Don’t think Slavery existed in Australia? Think again.

Ella Archibald Binge is a Kamilaroi woman who wrote about the truth of slavery in Australia. Let’s be clear that indentured work occurred and was offered prolifically in the 19th Century as a means for getting cheap labour. It was taken up usually by the very poor and destitute from the UK- orphans, single mothers, poor people. The point here is that these people once they found their feet in Australia went on to enjoy social mobility and better themselves where as the Indigenous and South Pacific Islanders were discriminated against to the point that the government felt it needed to introduce the “White Australian Policy” to restrict non white privilege and economic success en masse. I have cut and pasted this article here in it’s entirety because it’s an important read but the link to the article can also be found here: https://www.smh.com.au/national/they-ruled-our-lives-what-impact-has-slavery-had-in-australia-20200630-p557ht.htm

‘They ruled our lives’: What impact has slavery had in Australia?

Many Australians might think that slavery never reached our shores but the history books tell a different story. So what did slavery look like in Australia?

By Ella Archibald-Binge

JANUARY 10, 2021

Waskam Emelda Davis was sitting in her favourite orange armchair in her loungeroom on a cool winter’s day when her phone rang.

“Did you just hear this?” came her friend’s voice down the line.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had just been on radio, her friend informed her, claiming there was no history of slavery in Australia.

“I was enraged,” says Davis.

The comments in June 2020, which the Prime Minister later apologised for and clarified, prompted a fresh examination of Australia’s colonial history at the height of a reinvigorated global Black Lives Matter movement.

The debate over the history of slavery in Australia is one that resurfaces on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of the tens of thousands of Indigenous workers who have been fighting for decades to reclaim wages that were withheld from them under discriminatory laws until the 1970s.

Each time, Davis dredges up the painful stories from her family’s past in a bid to set the record straight about a struggle stretching back more than a century.

The 58-year-old has spent her life advocating for the rights of Australian South Sea Islander people – the descendants of men, women and children known as “sugar slaves” who were taken from the Pacific islands and forced into hard labour in Australia. She chairs the Australian South Sea Islanders Port Jackson organisation in Sydney.

“Slavery is slavery. You can’t dress it up or dress it down,” Davis says. “The kidnapping, the coercing, the stealing and the serious abuses that happened to our people … this is something that’s handed down through generations.”

So how did slavery operate in Australia? How long did the practices continue? And how has it made a lasting impact on the nation?

A warning to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers: this article includes images of deceased people.

Waskam Emelda Davis: "Slavery is slavery."
Waskam Emelda Davis: “Slavery is slavery.”CREDIT:RHETT WYMAN, DIGITALLY ALTERED

What forms of slavery were in Australia?

Article 1 of the United Nations Slavery Convention defines slavery as “the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised”.

Around the time of colonisation in Australia – the First Fleet arrived in 1788 – an anti-slavery movement was growing in Britain. The British Parliament abolished the Atlantic slave trade in 1807 and passed the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833.

As such, there was to be no slave trade in Australia. However numerous historians, legal experts and government officials have found that the controls imposed on Pacific Islander and First Nations peoples essentially amounted to slavery.

“It is true that Australia was not a ‘slave state’ in the manner of the American South,” writes Stephen Gray in the Australian Indigenous Law Review.

“Nevertheless, employers exercised a high degree of control over ‘their’ Aboriginal workers who were, in some cases, bought and sold as chattels … Employers exercised a form of ‘legal coercion’ over their workers in a manner consistent with the legal interpretation of slavery.”

Emelda's grandfather, Moses Topay Enares.
Emelda’s grandfather, Moses Topay Enares.

What was blackbirding?

Emelda Davis says her grandfather was 12 when he went for a swim at the beach near his home on the island of Tanauta (formerly Tanna) in Vanuatu and never returned.Advertisement

He was kidnapped in the late 1800s, she says, and taken to Bundaberg, in north Queensland, where he was put to work in the cane fields.

At least 50,000 people, mostly men, from 80 Melanesian islands were brought by boat to work in Australia’s agriculture, maritime and sugar industries. Some went voluntarily but many were coerced or kidnapped. Their wages were less than a third of other workers.

The practice, known as blackbirding, was sanctioned by various Queensland laws from the mid-1860s to 1904. Several members of parliament grew wealthy through this system.

Those who chose to leave the islands signed three-year indenture agreements, explains University of Queensland historian Professor Clive Moore, but few knew what awaited them in Australia.

He says the indenture system has often been called “a new form of slavery”.

“Just think, you’re a capitalist in the 1830s and 1840s and they’ve just abolished slavery and you want cheap labour, so you scratch your head and you say, ‘Well, how can I get cheap labour?’.

“[Islanders] were legally indentured, but then you’ve got to ask, did they understand the indenture system? Often no, they wouldn’t have had a clue what it really was … therefore you might say the contract’s invalid,” he says.

Moore estimates 15,000 South Sea Islander people – around a third of the workforce – died from common diseases during their first year in Australia due to low immunity levels.

“The mortality figures are horrific,” he says. “The government must have known and yet it did absolutely nothing to try to stop it.”

When the White Australia policy was enacted in 1901, the government ordered the mass deportation of all South Sea Islander people, sparking outrage among those who had built lives on the mainland and wished to stay.

Ultimately, around 5000 workers were forcibly deported. In a cruel twist of fate, their deportations were funded by the wages of deceased South Sea Islanders, whose estates were controlled by the government.

Those who remained were subject to racial discrimination and embarked on a long journey to carve out their own place in Australian society.

Emelda Davis' grandmother, Emily Enares (right), with Lola Noter.
Emelda Davis’ grandmother, Emily Enares (right), with Lola Noter.

How did ‘protection’ usher in a new form of slavery?

It could be argued that what happened to South Sea Islander workers was a precursor to the systematic wage controls imposed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups from around the 1890s, notably in the pearling and cattle industries.

In the late 19th century, every mainland state and the Northern Territory enacted laws, known as the protection acts, to control the lives of Indigenous people. Prior to this, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers were routinely exploited.

