Monday, December 7, 2015

Seven Years

This is a post that has been a long time coming. Seven years in fact. Well, roughly seven years and one week. As of about a week ago, give or take a couple of days, I have been "officially single" for seven years. Seven years and I haven't even brought a cake or downed a cider to mark it yet.

What's more, this is not the first seven year stretch of singledom I have achieved in my life. I managed to remain single from 18-25 as well. It's actually fair to say that I do singledom exceptionally well, because both stretches tended to include a period of growth and personal achievement; this stretch even more so than the last one. And I've added some kickarse travel in there for good measure. Yet there have also been a number of challenges. And that's why I am writing this post.

My mother often expresses to me nowadays that she worries I get lonely. She's not the only one; friends have also expressed this to me. So much about what society believes makes one a successful adult seems to revolve around being in a relationship. People truly do seem to believe that if you don't have a settled relationship, you are going to be unhappy, unfulfilled and you risk growing old alone with no one to take care of you. Yet my standard response when hit with this is that I never felt more alone than when I was in my last full time relationship. I felt completely isolated at times, and while this was a symptom of something much more concerning which I will cover in a bit, it has been a very rare occasion since I have felt even remotely like that in the past seven years. I know so many people, particularly women (though definitely some men too) who can relate to this sentiment.

It took me nearly seven years to write about what I had actually left back then. When I started this blog, while I had definitely rebuilt and my life was on a great path, I still was not at a place where I could write about that topic. I alluded to it though several times. First was when I wrote about an ectopic pregnancy in this post which eventually got turned into a book chapter in Mothers and Others. Quite soon after this, I wrote a post about body shame and weight loss in which I included this line as another hint: "I was re-imagining my life as a single person and learning how to focus on myself for the first time in years, this was an outlet for me and gaining some affirmation at that time propelled me forward in other ways". There are many more hints contained within the pages of this blog. Yet the reality is, it took me until this year; until I was dangerously close to feeling like nothing again despite so much rebuilding; until I was also writing and speaking a lot on violence against women; that I actually stated plainly, both in writing and speech, that I had left a DV scenario, and that it wasn't the first time I had done so. 

As years go by, I may even discuss this more. But it took for me to feel like I was hitting a downward spiral again to write it, and the act of writing it meant that I didn't have to own it any more. There was release in naming it. It stopped consuming me. I admit also that for me, it felt contradictory to be speaking out about violence against women in a political sense when I wasn't in a personal sense. The personal is political, as feminists in earlier years stated so often. The fact that society continually expects women to not speak out, to hold it all together, to simply continue carrying on as if nothing happened is a huge part of the problem. 

We are always expected to shoulder our trauma. Indeed, this was rammed home to me only on Saturday when bystanders of an Intimate Partner Violence incident in Rye seemed concerned about the male perpetrator's mental well-being. They did not express the same concern for the mental well-being of his ex-partner and her co-worker who had been held hostage for several hours. They weren't concerned that she might have left him with good reason, only that he had been damaged by the split. His trauma was real and his actions socially understandable, her trauma was invisible or unimportant. Her responsibility was towards him and his healing. Like I also said in my keynote address with regards to Samson and Delilah.

We can't keep doing this. Men do suffer in this society. Their rates of mental health issues, self-harm and suicide are testament to this. Which is why I feel it would be of great benefit to men if we were to actually stop expecting women to simply carry on and started looking at the harms we perpetuate in society by normalising this erasure. The trope of the "brooding male" gets fetishised in films endlessly, and always there's a woman who comes along to draw him out of his broodiness. Yet what in society has made him this way? What has she been through in her life of gendered disparity and why is this not important to the story? These are two halves of the same dilemma and one cannot be answered without the other being acknowledged.

But back to this "seven years" business. Have I actually craved a relationship in that time? To be honest, I have mainly avoided them willingly and perhaps I have built up more than a few walls over the years. My sense of self-preservation is undoubtedly strong. Only once did I feel those walls shifting slightly, but this was misplaced and clearly not valued or recognised. Though this was hard particularly added to the revisiting of trauma and the writing I was doing at the time, I did start to look at how I could swim rather than sink and I got there in the end.

Feeling like I'm worthless is never a place I want to be again. There's also nothing more confusing than achieving greater recognition and a growing profile while still grappling with these experiences of nothingness. As if imposter syndrome was not enough of an issue already!

Yet despite this apparently horrific singledom, I have had relationships of incredible worth. A huge part of my healing came from immense platonic love and trust demonstrated by wonderful people. Having trust shown in me, particularly after a long period of being treated with unfounded and illogical mistrust as a default, helped me redevelop trust for others. I have a fantastic and vibrant circle of friends - women and men. There have been many late nights, many long discussions, many ruminations and the like which I have valued so much. There had to be some rebuilding of friendships which suffered as unfortunately seems to be common during such isolating situations, but I am glad to have been given another chance. And no, not that it's anyone's business, but I have been no nun in that time either, and that in itself has been a healing experience. In short, if singledom is supposed to equate to loneliness, I am clearly going about it all wrong.

In addition, while I spend a lot of time by myself, it's a healthy solitude, not an enforced one by means of control. It's productive, it's downtime, it's travel, it's whatever the hell I make it. I have seen some incredibly healthy relationships at work in my time, so I am not denying that these exist. The fact though, that we continue to believe people, particularly women, are not complete unless they are in them is wrong. Why can't we value women on their own merit and not constantly in relation to what they mean to everyone else? The issue is not with women proudly walking alone in the world, it's with the world continually telling them that it is not their place to do so and their destiny is to care for others.

So who knows what the next seven years will bring? I couldn't have predicted the last seven, but I know it has been a hell of a journey and it has brought with it a comfort in my own skin that I certainly did not have before. And that in itself is worth a cake and a gigantic pint of cider, don't you think?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

She is Someone

It has been incredibly heartening of late to note the amount of Aboriginal social media groups posting up stuff about violence against women in our community. We need to do a lot more, granted. The fact though that I have seen a vast range of social media spaces make a choice to talk about an issue which affects our communities at horrific rates, particularly in the face of how the government, the police force and the mainstream society tends to use that information against us, is important. But while we're talking about it more and more, I do wish to address how we speak about it and, in particular, how we speak about Aboriginal women.

You see, a lot of the time when I have observed statements being made, the comments fall into that old trope when speaking about women: "she's someone's mother", "she's someone's wife", "she's someone's sister", "she's someone's daughter", and so forth. And I understand why people continually frame Aboriginal women (and indeed, other women) this way. They wish to try and make cases more relatable so people, when witnessing abuse or actions which excuse or allow for abuse, are more likely to take action. Yet by doing this, we continually end up framing our women by our relevance to other people, and this in itself is a problem. It means that we need to be viewed as relevant to others in order for them to see our worth and take action. It means that as individual, autonomous people who should have status, liberty and the ability to take up our rightful space in society like everyone else, we are denied this right.

And it's even more weighted than that. Sure, all of us are indeed born "someone's daughter", but this does not always remain the case. Sometimes our parents die. Sometimes our parents cannot care for us. Sometimes the government decides our parents, by virtue of their race, are unsuitable and then takes us away for the purpose of our mainstream assimilation. Culturally and politically, we are mostly always "someone's sister". Except some of us are still finding our ways home and connecting with families denied to us for generations. Definitely not all of us are mothers, though culturally some of us fill that role without giving birth and some of us who have given birth can't fill that role for whatever reason. Therefore always describing us as our relevance to other people not only erases our own identities and importance as individuals, but it might not actually be accurate or a description of our role which we are comfortable with.

