Tag Archives: Reconciliation

Always was. Always will be. #writeme30

 

History splintered into two rivers/ in one riverbed/ your blood, my blood, our blood/ washed clear, but not clean//

 

The Photo:

 

Warrick Photo Sovereignty                                 Photo supplied by Warrick Clinch

 

The Response:

 

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established in 1972 on the steps of Old Parliament House to demand sovereignty for Aboriginal people. It’s a protest that’s been happening for over forty years. Since well before I was born.

 

And it’s a protest I’d never heard of it until well after my 25th year.

 

In school, my ‘formal’ exposure to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and contemporary issues can be summed up by ‘Aboriginal people were here when white people got here,’ no context, no follow up, no detail.

 

I don’t think my experience was particularly unique. Ask a handful of people who went to school during the same time period and I expect they could list off more facts about Ancient Egypt than they could about the history of First Nations people in this county.

 

Off the top of my head, some of the things I remember being taught during my formal schooling experience:

 

  • To sing Frère Jacques – I still know the words (no idea what they mean) and the tune
  • Pythagoras theorem
  • How rain is made – evaporation, precipitation
  • Basic grammar
  • Persuasive writing
  • Hello and goodbye in Spanish and Japanese
  • The first fleet
  • Burke and Wills
  • Evolution
  • Cricket
  • Indoor Hockey
  • Stanislavski
  • The words to Advance Australia Fair

 

Things I was not taught:

 

  • How to say hello in any First Nations language
  • What an acknowledgement of country is/is for
  • The history of the tent embassy
  • The history of black theatre
  • The frontier wars
  • How to recognize and respond to racism (my own and others)
  • Genocide/stolen generations
  • Treaty/sovereignty/constitutional recognition
  • Anything about First Nations people’s culture, language groups, history, dreaming, science, nutrition, political issues

 

 

My formal schooling experience taught me only that Aboriginal people were here before white people were. My ‘informal’ experience during primary school taught me that Aboriginal people were usually poor and not in positions of power and that Aboriginal men were usually scary (and drunk) and that Aboriginal women were mostly non existent. The only Aboriginal person I remember seeing on TV when I was growing up was Ernie Dingo.

 

Hopefully I don’t need to break down for you how fucked all of that is.

 

I shared a number of articles on ‘Australia’ Day about changing the date.

 

I saw some incredibly racist, offensive and poorly informed comments on those articles.

 

I felt furious.

 

But not at them. Or at least, not directly and only at them as individuals.

 

I felt furious at all of us.

 

For staying ignorant. For keeping others ignorant. For choosing to benefit from and hold on to our own privilege. For staying safely in our own corners and clinging to what we know. For accepting, believing and perpetuating all the single stories told to us*.

 

My husband and I watched the youtube video a Harry Potter fan (kcawesome13) made which cuts together all of Snape’s scenes from the movies in chronological order.

 

 

 

My point – in case it’s not bleedingly obvious – is that the lens we view a story through changes our experience of that story. Who we empathise with. What we understand and what we don’t. When our formal and informal education is entirely through a white lens, we continue to empathise with and think from a white perspective. If you don’t understand why this is a problem, I would recommend heading over to read some of Celeste Liddle’s work as a start (but don’t stop there).

 

I’d like to think that the situation is improving. That our formal and informal education is exposing us to more perspectives and stories. My children have access to NITV and some amazing presenters and stars on mainstream channels (case in point – Deborah Mailman #totalgirlcrush). The National Curriculum identifies Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures as a cross-curricular priority (though there’s controversy around that of course * sigh *).

 

Yet, I still don’t think it’s enough. Not nearly enough.

 

My son is learning about the things I didn’t learn about because I care about them, because I’ve made them a priority and we seek opportunities to engage, learn and support outside of formal education. But what about everyone who doesn’t have a personal stake or interest?

 

Where are they learning and being exposed to anything other than their own experience? We’re risking more than just ignorance. More then just racism.

We’re risking losing whatever lessons the past has to teach us. Dooming ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past. Over and over and over again.

 

Perhaps worse.

 

We’re risking our potential.

 

I’m more than worried. I’m scared.

 

*for an introduction to the idea of single stories, check out Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk here.

 

 

The Contributor:

 

I met Warrick through Youth Parliament. I was a taskforce support officer supervising participants for the South Australian Youth Parliament program. Warrick was a participant of the South Australian team of the national Indigenous Youth Parliament, their team was sharing accommodation with our regional participants for training weekend. I think it was 2011? Maybe 2012.

