Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Do You Come From A Land Down Under?

“Before you arrive to surf the Superbank or Burleigh on the Gold Coast, Australia is a racist country where the Indigenous people have just had more of their land rights taken away by John Howard’s conservative government - this includes the Kombumerri who are the traditional owners of these surf-breaks.”

Strong stuff from Clif over at the ever readable Blown Glass who tags on this provocative video to reinforce the proposition and then goes on to call for a boycott of Australian surfing.

Now the fact that I’ve only ever enjoyed the company of any Aussies I’ve met seemed to sit at odds with this depiction of Oz as a racist republic and had me rather agitated. Do you come from a land down under? I bet you have a view on Clif’s perspective.

As a kid in Belfast in the 70’s, Australia seemed as far away as you could get from anywhere short of leaving the planet. That ticked a box. If I was looking to escape over the rainbow then Oz – well, my imaginary construct of the place – looked pretty enticing.

First there was Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and later, when the hormones starting kicking in I lusted after Jenny Agutter in Walkabout without worrying too much about the fate of the Aboriginal boy or the story. “Friday –too tired, Saturday – too drunk, Sunday too far away” is purportedly the lament of the sheep shearer’s wife and provided the title for one of those cinematic buried treasures that only aficionados of Australian movies will have heard about. Set in the Outback of the 50’s it’s a straightforward tale of how changes in the labour market impacted on the lives of a bunch of hard drinking sheep shearers. But like all great movies, the film is more than the sum of the sets and the story. It’s one director’s take on what it means to be a man, and an Australian. I thought it was great.

Around this time I was working on the Irish border in a madhouse of a factory concocting chemicals for cows. Some of my production team were also interested in chemicals – rustling up some explosive presents for the British Army. It was time to get out and, but for a twist of fate, the emigration papers from the Australian embassy may well have been submitted and I’d be there, not here.

When John Howard made the headlines a while back with his plans to tackle the alcohol and child abuse endemic amongst indigenous communities it had me thinking. From the outside looking in, it sounded bleak beyond belief. Surfing and the life of the beach has often proved a lifeline. Were there Aboriginal dudes out there that I could read about that challenged what was beginning to look like a media stereotype? I’d never heard of any Aboriginal Surfers but it didn’t take me long to Google up Dale Richards – the teenage surfer from Queensland who has become the first Aboriginal Australian to qualify for the main round of a world championship tour event.

Then flicking through “Between The Flags – One Hundred Summers of Australian Surf Lifesaving” to see if there was any reference to Aboriginal Lifeguards I came across one Burnum Burnum, formerly Harry Penrith.

This bloke campaigned for Aboriginal rights and wasn’t shy of pulling the odd stunt to publicise his views. During the Australian Bicentenary Day celebrations in 1988, he was busy hoisting the Aboriginal flag above the white cliffs of Dover. This was one in the eye for Arthur Philips, who in a moment of supreme colonial cheek, had stuck a flag on a continent and claimed it for England. If a people's sense of humour is an indicator of their spiritual and mental well being, then I hope for the Aborigines' sake, there's more like Burnum stepping up.


Clif said...

Thanks for the plug Beach Bum. enjoy your work.

I want to add that the call to boycott Australian surfing is troubling me. Australian surf companies exploited Aboriginal history and icons - see Billabong etc. Hence, I was largely referring to Australian surfing's cultural industry.

My post was a provocation, and a bit over the top. As you will see in the comment section.

The aim was to have people begin questioning the next Australian surfer they meet. Ask them to explain what they know about where they surf and whose waves they are surfing. Generate dialogue and self-reflection amongst white Australian surfer.

Questions from others, especially poms;), will make many Australians uncomfortable if they know little or nothing about Aboriginal rights and plights.

Maybe Australians will being self-reflecting if the world begins asking them questions every time they meet an Australian surfer - there' a lot of us and change can and does happen through surfing.


nursemyra said...

that's a great clip!

yes, we have a shameful human rights record when it comes to the aboriginal people. just have to hope we can learn from past mistakes and work on reconciliation

another good australian film to watch out for is Rabbit Proof Fence

Beach Bum said...

Hi Clif - yes, I read the comments section on your original post quite carefully and realised you'd over-cooked the bacon a bit. No matter, better to stir the shit and shake the status quo. If you spend too much time trying to balance what comes from the heart and onto the page something gets lost. So good on ya!

Nursemyra - good to hear from you. Will check out that film when I get a chance. Did you see Lantana? Another corker.

Mick said...

While I agree with Clif's sentiments to a point, the plight of the indiginous Australian is one that is too easy to take cheap shots at. Well meaning people have fucked up, on both sides. The best and worst of human nature fills our history.
This place was settled at a time when worldwide the attitude to 'other races' was very different to today.
I met my first aborigine in my twenties. Now my son's best friend is an Arunta boy who comes to the city for the school year to study, but on holidays goes back to the bush. I've known him since he was five and now he is soon facing initiation ceremonies that we would regard as barbaric (I can't give details, because he has been told he will be 'cut up' if he tells).
He is a clear demonstration of the dilemma. New ways? Old ways? Halfway in between? It's not easy, so much good will is there but there are cultural divides that make things very hard.
There is no easy fix, and leaving Australia is not one of them.
Time, and understanding is part of the journey but the rest of the answers will have to evolve with this wonderful country.

Mick said...

I hate typo's.

nursemyra said...

yes Lantana is fantastic. so is Jindabyne by the same director....

and the vey talented reverend anglyph from tetherdcow.com did the sound design for it

Sharkbait said...

Wow, the whole entire continent is racist? That's like, at least 1000 people! We should definitely do something!*

< removes tongue from cheek and points it towards blanket statement >

*I suggest we go bring 'em some STOKE and blow their minds with it!