To put it this way: Aboriginal men are also significantly more likely to be victims of violence than other men in this country. Yet when raising awareness of these victims, we don't refer to him in terms of his relevance to everyone else. He's not possibly "someone's dad", "someone's son", "someone's brother", "someone's husband". He is simply someone.

Unless it's the mainstream referring to the case, then he is rarely someone. And she is rarely someone. Aboriginal people are rarely anyone when referred to by the mainstream. We have our culture erased, our autonomy erased, our humanity erased, continually. And for this reason more than any other, in the face of continuing colonisation, I feel it is even more important to ensure that we are recognising our own importance and autonomy, and elevating each other. 

So how do we grapple with this then, as a people for whom our connection to each other is crucial to our cultures and lands? I think it's about knowing we all have importance, we all play various roles in our communities and in broader society, and we are all survivors: the current links to the longest continuing cultures in the entire world. It's about recognising the role that we all play in this survival and continuation -  women, men and children - and recognising the complexity of that role, in the face of our ongoing struggles for autonomy and self-determination against colonisation. We need to therefore ensure we are recognising the rights of all of us to this self-determination because if we don't, the struggle will never succeed. But finally though, and perhaps more bluntly, when it's framed as always about her relationship to you, then it is always about you and not her and her need to not be harmed, to not be dehumanised and to live a free life. Her right to this safety and respect in the first place is much more urgent than your right to not have your family torn apart at her loss down the track. 

She is someone. She is crucial. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to argue against your established position

Last night I had the incredible privilege of appearing in a debate at the Women's Health West annual general meeting as part of their post-meeting festivities. I was joined on the stage by Kon Karapanagiotidis and Karen Jackson (director of the Moondani Balluk Academic Unit at Vic Uni and wonderful Indigenous union rep!), who had the positive side, and my team mate on the negative side Tasneem Chopra. Our topic was that "Feminists need to unite against racism".

Well naturally, considering what I spend my life writing about, I had no idea how I was going to tackle this one! However, I gave it a go, and ended up having a bit of fun arguing seemingly against my established position. In light of this, and due to the curiosity of others, I am posting a copy of my speech below. It should be read with the humour with which it was intended. Enjoy!

My fellow comrades, dissidents, trouble-makers and parliament house shakers, as second speaker for the negative, I am here round off the argument of why feminists do not need to unite against racism. I hope to provide some clear thoughts as to why I feel this is unnecessary, why I feel it is untimely and what it is I think the feminist movement needs to focus on instead.

To begin with though, as it stands right now, the feminist movement is not even united on its own goal yet. Granted, the feminist movement has the broader banner of overcoming discrimination based upon gender suffered by more than half the population, but that’s where the similarities end. You have the liberal feminists fighting within the system which they don’t necessarily feel is inherently corrupt. Indeed, they argue that recognition and more access to the system is how women are going to gain equality. You have the radical feminists stating that the key system which oppresses us all is the rule of the patriarchy which plays out in every system existing and therefore it is integral to completely dismantle all forms of male rule and start again. You have the Marxist feminists locating the feminist struggle within the class system and battling away to dismantle that whilst also ensuring that men are not the only beneficiaries come the revolution. You have the anarchist feminists stating that rulers always emerge whether within capitalist or communist systems and therefore anything which is not a liberated system ensuring women have complete autonomy is a waste of time. You have the pop star feminists stating that women already run the world, and that swinging naked on a wrecking ball is a statement.

And paradoxically, therein lies the benefit. For while the feminist movement remains a space of contestation, it remains a space of vibrancy and discussion where it can be challenged by alternate theories. An autonomous feminist movement, while presenting a more united front, would lose this nuance and would therefore be less likely to be able to react adequately in times of change.

This is what concerns me about the idea that feminists must unite against racism. It makes the assumption that the experiences of people oppressed by race are homogenous. That there is an oppositional stand that feminists can take to remove it from their space. While racially marginalised groups share the fact that they are oppressed by virtue of their race in a society which preferences members of the dominant culture, again this is where the similarities end. Racism exists because a culture dominates and therefore anyone who doesn’t fit into that dominant culture is marginalised. It doesn’t exist because racially marginalised groups are similar. Therefore to suggest feminism must unite against racism firstly assumes that feminists are mainly members of the dominant culture and secondly that what they need to unite against is racism rather than their own experiences of privilege as members of the dominant culture.

Skin colour is often a site where racism comes into play. Yet not all racially-marginalised groups are black or brown or red or yellow. Indeed, there are Indigenous groups who are white yet who experience racism by virtue of their indigeneity. Even within the groups that are traditionally “of colour”, you have individuals who are not physically visible yet who fight to be proud of their identity in a world which tells them they shouldn’t be. Additionally, not all experiences of people identified as black or brown are the same, depending on where they come from and what their unique experiences with the dominant culture are. Aboriginal people don’t have the exact same experiences as Torres Strait Islander people despite both being labelled “Indigenous Australians”. Immigrant populations trying to make new lives here while dealing with racist policies and xenophobic populations don’t have the same experiences as Original Peoples who have been displaced from their lands. The intersection of religion and race plays out in interesting ways in Australia now. The same group of racially-marginalised people will be treated differently by the dominant culture depending on whether they are Muslims or not. Meanwhile “Muslim” itself has become a racialised category in the Australian dialogue by simple fact that it is seen as a religion practiced by people of colour in a way Christianity is not, regardless of how inaccurate this statement is.

The answer here is that these experiences cannot, and should not, be unified in a feminist space. They should be allowed to be expressed within a feminist space but feminists should never expect one scenario to unite against. The fact that experiences of racism are nuanced; that Aboriginal feminists fight different battles to Asian feminists, who are fighting different battles to African feminists; is incredibly important and gives unique insights into how structures of oppression operate. And for things to change for the better, for the systems of oppression to be dismantled and for feminists to ultimately be victorious in overthrowing the patriarchy, they need to understand this. They need to understand that experiences of the patriarchy are not universal, though they are always gendered. And to go back to my initial point about the various streams within the feminist movement, I feel that there is the capacity for feminism to engage with nuance. It already does internally.

Finally though, the most important reason why feminists do not need to unite against racism: mortgages. I’m 37 and I don’t have one yet. You see, as a grumpy feminist who lives alone, is Aboriginal and who spends a lot of time telling feminist gatherings they need to be more cognisant of race, I occasionally get paid to do so. The sooner feminists completely get it and unite fully against racism, the sooner my gigs dry up. As a woman, I am already facing a gendered pay gap in this country of nearly 19% so am on the back foot here to begin with. I also have not made it to Berlin yet, which is my dream destination for hanging with artists and drinking coffee. So feminists uniting against racism diminishes my capacity to reach financial maturity even as I remain immature in other ways, and denies me the free autonomous movement to other parts of the world. And that’s not very feminist now, is it?

Thank you! 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Keynote speech from "Putting Gender on the Agenda" - Alice Springs, 27/10/15

This is a copy of the keynote speech I gave to the Putting Gender on the Agenda conference in Alice Springs this week - an extraordinary first gathering of women; majority Aboriginal; to discuss violence against women in a culturally-appropriate and safe space, free from the scapegoating of the media and govt. This conference was a collaboration between Tangentyere Council, Our Watch and the Alice Springs Women's Shelter. I am publishing my speech on my blog (with ref links where possible) by request from a number of attendees. 