 

Warrick and I ended up facebook friends, as often happens from these kinds of networks/events. I don’t want to embarrass him or anything, but he’s one of those men who has so much more potential and awesome than he gives himself credit for. He’s a good lad. More than that, I’d vote for him.

 

*

 

Another Deck #writeme30

 

Layers too vague/ too sunk in history stink/ too heavy with rant/ go flag wave in some other window/ we don’t want it//

 

The Photo:

 

American Flag photo from Ben Duggan                              Photo supplied by Ben Duggan

 

The Response:

 

I’ve started and changed this response three times. Because there are many things this particular photo stirs in me.

 

I started thinking about the American education system, which got me thinking about the Australian education system and the many complex feelings and interactions I’m having with our system. I’m not in the right head space to share some of that, and also because of how it reflects on my son’s experience, I’m wary of both how I represent him and respect his privacy. I need to percolate more to find the right time and way to share some insights on that one.

 

The other big thing that sprang to mind in response to a photo of the American flag is #blacklivesmatter, which hopefully you’ve already seen and read about all over the internet. (If not, some places to start here and here and here). This is an important movement and conversation and I think the backlash against it speaks volumes.

 

Then I realized I was over thinking it all and trying to come up with something intelligent to add to the conversation and actually I’ve got nothing to add. Except my support that #blacklivesmatter.

 

So then what else could I write about for this #writeme30 post? My last few posts have all been quite personal and heavily poetic/creative writing. I wanted to step away a little this week and do some a bit more non-fiction.

 

So flags huh? Oh yeah flags.

 

Flags are a powerful symbol. We use them to show our allegiance, our pride, our sense of connection to a place and associated ideas of that place. How unfortunate that the Australian flag represents such a narrow experience of what it means to be Australian. And how unfortunate that it is most often flown by ‘everyday’ people in a show of racism dressed up as patriotism.

 

“In representing only Australia’s British heritage, the flag is anachronistic, and does not reflect the change to a multicultural, pluralist society. In particular, the flag makes no mention of indigenous Australians, many of whom regard the Union Jack as a symbol of colonial oppression and dispossession.”

– Source unknown

 

When the flag was decided on (by voting on competition entries) it was 1901. Aboriginal people still had murky voting rights and certainly considering how racist we still are – who do you think ‘decided’ on our flag and who and how it would represent us? #justsaying

 

Symbols can and do change over time. And so they should. Words come to mean new things. New information and sophistication in our thinking changes how we view events and ideas from the past. And so it should. So it should.

 

Our flag is frozen in time. It doesn’t represent who we even were then, let alone who we are now. Nor does our national anthem. So why do people want to hold on so tightly to a symbol that’s past it’s use by date? To hold onto a symbol that discounts the history and feelings of our first peoples (not to mention our new peoples)? Why does the mere suggestion of changing our flag create such anger and hostility?

 

Why, indeed?

 

And then after all of this stopping and starting and digging for something to say for this post – I realized that actually that’s all I really want to say about flags too.

 

“Sheldon Cooper: Why are you waving a white flag?

Amy Farrah Fowler: I’m surrendering… to fun!”

– Big Bang Theory

 

The Contributor:

 

Ben Duggan, founder of Raising Hope and another of the YSP tribe. Bless his cotton socks. Ben is embarking on a new adventure next year with Teach For Australia. He is pretty much a rockstar in a well tailored suit. I’m a fan.

 

*

 

….and now a bonfire #ATF2013

Yesterday David Milroy’s session was titled ‘The Burning Question‘  and he spoke about the need for a ‘fire in the belly’. This morning’s session at the Australia Theatre Forum had plenty of oxygen, fuel and the all important ignition source. That the fire keeps burning until it brings space for new growth is my greatest hope.

The morning started with an address from Tony Grybowski, the new CEO of the Australia Council.

(…) Aboriginal people have been here telling stories and creating culture for 50,00 years. The Australia Council has been supporting art and culture for 40 years. I’ve been in the job for ten days. It really puts things in perspective. – Tony Grybowski

Tony had a background as a professional musician (playing the tuba) before falling into arts administration and making it now to the ‘top job’

I’ve got 15 minutes and I’ve got notes here. Feel free to ask a question. – Tony Grybowski

Being new to the job Tony was of course putting his ‘stamp’ on what he hopes to achieve and how he sees the role of the Australia Council moving into the future. Speaking from the bottom, these wider policies and structures feel very far away but the way they shape the culture at the bottom really does matter so I was interested in what Tony had to say (and how he said it).

