What are we really celebrating?

Republished article. Original published on Indigenous X on 22 January, under the title of What kind of morality are they wanting us to celebrate on that day? as part of the Indigenous X Change The Date series. Support Indigenous media by becoming an Indigenous X patron on Patreon.

What are we really celebrating?


That Day was once Many Days, as each state held their foundation days at different times of the year. The cry for a national day on 26 January came from the Australian Natives’ [sic] Association. Being vocal supporters of the White Australia policy, this Association’s membership was exclusively Australian-born white men of European descent. Their vision was a nation of people that shared the same laws, politics, culture, and ancestry.

That Day was never meant to symbolise unity or fairness.

People have been critical of That Day since it was first proposed, because behind the current date is a story of conflict and shame.

That Day: Invasion Day, Survival Day, Day of Mourning, Australia Day. A public holiday. A day of bbqs, fun in the sun, overblown nationalism, sorrow, and a spreading uneasiness.

In the lead up to That Day many stories are told in the media, in homes and the public sphere. Some of these stories have drifted far from the truth. And little wonder, for this nation was also built on fiction. And, in the great Aussie tradition, yarns of nation-building become more fanciful with each telling.

That Day is the beginning of a story, but this Once Upon A Time is told from many points of view. For some, it is a boys‚Äô own adventure, filled with explorers, new frontiers and strange hopping beasts. For others, it‚Äôs an epic tale of founding fathers planting a flag on the no-longer¬†mythical Terra Australis Incognita, benevolently granting the natives ‚Äėcivilisation‚Äô and a wrathful god.

And there are other versions of this story. Truths that many have tried to erase from both books and memories, and even the tongues of First Peoples. Accounts of invasion, waves of violence, loss and grief, and culturally-biased control ‚Äď as well as resistance, self-determination, strength and survival.

This continent has always been a land of story. For over 60,000 years songlines have criss-crossed over the land, out to the sea, and up into the skies. The British invaders, and later settlers from all corners of the globe, brought with them their own stories. As colonisation spread out across this continent, new stories were etched into ancient grounds.

The first of the new stories were that of Invasions. Horrific stories of massacres, murder, torture, kidnapping, and rape. English invasion of this continent was not a one-off event as, over many decades, more than 500 territories were invaded.

Crops Sown in Blood is the next chapter. Again, more of the above violence, with the addition of using slaves to plant colonial roots on stolen lands. Both First Peoples from this continent and other oceanic nations were coerced, or kidnapped and forced, to work for the colonists.

Then came the stories of Cultural Genocide. As settler-colonisation took root, so did the drive to alter the social structures, lifeways and cultures of First Peoples. This chapter features expulsion from ancestral lands; segregation; forcible removal of children to be assimilated, often trained for servitude; the forced coercercion towards Christianity; incarceration on missions and in children’s’ homes, accompanied by bans on cultural practices, languages, and law.

And there were new peoples to exclude, control and oppress; migrants that had managed to evade the White Australia policy that enforced racially-biased immigration. In a settler-colonisation, some people are more equal than others.

The Great Forgetting is the part of the story in which we now find ourselves: government, media and white academia control the narrative and whitewash history.

Through putting social pressure on migrants and their descendants to assimilate, the settler-colonisation minimalises unrest. And if anyone questions the narrative, then they are divisive. Un-Australian. And are told to go back to where they come from.

Of course, First Peoples aren‚Äôt to go back to where they come from. No, we must move on. Forget 230 years of violence, loss & grief, theft, and inequities ‚Äď just be quiet.

These are just some of the stories whitewashed by a public holiday on 26 January. And into these big stories are woven 24 million equally important stories. How we all came to be here influences how we see here.

My ancestors were colonists (English), settlers (Irish) and First Peoples (Martu). You could say that I embody a nation in conflict. I‚Äôve reflected on the role that my non-Indigenous fore-bearers had in supporting a status quo that disadvantaged First Peoples. But the not too distant draconian and racially-biased actions of governments, and the culturally-biased paternalism of missionaries, have had a direct impact on my life. This connects me to the blood, sweat and tears of my ancestors ‚Äď white and blak.

