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.