Before I begin today, I would like to take the rare opportunity to acknowledge my ancestors on my traditional homelands. I say rare for although I visit Alice Springs on a regular basis, it’s mainly to see family and have a break from the non-stop bustle which is Melbourne. I additionally travel a lot around this country working and speak on a number of different nations. So it is truly an honour to have the opportunity to speak here, as a proud Arrernte woman, who has ties with this landscape going back several millennia. I’d like to pay respects to my family, to my elders and acknowledge any other elders who are present today. Thank you for having me along today.

For those who don’t know me, my name is Celeste Liddle. My grandparents were Emily and Harold Liddle and my father is Allan Liddle. He married my mother Lindal Tuttleby, a non-Indigenous, working class Collingwood supporter from Melbourne, after they met through mum’s brother Curly, or Leon, Tuttleby who used to play cricket up here with my dad and lived in Alice himself for over 40 years. Hopefully for the people in the room I’m related to but haven’t met yet, that helps place me! I am also the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Organiser for the National Tertiary Education Union and a freelance opinion writer and social commentator, mainly for Daily Life and the Guardian, as well as many speaking gigs across the country. With both my roles, I fell into them. I started working in the union movement because for many years I was working as an Indigenous student support officer at Melbourne University, and while I was at this incredibly white, incredibly privileged and incredibly masculine institution, I realised the Indigenous staff were fighting the same battles the students were so I became involved in the union branch committee. After kicking up a fuss on the picket lines a few times, the NTEU National Office recognised I was a bit of a troublemaker and so asked me to apply for this job. Similarly, I fell into writing and commentary. Three years ago, I started my blog “Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist” and thought utterly no one would read it. Not six weeks later, the editor of Daily Life read a piece on it, asked to republish it. Since then I have pretty much continuously been writing on Indigenous issues, women’s issues, workplace issues, and various combinations of the three.

I say all this to place myself. One of the key topics I write about is violence against women, and I come at this topic from various angles. I come at it as a women’s activist, as an Indigenous activist, as a workers’ activist and as a survivor myself. Why I feel these angles are important, I hope to explain today. It will be a bit of bad news, I’m afraid, though I hope it contributes to the broadening of the discussion around violence against Aboriginal woman and a positive outlook for the future.

Since the beginning of the year, as a way of highlighting the impacts of gendered violence on society, two feminist lobby groups have been keeping count of the victims in order to bring it to the attention of the public. One of these – Destroy the Joint – focuses on all victims of violence against women and while male perpetrators are the vast majority of the count, they include women who are killed by other women arguing that “lateral violence” is a symptom of being a part of a patriarchal society where women enact violence upon each other as a way of gaining power. The other count, run by radical feminist group Real for Women, focuses only on female victims of male violence to highlight specifically the very gendered nature of these crimes. As of today, the tally on Destroy the Joint sits at 75 while the Real for Women tally sits at 67, though I expect that to be 68 due to another death recorded. To take the Destroy the Joint tally as the basis though, this means that thus far this year, we have lost 3 women every fortnight to violence against women. And these are only the ones which make the media and police reports.

My reason for highlighting this is as follows: though I found the tallies by Destroy the Joint and Real for Women incredibly helpful in painting the overall picture and giving the casualties recognition, by about April I had noticed the disproportionate number of Aboriginal women on these lists. The goal of neither of these other counts was to delve into race politics as they were focussed solely on gender, and so with that, drawing on their information, I started the “Counting Dead Aboriginal Women” post on my own blog. Additionally, I am only too aware that our women are too often treated as if they are invisible and also, due to cultural protocol, are not always named in accordance with community wishes, so I wanted to ensure these women had visibility. It has been a heart-wrenching journey.

Just last week, I added the names of two more of our sisters to this list which has brought the official total to 13 Aboriginal women this year, though there are an additional two women whose cultural identities I am still awaiting confirmation of. Therefore, as it stands at this point of the year, Aboriginal women are making up between 17 and 20% of the recorded victims of violence against women this year. We are 3% of the total population of women in this country yet we are represented at a rate nearly 7 times what a population parity rate would be. Sadly, back in April when I started this count, I realised that at the current rate women in this country were dying, Aboriginal women had already achieved population parity rates for the rest of the year and therefore, the outlook was devastating.

So why are Aboriginal women so over-represented amongst the statistics? Time and time again, I hear the reasons given, yet they simply do not tell the full story. I hear that violence is a part of our culture and is therefore seen as reasonable. I am told that addiction and alcohol consumption are the causes. I am told that poverty is the main contributor. I am told isolation and remoteness lead to higher rates. And I am not for one second denying that these things do contribute to the higher rates of violence experienced by our women. Yet they don’t tell the full story. Indeed, only a couple of weeks ago, Miranda Devine, in what was possibly one of the most offensive articles I have read in recent time, pointed her finger at nearly all these factors then blamed “unsuitable women who breed with feckless men” for violence against women. Considering she also identified the heightened rates impoverished Aboriginal women experience violence I was left wondering if she felt we were the most “unsuitable” of all women.

But she was wrong. Why do I say that? Because while poverty, substance abuse, isolation and so forth may all contribute to the heightened rates of violence against women experienced in some communities, white women who are the most financially-privileged in this country are not free from violence. Indeed, only a couple of days before her article came out, a report came out highlighting this very fact. A pilot project running in Sydney’s affluent Eastern suburbs had over 1200 women referred to it since it started at the beginning of the year. Of the 8 women per day referred by police to this service, 2 women were thought to be in immediate risk of being killed. Further to this, only last week the murder of former model and wealthy socialite Maureen Boyce was recorded in the statistics and she is not the only wealthy woman residing in a major city in that list. There does not seem to be a place in this country where domestic and family violence is not afflicting the community and costing the lives of women.

The sad truth of it is that if we were, tomorrow, to solve the issues of poverty, addiction, cultural acceptance, racism and access to services in remote areas, the best we could hope for, as Aboriginal women, would be that the rates of violence experienced by our women reach parity rates. While we’re a country which not only ignores issues of gender but actually celebrates them, we’re not going to solve this. And I say this as an Aboriginal woman who lives in the city, who is financially independent, who is not an alcoholic or addicted to ice, who is highly educated yet who still managed to be a survivor of domestic violence. My life, despite all this comparative privilege, has not been violence-free. 

In my work in the trade union movement, I have found this to be the case amongst privileged, highly educated white women as well. In a report released by the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse a couple of years ago entitled “Family Violence is a Workplace issue” – where a good deal of the respondents were unionised women working in tertiary education – it was reported that 2/3 of women experiencing domestic violence are in paid employment. This was the trigger for the NTEU, and other unions, to develop mandatory domestic violence clauses in workplace collective agreements, so working women who are victims of domestic violence have leave to seek assistance, are not penalised or at risk of losing their jobs if they do so, can request support mechanisms such as private emails and change in phone number to alleviate perpetrator harassment, and can continue to have the means to provide for themselves and their families rather than losing everything and ending up homeless as happens far too often. Women may not take up these entitlements straight away for a number of reasons, but knowing they are there offers a peace of mind which did not exist before.

I agree that we need to address the poverty in our communities. We need to address issues of substance abuse and education. Services which people in the city can simply take for granted are the very things many Northern Territory communities are crying out for and all too often, if funding for these things is given by the government it’s conditional and revolves around Aboriginal women giving up whatever small rights they have. The Intervention was one such example. The threat of forced community closures in Western Australia is another looming example. While I know all too well that some Aboriginal women did indeed support the intervention and felt the BasicsCard was a good thing, it completely troubles me that women, who were already impoverished and in some cases experiencing abuse, had what little autonomy they had taken away from them by the government and were left with no real avenue for recourse. The idea that abused women can be empowered by being disempowered by the state just does not compute with me, and while it may have empowered some women individually, statistics indicate that rates of domestic violence actually rose under the introduction of income management. Australia-wide, we also know Aboriginal women are 38 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence (1), we are at least three times more likely to be victims of sexual assault, we are 70 times more likely to be hospitalised for domestic violence brain injury. Simply put, less power is, in my opinion, the last thing most Aboriginal women need.