Do I feel lucky to have been born here? Absolutely. Am I proud to be Australian. No. Not when the government, the opposition, and far too many citizens, show a lack of humanity towards First Peoples, refugees, and others who suffer the blows of inequity, bigotry and greed.

Stories, from songlines to colonial tales, the macro (nation) and the micro (individuals), are embed in the soil that we all call home. The story of That Day began in bloodshed and theft. It began with an invasion of Eora country, with the First Fleet planting a foreign nation’s flag on the lands of the Gadigal people.

The past cannot be changed but the next chapter is yet to be written. We can choose to unite these conflicting story-threads. We can choose to tell a story grounded in truth, justice, and a shared vision for the future.

That Day does not allow this process to happen.

Australia needs to collectively stop disrespecting a solemn day of memorial, and remove the public holiday from 26 January. And then change the day. Not just the date. Change the day to tell the real stories of Australia. If we cannot even manage to tell truthful stories, we cannot address the ongoing injustices caused by colonisation.  If we continue to give preference to a whitewashed history, then what are settler-colonists really celebrating every Australia Day, regardless of the date? Attempted conquest.


Airing Dirty Laundry


Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s talk about Lateral Violence

Lateral (or horizontal) violence rears its ugly head in many places and guises. You may not have called it by name before, but most likely you have felt or seen the damage it leaves in its wake.

Lateral violence is where negative and destructive behaviour between individuals occurs across groups of people with a commonality, as opposed to coming from ‘above’. It’s when people in similar circumstances and environments turn on each other, rather than address the problems. And it happens more often than what you may expect.

  • Workplace and¬†Community Groups / Committeesmany, if not all, would have experienced unhealthy workplaces and/or community groups; the ones where moral is low, conditions poor and things are just not feeling right. Under unfavourable conditions, or in toxic environments, people can turn on their colleagues.¬†There are probably four¬†main drivers that can lead to lateral violence in these situations:¬†1) Lack of Leadership¬†2) Changing Group Culture¬†3) Inefficient Management Structures/Governance and/or¬†4) Poor Communication.
  • Families –¬†competition, misunderstandings and low emotional intelligence can lead to lateral violence in families. If not addressed, whole families can be torn apart.
  • Peoples and Nations –¬†this is too huge to cover respectfully here, but briefly: war, conflict, colonisation, oppression, slavery, widespread poverty, and other types of human rights infringements can turn people on each other, as opposed to the perpetrators. In simple terms, it’s a mentality of dog eat dog; being forced to fight over meagre bones to survive.

For example, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have experienced lateral violence. The cause of such behaviour can be linked to the massive change post-colonisation, including: dispossession/loss of land; restrictions on movement and incarceration (from missions/reserves to prisons); forced removal of children; loss of sovereign rights; racism; world-view bias; loss of traditional food sources; food insecurity; equity and access barriers; changes to law and social structures; and reduced decision-making.

All of the above lead to inter-generational issues, impacting on the social-emotional well-being of individuals, families and communities. Poor health, suicide, poverty, unemployment, homelessness are all legacies of colonisation, and side-effects of systemic racism, power & privilege and inflexible world-views. Navigating new social structures, where the goal posts feel as if they are constantly being changed, can contribute to lateral violence.

Some people say it’s best not to air dirty laundry in public. And I usually agree with that sentiment. Drawing attention to internal issues raises fears of funding cuts, or changes in who manages programs and services. Even if problems arise, its important that communities manage their own services and programs, especially where these have been proven to be effective; such as community controlled health. Supplying resources and other supports for communities to build capacity and achieve their own aspirations is the best strategy, as a paternalistic approach can contribute to generational disadvantage.

Let’s have the tough conversations, but let’s talk about lateral violence in a way that does not lay blame. What do I mean?