The usual desire for Australia Council to be a flexible, transparent and vibrant arts organisation was trotted out and the twitterverse exploded with comments asking for and refuting the definition of vibrant. No one bothered to touch flexibility and the likelihood of that in a highly bureaucratic organisation – but perhaps we’ll all be surprised. Everyone talks about reducing bureaucracy and being flexible but does anyone actually do it and what does it even mean in practice?

(NB – if you want to read the Australia Council Bill that was passed in lower house – find it here)

Challenge us, entertain us and enrich us. – Tony Grybowski (on theatre and what it’s for)

There were some excellent questions and answers but nothing particularly of note that I want to add right now. Really just keep watching Oz Co to see what (if anything) new eventuates under Tony’s leadership.

Following Tony, The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma took to the stage (in pyjamas) to provoke and provoke they did. Pavol Liska controlled much of the conversation, inviting a random delegate to the stage and interviewing her (Claudia from Casula Powerhouse) with initially some almost hilarious results:

CC: Sometimes I make theatre.

PL: What do you mean sometimes? (….) Do you like public speaking?

CC: Usually but not now

Pavol and Kelly were impressive provocateurs and the conversation quickly became an open dialogue with the audience. I’m writing this on the fly but tonight I intend to storify the twitter stream from this particular session as the best way to experience it. Come back after 10pm tonight.

For those who were already following along on Twitter or keeping track via Jane Howard’s blog, you would have heard about the #walkout in the latter half of this session.

I’m just one tiny voice and the least qualified and knowledgeable of the many voices and listeners in this space so I have no hope of explaining the why and the what and the how. I will storify the #walkout stream for you as well tonight and you can make of it what you will but here is my subjective and flawed summary:

Candy Bowers the beautiful, powerful warrior that she is spoke straight from the heart TO THE HEART OF IT in our country. The reality is that not all people in this country can be their true selves. Not all people in this country can be safe. Candy specifically spoke on the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with particular attention to the NT intervention, but also referenced the reality of our first peoples across Australia (and IMO, there are other powerful connections that can be drawn)

Candy’s words came from Pavol questioning if our theatre is too weak. If it really changes anything at all? An audience member (didn’t catch his name) responded by saying ‘It’s because in this country we’re safe. No one is at risk of being killed for the art they make‘.

Candy Bowers: SOME people are safe in this country. We have ten year old boys taking their own lives. (….) Right now there is unacknowledged Apartheid in this country.

Candy spoke deeply, articulately and from a heart full of hunger (for better, for more, for answers, for champions, for allies, for everyone to wake the FUCK UP and see racism for what it is in this country today).

CB: I spend all of my time empowering young people to not see themselves as dumb or stupid but what am I preparing them for? (….) I would give up everything for those children to become the poets and visionaries they are.

 (in answer to Pavol asking ‘Would you give up art to change it/make it better?)

Pavol asked if anyone disagreed with Candy’s words.

No one did.

Except.

Then.

Someone called Leon spoke up in defense of the NT intervention, justifying it (and his words) by saying he works in ‘Indigenous Communities’ and has seen what it’s like. I can’t remember his exact words but the sense I had from them is “Aboriginal people need us to come and fix them with education (a white lens institutional education was implied). Candy positioned the fear of controlling alcohol, drugs and pedophilia against the reality of all these things happening in Canberra right now (and no one doing anything about it) and called Leon out:

I’ve spoken to you before Leon and you’re a racist – Candy Bowers

I couldn’t tell you if  Leon said anything further or what anyone else said in response but a figure stood up and exited the room quickly and quietly. Other people called out comments I can’t remember and then the microphone passed to Lee Lewis (Griffin’s AD) who asked how we could keep talking when Wesley Enoch (Queensland Theatre Co. AD)  had left the room. Lee articulated how important that symbol was, how his leaving said something important.  Another audience member pointed out that Wesley was on the next panel and perhaps he was going to prepare. Pavol, still at the microphone said “As he walked past me, he caught my eye and shook his head” and Kelly added “and he mouthed, I can’t

So I don’t think he was taking a phonecall – Pavol Liska

What are we choosing staying in this conversation? Lee Lewis (before handing the microphone over and following Wesley by leaving the room)

And so people chose. Some walked out and some left.

Nicole Smith on twitter said

I get the walk outs on principle but you can’t further the conversation if you’re not here. Come back, we need your voices! #atf2013

I walked out.

