Australian racism and how we see each other: poems by Steven Oliver and a film by Warwick Thornton

We have never come across this poet and comic, Steven Oliver, before – which says more about our lack of awareness than about his talent and perspicacity – but New Matilda ran two videos of his poetry this week and we would like to share them with you, whether you have seen them before or not. (Talking of ‘race’ and ethnicity and related matters, we have just endured some moderate flack for publicising Lyndall Ryan’s research about massacres and for supporting Yassmin Abdel-Magied – though, we hasten to add, nothing like what they themselves would have copped, let alone what was the lot of the original victims – so we feel like pushing back.)

Foster is a Kuku Yalanji, Waanyi, Woppaburra and Bundjalung man from Cloncurry in Queensland and he does comedy-poetry gigs around the place. Here is his poem ‘Hate, he said‘ (more than half a million views on Facebook and Vimeo). Note the contrast between the settler preference to forget wrongs done to Indigenous Australians, while holding fast to Anzac memories. This is an anomaly that is always hard to counter.

Then here is Foster’s ‘Real’ from NAIDOC 2015 (two million views) which has some incisive stuff about the difference between identity and skin colour. Again, goes to the heart of issues.

Then there is film-maker Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah and other works), from Alice Springs and points north, who has brought out a thoughtful doco called We Don’t Need a Map, which contrasts the significance of the Southern Cross (Djulpan in Yolngu language from Arnhem Land) for settler Australians and Indigenous Australians. The remarks of Indigenous academic Romaine Moreton about the imposition of a Western monoculture on a diverse Indigenous Australia (‘We all have our own story; not one story’) are particularly interesting.

Thornton has wondered whether the Cross has in the past taken on for some Australians a status similar to the Swastika. Clip of Thornton talking to Karla Grant about the film and the issues. ABC story. Thornton’s film is one of the ‘You are here’ series on SBS/NITV.

David Stephens

24 July 2017 updated

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