Know the origins of Lateral Violence and Take Action

I have personally experienced lateral violence and, I must confess, I have expressed lateral violence towards others. If I am to walk the talk, then its important that I address my own behaviour and thinking. Easier said than done.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I would like to put forward the below suggestions (some of which I have been attempting to adopt/learn):

  • start a conversation – in your workplace, with your family, with the person showing signs of lateral violence.
  • choose not to participate – familiarise yourself with the signs/behaviours of lateral violence (bullying, with-holding information, excluding, gossiping, cronyism, bias, etc) and first address them in yourself.
  • extend a hand – ask people ‘how they’re tracking’, be there for others.
  • look beyond the surface – understand why a person / group is behaving in a negative or destructive manner, things are not always what they seem.
  • acknowledge where the problem comes from, and be a change-maker – for example, understand the ongoing impact of colonisation and instead practice decolonisation.
  • recognise yourself in others – awaken to yourself, show compassion, know thy own faults.
  • deep listening – put down that phone, stop thinking of your to-do list, and really listen to people.
  • support re-culturalisation – be strong in your own culture, heritage and identity; and respect others’ rights to their own sense of identity.
  • find your collective voice – advocate, learn how to speak up in a constructive not destructive way.
  • learn about lateral love – created by Uncle Brian Butler, this concept is spreading world-wide (see the below links)
  • we all deserve a share of the pie and there is enough to go around.

Each drop of water contributes to the ocean of change 

We are each a drop of water, all coming from the same source. It is a fallacy that we are of many races; there is only one human race. Our difference is in ethnicity and sense of identity; in our place of origin and our sense belonging to where we live; our culture, world-views and values. We are all diverse, but still of the same race. It’s all part of the great duality – just like a drop of water is unique but, at the same time, is just like all the other drops.¬†All drops return to the clouds, pools, rivers, gutters and puddles – to mix with the other drops, to become part of a whole.

Eventually, every drop once again finds its way to the great ocean.


Read what Brian Butler and friends have to say about Lateral Love:

Lateral Love Australiahttp://tinyurl.com/laterallove

Brian Butler’s Bloghttp://tinyurl.com/brianbutler

Find out more about Lateral Violence:

Audio explanation by Richard Franklin (via ABC Radio Mildura) –¬†http://tinyurl.com/myzvner

Lateral Violence and First Nations Australians (Human Rights Commission) –¬†http://tinyurl.com/m7d5aey

Fact Sheet (and video links) by Native Women’s Association of Canada – http://tinyurl.com/lvdvknt

Lateral Violence in the Workplace (nursing) –¬†http://tinyurl.com/lowa953

When magic is the reality

735011_10151317440863518_1886868707_nLike attempting to compare a fish to a bird, Magical Realism is not akin to Fantasy.

To begin with: lets remove that ‘magical’ tag that has recently crept in, and return to the original title of ‘magic’ realism, for what we discuss here is not magical at all; there is no fantasy within this genre.¬†I must confess, I am a fan of magic realism; although slightly pedantic¬†in what I feel deserves to carry that well-earned title. Yes, its genre we are talking about here – well, sort of. I hope you didn’t think this was a post about magic? I suppose the heading and picture were somewhat¬†deceiving, but they got your attention; so I hope you do read on.

Luckily, I am not an academic or a genre-expert, so you will not find a long-winded, heavily researched piece here. And I have a short-attention span when it comes to discussions on genre, so we may just skim over that. Anyway, I tend to see genre as a (somewhat necessary) box that writers are often forced into for the sake of¬†marketing¬†our work. And perhaps sometimes genre is used as a form of¬†elitism¬†among¬†writers, publishers, academics and reviewers; especially when the term ‘literary fiction’ is thrown in to the pit for them all to scramble over. Instead, what you will find here is¬†written¬†from a reader’s point of view; someone who aspires to be a writer of magic realism.

Like all stories, this post needs a beginning, so let’s make that ‘this morning’. So, this morning….actually, it was the afternoon: late night with friends + weekend = sleep in. Anyway, today I woke with the awareness that it was once again time to compose a new post for my blog, but with a deep sense of: what do I have to say that anyone would want to hear today, or perhaps ever? Before I could be dragged into that fiery¬†pit of despair, known more commonly as Writers Block, I was saved. Thankfully, a chance sighting of a post on the ever-a-pool-of-knowledge for us writers – the Indies Unlimited blog (check it out at: http://tinyurl.com/cogmryp) – gave me the inspiration I was seeking.

It lay in just one sentence, a harmless one really, which was repeated as a question on the Indies Unlimited facebook page: Do you think that magical realism [is] nothing but fantasy with an accent?

