A Facebook colleague recently posted ” I am Hindu, Jewish. Christian, Atheist, I choose to register as Moslem.” I presume this is a proposed initiative by President-elect Trump? Let’s hope it isn’t like that moment in history when certain groups were made to sew fabric badges on their clothes, a moment when my kind of person would have worn pink for homosexual and red for political. My reply was ” I like Kufic script. I like the old mosques of Cairo and Istanbul, the indigo dyed cloths with which Tuareg men cover their faces while riding camels, their women meanwhile enjoy freedoms unlike elsewhere; I appreciate the Lebanese alternative rock group Mashrou’Leila, especially the song El Hal Romancy, ( one line reads: “Am I a man or an ATM?” Does that qualify me for the register.
I travelled to Egypt and on one occasion enjoyed an omelette in a simple open air cafe with dirt floor; the owner and possibly the chef was an unpretentious man, just making a living. Regrettably my table companion was a Frenchman who had the air of having travelled through jungles, bracing all manner of adversity. His way was to bark orders to the owner who meekly accepted this post-colonialism; I tried quietly to apologise for this arrogance, the Arabic word for sorry being “asif”. The satisfying aspect of the situation came when the Frenchman realised that I found his behaviour unacceptable.
The second centenary of Macquarie’s 1815 Aboriginal War has come and gone without comment; a recent Prime Minister repeated the unacceptable myth that Australia was a “terra nullius” and that Cook settled the continent, but did not invade it. The time has come for the invasions and massacres to be publicly recognised. Bilpin, the site of orchards where rosy apples are now grown, was where a horrendous massacre took place: men, women and children. Nor should the language of colonisation continue to be dressed in nicety. Breaking up family groups, separating man women and children, herding them into missions (read: concentration camps), hanging up men who rebelled from trees to serve as deterrents to others, beheading corpses by night and selling the skulls to voyeuristic anthropologists around the world: that was the work of war criminals and should be publicly stated as such, no matter what other positive work they may have performed in creating a stable colony.
That water holes are still poisoned, that mass graves are still found shows us that work still needs to be done. When a brilliant footballer can be called an ape and have a banana thrown at him it clearly shows the racial and cultural insecurity that still underlies life in Australia. Not just with the indigenous people, but every wave of newcomers is treated with profound unease: in my case, my parents endured a mandatory 2 year period behind wire fencing at Cowra camp. Recently I returned there for an art exhibition and was assured that I was not born in the camp itself but in the local hospital; I know that during my mother’s stay at Cowra the women went on strike for better conditions during pregnancy. I grew up, listening every Sunday morning on ABC radio, to “Let’s speak English”, spoken by a gentleman with the best colonial accent imaginable.
Just recently, however, on a holiday in London, my friend told me Australia is off the radar, just not spoken about. Another friend told me she thought Europeans thought us still uncivilised. Definitely the historical and cultural issues have not been resolved. London, by contrast, seems to have a population of Polish, Asian and Africans eager to succeed in whatever economic niche. It seems to me, that we hardly needs to feel insecure about admitting more migrants here than we have done lately.