But I have gotten off track here. I want to return to the notion that we need to stop ignoring gender as the key contributor to violence against women. And I say this with complete respect to our men who are significantly more likely to be victims of violence than white men, who also experience racism, poverty, addiction and isolation. Yet time and time again, in Australian society both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, we see the celebration of gendered violence. We see football players accused of rape and off-field violence being allowed to continue to play. We see men squaring off against each other out the front of nightclubs because one of them looked at the other’s girlfriend and winked and clearly they do this because they feel they own us. We hear about warriors, about thugs, about fighters. We live in a country which while it actively ignores Indigenous history, it also mainly erases women’s stories from the books as well. Masculinity and patriarchy is actively celebrated in Australia, yet it causes harm time and time again to both men and women.

If there is one thing I have heard over and over again though in community circles it’s that we need to help our men because they’re suffering, meanwhile women are expected, against all odds to carry on and support everyone else. When brother Warwick Thornton made that film “Samson and Delilah”, it just encapsulated so much of what I had seen time and time again when it comes to the perceived role of Aboriginal women. Delilah was not only the victim of payback when her grandmother passed away, but she became homeless, started sniffing petrol, was sexually and physically assaulted, was hit by a car and broke her leg, yet despite going through all that, it was her who dragged Samson back out bush, got him off the petrol and nursed him back to a healthy life. All he’d done was sniff too much petrol under a bridge yet he was the one who was seen as needing the healing, as having the bigger problems.

I know it’s just a film, but my point is this: I think a lot of Aboriginal women are starting to turn around and say “who is taking care of us?” Just this weekend, I had the privilege of introducing “Black Panther Woman” – a documentary film about Murri woman Marlene Cummins – to the Girls on Film Festival in Melbourne. And she was pretty much saying enough. In the film, she spoke about how Aboriginal women in the Australia Black Panther movement in the 1970s endured physical and sexual violence by their male partners and other men in the movement without speaking up in order to present a united front against racism. These women felt that they did not have the freedom to speak up against these attacks by because as they were representative of such a marginalised racial group, dividing it by gender just simply was not an option. The impact on these women lasted decades to the point of where Marlene was shown trying to kick her gambling addiction 40 years later. Her bravery in telling her story on screen, particularly when people involved were still alive, was inspiring.

I think, beyond political movements, so many of our women feel this way. That we are so racially and socially marginalised that we have a responsibility to take care of everyone else and keep it all together. But as the stories and the statistics keep on stating, who is taking care of us? Who is taking care of us while we make up 20% of the dead women this year? And this is where I am at. As well as looking at the factors which exacerbate violence against women in our communities, we also need to examine gender and how toxic notions of masculinity make this something society just accepts. We need to take apart both traditional and coloniser notions of ownership of women, of roles of women and see how these contribute to the subjugation of women and; combined with racial oppression; why Aboriginal women in particular are seen as being socially expendable.

Aboriginal women are strong. They are survivors who have borne the brunt not only of all policies of colonisation enacted upon our people in this country, but also the ripple effects and transgenerational trauma for several decades. We have done so under extraordinary adversity yet we are still standing and we are still carrying on. And we are still amazing.

Thank you so much for allowing me this space and I hope that you all have a fantastic and enlightening couple of days. I look forward to hearing from you all.

(1) Note, "38 times" is taken as an average on the recorded statistics, which have differed from 34-45 times more likely. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Reflections on violence

I feel like I've spent a good portion of my life trying to escape violence. There has been a lot of scaffolding erected and rebuilding in my life and without a doubt some impenetrable walls have been built as well. Yet each time I seem to find some peace, it's fleeting. I found some peace living on campus at La Trobe Uni until a pair of brothers decided to viciously bash each other just outside my door. Until a friend decided to grab a gun and go on a rampage on campus. I moved and got some peace for a time. Until I was repeatedly stood over, shoved and dehumanised. Until I heard excuses again and again. Until I had flashbacks from events earlier in life which had been long buried. Until I left with bruising.

And I defended myself, because that's what any of us actually do in many active and passive forms. Whether it's physically defending ourselves or putting in place mental defence mechanisms so you can continue on in your life. And I rebuilt. Oh, how I have rebuilt. I look on what I have achieved and I think it's pretty fucking marvellous for a person who has been told or treated like she is nothing for much of her life. As a failure, as expendable. I know what that feels like all too well and I empathise with others who are being reduced in such ways.

So when I'm sitting on a tram going into work and I am dissolving in a public place, I know it's all getting too much. I know that hearing the bloke a few doors down tear shreds out of his partner and assault her the previous night has gotten to me. I know that seeing a man yelling at his crying partner who is apologising repeatedly to him on the street on Tuesday night has gotten to me. I know that seeing a bloke last week yelling abuse then repeatedly punching the door of a bus because he didn't press the bell to stop yet somehow this is the bus driver's fault has gotten to me. I know that seeing a bloke verbally abuse two women in a shop two weeks ago in the foulest way because he was clearly too self-important to just listen to them has gotten to me. I know that being racially and sexually vilified on a tram, as well as physically threatened, because I told a drunk bloke not to kick two men he referred to as "fucking fags" three weeks ago has gotten to me. I know that I am feeling completely worthless again, and that everywhere I look, people believe they have the right to make others feel the same. And it feels like I'm right back in that place before I rebuild again.

So why do they do it? Is it a maintenance of their power that they feel entitled to wield over others? Is it their own issues or insecurities which they enact on others? Is it actually fun to dehumanise people? I know what I think, and I express it so often, but right now I just want it to stop. I don't want to see it. I don't want to experience it. I want people to recognise that they are dealing with real people here who have autonomy and integrity. I don't believe it is simply "human nature" to cause pain to others, in fact I think that's just an excuse people use to avoid being better and to turn a blind eye to those doing the same. There was 68 dead women this year; at least 11 Aboriginal; yet everywhere I look, things seem to be getting worse rather than better. It can't continue.

I know I'm not nothing. I do have worth. I know that I am in a slump and if my life has taught me anything, it's that I'm pretty good at rebuilding. I also know that I'm far from perfect and have caused pain to others on occasion. So I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm just wanting people to understand the humanity of others and treat them as such. They're not disposable, they're not inferior and they're not yours to control. That's about it. As mentioned, I am taking a bit of a break to regroup at the moment, but I will return.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When writing takes it out of you

This blog has been rather quiet of late, and it has nothing to do with the topic I am about to talk about. Rather, a steady flow of work travel and speaking commitments has kept me from writing of late. I miss writing. As well as giving me the opportunity to rant on about something, there is also an undeniable benefit of exposition which can take place by getting stuff out there. I often say writing is my default mode of communication, and this is partially due to ongoing ear trouble which meant that as a child it was the method I gravitated toward most of all. But it's also the ability to gather thoughts and express them in ways unfettered by communicative forms which involve instant exchange. So I've always written as a default.

Tonight I imparted a small bit of wisdom to someone who was new to public writing and had written on a raw topic. It was this: writing in this way can sometimes leave you feeling completely drained and vulnerable, but it is more powerful than keeping silent. It's something I have personally experienced time and time again. There have been pieces I have written which have kept me from sleeping at night because they have been so close to the bone (even if they don't read this way) and I find I'm still processing the act of divulging this hours afterwards. I've not regretted writing these (though a year down the track I may shudder at what I've constructed) but conveying trauma or experience, in veiled forms and completely openly, can really take it out of you. And it's not just because you revisit traumatic experiences while you are writing. It's also because you leave yourself open for others to interpret, or misinterpret your words. It's impossible to completely prepare for that reaction from others.

