Australia Day

I’m a bit late this year, but I still wanted to jot down a couple of disconnected thoughts. As with last year’s post, my views may change in the morning!

Our asylum seeker policy is a national shame, and we all own it

Hundreds of innocent people are locked up in our name. At least two have died, but we don’t count them.

We routinely send refugees back to face torture and persecution in the countries they have fled.

We pay foreign governments to help them prevent refugees from leaving in the first place. This is the direct, no-exaggeration-required equivalent of paying the Soviets to put another layer of bricks on the Berlin Wall.

We are one of the richest countries in the world. We are collectively some of the richest people in the entire history of the world. Yet we have more important things to care about. Going to the beach. Buying those new shoes. Getting trashed with the boys. Making dogs chase mechanical rabbits.

I had written something about the hand of friendship we extend to the people fleeing the very same wars we are fighting. I take it back. There is no hand of friendship. We offer nothing.

We all need to own this one, because we do all own it, whether or not we care.

Our society neglects the traditional owners of ‘its’ land

Where are the indigenous voices in our society? I have come across strong, powerful indigenous voices on a few occasions this year and each time I have been blown away. Unfortunately those experiences have been a long way from the mainstream, where indigenous representation seems limited to Adam Goodes and Noel Pearson, at least when the latter praises an old white man friend of his or goes in to bat for a (typically failed) government policy.  I have nothing against Adam Goodes, but I wish our society would pay more attention to the grassroots voices and stories of people like Amy McQuire, Barb Shaw and Chris Tamwoy. Hell, even reading Bringing them Home would be a start.

Abbott’s citizenship almost matters

It doesn’t really. He’s doing an awful job whether or not he’s in there legitimately, and he is theoretically capable of doing a good job whether or not he’s in there legitimately. If our MPs are allowed to give confidential information to the intelligence services of foreign nations without even a slap on the wrist, I fail to see what difference a passport should make.

At the same time the whole issue raises some interesting questions. Why have the law at all, if we don’t actually care whether the PM (or any other MP) has dual citizenship? If that’s the case then why was the law written in the first place? Would we let a foreigner born in Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan or Brazil into the top job without asking for some proof of their legitimacy?

Would we let them continue in the job unchallenged if they then knighted one of their former-countrymen for absolutely no apparent reason? Somehow I don’t think so.

Muslim people are people

I’ve removed the paragraph on Islamophobia because  the whole “discussion” about whether Muslims are good people is seriously stupid. Why are Muslim people any different to any other people? Do we discuss whether redheads should be treated and trusted the same as other people? Gay people? People with parking fines? Zoroastrians? It’s 2015, I should fucking hope not.

The Asian Cup has been a fabulous tournament, and more people should be aware of it

A slightly more lighthearted thought, which I’m about to ruin with seriousness, for the tournament has been a great advertisement for the point I made above. Sadly I don’t think many rusted on Islamophobes would have seen Omar Abdulrahman’s magic over the past three weeks, or have been in the stands for Iraq v Iran.

Climate change

It’s real, it’s here, it’s not going away. At least not while we all live the same lives we lived last year, and the year before, and the year before that, and wait for Tony fucking Abbott to do something about it.

A quick word on a tragedy

At the back of my parents’ attic, in a box marked “Ed,” is my first year 5 assignment, an A3 poster titled “All About Me.” In the middle of the page my eleven-year old self had written, by way of introduction and in handwriting not all that different from today’s, a line repeated by millions of Australian children.

When I grow up, I want to play cricket for Australia.

As a kid, like so many other Australians, I lived for the game. When it wasn’t a match it was a net session, or a hit in the backyard, or in the kitchen, or in the bedroom with a little autograph bat signed by the New South Wales team. If it wasn’t a game it was catching practice, or training, or sitting around with the old man discussing tactics and field placements, or helping my grandpa roll the pitch and paint the lines for Christmas Eve. At other times, of course, it was lying in bed listening to Jim Maxwell and Henry Blofeld and Peter Roebuck and Harsha Bhogle, or sitting and reading until memorised that little blue bible, The Laws of Cricket.

There were thousands of us, and he was one of us. Every player who has ever gone on to play for Australia, any player who has gone on to play Sheffield Shield, was one of us. The game is so complex, so rich, so imbued with history, that you can’t just play it. You have to live it. Phil Hughes lived it, as so many of us have lived it. He was better than us, he was braver, he was more determined, and he was the one who made it, and was going to make it again.

His death hits me hard because he remained, till his very last day, one of us. As good as he was, he remained defined by how good he could become.

That eleven year old kid wouldn’t have cared for celebrity girlfriends, fancy cars and a free ride from the selectors. He would have wanted be brilliant, to be unique, to be strong, to be loved by his teammates, to be respected by his opponents, and to score runs for fun. He would have wanted to be Phil Hughes.

I want to write about the war

Australia’s at war again, they say
But you wouldn’t know it.
You can’t see it on the streets
In the pub
At the park
On the train
Anywhere, really
It’s a silent war
A newspaper war
Goodies and baddies
A war we’re not meant to feel.

