A Reflection on Sameness and Difference for Australia/Survival/Invasion Day

It seems to me that one of the significant causes of tension around Australia/Survival/Invasion Day is the increasing tendency towards narrowly defined (and increasingly aggressive) nationalism in majority Australian society.

Now, please let me say this clearly: there is nothing necessarily wrong with being proud of one’s nation or culture or identity. Having a positive (though not blinkered) view of one’s identity is fine; it’s when this identity seeks to define itself over and against the other in negative terms that we have the beginnings of the problem.

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John Pilger’s ‘Utopia’

Last night, I was fortunate enough to be able to make it along to the Australian premier screening of John Pilger’s new documentary, Utopia, at The Block in Redfern (see the trailer for the film here). It was an emotional experience—some parts are very difficult to watch—with deep sadness, shame and guilt (as a white Australian), anger and even rage being stirred up, but there was also an almost tangible sense of hope that flooded the open-air event.

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The Necessity of Indigenous Self-Determination

There are a couple of issues that I consider to be crucial for Australia to address, and to address as soon as possible. One of those issues is our abhorrent treatment of asylum seekers. Another—one which is perhaps the single most important issue facing us as a nation—is the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

I write/speak/tweet/rant/shout quite a bit about the first of these issues. As far as I can see, the solution/s to the current situation is not overly complex. It begins by approaching the situation as a humanitarian crisis, rather than a small-minded, nationalistic issue of ‘border
protection’, and builds from there (e.g. directing funding to regional processing centres, community processing of asylum requests, etc.).

The second issue, however, is rather complex indeed—all the more so due to over 200 years of policy failure. While the issues are complex, and while I do not want to try to talk as if I (as someone who has benefitted from a lifetime of white privilege) have the answers, I think there is one essential ingredient that needs a whole lot more focus from those who are making decisions: Indigenous self-determination.

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Anzac Day and ‘The Old Lie’

I have, for a while now, been contemplating the possibility of writing a few posts about war and, in particular, the way in which we Australians approach our military history.

ANZAC Day, and all that goes along with it, has become (for all intents and purposes) like something of a ‘State Religion’ for Australia. There is the tradition, the ceremony, the sacred space, and the requisite mythology that must accompany such things.

As such, I am acutely aware that whatever I say on this topic, unless it simply affirms the status quo, will no doubt upset some people. To express a point of view that does not conform to the official script has the potential to be viewed as disrespectful at best, sacrilegious at worst. This is why I have chosen to wait until after ANZAC Day this year to write. In the midst of the extraordinary emotion of it all, I see little possibility of reasonable discussion and debate. My hope is that now, after the intensity of the day itself has passed, we are in a better position for such discussion. I guess we will soon see.

In this post, then, I want to discuss what I see as one of the core untruths of the whole ANZAC tradition. Quite simply, I want to challenge the idea that the tragic death of so many young men (and women) has any meaning at all.

Please let me explain.

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