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Five things you should do as a non-Indigenous Australian this Australia Day

Photo Credit: AlicePopkorn
You should visit Uluru. Photo Credit: AlicePopkorn

My grandparents were missionaries who spent a few decades of their lives trying to convert aboriginal people to Christianity. They went into remote communities and preached the gospel in the way Jesus commanded his disciples to a couple of thousand years ago. They didn’t have a wage and relied on donations from churches to get by. I grew up hearing stories about how they had to eat choko for dinner most nights because they were so poor. You could grill it with cheese and it became a main course, or if you boiled it with honey, it was a dessert. As a 10-year-old and I found this horrifying. As would anyone who has ever eaten choko. It’s unflavoursome.

As an educated, 33-year-old, agnostic-leaning human living in 2014, I now find the notion of trying to Westernise a 40,000-year-old culture unflavoursome. But that’s what they did back then. Before the First Fleet arrived there were probably more than 500,000 Indigenous people living in Australia and in the Torres Strait. 226 years later, the number is about the same. There are, very roughly, the same number of people of Greek descent living in Australia as there are people of Indigenous descent. Something went wrong there. Nobody can deny.

We can’t turn back time. And, as much as The Great Gatsby wished, we can’t repeat the past. We live in a delicious stew. Australia is an awesome place. What’s happened has happened. Nobody alive had anything to do with injustices of the past. Nobody alive is to blame. My grandparents aren’t to blame. Captain Cook isn’t to blame. Shit happened.

Should we just get over it? Not quite. I ¬†gravitate to a¬†black armband view of this nation’s history. But there’s also no use beating anyone up over anything that happened between 1778 and 2013. So, as the question inevitably raises itself every Australia Day, if you, like me, are one of the 97.5% of Australians who don’t identify as Indigenous, do we take in Instagram selfie with the elephant in the room, or do we just pretend it’s not there? I, for one, advocate the selfie.

On Australia Day 2011 I wrote an article for The Drum about the disparity between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. There’s a pile of facts in there which you can pay attention to if you like, but the bottom line is, if you’re Aboriginal, or a Torres Straight Islander, you’re more likely to have a shorter, less healthy life than everyone else. That’s pretty shit. Can you, I, or the 97.5% of others do much about it? Maybe. We can at least try. Here are five ways to try.

The five things you should do as a non-Indigenous Australian this Australia Day

1. Start hanging out with Indigenous people more often. Same goes for Greek people. And Italian people. And Inuit people from Canada. And people who collect stamps. And Jehovah’s Witnesses. Broaden your horizons and friendship circle. Make new friends and ask their opinions on things. You can’t gain perspective if you keep looking at life through the same lenses all the time.

2. Make plans to visit Uluru and/or Kakadu. At the very least. If you’ve been to London or Bali, but have never been to Uluru, you should be ashamed to call yourself an Australian. The most amazing natural beauty in the world is right here in your own backyard, and I dare you to walk around Uluru, or visit an Aboriginal rock art site in the top end without discovering a piece of your soul you never even knew existed. You’ll start to get a hint of what Indigenous people mean when they talk about a connection with the land.

3. Do some research. How much do you know about Indigenous history? If it’s less than you know about the American Civil War, or if you can name more Simpsons characters than Indigenous people, you’re in trouble. Fill some knowledge gaps and you’ll have a whole lot more context on where this country has come from, and where it’s going.

4. Discovery the Indigenous history of your local area. You don’t have to go all the way to Uluru to find a special place. There will be a midden, or a rock art site, or at the very least, some stone axe grooves in a creek bed somewhere near you. Go there, be respectful, and reflect on those who came before you.

5. Invest in the Aboriginal economy. You don’t have to be Andrew Forrest, but you can do more than you’re doing now. Travel to places that support Indigenous employment. Buy some Indigenous art. Donate to a worthy cause. It’s not hard. Even if you do it once a year, you’ll still be making a difference. If not on Australia Day, then when?