A million miles away bombs drop from high above
Some controlled by computers, some by Australians
Noble warriors of this patriotic team

There is blood.

Whose war are we fighting?
Who are we killing?
We don’t know.
They don’t know.
As it should be.

Back home, and morning doors are opened; plastic swords are sheathed
High definition cameras enter private spaces
Constructing a threat

Ten years ago we marched.
Half a city spoke
When (un)Australians still had voices.

Ignored, they returned to their houses
Now who is left to speak?
As left and right link hands and send us off to battle
Who is left to fight?

In Team Australia, dissent lives at the margins.
At times subtle: lone woman, midday sun, sacred flame, our flag (and hers).
At times intense: Brothers and sisters, split by a fence
In their hundreds
Denounce the West.
Rightly, yes, but how has it come to this?

Some thoughts on Australia Day

It’s Australia Day, which tends to bring out the best and worst in Australians. I’ve celebrated by having a couple of drinks, as is my duty, and so this post may not be as coherent as it otherwise may be.

Like many others, I don’t think this is the best day to celebrate all that makes our country great. The events of 26 January 1788, and what they represent, are not the most glorious part of Australia’s history. But that’s not to say there’s not a lot to be proud of.

Travelling gives us the opportunity to compare our society to the rest of the world, to see where we are doing well and where we need to improve. I’ve been away for six of the last seven Australia Days, spending one in Nepal, one in the USA, two in India, one in Vietnam and one in Singapore. Along the way I’ve visited Vanuatu, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Pakistan, Italy and a lot of places in between. To be honest, I’d almost forgotten that Australia day existed. Thank god we have Facebook to remind us of such things.

As an Australian I’m lucky to have the ability to hop so easily around the world. Very few people in the world can travel as easily as we can. I have friends across Asia who will most likely never be able to visit Australia, or any Western nation. As Australians we can’t imagine having such restrictions placed upon us.

I personally think this should change, but even if it doesn’t, I think Australians would do well to appreciate their unique position. The KC family in Palubari, Nepal, welcome me into their lives whenever I get the chance to visit. They cook my meals, clear a bed and share every aspect of their lives with me. Even if I could afford to return the favour, I wouldn’t be allowed to: the KC family would have to demonstrate that they had stable, well-paying jobs, bank accounts full of savings and treasured possessions to draw them back to Nepal. They have none of the above, yet they still treat me like a son.

Travelling makes me grateful for the wages I can earn as an Australian. Last year I shared an office at UTS with a man who told me hated dole bludgers, hippies and anyone who took anything from anyone else. He particularly hated trade unions, which he saw as hotbeds of corruption. His job was historically heavily unionised, his wages were set by a collective bargaining process that over the years had led to huge wage rises, important improvements in working conditions and extra goodies like extended parental leave and five weeks of paid leave. Every three months his wages went up 2%, and he barely noticed.

This year I’ve been living in the USA, where many people share my coworker’s views. In September I applied for the same job that I had at UTS, only the pay was three times less. I didn’t get the job; unemployment here is several times higher than at home. If I had got the job I would have had one week of annual leave, and would have needed to visit a doctor and obtain a medical certificate to take a day’s sick leave. It would cost $50 to go to the doctor. Sometimes it takes a bit of distance to see how lucky we are.

Travelling lets me see how people live without iPads, smartphones and all the rest of it. I’ve lived for extended periods without electricity, without running water, without meat, without telecommunications. Some people I know in Australia would call waiting an extra month for the iPhone 6 an economic crisis. Some people I know in South Asia call living without power life.

Being overseas makes me appreciate how safe I feel in Australia. Here in Richmond, multiple people have to die for something to become a “shooting”. In Sydney a shooting is when shots are fired at the front wall of an empty house. Richmond, a city of just over 200,000, has more murders than Sydney, a city of just under 5 million.

This is a day we should recognise how lucky we are. Above all we are lucky because we earn more than almost anywhere else in the world for the work we do. That gives all of us the ability to make our own choices, to consume as we wish, to exercise our political power in our everyday decisions as well as every few years at the ballot box. Our society is closer than most to an egalitarian one, because on the whole we don’t believe that people should make more money simply because they started with more money.

But I worry we’re becoming increasingly complacent with what we’ve got, forgetting why we have it, and presuming that someone else will preserve it. A nation where everyone’s rich – which, more than anywhere else, is what we have become – is at risk of forgetting what it’s like to be poor. The ex-colleague I mentioned above received a good public school education and a free university degree, but now he can afford to send his kids to private schools he sees no use in supporting the public system. We can’t let that mentality take hold, because there will always be people who are poorer than others.

And it might make me a dreamer, but I feel that we can do more than revive our egalitarian spirit for ourselves, and start to share it with those beyond our borders. Most of us still agree that someone who works a hard day’s work deserves a decent wage, but we don’t feel the same about the Bangladeshi that sews our shirts, the Indian who answers our phone calls or the Malaysian who processes our credit card transactions. At the very least we can start to think about them, and how we might go about including them in our lives, and not just in our economies.

It’s my shout. Happy Australia day, and happy ruminating.