Historian Dr Ros Kidd says there is evidence that women were used as sex slaves, children were kidnapped and Aboriginal stockmen were encouraged to form opium addictions to make them reliant on their employers, who supplied the drug.

Kidd says the protection acts were largely introduced to ensure industries remained profitable rather than to protect the welfare of Indigenous people.

“Part of the problem, as the authorities saw it, was the rise of inter-racial children and the fact that we, as the whites, needed to assert some authority and regulation over all of this,” she says.

Under the protection acts, most Aboriginal people were removed from their homelands and forced to live on missions or reserves run by the church or government, respectively. Some South Sea Islander people were subjected to the same controls.

Aboriginal people were forbidden from speaking their native languages or practising their cultures, and children were separated from their families and placed in dormitories.

Employment laws varied from state to state but, for the most part, the wages of Aboriginal people were diverted to government-managed trust funds, while local protectors managed the residue as legal trustees. Official documents reveal protectors habitually defrauded Aboriginal workers for much of the 20th century.

For most Queensland workers, the minimum monthly wage was set at five shillings (around $24), less than one-eighth of the non-Indigenous wage.

Sometimes, the worker would receive a small portion of that amount as pocket money but, in many cases, they received nothing. Workers could, in theory, withdraw from their trust account for necessities but only with permission from the local protector. Requests were often refused, or workers were falsely told they had no money.

Roy Savo, right, with another stockman.
Roy Savo, right, with another stockman.

Roy Savo is a former stockman who spent a decade working on Queensland cattle stations from the age of 13. He says he didn’t see physical money until he was almost 20.

“When we wanted to go to the shop, they’d just write us a note and say, ‘Take that to the shop’,” he says. “That’s how we got through life.”

The 80-year-old says the bosses would not call the Aboriginal workers by their names, referring to them only as “boy”.

“They made you feel so low. When I think back, we were just no one, nothing. We had no chance against the white people, they just ruled our lives. We were one step from being an animal. In some places you were told to sit out and eat with the animals anyway, out in the wood heap.”

When he was about 19, Savo ran away from his “job”. Dodging authorities, he continued to work at various cattle stations and railways across far north Queensland and the Torres Strait, before meeting his wife and starting a family in Silkwood, south of Cairns.

In Western Australia, most employers weren’t legally required to pay Aboriginal workers at all until the 1940s, so long as they provided rations, clothing and blankets.

Many workers in the Northern Territory died from starvation in the 1920s and ’30s due to poor rations, records show. One anthropologist reported that on one station, only 10 children survived from 51 births during a five-year period. The government declined to intervene. The chief protector in the Northern Territory said in 1927 that Aboriginal pastoral workers were “kept in a servitude that is nothing short of slavery”.

Those who absconded from a work contract could be whipped, jailed or arrested and brought back in chains.

Aboriginal children were routinely indentured to work, with boys sent to farms and pastoral stations and girls to domestic service for non-Indigenous families.

Their wages were supposed to be administered similarly to the adults’ but there was little to no regulation to ensure employers complied with the law.

Protectors themselves described Queensland’s Aboriginal wage system as a “farce” in the 1940s, says Kidd, with workers “entirely at the mercy of employers who simply doctored the books”.

She notes the broad lack of oversight prompted one protector in the Northern Territory to remark: “I think it is about time that slavery is put a stop to among the natives of Australia.”

South Sea Islander women planting sugar cane by hand at Bingera, Queensland, about 1897.
South Sea Islander women planting sugar cane by hand at Bingera, Queensland, about 1897.CREDIT:STATE LIBRARY OF QUEENSLAND

When did this kind of slavery end?

The protection acts were gradually amended and replaced throughout the second half of the 20th century but some controls endured until at least 1972 – the year Gough Whitlam was elected prime minister.

And yet when the laws were repealed, the money held in trust was never returned to Aboriginal workers. The unpaid funds have become known as the stolen wages.

In Queensland, Aboriginal trust funds were used to cover government revenue shortfalls. Millions were spent on regional hospitals. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were used to facilitate the forcible removal of Aboriginal families from their traditional lands.

In today’s money, Kidd conservatively estimates the missing or misappropriated funds to total $500 million in Queensland alone.

“The government made a lot of money exploiting the savings accounts for its own profit,” she says. “This is while people were starving and dying in need of these payments.”

People lining up for flour rations at the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement (now known as Cherbourg) in Queensland in 1911.
People lining up for flour rations at the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement (now known as Cherbourg) in Queensland in 1911. CREDIT:STATE LIBRARY OF QUEENSLAND

For decades, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been fighting to get that money back.

In Queensland, thousands joined a class action to sue the government. In 2019, the state government agreed to a landmark $190 million settlement. It was the largest settlement for Indigenous people outside native title and the fifth-largest class action settlement in Australian history.

But it was less than half what the workers were owed and by the time the settlement was reached, more than half of the claimants had died.

Similar class actions are being investigated in NSW and the NT while one has been launched in WA. Australian South Sea Islanders are also fighting for reparations for an estimated $38 million in misspent wages of deceased workers.

A year after Queensland’s class action was settled, Roy Savo still doesn’t know when, or how much, he will be paid for a decade’s hard labour. He fears it will be much less than he had hoped.

“I wanted to buy a home,” he says. “But looking at what I’m going to get now, I’m thinking it would be better putting it into some trust or something for my funeral. I come in with nothing, go out with nothing, I suppose.”

South Sea Islander labourers hoeing a field, Herbert River, Queensland, c. 1902.
South Sea Islander labourers hoeing a field, Herbert River, Queensland, c. 1902. CREDIT:SLQ

What is the legacy of slavery in Australia?

As fate would have it, Emelda Davis’ housing unit in the inner-Sydney suburb of Pyrmont looks out to the refinery where the raw sugar harvested by South Sea Islanders was once processed.

It’s widely acknowledged much of Australia’s wealth across the sugar, pastoral and maritime industries was built on the backs of Indigenous and South Sea Islander labour.

“The contribution of the 60-odd thousand [South Sea Islanders], coupled with our First Nations families, is quite significant in establishing what we call today the lucky country,” Davis says. “Our legacy is what people are thriving off today.”

