“Until we give back to the black man just a bit of land that was his and give it back without provisos, without strings to snatch it back, without anything but complete generosity of spirit in concession for the evil we have done him – until we do that, we shall remain what we have always been so far: a community of thieves “– Xavier Herbert, ‘Poor Fellow My Country’.
In the above phrase legendary author Xavier Herbert expresses exactly what the white community of Australia really are. Thieves.
Ok… so you might say well we can’t give the land of Australia back to the Original People because we are here now…and while I think that most of the Original People of this country would love nothing more than to have seen the ships sail back out of Sydney Harbour headlands, from whence they came, there is something of a fait accompli about the present occupation of the continent of Australia that would be very difficult to address.
Luckily for us most of the different mobs looked on the arrival of white fellas with a kind of magnificent generosity… I suspect the ancestors probably thought that we were barbarians and initially left us alone…though a very short time later I am sure many would have rather have speared us all to death than to have allowed what has transpired since those first boats weighed anchor.
First there was the wholesale slaughter of the Original People as the first waves of a penal colony were established on this great continent, then there were diseases to which there was no immunity foisted upon them…Not satisfied with that the white colonialists then poisoned the waterholes in an effort to steal the land, massacred tribes, then rounded up the children of the many rapes that had been perpetrated on the women and separated them from the families that cared for them, prevented them from speaking their own language, tried to bully them into changing their spiritual beliefs and finally invented a policy of eugenics that became a precedent for the Third Reich.
All along saying that what the white government did was in the best interest of the ‘Aborigines’. Fast forward a few years and the Australian government finally accepted some responsibility for the creation of the ‘Stolen Generations’ generations of people who were forcibly removed from their families and emotionally wrecked by the characteristic abuse of their captors….both physical and mental… and the separation from their stories and culture. Meanwhile the Australian government currently still allows the widespread policies of the ‘Intervention’ to prevail across the Northern Territory stripping the original people of the control and connection with their own land. Mining interests have long been protected under the guise of ‘Government administration of Indigenous Issues’.
Even now the current Prime Minister of Australia Tony Abbott has taken complete personal responsibility for Indigenous Affairs… advised by only one voice from the black community.
Now of course all of this policy has fed in to the ‘Aboriginal problem’… so the streets have become littered with the spirits and souls of people who have been controlled and excluded in their own country….penalised for being ‘Aboriginal’, excoriated for being ‘too black’ or not ‘black enough’…
So in effect the white community has stolen everything they possibly could from the Original People of this country…from their land, family and language to their skin colour and spiritual beliefs…but the one thing that has always evaded the white grasp is the incontrovertible steadfastness and dignity of the original people and their culture and stories…
That is until now…
In perhaps what is the most breathtakingly cynical exercise I have seen for sometime the NSW Government (led by erstwhile PM Abbott supporter Barry O’Farrell) have teamed with Destination NSW to produce an event which is, according to the spin….’ Corroboree Sydney is a national festival for all Australians that celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in the heart of Sydney.’
Well all Australians except if you are an Aboriginal photographer that is. But much more of that in a moment.
So under the guise of ‘show-casing’ Aboriginal culture it appears that the bean counters at Destination NSW have finally worked out that overseas visitors don’t just come to Australia to see beer swilling, Bondi life savers with crispy skin and strange headgear…some in fact are far more interested in the original people of this country than the descendants of the off casts of British society…and that they are actually really curious, interested and generally respectful of the first people of this country.
Tourists bring dollars with them to spend so what better way to attract visitors than to bung on the entertainment… New Years Eve Celebrations the Vivid Festival and now Corroboree Sydney….its kind of a no brainer…put on a show of ‘black fella culture’ and everyone of the ‘Aboriginal problems’ will be subsumed by the tap of happy feet and the clappity clap of nice white people applauding.
Of course if you happen to be a Goomeroi woman and a fully accredited community photographer and sociologist packing a 70-200mm and a couple of Canon camera bodies then one would assume that the organisers of an event such as Corroboree Sydney would work out what a fantastic idea it would be to allow you access to every one of the events as a great ambassador for your people and also as someone who could share your photos and stories with the Aboriginal community that couldn’t make it to any of the events. And that those photos would stir some interest and engender some pride and support from the very community Corroboree Sydney professes to represent.
At this juncture I would like to disclose that the very Goomeroi woman that made such an assumption is a very dear friend of mine…. Barbara McGrady with whom I have travelled many roads and who is an exceptional woman on every level.
However last night when she showed up to document the opening night of the Corroboree Sydney Firelight Ceremony some PR flak denied her entrance to the photographers media area proclaiming that the other photographers wouldn’t like her being there…. Seriously.
Aghast as I am at what transpired next the fact that a mere PR flak had the right to even consider preventing a respected Aboriginal Elder from going anywhere at all at a black fella event is just plain disgusting but when she next ordered Barbara to remove her accreditation so she in fact would no longer be ‘accredited’ to take photos is another blow altogether.
The PR spin on this is predictable. “Barb was given access to the VIP area but she took off her pass so no other media would be upset.” This of course was after Barbara approached one of the main curatorial organisers after she was denied access to the media area.
Anyone who knows anything at all about blackfella culture know that boundaries and borders do not exist in the way of fences or ropes…that there even was a VIP area is just more proof to me of the way that white fellas are trying to stage ‘feel good’ black fella events while covertly trying to appropriate and objectify the culture. All in the name of the government doing what’s best. But who for?
That Corroboree Sydney is a predominantly a government free for all is now beyond doubt in my mind. It is funded by the notoriously insensitive Destination NSW and all the usual suspects. Of course the funding that is set aside for the performers and artists is always going to be welcome to them and their families but why is there a PR flak keeping the gates with not the slightest idea of protocol or even manners or common sense denying access to an esteemed community member? The sheer and unbridled stupidity of that is just insulting.
Years ago a bunch of fellas from the so called infamous ‘Block’ got together and did a guided walk around it. A crowd showed up with a sprinkling of white fellas who thought they were being thrill seekers cos they were in deep dark black fella territory…and while I was one of the photographers there we were led by genuinely talented intelligent and informed community members who taught us a lot. It wasn’t an all singing all dancing glossy magazine event… it was genuine and fun and sad but most of all it was authentic and from the earth. There was no fluffy PR person running around telling people they weren’t allowed to do this or that..no-one would have dared exclude anyone…cos thats just not how it works…
Now Barb is there to tell the story of the culture of her community. She is from the people and for the people. She speaks not only from the inside but she speaks eloquently and without pretence… she shoots what is in front of her…
It seems now what has been stolen is her right to even tell her stories… if some protectionist PR person doesn’t want her to access an area of an event on her country about her culture for any reason it can only point to one thing…
The last thing left to steal is the stories…
EPILOGUE: Since this story was published on my blog, things made a remarkable turn of events. Barbara was offered a tearful apology, a bunch of flowers and as she says ‘immunity’ at the next ‘Corroboree Sydney event where the new PR people mentioned she was now ‘A protected species’.