Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Australia Day

Today I experienced what it was like to disagree on a (semi) public forum with “mainstream” Australians. Lesson learnt:  It is still completely unacceptable to even try and question the myth of the ANZAC, Mateship, what it is to ‘be’ an Australian and our right to be here, living under the lie of terra nullius: Australia Day.

The Australia Day Council’s official website ( states,

“Australia Day, 26 January, is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip, in 1788.”

So to be clear for those who are unfamiliar with our shining record of colonisation (and I say this seriously as, after what I experienced today, I believe many are unclear) this very day is the beginning of a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander reality. The lie of terra nullius (it should be noted that there is no mention of terra nullius being declared or overturned on the timeline provided on the official website) that was in place until overturned in 3 June 1992, begins to provide the infrastructure for a regime of discrimination, violence, apartheid and eventual attempts at assimilation. Today we are meant to be in a phase of reconciliation.

“On Australia Day we recognise the unique status of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Australia Day National Network is committed to playing a part in the journey of reconciliation through helping all Australians move forward with a better understanding of the past and how it affects the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today.” (

So I woke up prepared to think about “…the past and how it affects the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today.”

The day began like any other – quick check on facebook and throwing up a status update.  “Invasion Day.  Call it what it is people.”

Well apparently this was also a call to arms to any of my connections who feel today really does celebrate and embrace all that they believe is Australian.  I was also surprised at how limited this definition was.

Julia - "Dislike Thomas, just let us enjoy another public holiday & wear tacky crap & eat meat & drink beer & blow fireworks up. You wouldn't dare say that out loud in The Shire!" 

Apparently I should also not say it online!

Michael #1 -  "Im disgusted that so many people have fought and died to make this country what it is so you can voice those opinions and you spit on it with comments like that. Maybe you'd be happier renouncing your citizenship." 

Michael #2 - "Sorry for what? What did i do! If i want to celebrate Australia, yes Australia, i will! Its not anyone else fault that you associate it with White man fucking it for everyone else. Should i be ashamed of having white skin too. And what the fuck has Nationalism got to do with it! Its a free country, if you dont like it go else where unlike what you cant do in a lot of places in the world. If you dont want to celebrate australia day dont, it your choice, or even better have your own celebration on how you see fit instead of bitching about everyone else enjoying the day and being so disgusted in everyone for not thinking like yourself. Sorry we are not as "enlightened" as you guys and your educted point of view............................." 

Craig - "I think our country's dirty laundry has been well aired Kath. I for one am proud of this great nation we live in. I feel blessed to be here, not ashamed. Find me a single place on earth that doesn't have something bad in it's past. Today is a day of celebration, not sorrow and shame and soapboxes. If you are so upset to be one of us, you can renounce your citizenship for a small fee. The forms are online. " 

Jon - "Can I "like" Craigs last comment twice? Or would the double "like" create a rift in the Facebook-time continuum?" 

Craig - "Surround yourself with unemployed freaks from Newtown all you like, but never defame the Anzac name or tradition when you have never fought for a thing in your life, and been handed most. They are much better and braver men and women than either you or I. How dare you? You hide behind political correctness, but refuse debate. Deplorable. If your views are so correct, why do you fear why I have to say?"

So to be clear again – because I do not agree with the traditional idea of “Australia Day”, and instead feel that the ATSI community really do have a case for this day representing a celebration of the invasion of their country, culture and lives, I am personally now being accused of ‘bitching’, ‘airing dirty laundry’, asked to rethink my citizenship, and labelled as being insensitive to all those soldiers who fought and died for our country.



The Australia Day Council claims:

“On Australia Day we recognise the unique status of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Australia Day National Network is committed to playing a part in the journey of reconciliation through helping all Australians move forward with a better understanding of the past and how it affects the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today.” (

If my own facebook experience today is anything to go by, I’m feeling like there is not quite enough being done to achieve this.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Emerging Indigenous Performance. Where is Our Voice?