At the Redcliffe Hospital, north of Brisbane, there is a plaque to acknowledge that it was built, in part, with a $1.7 million loan from Aboriginal trust funds in the 1960s.

Similar plaques have been installed across Queensland, at the recommendation of a 2016 taskforce, to recognise the labour and financial contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Yet many within these communities still live in poverty. Disparities in health, education and employment between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are well documented.

Ros Kidd says this disadvantage is “inextricably linked” with historical practices.

She says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were excluded from the capitalist society.

“They trapped people in what I would call engineered disadvantage – because it didn’t happen by coincidence, it didn’t happen through an unfortunate set of circumstances. All of these conditions and this poverty was specific government policy and practice.”

Australian South Sea Islanders, too, have inherited generations of trauma and disadvantage. The community was officially recognised as a distinct cultural group in 1994, but without targeted policies Davis says they often “fall through the cracks”, missing out on support programs tailored for Indigenous Australians.

“We’re at a point where it’s completely desperate. There’s no hope in looking to our government for anything. It’s just constant hoop-jumping and lining up against everybody else in the queues for rations,” she says.

The legacy of trauma is also felt in the Pacific Islands.

On a beach in Vanuatu, there’s a spot called Howling Rock, where mothers would mourn their husbands and children who disappeared. There are songs, passed through the generations, warning not to go to certain beaches for risk of being taken.

But new generations in Australia have inherited something else from their ancestors, too: strength.

Queensland artist Dylan Mooney, 24, has Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and South Sea Islander heritage. His paternal great-great-grandparents were blackbirded from Vanuatu. His great-great-grandfather worked on sugar plantations in northern NSW while his great-great-grandmother, Fanny Togo, was sold as a house servant in Sydney.

Mooney says knowing what his ancestors went through has only strengthened his sense of identity and pride.

“I carry that with me every day – that strength, that resilience, that story of survival.”

WHY IS THIS NOT QUESTIONED?

SHE COULD BE AUSTRALIAN, CANADIAN, AMERICAN, NEW ZEALAND.

HE COULD BE AUSTRALIAN, CANADIAN, AMERICAN, NEW ZEALAND.

BUT WHY DO WE QUESTION THE IDENTITY AND NATIONALITIES OF THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE DESPITE BEING BORN IN ANY ONE OF THE FOLLOWING COUNTRIES:

AUSTRALIA, AMERICA, NEW ZEALAND, CANADA?

BECAUSE WHITE LIVES MATTER. WHITE PEOPLE NEED TO IDENTIFY MORE IN COUNTRIES THEY REALLY HAVE NO RIGHT ASSUMING SOVEREIGNTY AND PRIVILEGE AND WE NEVER QUESTION IT.

If you think I’m the one with the issue, think again. Read this from a University Professor who has experienced this first hand as well:

https://www.smh.com.au/national/why-being-an-australian-citizen-doesn-t-mean-others-will-believe-you-truly-belong-20190205-p50vus.html

Hairy Nose White Men Know Best

I love it when a privileged white man tells the rest of us that our experiences can’t be true because they have never experienced it. That lack of Theory of Mind is almost bordering on being autistic.  Jacqueline Maley, one of my favourite Australian journalists, dares to shine the light on Mr Ian MacDonald’s absurdity.  Mr MacDonald, I invite you to engage with anyone of colour and ask ‘Has racism impacted on your daily activities of living in Australia? ‘ then I’d like you to sit and LISTEN. Yes, LISTEN.

If you think Australia has a racism problem, you’re the racist

Senator Ian Macdonald is the Father of the Parliament, which is a nice way of saying he has been there longer than anyone else.

With experience, allegedly comes wisdom, and this week the Queensland senator shared some of his when he declared that racism doesn’t really exist in Australia.

Not since Bob Katter asserted there were no homosexuals in his electorate has such a bold claim been made by a Queenslander.

But, lest you think such a general assertion might be spurious, or at least open to conjecture, consider the evidence Macdonald offered to back it up: two senior ministers in the government are not “white Australian males”, and also, the Aboriginal rugby league player Jonathan Thurston is extremely popular in North Queensland.

Thurston is like a “king”, said Macdonald, and everyone would like to recruit him to their political parties. That’s how un-racist we are: we venerate black sportsmen.

“I might live in a bubble perhaps, but I find it very difficult to find any but rare cases of racism in Australia,” Macdonald told the Senate committee hearing.

And then: “There are obviously isolated aspects of racism in Australia but I would think across the board they’re very isolated.”

Macdonald was arguing that there is no need to appoint a new race discrimination commissioner, and, although unkind observers might say that Macdonald’s best political days are behind him, on this subject he is right on the zeitgeist.

The current commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, will step down in August after a five-year stint and Attorney-General Christian Porter will soon assess applicants to appoint as his replacement. He has dismissed calls not to appoint a successor to Soutphommasane.

Soutphommasane’s tenure was marked by some controversy. He campaigned strongly (and ultimately successfully) against proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” on the basis of race.

In doing so, Soutphommasane lined himself up against then prime minister Tony Abbott, many Liberal MPs, the Murdoch press and conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, which took out full-page newspaper advertisements to lobby for the anti-18C cause.

The Murdoch press was particularly opposed to the section because its star columnist, Andrew Bolt, famously fell foul of it.

Later, so did its star cartoonist, Bill Leak. In 2016, Leak drew a cartoon for The Australian depicting a drunken Aboriginal father who had forgotten his child’s name. A complaint of race discrimination was made, and later withdrawn, with one of the complainants saying  she felt bullied by The Australian’s coverage of her.

When Leak died of a heart attack in 2017, some of his supporters reportedly blamed the stress of the complaint as a contributing factor.

Soutphommasane’s critics say he tweeted “soliciting” complaints following the cartoon’s publication, and that he promoted more division than harmony.

Porter seemed to nod to these criticisms when he gave an interview saying the next commissioner would need to have “an understanding and empathy not merely for minority groups but for middle Australian values”.

