I dwell within a beautiful continent. It is graced with an amazing variety of landscapes and inhabited by the original people of the earth. It has been brutally colonised and been the site of mass immigrations and now has representatives from almost every country in the world calling it home. It is an incredibly rich and interesting place.
Yet I am embarrassed to be Australian. Not because of the evidence I see before my eyes of the intense beauty of the country and the great and noble acts of the few… but because most Australians are unthinking. And this inability to think in a reasonable, educated and measured manner makes us dumb.
And dumb people cause great harm.
In two incidents over this past weekend Australian dumbness has been highlighted by a thirteen year old girl and the Chief Executive Officer of Destination New South Wales. In both cases, much like the infamous incident of David Koch jumping into an ambulance in Beaconsfield (he is a presenter on an Australian television breakfast show… a stronghold of the dumbing down of the mainstream media), neither of the people involved in the weekends events thought about the ramifications of their words and actions before they opened their mouths.
On Friday evening in one of the most publicised Australian football weekends of the year a thirteen year old girl used a racial taunt to abuse the fine Aboriginal player Adam Goodes. Noticeably shaken by this incident this gifted athlete at the top of his prowess was distressed for good reason. This particular Australian football match was marking the beginning of a weekend that was dedicated to Indigenous players and marked the twentieth anniversary of Aboriginal player Nicky Winmarr’s stand against racism, when in a moment of graceful defiance he raised his players guernsey and pointed at his Aboriginal skin with pride. The football match “Dreamtime at the G” was to represent how far we had come in fighting against racism in Australia.
That Goodes has already accepted the teenagers apology and urged support for her, shows his immense generosity of spirit and deep understanding that his words are vital to prevent this young girl suffering from harm because of her “dumbness”. Goodes being an Aboriginal man also knows that a concept of payback has been satisfied and he speaks for his entire community. This girl will suffer nothing more now except a salutary lesson in thinking.
It appears the CEO of Destination New South Wales, Sandra Chipchase, would benefit from such a lesson. In what appears to be a knee jerk reaction Ms Chipchase has removed some of renown international photojournalists James Natchwey, Paula Bronstein, Andrew Quilty, Ed Giles and Conor Ashleigh’s work from a public exhibition held in Sydney over the weekend. The Reportage Photographic Festival exhibition, curated by another internationally renown and respected photojournalist Stephen Dupont consists of images from across the real world. Some of the most iconic images, such as a Rwandan man with machete scars across his face have been in public circulation for many years and have been shot with the extraordinary tenderness of an incredibly humane photojournalist, living legend James Nachtwey.
Yet in an effort to protect families and children from the truth Ms Chipchase has said
”What we don’t want is children walking around the corner and seeing pictures of dead children,” she said.
”We think it is threatening to families. Would they want those children to see that?” (source Sarah Whyte Sydney Morning Herald)
Ignorantia juris non excusat or “ignorance of the law is no excuse” is a term that every first year law student is aware of. In Australia it is often used to decide legal situations in which pleading ignorance of the governing law is no defence against liability for breaking that law.
In much the same way ignorance of the effects of racism, war, poverty and death are no excuse against the liability we all have as human beings to note the effects that these things have on other human beings.
I wonder if that thirteen year old girl would have been so utterly disrespectful of Adam Goodes and therefore all Aboriginal people had she seen my proud and incredibly strong Gomeroi sista girl Barbara McGrady weeping in anger and pain at the notion that even now that she and her countrymen are seen through the eyes of an Australian teenager as ‘apes’.
Ms Chipchase might be trying to preserve the sacrosanct bubble around Australian children by preventing their young and privileged eyes from beholding the truth of the world but perhaps if they were exposed to some of the images that have been removed from the Reportage exhibition they would begin to think that such evils that exist in the world should be eradicated. Perhaps if adults were to educate their children alongside the benefit of the eyewitness accounts by these dedicated photojournalists that children would begin to see that racism, war and poverty can be prevented. An open discussion with children in an articulate and thinking manner would go a long way towards helping prevent incidents of the nature that we have just seen involving Adam Goodes and therefore all his country men and women.
The unthinking nature of both of these acts are dumb. A teenage girl is by nature still learning and therefore can be excused in part. She has apologised and that has been accepted. That incident should now be left there. But the CEO of a publicly funded agency deciding what can and can’t be seen by a population that might then be instrumental in facilitating the prevention of further incidents of the same nature is just dumb.
And ignorance is no excuse.