It’s the 26th of January again. The day we celebrate this great nation of Australia. We are beyond blessed in this country. We are abundantly rich in resources. I love that poor people can walk into a hospital anywhere on this island and receive world class medical care. I love that anyone can start a business here, work hard and succeed. That business can develop and support a whole family and go on to provide products and services to a community.
Over the decades, through Australians working hard together. With robust political parties with, for the most part, accountable politicians, we have fashioned a well balanced country. Our political parties and media each hold each other accountable to, generally, benefit all Australians.
We have a comprehensive welfare system paid for by a sophisticated, more or less, fair taxation system. But, what is rare is that we are also flexible and diverse. Sure we could talk about the flaws and areas where need to improve but this is a day to look at and celebrate the great attributes.
It’s great to look back at what Australia has contributed to the world. We are an innovative bunch and punch above our international weight class when it comes to inventions. Thanks to Australia we have the electric drill, wifi, penicillin, cochlear implants and google maps.
Australia has had our own Da Vinci like polymath namely David Unaipon. You’d know his face from the $50 bill. The bloke was a verifiable genius. The son of a preacher who became a scientist and well sought after speaker. He was also passionate about his faith just like his father. Speaking to the masses nearly as much on religion and race relations as science. It seems we don’t know so much about him because of our irrational racism. Perhaps it’s because he sits uncomfortably in the middle. A black man who embraced white man’s Christianity, spoke and wrote English better than educated Aussies can today, attempted to unite Aboriginal spirituality with Christianity. Decades before Martin Luther King, when David was refused accommodation, he was both famous and bold enough to chastise the white supremacists by calling to a higher authority. Reportedly saying to them, “in Christ Jesus colour and racial distinctions disappear”. For fear of going to hell, or maybe just a genuine wake up call, it’s recorded that his argument was convincing often enough.
Like most countries, we have a painful complex history. I am a white man, mostly, of English ancestry. My great great grandfather came to Australia from Cornwall in search of gold. I come from a wealthy middle class white family. I would now say we were extremely racist. I grew up thinking it was okay, even necessary, to make fun of abbos and coons. I can remember saying it as a kid and making all the jokes. I cringe remembering the reasons that I was taught to validate this racist condescension.
I very specifically remember making a racist joke when I was 20. This older friend of mine looked at me with disgust. He didn’t want to be rude to me but he couldn’t hide his response to what I said. It rocked me. Nothing was said. It was just an awkward silent confrontation. It caused me to review why I said it. I remember lying in bed that night going over it all. Then in turn why I thought it was okay to say it. It all unravelled. I realised I was racist and I made changes.
A few years later I was sent to a training seminar on Aboriginal culture through my work. It was a full day course and went into considerable detail. The bloke who did the course was Aboriginal. He was the son of a farmer near Arnhem land and tough as nails. It deeply impacted me the way he shared it. It developed my awareness of the issues and how it currently impacts Australian Aboriginal peoples today.
An exclusively white, mostly English, government did a lot to hurt the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. There are no two ways about it. We, white people, deliberately scattered and mixed up the tribes around Australia. Tribes that did not speak the same language. In my white culture, it’s the police and the law that maintain order. In black culture, it’s their elders. If you remove the elders you break down their internal cultural control. Their law and order. We, white people, divided them to conquer them so they didn’t get organised and kill us. The issue is the repercussions of this decision is still playing out several generations later. Young Aboriginal men need elders to guide them, discipline them and teach them. When they get that they flourish and are successful men. (So do white men).
One of the young men my organisation supports is an Aboriginal bloke. I’ve been supporting him for years. He’s been in and out of prison. He now calls me his N*gger. This is genuinely unexpectedly flattering, especially considering I’m as white as you get. I listen to Coldplay, I don’t know ANY hip hop artists, I dress like a nerd and I can’t dance. I am an unashamed white boy. As much as I’m honoured that he feels close enough to me to call him that. I’d never use the word. And, ultimately, it concerns me that it’s still in use. The educated successful black men I know don’t use it. Maybe because of the suffering this particular man has endured has earned him permission to use that word?
Even more perplexing, he was telling me the other day when he was intoxicated how he was suspicious of me at the start because I’m so white. But over time he saw that I genuinely cared for him and that God must have brought me into his life for some reason. He then went on to say that when he was in FNQ the (this is the term he used) “full bloods” treated him as a white guy. In Brisbane, he is black but North of Townsville. He was white. He did some time up there and he was treated as an outsider. I guess this gave him compassion to connect with someone like me.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with a nephew the last couple of years. He regularly stays with me. He’s just got to an age where he understood that he is not my brother’s biological son and tried to use that as leverage to get what he wanted. He tried it on me. And I hit back hard with, “what do you mean I’m not your “real” uncle? What am I then? Is the playstation you play on at my place a “real” playstation? Are the games and books I’ve bought you “real”? Is the food I give you “real” food? When I hug you is not a “real” hug? He looked around trying to come up with a counterargument and gave up.
Last term I told him I expected him to start getting straight A’s. He’s really intelligent and could do it but he’s at the age and in his cohort, it’s cool to not do very well at school. The last term of last year I said there was $50 on the table for every “A” he gets. He got one “A” and spent the $50 in a matter of minutes. He then gloated he was naturally good at that subject and would’ve got an “A” anyway. So this term it’s double or nothing. If he gets two “A’s” he gets $100. One “A” gets him nothing. The pressure is on. He’s an intense kid and very competitive. I talk to him about his Aboriginal heritage. He’s naturally proud of it which is so great. I ask him questions so he’s able to answer confidently and assertively about it. I want him to be sure of himself so if a kid like I was in school said nasty racist things he knows how to respond.
There’s a peculiar paradox in the situation with my Nephew. My nephew is actually correct by white standards. He’s not my “real” nephew according to the law and on paper. But in black culture you don’t need to be blood related to be an uncle or an aunt. It’s about the relationship you have with someone younger than you. This is something I’ve learned and inherited from my friendships and connection with black people. In turn, my nephew benefits from my input into his life. In a way, and I hope I’m not being disrespectful here, I am an elder to him.
Every year around this time we have all these stupid fights about abstract issues like flags, anthems and dates. For the record, I think it was a good thing adjusting the anthem to “one and free”. Most countries in the world celebrate the date when the country was formed, not the arrival of one people group. So, yeh, I reckon we should probably change the date of Australia Day. But I also reckon these are all tokens. It’s not what the anger is actually about. I reckon it’s about disrespect and I reckon the answer is in building real relationships. I was racist and did not respect Aboriginal people or their culture. If I didn’t change that I probably wouldn’t have developed the relationships I have with my Aboriginal family members, friends and clients. I have received so much from them and I hope I have contributed something to them.