I remember, for example, when I wrote openly about going through the experience of an ectopic pregnancy in Mothers and Others. For the longest time, I was unable to openly speak about that experience, let alone have the objective space to write about it in ways that could potentially assist others. Even then, I chose to modify the discussion. I omitted the related trauma of leaving an abusive relationship at the same time because I felt unable to revisit that experience as well. On writing about ectopic pregnancy itself, I feared being judged for my reflections on my complicated response to being in that situation. There is so much judgement around womanhood and motherhood as evidenced by the stories currently being shared on #shoutyourabortion that sharing a story of epic fail was almost mentally prohibitive. And I was terrified of committing that experience to print for thousands to digest. Additionally, in writing about that time, I mentally returned to hospitals and waiting rooms and felt helpless and hopeless all over again. Yet I wanted to impart it, because there is so much silence around these experiences and how damaging they can be. Ectopic pregnancies have literally cost lives. Therefore if my experiences helped one other person seek assistance or even process what they had been through then it was worth it. I didn't want to contribute to further silence on the issue.

Back in uni, I wrote a one-woman play (monodrama, really) called "Not One Nation" as part of my honours year. It was part political satire, part identity politics and part historical narrative. It delved, in part, into multifaceted Aboriginal identity, with a strong feminist bent, including the finding and strengthening of one's own identity in the face of social ridicule and ignorance. In writing it, I wove a lot of stories together from people who were kind enough to share their experiences with me. My hope was that through the combining of these stories, the piece would resonate with others. Yet every night before I went on stage, I'd chain-smoke out the back of the theatre curled up in a ball. After I finished performing, I'd be unable to speak for at least five minutes. I'd accidentally written so much of myself into this play that every time I performed it, it was like cutting myself open on stage and bleeding for my audience. I was revisiting my own experiences of trauma, of frustration, of rejection, of social ridicule, of craving of historical narratives long blocked. Yet every performance was worth it, not just because others related to it and were so amazing in telling me how it resonated with their own experiences. Rather it was because it also gave me a space to process these experiences and move forward. 

Funnily enough, this wasn't unlike any other time I took to the stage during my acting years at uni. Always I'd be drawing on the long-buried or the deep-down in order to relate to the characters I was playing and their experiences. While it might not have always been as personal as Not One Nation, there was always an element of personal exposition which performance assisted me with. Like writing, I miss acting and the freedom that I often felt while on a stage engaged in performance. Who knows; one day I may end up treading the boards again. 

The thing is, if I am realistic, there are many times when I've drawn upon my own life - blatantly or covertly - to convey something which is important to me for an audience to read in a way which they may relate to. I guess black feminist ranting actually lends itself to this because where would a want to explore ideas such as these come from other than a lifetime of experiences? It's fascinating to me that so often the writings from those who convey personal struggle and suffering are seen as not being objective views and therefore of lesser value than those who speak from outside these experiences. I mean, what are those who allegedly writing objectively conveying if not their own personal privileges? But there is power in writing in such ways. It can reach others in very real ways and it can also help with your own processing and healing. As we move through life trying to navigate its peaks and troughs, what could be more valuable?

So if I'm imparting anything, it is this: if you're writing from a real space, it will nearly always be difficult. You will always feel vulnerable and exposed and may very well need to take some time out to process that you have taken such a stand and shared such a chunk of yourself. None of this is bad. Indeed, for your own self-preservation it's essential. Yet the very things we tend to stay silent about in society are the things we need to talk about more. Our experiences can contribute to shattering this silence and assist others in very real ways. And that in itself is more valuable than we can ever imagine.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Uluru Bark Petition - They don't speak for me

Today, thanks to the power of social media, I have come across this despicable act. I am so angry about it that I feel compelled to write something in the 20 minutes I have remaining in my lunch break. The above photo is what has been called the "Uluru Bark Petition" and it has been presented to government much to the gleeful hand-rubbing of the Liberal Party and particularly Senator Abetz. He has praised the group - which apparently contains about 30 people - for rallying to protect "traditional marriage" claiming that the campaign for same-sex marriage; which he believes wrongfully has only been around for about ten years; cannot hold up against several millennia of tradition. 

There are several reasons I am incensed to see this petition, and I will go into them shortly. First and most importantly though, it's because the Arrernte are named as being one of the groups of which support has been derived for this petition. I am Arrernte and I say plainly and clearly that THESE PEOPLE DO NOT SPEAK FOR ME. Indeed, I strongly doubt that they speak for many, if any, of the groups they have named and the fact that they have named these groups is a rude and despicable act. They have not consulted, they have not polled and they have certainly not discussed widely. They have claimed authority on this stance while having none and I am so offended by their actions that I am calling it out. 

I have seen some "Stockholm Syndrome" stuff in my time in activism, but this really stands out. And it is news to me from an Arrernte perspective that marriage between a man and a woman is tradition and that other forms of marriage would be an affront. Last I checked, traditional marriage in Arrernte customs tended to include polygyny as well as monogamous pairings and certainly, we were not unique in this across the country. Polygyny, as opposed to the broader "polygamy" is the marriage of one man to several women. So this "tradition" that the signatories, that Brandis and that the media are crowing about - does it stretch to include actual traditions or are we conveniently overlooking some practices in order to be compliant and in accordance with the wishes of our oppressors?

I am not a supporter of marriage in general. In fact, I would sooner abolish the marriage act entirely and throw the definition of partnership wide open so that consenting adults would have the right to register and get recognised whatever relationship they are in AND be treated with complete dignity in our society. I'm not going to win that argument any time soon though. What I don't stand for ever though is homophobia, and particularly the legislated homophobia which was written into the Marriage Act by the Howard government. I therefore want this removed and I want marriage equality to become a reality in this country. I don't stand for the homophobia contained within this bark petition and I stand with all the people fighting to make marriage equality a reality in this country. I also do not align with the despicable views of Pastor Walker and call on him to retract his stated views that “This is a cultural initiative, it is not a Christian initiative" as this clearly is not the case.



A Facebook site calling themselves "The Marriage Alliance" posted the below photo on their page. When I responded by posting a link to this blog, I was banned from the page within three seconds. Check out the language used in it. I'd go out on a limb and say it is almost worse.

Update 18/8/15: I have started a petition. Please sign it here

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Adam Goodes and the case of Jack Sultan-Page - a guest post by Daniel Jack

Hi all. I've taken the rare move of posting up something written by someone else on my blog. I had the privilege of meeting Dan - a proud Gomeroi man - through my brother Joel many years ago as they were part of the same intake for an Indigenous Cadetship Programme. Since then, Dan has become somewhat of an unofficially adopted brother. He wrote up this on Facebook the other day, and because I thought it was fantastic, I've asked if I can republish it on my blog. I hope some of the points he has made hit home for some. Thanks, Dan. I'm very proud to know you - CL  


                                                                                          Image credit: SBS

Adam Goodes is being booed as a result of him standing up to racism and being proud in himself, his identity and his culture. People did not have an issue with him until he started using his position to highlight some of the issues that Aboriginal people are faced with due to a history of oppression and ongoing inequality. Even worse he showed pride in his identity on national TV.