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Dear Dad, we don’t need to turn the boats away, we need to send them back for more…

Dear Dad,

Imagine if there was a civil war in Australia. Not like the State of Origin dad, a proper civil war. With guns. Imagine if the indigenous population teamed up with all the other non-white recent immigrants in an attempt to remove white Australians from power in a game of black people vs. white people. A bit like chess I guess, but without castles.

Imagine if Team Black’s goal was to remove any influence Christians had over Australia and its culture. I’m not just talking about banning Christmas either, I’m talking about a war with the sole goal of removing all white Australians from positions of power and erasing as much of white Christian history as possible.

Now, imagine if Team Black didn’t just cause a bit of a ruckus in the suburbs where there’s a big majority of black people, imagine if they actually won the war and were now starting to make life hard for white Australians. They start murdering all white politicians and removing any influential white people from other positions power immediately. You can’t be a mayor if you’re white, you can’t be a manager at a company, you can’t even be a school teacher. They imprison anyone who dares speak out against the new regime and they kill anyone who tries to resist. They ban the bible, they ban white TV presenters. They take away all our passports and they ban us from traveling outside the country.

Worse still, for you, they are hunting down anyone who has ever been a member of a church and they’re putting them into forced labour camps. Even praying is now a crime. Remember the time in 1995 when we went to Pizza Hut with the church group and all the grown-ups sang grace at the table. Not softly, but loud enough for Jesus to hear? There were kids working there who knew me and I had to go to school the next day with them. They thought I was in a cult. I got beaten up. I wanted to stone you all to death with frozen cheese at the time, but if they got caught doing that now under the new regime, I could stone you all to death with frozen cheese. In fact, I’d be given a medal for it.

Not only is being Christian now a crime under this new regime, but anyone who was ever a vocal supporter of white Christian culture has to try and leave the country or they will almost certainly be killed. They even do background checks on people’s parents to find the children of preachers. Your parents were missionaries Dad, and you have been going to church since you were born. You even say grace at McDonalds. You’re screwed.

In fact, not only are you screwed, there’s a price on your head. They want you dead because as a business owner, they fear you’ll try to lead a Toowoomba-based uprising against the new regime. You can’t just turn up at an airport and hop on a plane because they took your passport and if you do get caught trying to leave, you will be taken away and forced to dig your own grave and mum will be tortured. And you have a beard, which they’ll find scary.

Imagine you kiss mum goodbye and go into hiding in the bush with a few other Christians you know and you all pray for a solution. For a while nothing happens and you start to lose hope, but one day, out of the blue, word reaches you that there’s a small boat leaving from Broome and it’s heading to China. It’s operated by a people-smuggling operation. You’ve heard the Chinese don’t like the new Australian regime very much and have offered asylum to white Australians in the past. The boat sounds dodgy, but you know if you stay in Australia you will certainly be killed and mum will be tortured, so you decide to take the risk. You can’t speak Chinese, but you know enough about China to know that it sounds better than death and torture in Australia. You’ve heard there’s a large community of white Australians living there and you decide to go for it, mum can follow as soon as you get to China and are granted refugee status. You get to Broome by bribing state border guards with every scrap of cash you can raise and meet up with 100 other white asylum-seekers and get on a tiny boat.

You’ve heard some rumours and seen patchy news broadcasts about other boats carrying asylum seekers which have been smashed up on rocks in bad weather, and while it all sounds a bit scary, you figure it’s not likely to happen to you and you can’t afford to waste any time because the longer you wait, the more chance you have of being killed.

You make the voyage and arrive in Chinese territorial waters three weeks later. Instead of setting off some fireworks and giving everyone prawn crackers, they tell you to go away because they’re full and threaten to sink your boat and lock you up on a remote rat-infested island in the scorching sun and throw away the key. Stories of your arrival run on the Chinese version of Today Tonight and the public decides there’s no way in hell a boat full of outlaws from Australia should be let into the country. Every other nation in sailing distance says they will sink your boat if you enter their waters because they can’t take on any more refugees.

