Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The slow and sincere journey towards reconciliation

Most of us know about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, but far fewer know about the first Aboriginal protest outside Old Parliament House, when it opened in 1927.

Two Wiradjuri men, Jimmy Clements (also known as ‘King Billy’, pictured) and John Noble (known as ‘Marvellous’) walked for a week from Brungle mission in the Riverina. On arrival they insisted on meeting the Duke and Duchess of York who were there to declare it open. They told a newspaper they wanted to make it clear they had “sovereign rights to the Federal Territory”.

The same newspaper reported some years later that when Noble was in trouble with white man’s law he stood up in court and said to the judge something like: “If it wasn't for Jimmy Cook you wouldn't be sitting where you are and I wouldn't be standing where I am”.

Nine decades on, there’s finally some momentum for a treaty, at least at the state level.

Victoria, led by Labor’s Daniel Andrews, is the most advanced, having appointed a treaty commissioner to create an Aboriginal representative body to begin the process. The Northern Territory has signed a memorandum of understanding that pledges to work towards a treaty. The ACT government is doing nothing, despite its progressive history.

The Turnbull Coalition government isn’t doing anything either. That’s despite the fact that one of its own, former prime minister Malcolm Fraser, funded the then National Aboriginal Consultative Committee to start work on a Treaty.

Turnbull seems out of step with national sentiment. A year on from the Uluru Statement from the Heart in which indigenous leaders from all over Australia came up with a version of a treaty, polling released by the Australia Institute this month shows more than half of voters support starting a nation-wide process of agreement or treaty making, with 26 per cent opposed.

Forty six per cent support enshrining a First Nations Voice in the Constitution, 29% oppose it. Many Aboriginal leaders themselves don’t want constitutional recognition. They say it would undermine their political independence.

Meanwhile, the difficult business of making peace with the past goes on in in fits and starts - in workplaces, pubs, homes, towns and cities. The plan to build yet another monument to James Cook; a so-called discovery centre at Botany Bay, is just another of the things that get in the way. A long-time activist in Canberra told me she doesn’t know where to walk because the country is still “strewn with unmarked graves and massacre sites.”

At Reconciliation Week events this year I was stunned to hear that at Queanbeyan Public School children sang and spoke about the Frontier Wars. It couldn’t have happened a few years back.

I was also moved to hear the story of Bob Slockee, a Canberra man who grew up at Bateman’s Bay, identifying as Walbunja as well as Irish and English “So I think I’m Australian,” he quipped.

Slockee is with Australians Together, a nonprofit organisation that creates ‘safe spaces’ for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people listen to each other.

“I’ve had a massive journey,” he told me. “Reconciliation for me personally doesn’t hit the mark. It assumes an original good relationship. But that didn’t happen at the outset. It’s more about conciliation and finding steps to come together.”

Slockee is comfortable expressing a love of God as a Christian with his own deep Aboriginal spirituality.

He says he moved beyond his own anger about the violence against and mistreatment of Aboriginals peoples when he realised that his white ancestors had suffered too. “Those convicts were taken away from their families, lived with trauma of their own,” he said. “We have a shared history.”

Image: Jimmy Clements and his dog. Photographer: W A Clifford c/o Museum of Australian Democracy https://www.moadoph.gov.au/blog/from-the-oral-history-collection-jack-jenkins.
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Monday, June 25, 2018

Tricked into forced marriage: cultures of control



Eighteen year-old Fatima (not her real name) was tricked by her parents into leaving Australia.

On board the plane they told her she had to marry a much older stranger. She didn't want to. They threatened her and took away her passport. The wedding took place behind closed doors.

Distressed, she logged onto My Blue Sky, a relatively new website with a secure communications portal funded by the Australian government and operated by Anti-Slavery Australia. Its administrators contacted Foreign Affairs and arranged for a replacement passport. One of Fatima’s friends drove her to the airport. One of Anti-Slavery Australia's overseas partners helped fund the flight. It was a perilous escape. Much could have gone wrong, but Fatima made it home.

Others aren’t as fortunate.

“I am just worried about all the women and girls who don't contact us,” says Professor Jennifer Burn, the director of Anti-Slavery Australia which is housed in the law faculty at the University of Technology, Sydney.

“Getting the stats is difficult. What we do know might be the tip of the iceberg," Burn tells me.

Burn helped convene Australia’s first ever conference on forced marriage, held this week in Sydney. It took place as Australians were agonising over the brutal death of 22-year-old Eurydice Dixon in Melbourne. Neither evil happened in a vacuum.

Forced marriage isn’t the same as arranged marriage, which involves consent. It has more in common with abduction.

Australian Federal Police have received 232 referrals since forced marriage became a crime in 2013. About a quarter have been helped by a program run by the Australian Red Cross. Under a current trial, it offers up to 200 days of support. Both major political parties are looking at a system of civil protection so that people can get help earlier.

Anti-Slavery Australia is currently investigating 40 cases. More than half involve girls under the age of 18. Some are at risk of being married against their will. Others have been forced into a marriage and want to get out. And some are older women who have come to realise that their marriage was against their will. Some, like Fatima, are overseas, desperate to return to Australia. In just one week this month three Australians overseas accessed My Blue Sky to try to get out.

While there have been no successful prosecutions yet, Burn says the law itself is making a difference. “The fact that this is a crime and the police are involved is preventing forced marriages,” she says. “That’s significant.”

Often, the young women are reconciled with their families, who come to understand that what they thought was their culture is against the law. Still, the problem tends to exist in closed and socially conservative communities; pressured environments that limit personal autonomy and assert family honour.