The Aboriginal dance he had the audacity to do within the AFL Indigenous Round incorporates some components of the traditional welcoming rituals some Aboriginal groups have practised for thousands of years. Take for instance, the Ngemba welcome dance. A dance that has continued to be passed down to Aboriginal people around Brewarrina since time immemorial. A dance that I have been privileged enough to be taught to perform. This theatrical dance includes the stalking of new visitors to country. The staunch Aboriginal warrior gradually gets closer to the visitors, trying to determine their intentions. He has his chest raised to give the illusion that he is bigger than he really is. He singles out one visitor and focuses all of his attention on them. The look in his eyes is intense and penetrating. He continues the stalk forward and then lunges at the visitor with the spear. With precision the spear comes to an abrupt halt just centimetres away from the visitors flesh. Upon seeing no visible threat from the visitor the warrior takes a step back, breaks the spear over his own leg and then provides it as a gift to the visitor. The spear rendered useless. The broken spear becomes a symbol of friendship, an acknowledgement that that visitor has shown humility and respect and is willing to act in an appropriate manner on the land that they are visiting. 

Fortunately Adam’s spear was imaginary as the majority of the Carlton crowd behind the goals would not have passed the ‘good intentions test’ in my view. Although Adam’s dance was a little different, the crowd had the unique opportunity to participate in this ongoing tradition. It was a gift Adam gave to the crowd, an imaginary piece of this spear. A symbol of solidarity… people coming together to respectfully cheer on their team whilst honouring the contribution Aboriginal players and culture make to our nation. Once again it was the Indigenous AFL round.

Unfortunately, people were too quick to put their backs up against the wall and miss the genuine opportunity of friendship that comes with acceptance and understanding. These people had the opportunity to embrace this experience. It is potentially a memory they could reminisce fondly about in years to come. They are in the enviable position of being able to sit their grandchildren on their lap and tell them “I was there.” Instead they chose to be offended because they didn’t understand it. 

Back to humility and respect, these are two values that are intricately interwoven together to form the fabric of Australian Aboriginal culture. Unfortunately these are also values that are fundamentally missing from the mainstream Australian culture. This combined with a lack of historical knowledge around Aboriginal people and history makes racism flourish in this country.

A large percentage of Australian people are not tolerant to difference and do not respect Aboriginal people, identity or culture. There are obviously exceptions to this. But in general, Aboriginal people are only admired for the physical skill we display in the sporting arena. We shouldn’t talk about the past, its current effect and ongoing issues. The only thing worthy that happened in the past was the ANZAC’s, just forget the rest; it happened ‘ages ago.’ Aboriginal identity is something for Caucasian people to put Aboriginal people into sub-categories based on their own view of Aboriginal identity. It’s not something we should be allowed to use to empower ourselves with. Aboriginal culture is only something to be exploited and flaunted to the world at events like the Olympics opening ceremony and for carpetbaggers to make millions off at the expense of Aboriginal artists. Aboriginal people shouldn’t practice this savagery, let alone be proud of it.

How dare Adam be proud of who he is! How dare he make the masses uncomfortable and have the inconvenience of being reminded that the wealth of this nation is a direct consequence of the dispossession of Aboriginal people. How dare he highlight that there are still Aboriginal people living in this country in third world conditions who have diseases that have been long eradicated in all other first world nations. Just kick the ball Adam, do what they pay you for.
Not to mention the negative role the mainstream media plays in reinforcing these negative views and providing platforms for pompous, privileged Caucasian men like Eddie McGuire and Alan Jones to be racial vilification subject matter experts. These are people who have never experienced discrimination in their lives and think that they are best positioned to tell people how and when they should be offended. Have they ever been racially vilified just going about their day to day lives? This is a day to day occurrence for many Aboriginal people. For instance, my mother in law was recently racially abused walking through the mall in Mackay. She was walking on the lower level when someone three levels above felt the need to scream down to her that she was a ‘boong.’ Disgraceful behaviour that is unfortunately commonly part of the Australian way, hating on anyone who is different. This is happening from the top down with our politicians constantly using fear for their own agenda. 

The blatant racism on display here is only part of the story. The fact is that institutionalised racism is rife in this country. In 1799 two Aboriginal boys were killed near Windsor by five Hawkesbury River settlers. They were dragged through a fire and one was beaten to death whilst the other was thrown into a river and shot for target practice. A court martial found them guilty but the Acting-Governor King was eventually instructed to pardon the men. Yes this was in 1799 but have things changed? One only has to look as far as the current case of the hit and run of 8 year old Aboriginal boy Jack Sultan-Page and see that justice is not a dish served equal. A Caucasian driver, high on drugs struck a young Aboriginal boy with his car, sped from the scene and went to lengths to hide his crime. As a consequence he was dealt the harsh punishment of 6 months home detention and a $2,090 fine. Surely Jack’s parents should be liable for the damage to his car? 

As long as there continues to be inequality in this nation, people who are in a position to hold people accountable should. I commend Adam Goodes for standing up for our people, being proud of who he is and for putting our culture back in the forefront where it belongs.

‪#‎justiceforliljack‬ ‪#‎goodes‬ ‪#‎adamgoodes‬ ‪#‎IStandWithAdam‬
Please sign the following petition to hold Jack’s killer accountable:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Recognise - Their response to the IndigenousX survey, and my response to some misrepresentations

Tim Gartrell last week posted a response on the official Recognise site to the findings of the IndigenousX survey. I was on the road with work at that time, and didn't have a chance to read it until I got back. When I finally did read it, I was struck by a couple of things within it that I wished to answer. They are as follows:

1. I was referred to as "blogger Celeste Liddle". Considering that Gartrell was present at the panel on Constitutional Recognition at the ACTU Congress (though he doesn't make clear the details of the panel he refers to in his response) and therefore got to hear exactly what my roles are and why I was there, I am unsure what his purpose here is. For the record, I am the National Indigenous Organiser for the NTEU, I am a member of the ASU, I am a regularly published freelance opinion writer and I am an incredibly engaged public speaker. All this was stated at the panel. All this is easy to Google.  Perhaps this description was an attempt to diminish my standing (not that there is anything wrong with being a blogger, and indeed, I am writing on a blog right now) as an Indigenous commentator with background to her views. I am unsure. But it was limiting and inaccurate and people are welcome to read a copy of my speech from that panel here. If the piece on the Guardian is the "blog" Gartrell is referring to, then the correction here is that this piece was an opinion piece which was listed as such and filed as part of the IndigenousX series because I had been the guest Tweeter on IndigenousX in the preceding week.   

2. It is stated that I accuse "the Recognise movement of not listening to dissenting voices" in my piece on the Guardian. Actually I don't. In the very first paragraph of the piece, I level my criticism at the media, and it remains the source of my criticism throughout many of my writings. I had seen the media consistently replicate the statistics released from the Recognise poll yet continually fail to report dissenting views from the Indigenous population. I feel it is pertinent here to state that I did not write the headline for my piece, as editors do that, though I did rather like it because it is non-descript in its focus for "you'd know that if you listened". I then move on to level criticism at the parliamentary system which continually denies appropriate space for Indigenous voices in any real legislative sense while it continually goes public telling the rest of Australia what it is that the Indigenous people really want. The record of engagement from most parties is appalling and this has been the case throughout most of the history since Federation. Finally, I issue a challenge for the general public to engage with the Indigenous debates and make an informed decision if they are going to go to the polls and vote on our rights.