The Chinese navy tows your boat back to Australian waters and your are met by an Australian naval vessel manned by the new regime. As soon as the Chinese vessel is out of sight, they take you all prisoner, ferry you away to a secret military base near Darwin, torture half of you to death and send the other half to a forced labour camp where you build railroads in the desert for the next 20 years.

Oh, and they make you cut off your beard.

That’s what we’re dealing with here dad. It’s what happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It’s what happened in China in the 1950s. It happened in Cambodia in the 1970s, Rwanda in the 1980s and Yugoslavia in the 1990s. The same thing is happening right now in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran and Sudan.

You like Chinese food dad. You’ve probably never had Cambodian food, but you’d like that too. I know you like chicken soup. Everyone likes chicken soup. OK, vegetarians don’t like chicken soup, but the Jews invented lots of tasty non-meat things too. Like bagels. The point is, when Australia throws open its doors to boat people we get cool things, like chicken soup, and kebabs, and rice-paper rolls, and culture. I know right now you’re thinking “gee, it’s really really sad that some boat people died, but what we need to do right now is get really really tough on border protection and turn back all the boats and not let anyone in to the country and that will solve the problem.”

It won’t solve the problem Dad. If we get all huffy and cranky and turn back all the boats they’ll probably stop for a while, just like they did when John Howard pretended they were throwing children overboard and everyone got cranky then. But the only thing that will change is that, at best, they’ll become someone else’s problem, or at worst, the people who were trying to come here on boats will be sent back home and tortured to death for trying to leave in the first place.

There are around 798 genuine refugees waiting to come to Australia from the Indonesian port Puncak right now and at least another 1,769 whose refugee status is pending. Do you want to know the best way to stop people smugglers Dad? Put them out of a job. Australia is a massive place. Like you, I’ve seen rather a lot of it. We’re not full. Western Sydney is full. Toorak is full. Everywhere else is far from full. In fact, everywhere else is empty. We don’t need to turn away the boats Dad. We need to send them back for more.

Matt

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How I helped bring down the NSW Police Commissioner *cough*

I was going through a box of old love letters, high school photos and other assorted memorabilia the other day and I found a pile of newspaper clippings from my (very brief) career as a journalist for Rupert Murdoch. The papers are starting to go yellow and curly around the edges so I thought I should preserve some of them digitally for posterity.

This article was front-page news in Sydney in 2001. One of Blacktown’s top cops, Chief Inspector John Thommeney, was furious a Police Integrity Commission investigation into a corrupt officer who had helped officers cheat on their promotions exams hadn’t extended to a full review of the promotions system. Another top Blacktown cop was already on stress leave after whistleblowing the corruption and the Chief Inspector of one of the country’s most violent local area commands decided to open up to me about it.

He knew he was putting his distinguished, 34-year career on the line by talking to me but I could tell he felt so frustrated and disillusioned with the situation that he didn’t care. He went as far as accusing then Police Commissioner Peter Ryan, a star recruit brought in from the UK to fight corruption in the wake of the Wood Royal commission, and other top brass of “not giving a shit” about Blacktown Police and putting the community in danger by not raising staff levels because it was a safe Labor seat. After the article was published in the Blacktown Advocate I received a formal written complaint from the Police Commissioner’s office and he accused me of being ‘worse than any Fleet Street hack he’d ever dealt with’. I took at as the greatest compliment of my brief journalistic career.

Blacktown and I had the last laugh though, Commissioner Ryan was unceremoniously dumped from office and fled back to England less than six months later after he negotiated an early exit from his contract. He was upset about the scrutiny of his job from the NSW Government and the media. There were “far too many journalists reporting policing,” he would later say. Shock-jock Alan Jones took most of the credit for the Commissioner’s exit, but I’d like to think I helped a little bit.