I walked out to live my values. To stand by the song in my heart. And because I didn’t want to sit in an audience sobbing. I was not offended. I was not trying to prove anything. I was not trying to jump on the bandwagon. I was choosing the space and the people I wanted to be with in that moment. So I left. I walked out of the session. Hugged someone I knew and then sat on the stairs and sobbed my little heart out for all the deep scars in our stories that I have no words for.

I’m sorry I can’t explain it. I’m sorry this blog post does no justice to the great, proud and leading voices that were in the room. I’m sorry that my voice and my actions are so small.

*

I’m sitting now in the foyer writing this, I’d planned to go t0 the afternoon session

“Kyle: What is Aboriginal Theatre? Isaac: Whatever we say it is.”

But on approaching the door, volunteers turned the white away with the words ‘This session is now only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’.

And my thoughts winged their way back to this morning and the last question asked of Tony Grybowski from the Australia Council by Jason Tamaroo. He challenged the Australian Council Policy that requires Aboriginal people to prove their Aboriginality with a certificate….

So I wait here today. I wait to hear what answers the closed doors may bring back to us.

I wait with hope. And with faith that there are great minds and cultural leaders behind those doors asking the questions I don’t know how to ask and teasing out the answers we all hunger for. I wait knowing that my desire to ‘help’ is something I need to manage, not force on others and make them accept.

And I write. With my own small voice.

To tell you, this matters to me.

Reconciliation, not as a Government token, but as a living celebration of culture and the potential for us to create something beautiful together. To evolve into something none of us seem to have the power to imagine.

I’m doing a terrible job of most things. There is so much I don’t know. So much I’m not good at. But please, please keep making me cry. Keep holding all of us but especially me accountable. Keep demanding that we do better. I want that, for the blue eyed little boy waiting for me back in South Australia. He and EVERY ten year old Australian deserve that we get this shit right.

 

Other Blogs touching on the #walkout:

“Official” ATF Bloggers

Augusta Supple

Jane Howard

Other bloggers

Candy Bowers

Morgan Little

 

The Burning Question #ATF2013

Like many other stranded travellers this morning, the Sydney and Canberra fog delayed my morning flight (6 times in total) so I missed the opening keynote and welcomes. Instead my 2013 Australian Theatre Forum journey began with David Milroy’s keynote.

The most important thing to know about David is that he was fabulously warm and intelligent and nothing I write could possibly capture the real spirit and generosity (and demand) of his words.

David is a Palyku Man and Western Australian (Theatre Boom and FIFO dramaturgs for the future anyone?) and was the first Artistic Director of Yirra Yaakin Aboriginal Theatre as the ‘last man standing’. He came to the arts late (in his 30’s’s) initially as an actor, where he realised two things.

1. He couldn’t act.

2. The power of theatre.

David was asked to provide a provocation for ATF and it was one framed by David’s own sense of place, both physical and cultural and his journey thus far as an ‘old and submerging playwright’.

David spoke eloquently about and around cultural misrepresentation, meddling and the recurring question of just what exactly is the definition of Aboriginal theatre? Can a non-Aboriginal person write an Aboriginal play? (this applies equally to Torres Strait Islanders but David focused specifically on Aborignality so I’m referring to Aboriginal theatre here)

We all know ‘the winners’ (NB: no one really won in the colonisation of Australia, current and past generations have all been robbed of something deeply precious on both sides IMO) write history, so it’s no surprise that Aboriginal stories have often been told through a white (European) lens in the distant and recent past. David asked “Who is telling our story and why?” and it’s a question that I’m constantly asking myself about all the stories I write and engage with as an audience member. And the who and why of my own Aboriginal history (through my Nana’s father) that I have no access to explore/track down. These severed ties haunt me. The hunger to know and the fear of never knowing and having no avenue to pursue haunt me – these lost stories and all their echoes. All the things I’ll never know but want to know. Who will tell me those stories and how and why? What stories will I tell and why?

David referred to many experiences during his career where Aboriginal actors were on stage like ‘puppet theatre’ with others behind the scenes pulling the strings. And other experiences where individual Aboriginal artists were expected to be the sole cultural advisor and then when things went wrong in the project were left with the fall outs in their communities. In the early days of Yirra Yaakin, funding bodies had trouble working with the company because the company didn’t neatly fit the model of a theatre company. The scope was broader with a strong connection to cultural community (I don’t have first hand experience of Yirra Yaakin, but I expect in a similar way to Big hArt and the long term and deeply layered engagement with community as part of developing any of their projects). The existence of the company and its practise was and still is political.