Macdonald is surely capable of forming his own views, but it was an interesting coincidence that his declaration of Australia as racism-free and not requiring a race discrimination commissioner came in the same week the Institute of Public Affairs circulated a “research brief” to parliamentarians arguing “Australia must not appoint a commissioner for racial division”. (Macdonald’s office said the senator had not read the brief when he made his comments, “however [he had] read some Spectatorarticles that had been raised with him by constituents, enriched by his own experiences”.)

The IPA believes the entire Human Rights Commission should be abolished, and asserts that it has abused more human rights than it has redressed.

But until that happens, it argues the government should leave the race discrimination commissioner role empty.

The IPA paper asserts that “refusing to appoint a new race discrimination commissioner would be an acknowledgement that race has no place in Australia’s national institutions”.

This point of view is an interesting one and an increasingly prevalent one among hard conservatives (it’s worth remembering that the IPA is a feeder for Liberal politics: MPs James Paterson, Scott Ryan, Tim Wilson and Tony Smith were all associated with the institute pre-politics).

People who mention race at all, or note racism, or racist incidents, are told that they are the racist ones.

To name race as a factor in social conflict is to stoke social division. To call out the problem is to be the problem.

It is a tricky rhetorical move, because it forces us to go back to first principles, as though we were drafting the “affirmative” case in a year 7 debate entitled: “Does racism exist in Australia?”

That opens the way for people like Macdonald – who has served in the Senate since the early ’90s yet doesn’t concede he lives in a “bubble” – to claim that there is no racism because he has never seen it.

By that logic you could declare me a bacteria-sceptic, or a gravity denier.

Some people have a hard time accepting the concept of subjective experience, particularly when that subjective experience is very different from their own, as subjective experience so often is. It shouldn’t have to be said, but the best witnesses to racism are probably not going to be Anglo-Saxon “lifer” senators who live in largely white communities.

 

Macdonald might ask himself why, if racism was no problem, there was such a strong electoral backlash from ethnic communities over the 18C issue, so strong it turned toxic for the government, which was forced  to dump its pledge to amend the section.

Macdonald’s comments were made the same day The Daily Telegraph published comments from NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley that an influx of refugees into western Sydney, notably Fairfield, has lead to a “white flight” of “many Anglo families” from those suburbs.

The Labor movement, and the ALP, have a long, ignoble tradition of xenophobia and racism but these days it’s rare to see it so openly expressed.

Foley later apologised, claiming he had no idea the term “white flight” might be offensive to some. He says he was only arguing that those regions need proper resources to cope with the surge of new arrivals.

Why, then, would he single out “Anglo families” as being the ones so adversely affected they “have” to leave?

Premier Gladys Berejiklian, the proud daughter of immigrants, savaged him in NSW Parliament on Thursday, saying his comments were “divisive, dangerous and nasty”.

For a country that has no racism, racism seems to make the news a lot.

Thank you Stan Grant but why does it take a coloured person to write this?

Royal wedding: Meghan Markle’s race is not a question worth debating

Tight shot of Megan Markle smiling and looking past the camera.

What race is Meghan Markle? The world has seemed obsessed with the question.

The Royal wedding commentary returned to it time and again, as the bride was referred to as “mixed race” or “biracial”.

One British commentator part of ABC’s coverage, even wondered ridiculously about the future children of Meghan and Harry who, in her words, could be “all sorts of colours”.

Race does not exist

Race is a strange subject. It is an utterly discredited notion; scientists know it is nonsense to even speak of race.

We belong to one human family, and advances in the study of DNA show we all draw our heritage from different parts of the globe.

In this way, we are all “mixed” race.

As geneticist David Reich says in his recent book Who We Are and How We Got Here, “the genome revolution — turbo charged by ancient DNA — has revealed that human populations are related to each other in ways that no one expected”.

Reich says “if we trace back our lineages far enough into the past, we reach a point where everyone descends from the same ancestor …” The evidence of human remains tells us that ancestral “Eve” was from Africa.

Yes, the Queen is an African and Harry and Meghan — like the rest of us — are distant cousins.

Meghan Markle was no more “mixed race” than anyone else at her wedding.

Race has us trapped

Scientifically, race is rubbish: yet, it matters. It matters because as a society we have made it matter.

Ideas of “race” have brought out the worst of humanity.

They have inspired — and continue to inspire — genocide, holocaust, war, dispossession, colonisation, imperialism, slavery, lynchings, segregation, mass incarceration.

Personally and individually it ties us in knots.

Meghan Markle’s mother is considered black and her father white.

Until very recently, America’s “one drop” rule — one drop of “black blood” — made the Duchess “too black”.

The American census now allows people to self-identify in ever-more convoluted and exotic abstractions and hyphens.

The golfer Tiger Woods has gone to ludicrous lengths to describe himself, inventing his own category “Cablinasian” to reflect his Caucasian, Black, Indian, Asian roots.

Meghan herself, in an op-ed for Elle magazine, wrote of how she has embraced “the grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence”.

Race has us trapped.

It is all but impossible for us to think about ourselves or articulate a sense of identity without referring to race.

More than a check-box

I identify as an Indigenous Australian — there is deep indigenous heritage in my mother’s and father’s families.

Historically, we have been categorised as “Aboriginal” or “Indigenous”, or more colloquially or disparagingly as “blacks”.

That has meant at various times being subject to government policy that has restricted our liberty; has told us where we could live and who we could marry.

Families have been divided on arbitrary rulings of colour.

The Australian Law Reform Commission lists historically more than 60 different definitions of who was considered as Indigenous.

Today, I am asked to tick a box on the census form identifying whether I am Aboriginal. It is an entirely invented category that erases the complexity of my heritage.

I am descended from Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi people but I also have an Irish convict ancestor and my maternal grandmother was European.

How can that census box possibly contain all of me?

See how quickly we become bogged in the swamp of scientifically meaningless racial categorisation: was my grandmother “white”? My grandfather black? Are both of my parents “biracial”?

Genetically, none of us are “pure”. “Whiteness” is often normalised and “blackness” seen as something “other”. These are relationships of power not science.