I wrote articles which won more awards than this one, but this particular piece stands out the most because of the role it played, albeit a very small one, in bringing down the NSW Police Commissioner. It was also a lot more interesting than the fluff-pieces I usually wrote about 50th wedding anniversaries and Council election issues. I can still remember chatting to Inspector Thommeney in his office at Blacktown Police station as a starry-eyed 21 year old and thinking to myself ‘someone is going to get into a lot of trouble for this, I hope it’s not me’.

Here it is, straight from Wednesday October 17, 2001…

Disillusioned: Fury at ‘lack of action’

Two of Blacktown’s top police officers are so disillusioned with the force, one is on indefinite sick leave and the other has lost faith in the system.

Chief Inspector John Thommeney said last week he and police whistleblower Sergeant Mark Fenlon were outraged the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) had not followed-up investigations into the police promotions system after former Police Association vice-president Inspector Robert Menzies told a PIC inquiry he had helped some officers cheat on exams in return for their voting for Menzies at the police union elections.

Chief Insp Thommeney said Insp Menzies had been an Association representative on on about 150 hearings of the Government Related Employees Tribunal hearing complaints into the promotion of officers.

He said it was outrageous the PIC had not investigated any of the 150 promotion cases Insp Menzies had helped decide.

The PIC is currently conducting public hearings on corruption in the Manly and Davidson areas.

Sgt Fenlon was reported earlier this month to have mis-givings about the focus of this current PIC inquiry.

He was concerned drugs and other police misbehaviour might overshadow what he considered was the root of the problem – a corrupt promotions system.

The real power is in the hands of the person who can influence an officer’s promotion, Sgt Fenlon was reported to have said.

It was Sgt Fenlon who told Police Commissioner Peter Ryan there were extensive problems with people cheating on promotional exams and called for a full PIC investigation into the promotions system.

Insp Thommeney agreed with Sgt Fenlon.

“Robert Menzies had the power to influence and the PIC hasn’t investigated any of the 150 cases he sat on,” he said.

Insp Thommeney said the promotions system was a Pandora’s box of corruption and cheating.

“The Wood Royal Commission could still have been sitting but it was stopped because it was too hard,” he said.

“Police will corrupt anything.”

A spokesman for Commissioner Ryan said the Commissioner had been “happy to receive the information” and would investigate.

Insp Thommeney sais after 34 years of service he was completely disenchanted with the lack of truth and transparency in the police force.

“I’m full of distrust, disillusionment and moral frustration,” he said.

“Dedication and loyalty are just meaningless in this day and age.”

Insp Thommeney said Sgt Fenlon was now so stressed he was on indefinite sick leave and was very much upset about the lack of action on the service’s behalf.

“Mark Fenlon is one of the best sergeants God ever gave breath to,” he said.

“It’s a crime (Blacktown) people don’t get his service because of what they have done.”

He said Sgt Fenlon had no chance of bringing change because management didn’t care.

“Mark is referred to as a Christian zealot by the heirarchy,” he said.

“The organisation really and truly doesn’t give a shit about him. We are supposed to be truthful and transparent, but we are less truthful than we’ve ever been in or lives”

A Police Integrity spokeswoman declined to comment.

Insp Thommeney said Blacktown had been ignored by the top brass and doubted the situation would change.

He also said the police bureaucracy were afraid to tell the community how bad staffing levels were and poor staffing levels were putting the community in danger because it was a “safe Labor seat and they don’t give a shit about staffing numbers”.

“Commissioner Ryan never visits Blacktown,” he said.

“He’s been here once and he walked in the front door … out the back and got in his car and drove off – he didn’t talk to the troops.”

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Politics with Jake

Jake is one of my BFFs. He’s a 21-year-old musician. We’ve played in a band together for five years. Last night we went to the QSong awards because we were nominated. When we got home the conversation turned to politics. He’s not very political:

Me: So who are you going to vote for?

Jake: The girl.

*pause*

Me: OK. Why?

Jake: Because the guy looks like an over-protective dad who doesn’t let his 23 year old daughter use the phone.