How can it not be when we live in a world that continues to be so intrinsically racist? When people have to live with closed doors, stereotypes and missed opportunities, the work really couldn’t be anything but political.

David raised all this and more with candour, humour and warmth. People like this being in the world make me want to #maketrouble (It’s a twitter thing). What do I mean by make trouble? They make me believe that together we can shake the ugliness out of these systems and that we can build something better. They make me want to be better. They make it okay to ask all my stupid questions.They make me want to be braver and shout from the rooftops all the simmering rage that sits beneath my rib cage, so that together we can turn this world inside out and build something that does have the strength and room for true colour blind casting.  For a spectrum of individuality in culture, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. For stories that can be told and reshaped by all because they’ll be so deeply embedded in cultural understanding, respect and pride that we won’t need quotas or closed doors anymore. I know this is a long way off, of course. It may never happen even in my lifetime, but people like David and Racheal (who commanded attention in the Q and A following David) make me believe that it is possible. They make my heart sing with joy.

As a side note, I was personally fascinated that Yirra Yaakin started as a youth theatre company initially before growing and reframing itself. Young people are so much at the heart of everything I think and do as the both the building blocks for the future and the responsibility of our present.

I believe in and completely support the need for Aboriginal peopleto tell Aboriginal stories. For Aboriginal writers, performers and directors to reshape the narratives of Aboriginality and what that means in a traditional and contemporary world. I believe that quotas (for gender, ethnicity and culture) are not the whole answer, but I do believe they are somewhere we need to start to wade through this muck and filth (racism, stolen stories etc). We need to put in place these structures and fight for them so that eventually variety can become the norm to the point that we won’t need the structures (quotas) to support it anymore because everyone will automatically demand it because it will be mainstream for a good actor to play anyone and for good writers to write anything.

On another side note – for those that don’t know – this week is Reconciliation Week, and it does matter. It should matter to all of us. Not as one week where we give ourselves permission to care, but rather as one week that symbolises and builds the commitment we all need to make to strive towards reconciliation with the land and with each other. It shouldn’t be a token government effort, but an opportunity for all of us to pause a moment and take stock of how far we’ve come and how much further we all have to go and to recommit ourselves to the fight.

Going back to David’s keynote.

What is the definition of Aboriginal Theatre?

There is no one definition. But it’s not enough to tick the boxes. It’s not enough to rely on protocols (although they should of course be part of the conversation), we need to seek and consistently build meaningful collaboration.

Not everything written about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is correct. And not everything should have been written down in the first place.

A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. – David Milroy

A well meaning writer can cause a lot of trouble by not working collaboratively. There is no such thing as a ‘generic Aboriginal’. Individuals are tied to community and country and they will be the ones to cop it if something goes wrong. It’s also kind of creepy to have generic characters who aren’t connected to country (to place). Why are they even there?

The Q and A post David was engaging, lively and passionate. Filled to overflowing with dozens of people more knowledgeable and talented that I can ever hope to be. People who are changing the landscape with the power of their words and their work. I was doing too much listening and not enough note taking, but this most of all stayed with me:

An actor should be able to play anything. That is an actor. A good actor has a range. And a cultural range as well. Get away from putting on white middle class theatre.

We have a racist industry, whether its by accident or complicit. It’s there. This is stifling all of us! – (I missed the name of the speaker but I think it was Fred someone? If anyone can enlighten me, please do so I can find/follow and love his work online)

In the end we should all be able to play everyone. But we have to break the racism and the white monopoly on Aboriginal stories. It might take fifty years. It might take a hundred. And in the meantime white people need to sit down and shut up and listen to the people who are saying “We have been oppressed and this is our story.”

Meaningful collaboration is essential when dealing with our (Aboriginal and shared) history. Is it really so hard to sit down and listen? To ask questions? To be brave?

Lets have some respect for the population that has struggled to have its stories heard. – David Milroy

Thank you David. And everyone like you. You’re making the world a better place for me and mine to live in. I hope I do it justice. Keep demanding that I do.

PS – to the person who interrupted Candy Bowers. You suck. Never interrupt Candy Bowers. She is the epitome of what it means to be a powerful woman. A place shaker. A trouble maker. One of my favourite people to admire from afar. Shhh, you interrupting person, you.

Also, for a more in depth and less subjective account of David’s keynote, visit Jane Howard here.

Jane and August Supple are both blogging from ATF2013 and can be relied upon for all the good stuff. I just get lost in figuring out my sense of place and who I might want to become. I like things a little messy. A little personal. Stay with me too if you like.

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