Bangarra Dance Theatre Company c. Marianna Day Massey 

In the 2009/10 financial year, the Australia Council for the Arts allocated $175.3m for grant and project funding to artists and arts organisations (Australia Council for the Arts Annual Report, Pg 4).  Of this amount, $9.7m was distributed to “build the excellence of Indigenous arts, along with access to them by Australian and international audiences” (Australia Council for the arts Annual Report, Pg 14). This is 5.5% of all available funding.  To put this into some perspective, in the same financial year Opera Australia received over $18.3m, which makes up 10.43% of all available funding. One organisation received almost double that of what all Indigenous arts in Australia received from the country’s major funding body.  As Marcus Westbury points out, “Opera Australia last year received more funding from the Australia Council than all the applicants for all 6 of the Australia Council’s major artform boards combined.” (Posted 28 September 2010)

I mention this not to claim that Opera Australia should not be receiving this funding, as all Australian art and culture investment is extremely worthwhile, but to demonstrate that both fields could be seen to have a specific audience and specific type of performer:  One a highly trained musician in a specific genre of music and the other a member of a specific community. Both also seem to be placed at diametrically opposite ends of the colonial spectrum.  One established and inherited from Europe and the other indigenous to this country.  Why does one organisation receive significantly more funding than that provided for artists within our Indigenous culture? If we look purely at the funding distributed between these two groups, I feel there is an indirect implication that one artform is seen to be more worthwhile, more superior, more relevant to our community and therefore more deserving of stronger funding.

Shining out like a giant red beacon of pride, one of the first images in the Australia Council for the Arts Annual Report boasts the claim, “Keeping Culture Strong – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts”. It is a significant picture within the chart; a major slice of the pie.  And yet, the financial figures do not reflect this commitment.  

The Australia Council for the Arts promotes a policy of support, ownership and growth of Indigenous arts.

And yet of the 5.5% of funding received by the Indigenous community, one third was not distributed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Board (ATSI Board).  Only two thirds were disseminated by the ATSI Board.  This seems to be a glaring contradiction to me. Only a percentage of funds is available for self-determined distribution by the very Board that was established in order to provide cultural understanding, ownership and self-determination.

The contradictions build...

As we emerge from the Howard era where artists spent a decade under the shadow of a Prime Minister who “displayed no interest in the arts” (David Throsby, Does Australia Need a Cultural Policy? Pg,  20), many have realised that emerging Indigenous artists face an exciting crossroads.  So what will emerging Indigenous artists do at these crossroads? With limited funding opportunities and the ATSI Board slightly shackled, how should emerging Indigenous artists progress?

Many colonised cultures have had similar experiences. As American First Nation Peoples fight for recognition and a place within American and Canadian Society, countries such as Hong Kong attempt to shake off the remnants of British colonisation and embrace a new future as a Chinese nation. The African American population have also been at many similar crossroads across the decades. I believe they embraced the opportunity some of these crossroads posed and made some extraordinary progress artistically; which assisted in providing a voice, an identity and a new way forward for all members of their oppressed community.

Jazz music derived from black culture in America. A confluence and fusion of European culture and African culture, this music gave black culture a voice, opportunity, respect and a place on the world stage artistically and socially.  So where is our Indigenous Australian jazz?  Where is our hip hop culture?  Minority groups in the depths of the Bronx in the late 60’s developed hip hop culture.  This culture embraced difference, rejected the mainstream, instigated change. It symbolised empowerment and created an identity that was reflective of their situation.  Most importantly hip hop gave minority cultures a voice.  A voice to express, disagree and communicate with other community members who were not otherwise listening.

Both of these artistic forms emerged from a community that was oppressed, restricted and ignored. More importantly for this post, neither of these artistic forms were funded by the Government but were instead born out of defiance for a Government who would not recognise them. Both artforms went on to receive world-wide recognition and acclaim.  Both Jazz and Hip Hop have been adopted globally as a diverse fusion of the old and the new, traditional and contemporary, colonial and post colonial, cultures merging with cultures.

The Australian Government has invested in assisting Indigenous cultures to retrieve traditional artistic practice, in order to conserve what was almost lost by their governmental predecessors.  However, if there is to be no significant funding for Indigenous artists is the only thing left for emerging Indigenous artists to continue to look back?  Or, is the way forward to look at models like Jazz and Hip Hop and to encourage the forging of a new Australian artistic fusion that is distinctly Indigenous. That gives our Indigenous artists a voice of their own that reflects today and hopes for tomorrow.  To not dismiss the past but to infuse the past with our current situation and vision for the future; to create a form of art that will launch onto the world stage as innovative, exciting and demands the world look at and listen to one of the most ancient cultures on earth.