The reality is that I know damn well Recognise itself listens to dissenting voices. After all, they sat on a panel and listened to my one. Additionally, if you're going to travel the country talking constitutional recognition to mob, you're going to hear dissenting opinions from mob. My view here though is that while Recognise hear these views, it is not their job to absorb and promote them. They are workers with a brief which states on their own website "Our role has a very specific focus. It is to raise awareness of the need to end the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the Australian Constitution and deal with racial discrimination in it". They are not funded to promote Indigenous views opposing Constitutional Recognition, nor is their driving force the centring of Black Nationalist and/or pro-treaty views. So no, I don't really feel that Recognise, considering what it is and what it is receiving government funding to do, has a responsibility to listen to and reflect Indigenous dissent. I do feel very strongly though that the media and the politicians have this responsibility and they have continually neglected to do so. I am also highly suspicious of their motives for doing this and I am indeed cynical that a Recognition standpoint is the only one the government deems necessary to fund.

3. I have continually been centralised in Gartrell's response. I expected this to an extent, as I did write the Guardian article, and I did do the analysis on the IndigenousX survey response. Yet this is a misrepresentation of my role. I may be a consistently dissenting voice on CR, but to centralise me is, I feel, an attempt to take this away from the fact that this survey was in fact a collaboration which had its genesis during discussions from a number of IndigenousX people. The views amongst this group on Constitutional Recognition are actually quite diverse. Not all of them are "of my ilk", so to speak, and indeed a couple state that they are still on the fence on this issue. What's more, the IndigenousX account has played host to commentators from a number of political viewpoints and prides itself on doing so. So how did this survey come about then? Well, it's as simple as the fact that regardless of the different views of the people involved in the discussion, we all refuted the findings of the Recognise poll that 87% of our community were in support. We agreed that it had no basis in the communities which we each knew and were a part of. We were also aware that there had only been one question asked of the Recognise poll respondents, according to the media release anyway, and we wanted a more diverse scope for response which examined the different parts of this issue.

Gartrell is right when he states that it went via many networks on social media, some of which were indeed "like-minded networks of activists". It also went via individuals and non-affiliated groups. The fact that there may be some skewing of results because of this was acknowledged both in the analysis and in my article, though again I feel it is necessary to not underestimate the extent of Indigenous engagement with social media. Here's the thing though: it was an online survey and it was available to be shared readily. Recognise themselves could have shared it. Yet despite some of their supporters actually filling it out, Recognise did not promote it. Why not? It could have been an equally interesting activity for them to engage with and contribute to and it was certainly a form of "grassroots communication". There were no limits to the IndigenousX survey; the only purpose was an alternative means to gauge community views.

4. Finally, just to pick up a point in Gartrell's post for further discussion: he states towards the end "And some who declare themselves to be opponents of this coming referendum allow that they would vote to clean up the race discrimination in Sections 25, and 51 (xxvi). I’d note very respectfully that there’s only one way to do that – and it’s by having a referendum". 

As I wrote yesterday in response to this one point on my Facebook page: 

This statement couples the removal of the discriminatory sections of the Australian Constitution with the push for Constitutional Recognition. While the removal or amendment of these sections formed part of the expert panel's recommendations, and while these sections have been used to the detriment of Indigenous people, these sections are not specifically about Indigenous people. They are "race powers" and therefore carry the potential to be used against any racially marginalised group in this country.

If the government was remotely interested in running a referendum to remove racism from the Constitution, it could do so without the addition of a question on Constitutional Recognition. Indeed, it could run and fund an "End Racism in the Constitution" campaign and draw on visions of multiculturalism to achieve this. Yet they are not doing this. They are instead funding Recognise. This paragraph links the removal of racist sections directly to a referendum on the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous people as if they are inseparable entities. Cynically, I can't help but feel that this is coercive. Indigenous people are being told that it is our responsibility to support a CR referendum going to the public in order to have a shot at removing racist sections. We are being held responsible for whether racism is an ongoing issue in this country, and not a government who has little intention of addressing it in any real way.

I don't feel I need to say any more on this point except that the government has made their choices as to what they're driving and it is our responsibility to question these choices.

Again, I would like to take the opportunity to thank IndigenousX for carrying out this important work, for providing a diverse community voice, and for giving me the opportunity to analyse the results of this survey. I would like to also thank the Guardian for continually supporting my writing, as well as Daily Life, for I never thought a voice like mine would ever get out there and create discussion. Perhaps that's the real gift: I am seeing more discussion. When I am hearing both Noel Pearson and Nova Peris - two people whose views differ from mine in many ways - noting the importance of the work of this survey, I feel buoyed and I know I am not the only one. The challenge is now for the government to find better ways to foster this continuing discussion.


Friday, June 19, 2015

My music - A reflection from a week on IndigenousX

I just finished a week-long stint of being the guest tweeter on the IndigenousX account. It was a busy week, in which much was done. Opinions were aired, articles were posted, bonds were made. I also, though, posted a lot of music. Music is my life, it is my soul, and considering how heavy shit has been of late, I thought I would post up a few of my favourite tunes. Both from IndigenousX, as well as a couple of others, just for fun.

Manic Street Preachers - If you tolerate this

This is a stock "social justice warrior" song. I'd like it to be our national anthem. This country could surely learn such a lesson, good and proper. Still as awesome and as poignant as when it was released.

Cocaine Socialism - Pulp

This was Pulp's critique on the "new left" in the UK. I feel this one constantly, when I see the ALP lurching to the right on their policies, or even the Greens not being as grassroots as they claim. The perils of the left being a fashion statement rather than an ideology.

Hairspray Queen - Nirvana

Kurt was a brat who liked to write nonsense lyrics to fuck with people. He was also held strong feminist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-homophobia principles which he referenced regularly. He was an anarchist. He hated fame. He was an ex-street kid. He was an enigma. He died too young and still is on high rotation on all of my CD players.

I wanna be your dog - Iggy Pop

What can you say about Iggy? He is "the real Iggy". He inspired Kurt and so many others. He just messed shit totally up, and his tunes hold up. As do the bangin' sounds of the rest of the Stooges. That a bloke can go from this to singing an entire album in French, proves his genius. Plus, this song is so damn seedy.

Rebel Girl - Bikini Kill

Part of the 90s riot grrl movement. "When she talks, I hear the revolution". Enough said.

Doll Parts - Hole

Yeah, they really want you, they really want you, they really do. This is a vengeful song. The other CL wishing a great big karmic bite on the arse to a bloke who wronged her; apparently Kurt in this instance, before they ended up properly together. After his death she apparently cried these lyrics. Courtney Love has been the victim of some vicious misogyny over the years, mainly because she married a grunge god, and I love the fact that this woman flips the world the bird.

Many Waters Rise - Archie Roach

I was recently asked for my favourite Archie song, and this one is it. He has so many more famous songs, but I love that this tells the story of three clans near Weipa, with shared history, living and working together since time began.

(Getting Away With It) All Messed Up - James

Nearly five years ago, I was in a head-on, high-speed car accident. I was lucky to walk away from it, but the injuries I sustained haunt me to this day. This song, which is about life going to shit and being able to move on from it, became one of my theme songs at this time. I listened to it for comfort. It's still a mainstay. 

That's about it. Thank you for having me on IndigenousX again. Hope you enjoyed my stay!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Speech from the Constitutional Recognition Debate - ACTU Congress 2015

The below text is a transcript from a speech I gave at ACTU Congress on the 27th of May 2015. The session was a panel discussion on Constitutional Recognition and was attended by about 60 delegates. Chaired by former Vic Premier Steve Bracks, and also featuring Tanya Hosch and Larissa Behrendt. The speech was 10mins and therefore does not go into great detail, so I recommend further reading on the topic.

