema I have just found. It does tell you a lot about The Fringe Dwellers, but the folk at Dear Cinema seem to have let their prejudices and apparent ignorance of Australian film since around 1990 allow their thesis on Absence of Aborigines in Australian Cinema to run rampant.

Year – 1987. Even as ‘white’ Australia was preparing to celebrate 200 years of white settlement, the oppression of aborigines – the original inhabitants of the continent – continued apace. The oppression is naked and heartless in outback settlements, but exists in subtler forms in Australian towns and cities. I have in one of my scrapbooks an agency report dating back to that year which speaks of a high court judge who wept as he listened to harrowing accounts of racism and denial of justice to aborigines in a remote New South Wales community. The judge wept and said : “I have been to Soweto in South Africa, to German concentration camps, but this is my own country…”

Despite an occasional admission such as this, not many white Australians are willing to face the truth that colonization has done little to improve the lot of the indigenous people. Australians are yet to acknowledge in large numbers that prejudice against the remaining 150,000 aborigines is rife. Unlike recent arrivals from Asia and Europe, many of whom are more than comfortable in the role of the comprador, the aborigines have never been integrated into the mainstream. In a society predominantly by, for and of white Australians, it is hardly surprising that the aboriginal question should be calculatedly glossed over…

Seeing that I marched with the Indigenous in the 1988 Bicentennial and had the enormous privilege in Kristina’s loungeroom in Forest Lodge of being told a dreaming story by a genuine songman, meeting at least one of the Page boys now so famous in Australian dance, and so on and so on, I rather resent the absences in Mr Chaterjee’s account of Aborigines in Australian cinema. And that is not to deny things in Indigenous Australia could be a whole lot better. However, the presence of Indigenous Australians in music, cinema, theatre, dance, the arts is actually quite remarkable given their numbers… Not to mention sport!  So save your snootiness, Mr Chaterjee, and concentrate on the many and varied injustices of your own country, of which lately we have had a glaring example. And now that we have a dedicated mainstream free to air channel for Indigenous programming – which has thus far no problem finding things to show – Indigenous stories are there for all Australians to share.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Recently too there was a brilliant documentary by Ivan Sen on the death of the sister of actor/presenter Rhoda Roberts: A Sister’s Love (2007). Then there is a quite delightful and informative children’s program, also seen on ABC3 – Bushwhacked.

Bushwhacked!’ is a 13-part series hosted by Brandon Walters and Kayne Tremills as they set off on the adventure of a lifetime to remote corners of Australia, meeting the country’s weird and wonderful wildlife, and learning about Indigenous rites and rituals. The series brings the bush to the ‘burbs, as Brandon sets Kayne a new challenge each episode, to track down one of Australia’s unique animals. But it is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. It’s a fun-fuelled, adrenalin-pumping, fast-paced adventure following these two colourful characters — one an ice cool bushman; the other a skateboarding city-slicker who’s never been into the heart of Aboriginal Australia. Whether it be chasing down dangerous spiders, killer sharks and venomous snakes, or friendly penguins and loveable turtles; adventure is never far away, as the boys challenge each other with rock climbing, skydiving and zip-lining. Along the way, Brandon introduces Kayne to friends from local Indigenous communities who get the boys involved in everything from traditional smoking ceremonies to investigating local bush tucker and bush medicine. Humour and high spirits are a trademark throughout the series, as Brandon and Kayne often find themselves out of their comfort zones as they take the journey of a lifetime together.

As if all these examples are not enough to persuade you to sample NITV – but you may get hooked! – then there are odd movies that you may not see elsewhere. For example, Christopher Reeve being very good as NOT Superman in The Aviator (1985), which I saw during the past week.

And The Motorcyle Diaries is coming up next Sunday at 9.30!

The remit of NITV extends to world Indigenous TV, so I saw a brilliant documentary about the Mohawk construction workers of New York.  Did you know about this? I didn’t.

Meanwhile I have grown fond too of ABC News 24. Check out just one of their regular offerings: One Plus One. The episode of 28 December had passionate educator and composer Richard Gill saying just what needs to be said about education these days.