Can we be truly post-racial?

This was the tantalising possibility raised by the election in 2008 of Barack Obama as America’s president, a man with a white mother and a black Kenyan father.

His election was hailed as the fulfilment of the Martin Luther King Jnr promise of being judged not by colour but character.

The writer Toure challenged the whole idea of “blackness” in his book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?

He said “the point of fighting for freedom is for black folk to define blackness as we see fit”.

As he made clear, there are forty million blacks in America and forty million ways to be black.

Historian and social scientist David Hollinger has called for Americans to “push yet harder against the authority that shape and colour have historically been allowed by society to exert over our culture”.

Hollinger, in his book Post-ethnic America, dismisses the idea of “fixed” identities, he favours making room for new communities that promotes solidarity between people beyond definitions of race or ethnicity.

As he says we “live in an age not of identities but affiliations”.

It is a worthy idea that remains a work in progress.

Obama spoke of a “nation where all things are possible”, yet, as historian Garry Gerstle points out:

“If Obama’s election produced spasms of racial vertigo, the reality for millions of African-Americans who cheered his victory, continued to be contoured by the very forces of racial segregation, police brutality, poverty, unemployment that in some quarters, Obama’s election had suddenly made irrelevant”.

Race matters, even if the evidence tells us it should not.

Shifting our language is not some kumbuya, all-hold-hands fantasy — it is urgent: race exacts a terrible human toll.

Race the new witchcraft

Historian, Barbara Fields and her sister, sociologist Karen Fields, remind us that “race is the principle unit and core concept of racism”.

Racism, they write, is a social practice that “always takes for granted the objective reality of race”.

Race is voodoo; it is no different, they argue, than witchcraft. In their book Racecraft, they point out that:

“Neither witch nor pure race has a material existence. Both are products of thought and of language.”

Witchcraft they say only exists when people “act on the reality of the imagined thing”. It is the action that creates the evidence.

There is nothing in the hue of a person’s skin that creates segregation and suffering; it happens when people act on ideas about that skin colour.

The Fields sisters say we have moved beyond fears of witchcraft, but “racecraft” persists.

They reject the language of race, even terms like “mixed-race” or “post-racialism”, which draw from the same well as racism.

A better way to approach Markle

That’s what all the discussion about Meghan Markle’s “race” was really doing — perpetuating voodoo science and fuelling the same old fears of difference, as if that has not done enough damage to our world already.

How much better to celebrate that wonderful cosmopolitan meeting of cultures, sharing the joy of Harry and Meghan, and reflecting on Bishop Michael Curry’s message of the transforming power of love than the discredited notions of race ands colour.

 

A Double Standard for the Coloureds

As a coloured female in Australia, I am very familiar with the double standard.

One notion that has really impacted on me as an adult trying to engage in commercial activities to improve my quality of life (i.e earning an income) I have come to realise something about Australia. I do wonder if it is uniquely Australian?

My realisation: Non white migrants were not meant to sit on top of the dung pile with Anglo Saxons. Ah-ah, no no.

Why? Because the Restricted Immigration Act 1901 did not want coloured people making any economic gains in Australia that may increase their participation in power making decisions. This was true of Chinese people and the Kanakas in Northern Queensland. Let’s get it plain and straight: Non white people were/are brought into Australia because Anglo Saxon Australians are lazy. Too lazy to come up with economic policy to increase productivity other than to dig minerals out from the ground. So the easiest and quickest way out is to get all those rich non whites into the country to increase the tax base- the truth of this is that migrants are hungry for socioeconomic mobility. They will work hard to ensure they aren’t on the dole queues and that their kids are well educated and professional. They are hungry to provide their kids a life they didn’t have. There was never ever, for one moment in Anglo power thinking an inkling that Australia would be represented by an Aboriginal face , a mixed race face or a non Anglo face. Never. Which is why so many government policies, institutions and media companies made sure that mixed race / coloured people would never advance to take up any position of power and would never come to be an ‘Australian’.

Snapshot to the Brits and whites (read South Africans) from elsewhere- why do they come here? So they can take all the plum top executive jobs in banks, government, media companies etc and have a ‘lifestyle’ – live in affluent leafy suburbs with harbour views, drive expensive cars, kids in private schools and of course the mandatory size 10 blonde wife.  The more ‘charming’ she is, the higher the brownie points.  For a white person Australia is a ‘lifestyle choice’.  The red carpet is rolled out- the more you look like ‘us’ (read Anglo), the more you’ll have economic freedom to rise to the top of the dung pile. The ‘White Entitlement’ from white migrants in other countries to Australia never ceases to astound me, their arrogance and confidence only reaffirmed and supported once they reach Australia.

For most coloured people, Australia is represents a stable government, a sense of freedom (albeit covertly limited) and running away from persecution (religious, ethnic, linguistic etc).  Many coloured migrants have given up status and respect from their home countries to give it a go in Australia and many end up realising Australia is great but will never afford them the same status and respect if they are non white.

Sadly, this is definitely the case for Australian Aboriginals. How much of a slap in the face is that for people who have every right to be here and every right to sovereignty and power but denied this everyday?  There in lies the double standard here in Australia- you’re not white enough you don’t stand a chance and especially if you are an ethnic female or an Aboriginal, the original First People of this country. Why is this truth lost on so many people in Australia?

Like ‘Terra Nullius’ how unbelievably convenient.

Well you have every right to….

So currently there’s a lot of talk about how offended people are in Australia with ‘white privilege’ and tarring everyone with the same racist brush. The standard comment is ‘I didn’t do what my forebears did so why are you saying I should have guilt?’ ‘ I am not a racist.’

You are completely right. The British people came here, conquered and took over the land from aboriginals who still exist on it today. They built the country following the paradigm of a Western economic, capitalist, patriarchal agenda. And yes, they deserve the spoils of the country and dare I say an entitled, privileged status.  So if you don’t want to share outside your kith and kin, if you don’t want multiculturalism, if you don’t like seeing different people experiencing the same privileges as you,  then please return the White Australia Policy, please bring in economic protectionism so you don’t have to be impacted by a global economy and foreigners, make your cities smaller and more live-able, the air cleaner , the waterways less congested, the price of real estate less. Throw us ‘the others’ out. Tell all the wogs, the chinks, the Muslims, the ‘others’ to go back to their countries of origin. Make it fortress Australia again.

