A Long Hard Road

Gurrumul – Archibald Prize 2009 – Artist Guy Maestri

Every year NAIDOC Week leaves me feeling unsettled. There is something that must be resolved, the closer we edge towards this ‘walking in two worlds’ the more I feel the challenge of it.

It is two years since the ‘Statement from the Heart’ at Uluru. People of the First Nations offered a vision for Australia that could include both the ancient culture and the recent settlers.

What can Australia become? Can we move together beyond hopes raised and hopes dashed … over and over and over? I watched the film ‘Gurrumul’ once more when SBS offered it at the start of the week.

This blind singer Gurrumul Yunupingu, on the brink of a journey to the great heights of international stardom, simply didn’t turn up for the start of a tour through the USA.

At the moment to prepare for the journey there arose social obligations and responsibility to culture. He could not leave though world wide fame awaited him. These were more important to him than applause in this other world of celebrity and wealth.

I heard, on ‘Insight: Deadly Futures’ a panel of young Indigenous trailblazers each saying in their own way, ‘In our blood is a long line of strong culture’. Indigenous people in the audience listened with sad intensity. The camera panned across young faces. ‘You can be what you want to be in this country though you must know that it will be hard, very hard’.

Brook Boney, an impressive Indigenous journalist, was pressed to describe what ‘hard’ is like. The presenter showed a video clip of Brook taken on Australia Day. In the clip she was talking of her love for Australia, the opportunities that she has had. Brook’s successful career has already included travelling the country with a Prime Minister.

Brook Boney Journalist

Asked directly about Australia Day this young woman admitted to the interviewer that any day year she would happily run down the street draped in the Australian flag … any day except Australia Day. She cannot separate 1788 from the fact that her young brother is statistically more likely to end up in prison than to finish high school. After the video clip was shown Brooke was pressed to admit to an avalanche of hate messages she received after that Australia Day interview … insults not only to herself but also to her sister, her mother and her brother.

Then came ‘The Final Quarter’, a film about Adam Goodes. For most of his football career he was simply an extraordinary sportsman. He became Australian of the Year; then he called out racism. After that he was booed match after match each time he played the ball. Painful and shameful. Four years later Adam Goodes persistence has sparked a conversation.

Adam Goodes