Australia has always wanted to stake a claim on Aboriginal culture – but only when it benefits them. They remain ignorant when the legislative bullets are fired to weaken and destroy it, and do not seek to protect it when the right to culture and ceremony is in the way of profit and white prosperity.
But when we need to show ourselves to the world, when we need to present a different face, it is Aboriginal culture that is seen as the antidote to the cultural cringe.
Suddenly, Australia is proud of the 100,000 years of human habitation that colonialism sought to wipe out, and which Australia devalues. Suddenly, it is “ours”, and one for which we all hold a shared pride.
As Patrick Wolfe wrote: “In Australia, the erasure of Indigeneity conflicts with the assertion of settler-nationalism. On the one hand, settler society required the practical elimination of natives in order to establish itself on their territory. On the symbolic level, however, settler society subsequently sought to recuperate Indigeneity in order to express its difference – and, accordingly, its independence – from the mother country”.
The Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony was a reminder of this. The highlight of the night was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elements, from the traditional smoking ceremony by Luther Cora, to the Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Torres Strait Islander hip hop artist Mau Power.
No doubt, the First Nations people who took part should be celebrated because their performances, despite occurring inside the arena, represented acts of resistance and defiance – a display of survival in a state that was one of the largest killing fields in the nation.
But it is deeply ironic that while the Aboriginal flag was being lifted, and broadcast across the world, right outside the arena, Aboriginal protestors were being arrested, their own flags dragging along the ground.
SBS journalist Stefan Armbruster, one of our allies and the few to be outside reporting on the protests, reported that three Aboriginal activists – Dylan Voller, Ruby Wharton and Meg Rodaughan, were detained by police outside the stadium.
— Stefan Armbruster (@StefArmbruster) April 4, 2018
All of them were part of a delegation to the Gold Coast, to protest the imperialism and colonialism of the ‘Stolenwealth’. They were continuing the legacy of previous resistance fighters, like the thousands who converged on Brisbane to protest under the draconian administration of Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1982.
As the Stolenwealth rally interrupted the baton relay earlier this week, the mainstream media ramped up its assault. The most racist of all was Sky News’ Paul Murray, who called them “hard core lunatics who are not even on the fringe of the Aboriginal population”.
“These are the people who believe that they are not just the traditional owners of the land, they remain the traditional owners of this land. They believe the Commonwealth Games is a celebration of the Stolenwealth… get it? Because evil white people jumped on ships a few hundred years ago and stole all of these countries and to celebrate this through sport is in itself a disgusting thing.”
Well that is true – it is not just a ‘belief’. Aboriginal people are and always will be the traditional owners of the land, and the waves of invasion did not stop, but morphed into the very issues we see in many communities today. And evil white people did jump on boats and invade Indigenous lands. We even have a word for it: colonialism.
I would rather boycott a sporting event than celebrate imperialism, colonialism and genocide, not just in Australia, but around the world.
The idea that we should deflect our attention from the continuing crimes of the coloniser so that we can win shiny medals is as unappealing to me as Prince Charles himself.
But Murray seems to think that as a white man, he knows what the “real” issues are. He wants to set the parameters of protest, despite having no understanding of the feeling in community. Murray claimed the rally was a “pointless, hopeless fight”, and “even if you gave them everything they wanted it would still not be enough.”
Deadly first day at Camp Stolenwealth. We blocked and stopped the baton relay we also stood our group in the face of…
Murray then regurgitated the colonial spin he has inherited as the direct beneficiary of the oppression of Aboriginal people: “And anyone who seen just part of the opening ceremony tonight, which has just been very much about traditional Australia and Indigenous Australians, there is still complaints on the internet that it is still too white. We cannot engage with these people, they will never be happy. And by the way, these are the same people who believe that because the Prime Minister won’t have a third chamber of parliament just for Indigenous people, the people could take up terrorism or guns in the name of Aboriginal Australia during these games. These people are an absolute joke.”
This is a complete misrepresentation of the Uluru Statement, which called for a Voice in parliament, not a third chamber, the design of which was never decided due to the Turnbull government’s outright rejection of Aboriginal designed consultation processes. The protest isn’t even aligned with the Uluru Statement though.
Murray also paints Aboriginal people as potential terrorists, as the feared ‘other’, as irrational and irresponsible, as a people who should shut up and assimilate. He is an example of the very type of racism that Aboriginal people are protesting. His view, grounded in white supremacy, is a view that Aboriginal people are putting their bodies on the line to fight against.
For many Aboriginal people, the Commonwealth Games, previously the British Empire Games, represents the continuing legacy of settler-colonialism in this country. It is an opportunity to raise our voices on the world stage – to show how the colonial project is still alive in the lived experience of Aboriginal people, from the black jailing rates, to the skyrocketing rates of child removal, to the life expectancy gaps, to homelessness, and poverty and violence.
Their acts of resistance reveal the hypocrisy of a white Australia that appropriates Aboriginal culture for its own agenda, while continuing to devalue Aboriginal people and lands.
They may not be the acts of resistance that you like; they may not look good for the cameras, but they are essential to the fight of our people.
They are a reminder that there is more to the Commonwealth Games than the medal tally.
Luke Pearson is a Gamilaroi man, and is the founder and CEO of IndigenousX.