Now how do you think the people and country will go? How prosperous will Australian society and its economy be?  Who do you think then will be the most affected by such actions and policies?  Think Australia.

Hey, don’t gaslight me. White people are calling it out too…

In case you’re feeling like this is a rather negative rant on Australian society, let me put your mind at ease- it is. This well written article by a white American might just let you know how unbelievably OK it is in Australia to be discriminatory towards those who are ‘different’. This comes from another person, not me so I hope it goes to validate my feelings and experiences here in Australia.

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/bigotted-thinking-is-more-dangerous-than-the-hijab-20161215-gtbw1q.html. Here’s the article below:

She was the first neighbour we had in Australia. She left us place settings for two, two tea towels, and a kettle on our doorstep after she learned that our things wouldn’t arrive from America for another month and a half.

It was the holiday season. A tough time to make cross continental moves.

On New Year’s Day, she had us over for “a cup of tea”. I can’t remember if she was born here or an immigrant from Scotland, but she was certainly proud of her Scottish heritage. She explained that we were her first guests on New Year’s Day, a detail of significance in her culture. Something called First-Footing.

A custom of Hogmanay: the first guest over the threshold on New Year’s Day, it was hoped, would bring an assortment of humble, symbolic items of food and drink in order to procure good luck for the host in the coming year.

Since we had none of these items, our neighbour had them ready for us to give to her: salt, coal, whiskey, shortbread, and a fruit cake of some kind sat upon a plate on the entry table near her front door. She let us choose the items from the plate that we wished to give her, and then we handed them back to her as we stepped inside.

While we sat in the foyer of her terrace house and enjoyed her homemade shortbread cookies, she proceeded to tell us about “The Neighbourhood”. The neighbours on the other side were an “eyesore”, she said. Italians. “Always talking loudly in Italian on their phones, leaning out the windows. I have to ask them to be quiet five times a day or keep my windows shut. And they hang their laundry across that upstairs balcony. The council really should do something about it. I’ve reported it more than once,” she said.

 

The loud-talking Italian neighbours were one thing, but the Chinese who fed the pigeons in the small park behind her house seemed to be an even greater source of agony. According to our neighbour, the Chinese dirtied up the park. They left litter and food around for the pigeons to pick at, and eventually the seagulls would come and really make a mess of things. “Those birds, they just spread garbage and disease. It was discussed at the last council meeting. Something will be done about it.”

She gave us the lay of the land. The Woolworths on the corner was where the Aborigines gathered. “But they’re relatively harmless. Just drunk. Don’t give them money.” There was a butcher a street over who sold turkeys for the Americans at the holidays, and if I ever needed any jewellery or watches repaired, she knew a good repairman: “He’s Greek but trustworthy.”

My husband and I listened and smiled politely and tried to get out of there as quickly as possible. Our neighbour was kind in her intentions, but her blind unawareness of her basis of judgment of other human beings was disturbing, and in large quantities, a potentially dangerous thing.

Since then I’ve realised that our neighbour introduced us to more than the neighbourhood; she introduced us to normalised racism in Australia. And over the years, I’ve seen it worsen. As it has globally, the anti-Muslim sentiment has grown stronger here. Worrisome generalisations like, “There’s no such thing as a peaceful Muslim,” are becoming more common.

Most people reading this would dismiss that statement for what it is: an uninformed prejudice. That said, there are a lot of people who believe mainstream fearmongers and think that Muslims are dangerous aggressors determined to infiltrate a country and convert its inhabitants to Islam.

These people can’t differentiate between a general belief system and the extremists of that ideology.

Because it’s the extremists of any religion or movement that are the true threat to peace. And we create those extremists ourselves. They are the manifested response to our divisive rhetoric, our mob mentality, and the unopposed false statements and prejudices that are allowed to circulate within our cultures.

A UN special rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, in his recent visit to Australia, fingered Australian politicians as a whole as being influential contributors to the xenophobic hate speech that fuels the rise of racism and anti-Muslim sentiment here. Ruteere warned that those who refuse to denounce such speech serve to normalise it within the culture.

Like Peter Dutton, who recently said that “of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offences in this country, 22 are from second- and third-generation Lebanese Muslim backgrounds”.

Head of counter-terrorism policy at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Jacinta Carroll replied: “Fortunately in Australia to date the numbers of supporters of Islamist extremism and terrorism are very low; so low, in fact, they’re categorised as cases and clusters rather than being statistically useful,” she said.

But Dutton doesn’t explain that. Truths like that would contradict his xenophobic agenda, but it’s truths like that that should be shared loudly.

It’s the holiday season again. I’m digging out family decorations and going through customs and traditions that are foreign here but age-old in my family. Australia-wide there are people like me, like that first neighbour, enjoying the customs of our diverse backgrounds, and I find myself wondering about the word “assimilation”, how it stands in such stark contradiction to the multicultural society Australia touts itself as being. How can we be multicultural if we’re all the same?

Muslims are regularly criticised for “not assimilating” into Australian culture, and I wonder what that means. Why are Muslims expected to trade-in their customs and traditions for Australian ones yet my neighbour feels she can freely cultivate and share her Scottish traditions and racist judgments of others, with strangers? Surely, that kind of bigoted, hypocritical thinking is far more dangerous to society than a headscarf.

By Aubrey Perry.