This question (or shall I say challenge) was put forward by Lynne Cantwell; fellow blogger, published author and frequent contributor to Indies Unlimited (information on her books can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/ccr2g4m). It’s important to note here that my post is not a¬†critique¬†of Lynn’s post, and the only point in common is the interesting idea that magic realism is a posh form of fantasy.

Well, simply put, the answer to Lynn’s question is: No

And now the non-simple response:

Fantasy and magic realism come from totally different places, written by authors who see the world from a unique angle, because of the way that they belong in this world, their realities; their identity, their cultural knowledge and the historical experiences that continue to impact on their kin and homelands.

If we look at the works, lives and origins of the masters in magic realism, we see some common threads. I speak of authors such as: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ben Okri, Salman Rushdie, Isabel Allende, Alejo Carpentier, Franz Kafta and Toni Morrison. They have all experienced, or are descendants of those who have experienced, massive social upheaval such as: colonisation, slavery, genocide, diaspora, loss of land, conflicts and wars, and other forms of inhumanity that humans continue to inflict on each other. These things, and the telling of them, are truths, they are real; they are not akin to fantasy.

An author uses magic realism to tell of these big picture (macro) moments within their lives, or the lives of their ancestors. However, their stories focus on the little picture (micro) happenings; broken down to simpler terms, relationships among families and communities, and those from outside that sphere of belonging and identity. Their stories are based on reality, on history and truths that many would prefer were buried; never to be spoken off again.

There are no glittering vampires here, no trips to the underworld, no dancing with the pixies, or transportation to other realms. There is just reality, a different view of history, that the author is asking you to accept as realism.

Magic realism uses devices still found within indigenous storytelling; an oral tradition which continues despite all attempts of cultural genocide. It¬†subtly¬†tells historical facts by blending the difficult-to-swallow parts with the ‘magic’ ¬†or arcane elements found within traditional storytelling; for the purpose of planting greater understanding in a reader’s awareness of humanity, to gently shift the worldviews of those who have not had the experiences that the author endures/has endured.

Indigenous peoples use stories in a multi-leveled manner; like an onion, there are many layers to carefully uncover. On a simple level, a story is a form of entertainment, told around the communal fire to both children and adults. This story often has the dual purpose of being educative: a cautionary tale as to what may happen if a child strays too close to the fire, or a person steps beyond the cultural norms; breaching law or lore. As a person grows in their understanding of the world, and are judged ready for more knowledge, the same story would be re-told, but with some additions. This adding of layers to a story continues until it reaches an arcane level; usually only accessible by Elders Рthat which is secret-sacred.

To be fair, I have read some books labelled as magic realism, written by authors who are not indigenous and/or do not have a lived or ancestral experience of the historical events I have mentioned. However, I would hazard a guess that they have a deep connection to the land on which they live, and a respectful understanding of the hidden side of history.

Now for the (more?) controversial statement: I believe that it is the lived or hereditary factor of social and/or political upheaval, and a continuing connection to culture and identity, that forms an author of magic realism.

We might give you a peek into our worlds, share with you parts of our culture, or you may feel a deep connection to country, or even a sense of shame for what has happened/continues to happen to our peoples, but you can never fully step into our realities. Instead, we give you magic realism, so that you may have a glimpse of our worlds for a fleeting moment, and perhaps accept a new realism, one which will hopefully help you to grow in your understandings. Just like the stories of old.

Back to that notion that magic realism is fantasy with an accent. It may not be fantasy but it does have an accent. Not a hoity-toity accent, like that of ‘esteemed’ literary¬†fiction. It has the accent of the many (or their descendents) who have seen the horrors that humans can and do inflict on other humans; and have survived to continue their way of life, their culture, their deep connection to country and treasured sense of identity.

As I said in my opening, I aspire to write magic realism. I may never reach that goal, but still I can try. For an example of my work, please see the (for now) opening to a novel I am writing (http://tinyurl.com/c9qs4wg). On the surface, yes this extract could be confused for fantasy. However the intent of this piece is to set the scene for the bigger story, which explores themes such as: identity, colonisation, stolen generations, belonging, culture, diaspora and Country. This piece asks the reader to put aside their worldviews and values for just a moment, and accept that Aboriginal people have always been on Country and always will be; despite the social-political upheaval that they have had to/continue to endure.

Image downloaded on 4/5/13 from:  http://tinyurl.com/c726fnu