Julian Meyrick writes that Australian Theatre is trapped in the past (Trapped by the Past. Why Our Theatre is Facing Paralysis. Currency Press).  I propose that this is an opportunity to support a way forward that is more exciting and has more positive social and economic implications than the rehashing The Marriage of Figaro at the Opera House, yet again.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Subject: Opportunity!
In 2011, Urban Theatre Projects and Belvoir will jointly provide a 9-month professional development program to one emerging Indigenous practitioner in the area of Technical Theatre production and design.

The successful candidate will work across both Belvoir and Urban Theatre Project’s programs, gaining experience in a ......range of contexts, from creative development to touring, working with diverse creative teams and guest artists.

Closing Date and Information Pack

An information package about this program and the application requirements are available from:• Urban Theatre Projects and Belvoir • by or• by calling Urban Theatre Projects on 02 9707 2111 or Belvoir on 02 9698 3344

Expressions of Interest are due by 5pm Monday 8 November 2010.
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October 6 at 9:46pm · Comment ·LikeUnlike · Flag

Subject: Another Opportunity jus in case you missed!
Indigenous Australian Sculptor / Set Builder Wanted

What: Call for expressions of interest

Who: My Darling Patricia
When: Open now

Independent theatre ensemble My Darling Patricia seeks to commission an indigenous Australian sculptor or set builder to design and construct an installation for their new work in development, Posts In The Paddock. The work is a reconciliation project that brings together Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian artists whose families were affected by the tragedies involving Jimmy Governor in 1900.

The work being commissioned is directly inspired by an historic site in central NSW. Please send an expression of interest to Photos of the site can be obtained from My Darling Patricia.
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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

When there's no one there, should you still say something?

So I have three very excited followers - one is my partner (simultaneously obliged and supportive) and two lovely friends. There have also been the casual observers, possibly unwilling to commit... but have generously looked and posted.  I have asked many and slightly bullied some to join.  Not an overwhelming response to date but I trust time and continuous badgering will sort that out.

So here we are.  A few readers.  However, it does align with some interesting ideas I have been having recently.  If there are only a few people reading, should I still write? If the very people who are reading are my committed supporters and I'm preaching to the there still a point? If there are only 3 people in the audience of a young Indigenous artists performance should they still perform? Should they be given funding to perform?  Should the Indigenous community attend as a show of support?  Should people from outside the Indigenous community attend to learn, listen, enjoy and embrace another perspective of the world?  Obviously my response is yes.

So we plod along with 3 followers and the friends I nag.  Because those 3 will become 4, 5, 6, 60 - and those friends will think about and contribute on many aspects of Indigenous performance. Because hopefully my Indigenous friends will join, contribute and we will all share ideas on the issues we consider important and Indigenous performance will become an ingrained aspect of all our artistic interests.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Free Bangarra!!!!

Are you in Sydney this long weekend? Bangarra are doing a free performance of the stunning "Angel" duet from "Riley" at the Art Gallery of NSW on Monday 4 October at 2pm!

It's part of the AGNSW's Open Weekend (2-4 October). The centrepiece is the free exhibition "art + soul", which showcases over 100 works by more than 40 leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists. The program features ceremonial performances, weaving and painting workshops and a demonstration by celebrity chef Mark Olive!

Check out the website here:

Thursday, September 30, 2010



Musical drama written by Indigenous playwright Jadah Milroy, original score by Dalmazio Babare, and starring the talented musical theatre students from the EORA college of Aboriginal studies, centre for visual and performing arts. This production is in association with PACT Centre For Emerging Artists and Newtown High School of the Performing Arts.

It is the story of a young woman lost in search of spiritual redemption. Along the way she meets many other such souls, not all human. A mixed media production. It contains horror themes.

PACT Space
Thurs 21st Oct 7:00pm
Frid 22nd Oct 7:00pm
Sat 23rd Oct 2:00pm and 7:00pm

Bookings are essential as seating is limited. Please call 92174878 for more information.