By Celeste Liddle
I don’t “feel” Australian. I don’t ever identify as just “Australian”. I don’t sing the anthem. I don’t wave the flag and don’t really care when I see someone burning it. I don’t feel proud on Australia Day. I don’t eat lamb chops. Frankly, I don’t particularly care for the people who do all the aforementioned. Indeed, a good portion of the time, I tend to view them with disdain and frustration.
I just thought I would state all that, upfront, so there was no mistaking my broad view before I continue. Kind of like a content warning to ward off any of the jingoistic, chest-beating, Reclaim Australia supporting crowd straight away. Though I know this to be wishful thinking on my behalf. They won’t go away, and they will feel compelled to write disgustingly racist comments in response to the above statement. Certainly the past few weeks have proven this to be the case.
Because despite their chest-beating, their history-dodging and their White Australia Policy revisiting, they still seem to get incredibly outraged when an Aboriginal person has the audacity to state that they don’t feel Australian. When Miranda Tapsell recently stated this on national television, Facebook turned into a bile-vomiting cesspool. Apparently she was a “stupid gin”, she needed psychological help, she was a “half-cast flog” and a real racist, to quote just a few. To say the response to her comments was disgusting would be to undersell the vitriol by a longshot. Yet unfortunately, considering what I have seen and copped myself over the years just for daring to write in the public sphere, I was unsurprised.
If anything, the response to Adam Goodes daring to call out racism on the field tells us to expect this. Yet racists are not the brightest lamps in the shop. For over a year, we heard Goodes being booed on the football field amid cries from the booers that they were not being racist; this was normal football banter. We saw people cower in fear over invisible weaponry and then carry on for weeks because Goodes dared to do an Indigenous dance during the Indigenous round as an Indigenous player. Then Goodes left football and it was announced that he had become the new Indigenous Ambassador for retail giant David Jones. Unsurprisingly, the David Jones Facebook page was flooded with racist abuse and people threatening to boycott because they dared to hire him. And it was at precisely this moment that the people booing him on the field made complete liars of themselves, for if these jeers were not racist but mere footy heckling, why were they still acceptable on the announcement of his off-field career?
“Australia”, such as it is, has a long way to go before a good portion of the Indigenous population feel even remotely like they want to be a part of this. It was fascinating in the past week to hear the interview of opera singer Deborah Cheetham talking about why she turned down the opportunity to sing the National Anthem at the AFL Grand Final. Cheetham suggested singing an alternate version penned by Kutcha Edwards and Judith Durham, though more than anything, she highlighted the erasure of Indigenous record in the anthem by the use of the phrase “young and free” in the second line. I do recommend people listen to her entire interview for she highlights her reasons so eloquently, but for mine, there are so many issues with the anthem that I personally wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. If you ever want to shudder uncontrollably, simply go and read the original lyrics of it. It is near impossible to find anything more white, more blokey and more pro-colonial. I too take exception to the lyric “young and free” and note that the second verse line “for those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share” has little truth when we’re busy locking up those fleeing persecution in detention centres.
The anthem, though, is but one instance of Indigenous exclusion. Our languages, history and culture are continually excluded from curriculum so people continue to grow up not even questioning the idea of “young and free”. Politicians feel perfectly entitled to refer to our stories as “black armband views” rather than truths. We are continually under threat of being pushed off our traditional lands. Our sacred sites are desecrated, sometimes for racist kicks and other times for mining initiatives. The most radical of us simply separate for when we look at how those who try and work within the system to change it are treated, such as Goodes and Tapsell, there seems to be utterly no point to trying. “The Gap” is not closing. We are still being incarcerated at exorbitant rates and still dying in prison. We are STILL pre-treaty. So excuse us if a fair chunk of the Indigenous population do not feel like they are, or want to be, “proud Australians”. We didn’t buy into this, Australia was imposed upon us, as was its anthem and its flag, and when this occurred it specifically excluded us. And unfortunately, when we see the state of things right now, when we see these racist attacks on some of our public figures unfolding before our very eyes, we remain unconvinced that things have changed a great deal in over a century.
For us to be “Australian” on the terms of those who would write such racism, it would mean us completely assimilate into mainstream society and be happy to have done so. Government policies over the decades have been geared towards achieving this very goal. Yet they have not succeeded. We still have our communities, we still have culture, we are still proud of who we are and we still resist. So rather than continuing to assume we will just accept this imposed “Aussieness” then get all offended when we don’t, perhaps a new tact is required. Perhaps it’s time to sit down at the table and negotiate, as equals, how this country is going to move toward a more inclusive future. Perhaps it’s time White Australia started showing some pride in the fact that they live in the home of the longest continuing cultures in the world, and rather than denigrating or dismissing this, actually started engaging. Perhaps it’s time the right for communities to live on their traditional lands was respected and instead of just issuing acknowledgement of country statements as a token form of recognition, people actually got to know the countries they are standing on through the eyes of the traditional owners. Perhaps instead of asserting we be grateful for whatever things you think colonisation has given us, you start looking into and respecting what it is that colonisation tried to erase.
There are so many possibilities on how this place can move forward. Things need not always be this way. But until the mainstream stop demanding that Aboriginal people be proud on their terms, until they stop being racist when we neglect to comply because it would mean erasing our very essence, then nothing is going to change. You simply cannot do everything possible to ignore our humanity and then whinge when we don’t just comply. It’s time for a new approach, based on respect and equality. Until this happens, I know I will never be proud to call myself “Australian”.