In addition to the above sentiments by Aubrey Perry, let me give another example – John Oliver, a journalist who was once with the Daily Show US, now has his own program. Mr Oliver has not once but on many occasions mentioned the casual racism in Australia in his shows this link being one of them back in 2013: https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/australia-is-most-comfortably-racist-says-daily-show-presenter-20130416-2hxg5.html

I’m not making up my experiences of being in the ‘out’ group here in Australia. Where as I’m not the recipient of violence I have been the recipient of hate, bullying, intimidation and exclusion. I can give one of many examples of incidences living in Sydney, one being of a neighbour calling the police because my husband told a tradesperson not to obstruct our driveway. The neighbour reported to police that we damaged the tradie’s ute when we did nothing of the sort. This would be one of many examples of the casual racism we receive on a daily basis. The outcome, thankfully (and because my husband is white) was the police telling the racist neighbour to leave us alone or a protective order would be issued. I’m thankful that a) Australia has the rule of law and due process but I suspect works better if you’re white b) the more polite racists in my area (Sydney’s Snore Shore) just pretend I’m faceless and nameless- ignored and excluded like I don’t exist- ten times better than being targeted and assaulted like our indigenous people. There is still a long way to go for a non white ‘out’ group person to be fully accepted as ‘Australian’ especially in areas of perceived white privilege.

Creating the white majority in non-white countries

OK as you’ve guessed from my blogs, I touch on discrimination heavily. It’s because my activities of daily living are heavily punctuated by events of discrimination- shopping, driving, picking kids up from school, working as an allied health professional etc.

It gets tiring doesn’t it to hear your own kind being brandished as racists all the time when you personally feel you are not? But that’s the catch. We’ve moved away from criminalized racism like the KKK in the US at the turn of the century to now more subtle forms of discrimination that still impact on the daily lives of individuals- it’s the nuanced difference of having a good or bad day, of getting that job without sitting through fifty interviews, of general politeness, courtesy and respect from your fellow human. And I agree with many observers that this theme is getting tiring especially with all the anti- discrimination legislation, civil rights movements, progressive and somewhat ‘leftist’ teaching in our schools and universities. I wonder though how much is ‘preaching to the converted’. Brexit still happens, Trump gets voted in and Pauline Hanson sits back on the Senate, so what changes? We keep going around in circles.

Specifically talking about Australia the cynic in me says well done governments of yesterday! You’ve done a beaut job in creating the white majority here. Pat on the back, couldn’t have done better, pity it hasn’t prepared this island to deal with a progressively more connected world and international community…keep saving your lower class, poorly educated albino bethren, keep ensuring ‘they’ will always stay on top of the dung heap of Australian society. No sympathies when socially things really get pear shaped- you have yourselves to blame- but you can always tell the rest of the non white migrants to ‘leave it’ and bring back the Restrictive Migration Act and see how well this cess pool survives- go on, do it. Or just blame multiculturalism- that’s an easy scapegoat as it doesn’t require anyone to grow up. It will be the most popular government election policy – you’ll join the ranks of Trump and Duterte and quite frankly this country deserves a ‘leader’ like that. Appease the bottom white trash – after all they are the people looked after the best here so why change? And be aware of giving this demographic power and freedom of speech because a dangerous leader with low EQ will incite hate and violence as we saw today with the storming of the US Capitol https://www.smh.com.au/world/north-america/us-protests-what-we-know-so-far-about-the-storming-of-the-capitol-20210107-p56sa1.html.  Mental Note: we don’t want to be like North America. In this article, see how much race and racism had a lot to do about White people feeling their entitlement is being usurped: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/08/us/politics/trump-georgia-capitol-racism.html?smid=em

And don’t bleat the white majority line to me either- that was socially engineered from the time Australia was conveniently deemed ‘Terra Nullius’ and yes we’ll have all the legal buffs putting their moot points on that so that Whitey can always come out on top. Please, you’re a white majority because it was constructed that way. Would you like some examples? The 10 pound Poms, Restrictive Immigration Act, taking 1000s of British orphans and children (some without their parents knowledge) and dumping them into Australian childrens’ homes, the continual genocide of Aboriginal people etc. The whites are not indigenous to Australia and their ‘ownership’ is tenuous at best. You really don’t have a strong platform to dictate ‘we will decide who comes to our country’ when you’ve effectively stolen it from another people and continue to side line everyone else here as ever being Australian.  I don’t see a great deal of ‘ethnics’ in leaders, our government, our CEOs and on our TV despite the vast numbers of smart ‘ethnic’ people I grew up with. If you want to talk about proportion of representation then I don’t believe the representation of diversity is proportional at all. Some of us ethnics can hide behind our phenotype better than others (think Mathias Cormman). Again, Tim Soutphommasane speaks about this in his article: https://www.smh.com.au/national/why-being-an-australian-citizen-doesn-t-mean-others-will-believe-you-truly-belong-20190205-p50vus.html

Well done! A really good job for letting the rest of the world know that this island broke off from the UK floated all the way East and South and landed where it is today- because that’s how you’d want history to tell its story to give you legitimate hold and place here.

In the New World countries of North America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, it especially irks me that the hypocrisy is lost on many white people. The entitlement attitude still remains even though the facts of history blatantly show up the disposition of indigenous people from their lands in order for the white colonialists to take power and possession. I understand that we can’t blame modern day white people, often generations away from their invading forebears, but this group doesn’t seem concerned about righting things either in modern times and they are way too proud and arrogant to ever succumb to the humility of guilt. It’s still about maintaining their birth right of privilege and power in countries that are not originally their forebears native grounds. And they happily continue with the  genocide and disposition of indigenous people without question, without inquiry and certainly without legal recourse.

I completely get that if it had not been for the these white forebears, many, many ethnic people in these New World countries would not have the affluent and free lifestyles they are able to enjoy and that includes me although my opportunities compared to a white counterpart need to be gained through an extraordinary amount of effort (read miracle). It is absolutely a show of resilience and persistence that a penal colony could produce an economically thriving first world country like Australia. I’m almost certain the original penal colony got help from the local indigenous communities but we can’t ever let that become another inconvenient truth if it were the case.  

At the end of the day, we’re here in modern Australia and we may not be able to change history but we can change our attitudes and for most people who are sheep-like in their adherence to ideas, this needs to come from the ‘Top’. Too bad the ‘Top’ is still represented by Low EQ white men with low empathy and a penchant for narcissism.  We’ve a while to go yet here in Australia. 

Challenging the Status Quo

It stands to reason that I challenge the status quo here in Australia.

Firstly, I am ethnic and young and I really shouldn’t be living in a mostly white upper middle class suburb. Secondly I drive an expensive European family car (how many times have I had disparaging looks from older Anglo folk!). Thirdly, I work in allied health and I don’t act nor look the part.

However, one particular event in my life stands out of when I really pushed the boundaries. I was twenty something and I was going to become a corporate woman. I had just met my then boyfriend who in years to come would be my husband. He was a young, white successful upstart in the management consulting industry and he put me in touch with the owner of a large recruitment agency. Not everyone had the personal details of this multi-millionaire owner of the only large recruitment firm in Sydney in the 1990s, so when Mr Wealthy received my email, he immediately thought I was referred to him by one of his important networking mates.

He organized for an interview with one of his senior recruiters for a position in their recruitment team. Boy were they disappointed. They knew I was a female but they didn’t expect me to look so young and so ethnic. Needless to say the interview lasted all of 20 minutes. But wait there’s more. I get a phone call a week later asking for me to attend an interview out at their Parramatta office for a potential role in their outsourcing department. Mr Wealthy White Man was going to make sure that I paid for wasting his time.  I was interviewed for one and a half hours by some old codger who talked mostly of his time doing voluntary work in out flung places in the world. On several occasions I got up to go and was told to sit back down if I wanted the job. In the end I did end up just leaving (no I’m not slow -after 1/2 hour talking with this person I realised it was pay back).  My point is that I didn’t look the part, I challenged the status quo and I am an ethnic female who is suppose to have no access to those jobs and I shouldn’t have used a boys network to get an interview. That is how we keep people like me in my place-‘ get to the back of the bus, shut up and sit down. ‘

On the other hand, stupid ambitious white men can be bolstered purely by their gender and race. I take Tony Abbott and George W Bush as examples. Due to family connection and/or the boys club these average intelligent men made it to the top job of their respective countries not on merit alone.  Tony Abbott even scored a Rhodes Scholarship and I wonder about all those bright females who topped the HSC in the past years having a shot at it too. Sexism plays a huge role in Australia so I get a double whammy being racially ‘other’ and being a female.

Taking Julia Baird’s quote I now have a Mantra “Carry yourself with the confidence of a mediocre white man.’ I have to say it’s working.

The Media Making ‘Australians’

I have a number of observations on the continual portrayal of who and what is an Australian in this country and continual media bias. Let me use Nick Kyrgios as an example. Not withstanding bad behaviour should never be condonned, Corinne Grant, a white Australian woman wrote an article about this on Hoopla:

“Nick Kyrgios is un-Australian Apparently Nick Kyrgios is too rude. He swears, throws the odd tantrum, and his clothing is way too loud. Many Australians are tut-tutting about this young man and his potty mouth. How very un-Australian! Acting like a self-entitled dickhead is the preserve of middle-class white men, not young upstarts with Greek-Malaysian heritage and less than lily-white skin. Rage Level: Deep indignation. Whatever happened to tennis stars with names you could pronounce and acceptable skin tones? What about that nice John McEnroe? Or that Lleyton Hewitt? Sure he was a bit arrogant, but that was different. He was white. That lovely Andy Murray dropped the f-bomb quite a few times sitting side of court after losing a game the other night, but he’s Scottish. It’s so cute when a little white-faced ranga goes off tap. It’s rather different when a brown boy with a mohawk thinks he has some sort of right to belong. We decide the tennis champions in this country, and the manner in which they win.”

In fact just in today’s SMH there was a report on the expletive laden barrage of Andy Murray’s girlfriend. But I guess when you’re white and beautiful, it’s more permissible.

The media certainly know who to prop up as our nations faces and who we would rather sideline. The treatment of Michelle Leslie and Shapelle Corby is a another case in point. You could argue that Ms Leslie donning female muslim attire to curry favour with her prosecutors didn’t exactly warm her to Australians but the treatment of her in the media and the response by the Australian public was vastly different from Shappelle Corby. Yes the facts of the two cases did differ however I do know that Michelle’s offense was much less than Shappelle’s and yet on talk back radio the vitriol towards Michelle Leslie was quite astounding and disproportionate to her ‘crime’. Ms Corby on the other hand was deemed ‘one of us’ and therefore worthy of the attention and sympathy from your average Australian. I’m only gathering this from the tone of talk back radio and newspaper comments sections and the fact that Channel 9 thought her ‘Australian’ enough to retell her story in a telemovie.

A few years ago in a baby photo competition by a well known Australian brand, a multiracial couple sent in their photo of a Eurasian baby; part Chinese and part Anglo Australian. The awful amount of name calling and questioning whether that child was truly Australian enough to win an Australian baby competition was really disgusting. That baby was born in Australia and her identity and worth as an Australian should never be questioned nor based on her phenotype. The fact that the general public saw fit to abuse this couple highlights a couple of issues : a) the general lack of manners and respect in Australia towards difference b) the publishing of such commentary by the media and allowing it to take place c) the lack of media advocacy and support for the family. It kind of slaps in the face of a ‘fair go’, a supposed unique Australian value.

There are many examples of how a white face is chosen to be splashed across the front cover of popular women’s magazines (e.g The Australian Women’s Weekly), how a white story is more relevant and important than a person of colour and how indigenous news is treated by mainstream media (read articles by Celeste Liddle).

Even in popular television programs, you’d be hard pressed to find a non-white face. A very good play on the issue of media and it’s whitewashing in Australia is one called ‘Lighten Up’ performed at the Griffith Theatre in Sydney. It challenges the over use of white Australia in film. Even in media outlets like Foxtel, its own productions still cling to a white Australia but they feel good about themselves inserting ‘foreign’ channels for the rest of us. Why can’t a non white Australian face be used in Australian drama? What’s so uncomfortable about that when you walk down the streets of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin and see many non white Australian people?

If we are to accept differing phenotypes as being Australian then we need to have responsible and fair portrayals from our media, and we need the heads of these mainstream media organizations to re-engineer who is an Australian. As challenging as this is for Anglo Australians to let go, putting your head in the sand long enough will only lead to suffocation.