“It would be a mistake to leap to conclusions that attribute behaviour to any particular culture,” says Burn. “But we do need to do the research to understand the reasons behind the conduct, respectfully.” Education is key.

Which leads back to the tragic killing of Eurydice Dixon, another side of the long battle to protect women and girls from violence inside and outside the home.

My teenage daughter called her dad a ‘girl’ the other night, when he teared up watching a gentle teen drama. He didn’t take offence. He is the kind of guy who takes spiders outside rather than squish them.

Toxic perceptions of masculinity influence boys from very young and are reinforced by girls who think boys should look and behave a certain way. Children are spongers of the culture around them, sometimes hardened by a lifetime of abuse before they are men and women (thankfully my husband had positive male role models in and outside the classroom, able to fix a motorbike, shape timber on a lathe, listen well and marvel at the stars).

What I have found troubling about the debate since Dixon’s death is the polarised nature of it. We’ve been in tribal corners, spitting poison on social media.

Celebrated author Tim Winton tries to shine a light on misogyny and aggressive behaviour by men. In his latest novel, The Shepherd’s Hut, the main character Jaxie has lost his mum, is bashed by his dad and wishes he was an orphan.

Winton says, “This is a profound and enduring injustice. We’re all deformed by it. Just as slavery deforms the slave-owner and slave alike.”

It is not fashionable to express sadness for perpetrators but it is important we find it within ourselves to do so; to register that savagery is learnt. It is observed, internalised and reinforced.

As Winton says with typical eloquence, “all of us, from infancy, are capable of cruelty and bastardry, but we only get good at it with practice.”

Just as we must not forget that women and children are disproportionately the victims of violence we must also resist stereotyping inherent in directing outrage at all men. We can show compassion without making excuses.

Victims of forced marriage often have parents who were themselves overly controlled by their families. Their reservoirs of experience are hard to shake.

First published in The Canberra Times, June 25, 2018. Picture found at Salford Women's Aid
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Surely arms dealers shouldn't fund the War Memorial?

To hear Brendan Nelson tell it, arms manufacturers have a patriotic duty to fund the Australian War Memorial. It's about "completing the loop", he says. And it's certainly not crass.

"You need to know that the man on behalf of BAE Systems with whom I negotiated the sponsorship of our theatre, the BAE Systems Theatre, himself spent over 30 years serving our country in the Royal Australian Air Force and his own father was killed in the service of our country," the War Memorial director told Radio National in May.

BAE Systems sells guns, bombs, submarines, jet fighters and components for nuclear weapons. Its customers include Chile, Romania, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Tanzania and Qatar. It maintains Australia's Jindalee over the horizon radar.

​The former defence minister says ​the British firm employs 4000 Australians. "Of course that company needs to be involved in the Australian War Memorial," he says. "What makes me angry are the ones who won't."

While he doesn't hold arms manufacturers responsible for "what happens to innocent civilians", he says they do have an obligation to help tell the stories of wars they weaponised.

"I think these companies have a responsibility to complete the loop and help tell the story of what has been done in our country's name and the impact that it's had on the men and women who have done it," he told Senate estimates more recently.

And they wouldn't be sponsoring the memorial itself, merely sections of it or its educational activities. In May he announced a three-year deal with the world's biggest armaments manufacturer, Lockheed Martin. It'll help fund a bigger Remembrance Day.

He is no slouch when it comes to getting money from the memorial's owner, the Australian government. This year it will contribute $62 ​m​illion, money he regards as no more tainted than money from weapons markers.

"If you follow the argument to its logical conclusion, we wouldn't accept any government money because government is the purchaser of equipment that's produced by defence technology companies," he ​said.

But the government isn't ​that ​prescriptive about how ​the memorial uses it. ​Further, it's directly accountable to voters, not shareholders. ​The prospectus ​Nelson offers corporations "offers sponsorship opportunities that are individually tailored to suit the sponsor".

Among the donors is Chinese businessman Chau Chak Wing. His donation helped subsidise a book displayed in the memorial shop on Chinese Australian servicemen. It has beautiful photos but is written in pidgin English. It seems well meaning, if, as one researcher told me, "cringe making".

The vigour with which Nelson has fished for private finance is driven partly by plans to acquire an awful lot of jet fighters and helicopters and to house them in a $500 million underground extension known colloquially as "Brendan Bunker​"​. The business case alone will cost ​many millions of dollars.

An academic group that monitors the memorial known as Honest History doubts that it's a good use of money.

"It doesn't have to build $500 million worth of space just to show kit it insists on getting from the Australian Defence Force," says secretary David Stephens. "It can get digitised pictures instead."

Stephens says if it insists on acquiring the big machines, it can hold them at the memorial's annex in Mitchell, where it can be seen once a year on open days.

The Medical Association for Prevention of War, which began debate on the Australian War Memorial and weapons manufacturers, is about to launch a petition called ​​Commemorate, Not Commercialise. This week Liberal Senator Zed Seselja rejected its concerns. "What we're talking about is the defence of our nation and that includes using weapons for the defence of our nation," he said.

Expect other conservative warriors to bat for the plan and its strategy to use weapons manufacturers to help fund it. But there's growing disquiet among what ought to be his core constituency. ​On a recent talkback segment one caller, a former naval officer​,​ said he almost expects Brendan Nelson to hand out showbags on Anzac Day.

First published in The Canberra Times, June 9, 2018
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