My name is Celeste Liddle, I am a proud Arrernte woman whose traditional lands are in and around Alice Springs. I am the current National Indigenous Organiser for the National Tertiary Education Union and a proud ASU member. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the ACTU for providing this forum, particularly because, as I stated in an article yesterday, I believe that this has been framed as a black versus white issue with ultra-conservatives holding the "no" view by the government and the media and I therefore welcome this opportunity to discuss our various views, as Indigenous people, in this forum.

Following feedback from our membership at the NTEU, we have been one of the few unions to maintain a broadly questioning view on the idea of constitutional recognition. Our membership views have been vast, ranging from members who support Constitutional Recognition, or at least believe it could be a good thing, all the way to a sizeable number indicating complete opposition to the concept – usually on the basis of sovereignty. With a diverse caucus such as ours, we expect differing views and as a sector, we celebrate this trait of our membership. In 2002, the NTEU developed a “10 POINT PLAN FOR A POST TREATY UNION”. Enshrined in this document are “The rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members to exercise their sovereignty within Union structures” – rights which, as will be explained later, are felt to be in conflict with the current proposal for CR. There are other reasons though why the NTEU has maintained a questioning stance. One is that the referendum questions themselves have not been finalised and without knowing what it is that we are being asked to endorse, there is no good reason to endorse it. I am not here to speak completely about the NTEU stance, but rather to look at the “no” side of this question from an Indigenous perspective and to highlight some of the concerns, as someone whose own stance is on this side.

Resolution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty is important one and I believe it needs to be addressed. The 1992 Mabo decision should have served as a catalyst for this political resolution. That Australians are the beneficiaries of stolen lands which were never ceded by the original owners is an “unfinished business” and the impacts of this colonisation continue to affect our lives today. Yet despite community indicating that the issue of our sovereignty is incredibly important – 88% of National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples according to the expert panel report on constitutional recognition – it is not an issue that gets prioritised by the governments.

There is a definitely a view among opposing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that to agree to recognition within the Australian Constitution is for us to submit to the rule of the crown while there is nothing in place to protect our rights as sovereign peoples. The constitution was a document written with our purposeful exclusion and imposed upon our lands without our consent. The act, therefore, of righting this wrong by simply writing us into the document is interpreted by some Indigenous people to be a mere act of assimilation which would not address the fundamental issues with the document.

My views are in line with those who state that a treaty first between First Peoples and Australia is crucial. I believe that our rights need to be enshrined first. I am a unionist, I believe in the power of negotiation. I have seen examples of what can take place when governments have negotiated obligations to their Indigenous peoples. While I am yet to see a perfect example across the globe, the fact that the dynamic would switch from imposition to obligation is an attractive proposition. So many times I have heard non-Indigenous people deride Indigenous people by claiming that so much money has been "thrown at Aboriginal affairs” without these people realising that most of the programmes implemented involved paternalistic “top-down” approaches, not collaborative approaches designed to address community needs on an equitable basis. Our ability to self-govern is currently non-existent. We hold 3% of the electoral power yet only half of us participate in the process. There are few seats across the country in which views on policies regarding Indigenous affairs need to actually be considered by the candidates in order to ensure their electoral success. In short, we remain powerless in the system as it currently exists. The system therefore needs to change.

At this juncture, it is important to note the findings of the expert panel on constitutional recognition on the question of sovereignty, for the detail contained here is crucial at gauging where Australia sits currently in relation to its first peoples. Within the conclusion of this section it states, and I quote:

Any proposal relating to constitutional recognition of the sovereign status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be highly contested by many Australians, and likely to jeopardise broad public support for the panel’s recommendations. Such a proposal would not therefore satisfy at least two of the panels principles for assessment of proposals, namely ‘contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation’ and ‘be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the social and political spectrum.

There is a lot more contained within this chapter, but this one paragraph gives me pause. For starters, it pretty much highlights that Constitutional Recognition is a conservative goal by its reference to the fact that any proposal needs to be capable of being supported broadly by Australians therefore not centralising Indigenous needs and stating that including provisions on sovereignty would be divisive and lead to electoral failure. There is, therefore, currently no space for our sovereignty to be acknowledged within the Australian constitution. It also frames “reconciliation” as something that is not possible at this point in time if an acknowledgement of Indigenous sovereignty is included – a point which reinforces to me that reconciliation is still seen as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people assimilating into mainstream Australia, not the country transforming.

As an aside, it has also been pointed out to me that writing us into the constitution as “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” homogenises our identities rather than recognises our own sovereign nationhoods and identities. The terms “Aboriginal” and “Torres Strait Islander” are not our terms but rather ones which have been imposed upon us. It was therefore argued that to recognise these terms in the constitution is reductive and could have serious consequences for our claims as a diverse people in the future.

Additionally, at this point in time we have state-based examples of how including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in these constitutions has not led to an increase in our rights and the esteem in which we are held by society. Here in Victoria, for example, an amendment to the state constitution was passed in 2004 acknowledging our “unique status as the descendants of Australia’s first people”. Despite this, our infant mortality rates in this state are still double those of other Australians and Welcome to Country ceremonies at government events were referred to by previous Premier Bailieau as “nnecessary”. When you think about the other states which have recognition contained within their constitutions – NSW, QLD and SA – and you reflect upon the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, can you honestly say that this acknowledgement has improved things?

I feel one final point is warranted on this part: it bears repeating that while we currently have the recommendations of the expert panel available to us, we do not have the proposed referendum questions themselves. What has been touted in the media has ranged from just a statement in the preamble to a broader recognition within the document including the removal of the provisions which discriminate on the basis of race. The idea of us being included in the preamble has actually already gone to referendum as a part of the Republican referendum under Howard. This is an important point, as quite a few Indigenous people are concerned that should the proposal for change be watered down to just a preamble, it is just a repeat of this Howard era plan. Funnily enough, John Howard is not really seen as a key warrior in the fight for Indigenous rights… I feel that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people support the proposal for the removal of section 25 detailing the right to exclude people from voting in elections based upon their race as this racist section has utterly no place in a country looking to move forward. Likewise, I feel that an amendment or even the removal of section 51 point 26 would be supported by most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and my preference would be that it is amended in deference to provisions within a treaty agreement. I don’t argue against these proposals, my only real concern is that should the referendum take place, these changes will not be on the table because we have a government content with symbolism as opposed to real outcomes.

Finally, I do feel that going to referendum in the first place has the ability to jeopardise aspirations for a treaty and the resolution of Indigenous sovereignty. Why? It has taken us almost 50 years since the referendum recognising us as citizens to get around to the point of addressing whether we also have a special status as First Peoples. My concern here is straight-forward: regardless of the outcome of the referendum, will we be waiting another 50 years before we see moves toward a resolution of our sovereignty. If the referendum is successful, will we get responses similar to what followed the Apology claiming that Indigenous people are never satisfied when we push for the resolution of sovereignty? If it’s unsuccessful, will that mean our recognition, in any form, is seen as a non-issue for this country, never to be visited again? I believe these are real concerns held by a lot of Indigenous people, for and against the proposal, and with good historical reason.

In conclusion, I believe that a transformative approach when it comes to Indigenous Affairs is long overdue in this country. Australia has a lot to gain from a more educated and collaborative relationship with the First Peoples of this great landmass. The statistics highlighting our disadvantage as a people, year in and year out, prove that things cannot continue the way that they are. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the life expectancy gap, the incarceration rates, infant mortality rates. We cannot continue to deny land rights. We need to strive to achieve a more equitable future. I don’t believe recognition within the constitution as a first step will achieve this, though I strongly do believe that there are ways forward which our governments are not currently willing to address. And I do believe we, as a movement dedicated to equity, have a responsibility to challenge this. Thank you.

PS As an additional note, I recommend reading the following: