Unless All Lives Cultivate, No Lives Matter [ROUGH DRAFT v. 1.7]

Unless All Lives Cultivate, No Lives Matter [ROUGH DRAFT v. 1.7]

And unless Australians ditch their faux multiculturalism for an authentic multiculturalism, the subjugation of Aboriginal Australians and the destruction of the Australian land will continue unabated

PLEASE NOTE: Although I would have liked to have held off publishing this until it was properly finished, due to circumstances and the timing of certain events here in Australia my hand was forced and I had little choice but to get this post out immediately (19 Oct 2020). That being said, what can be found below is very rough, and not just because I was in such a rush that for the first time ever I had to write my first draft directly to the computer rather than with pen and paper.

Furthermore, being in Melbourne, a city which for the better part of half a year has been in strict lockdown, there are a few key books – unavailable as eBooks – that I'd have liked to have re-read and grabbed a few quotes from, but which are in various closed-off libraries (just down the street) that are inaccessible to me. Likewise, while my personal copies of said books are boxed away in Canada, the hardcopies I purchased are yet to arrive from the US. (For those curious, Gary Paul Nabhan's Cultures of Habitat: On Nature, Culture, and Story is the book I'm primarily trying to get a hold of.)

With all that in mind, for those generally interested in the things written about on this blog, and supposing you'd even want to read this very lengthy post, perhaps you may want to hold off until the final version is published sometime in November. For Australians, you might want to read things now since although what is written so far is a basic framework, the gist is most definitely there. At the same time, there’s several holes where material needs to be added, and there's many arguments that need to be clarified, refined, rearranged, and made more pointed. Likewise, there's pictures to be added, removed, edited, etc. So again, please note that this is very rough.

After I've gone through just three, maybe four, drafts (I customarily go through about ten or so) I'll then re-publish this post as a brand new post, without the [ROUGH DRAFT v. X] addendum in the title or URL. (In the meantime, if you check back you may notice the "v. 1.X" change to "v. 2" etc. before the final version is published, the first decimal denoting how many of the ten sections I've edited.) Depending on what kind of comments appear (if any at all), I may or may not move said comments over to the comments section of the completed post once it's published with the proper title and URL.

Thanks for your understanding.

p.s. This is a very lengthy post, so I'll point out that I've recently added table of contents functionality over in the side-panel which is accessible for those on desktop/laptops and possibly landscape-oriented tablets. This functionality enables you to click/tap on any of the headings/sub-headings in the table of contents, doing so taking you directly to that section (ideal if you'd like to read this post in spurts). If there's anybody who would like to see this table of contents functionality available at the top of the post on smaller smartphone-sized screens then please let me know in the comments and I'll see what I can do.

p.p.s. Not until I'm finished with the final draft will I add in all the fancy-schmancy footnotes, like this one (which you can click/tap on).1 Similarly, and for those who actually read this post in its early state, the GitHub repository won't be made active until the final draft is completed (you'll see what I mean) and nor will I write the new "Sounds of COVID-19, with Fanfare Ciocărlia" page until then either (I also need to make those flying COVIDs look like musical notes).

Introduction

As the world continues its turns, the world increasingly burns. But while 2020 has so far witnessed catastrophic bushfires in Australia, catastrophic forest fires on the United States' west coast, locust infestations across Africa, hurricanes, floods, evictions, firenados, bankruptcies, and of course a (relatively mild) pandemic, many of us aren't fortunate enough to have it so good.

No I'm not quite referring to the situation behind the ongoing race riots witnessed in the United States this year, those riots being an outcrop of the abhorrent systemic racism that millions of Americans face every day of their lives for what superficially seems to be no other reason than a darker skin pigmentation.

What I'm referring to is the systemic racism meted out upon Aboriginal Australians, a situation whereby (black) Aboriginals are, for starters, incarcerated at rates higher than black Americans.

Let me repeat that: (black) Aboriginal Australians are incarcerated at a rate higher – higher – than black Americans. To use some Australian lingo, when you're doing worse than even the seppos, you know things are seriously effed up.

This is a complex and far-reaching story, one that in order to explain I'll have to draw heavily from what may be the preeminent "heavy weight" out there, that of course being none other than the American agrarian writer and farmer, Wendell Berry. As what may come as no surprise to some, Berry has written what I'd say is one of the most –if not the most – profound piece on racism out there. This particular piece of writing is the afterword added to the (1989) reprint of his (1970) book The Hidden Wound

The Hidden Wound
“A profound, passionate, crucial piece of writing . . . Few readers, and I think, no writers will be able to read it without a small pulse of triumph at the temples: the strange, almost commu…

Republished as the essay "Racism and the Economy" in his book The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

The Art of the Commonplace
The Art of the Commonplace gathers twenty essays by Wendell Berry that offer an agrarian alternative to our dominant urban culture. Grouped around five themes–an agrarian critique of culture, agrarian fundamentals, agrarian economics, agrarian religion, and geobiography–these essays promote a clearly defined and compelling vision important to all people dissatisfied with the stress, anxiety, disease, and destructiveness of contemporary American culture.

Although the particulars of this essay sometimes need to be understood in the context of the American situation that Berry grew up in and lives amongst, Berry's observations are nonetheless universal and arguably crucial to understanding the somewhat similar situation over here in Australia.

An acknowledgement to pander to the land

I'd sworn to myself many months earlier that if – while attending a talk or checking out the latest protest-of-the-week – I ever again heard another variant of a particular excruciating statement that I'd either get up and leave or just walk away.

Inevitably, I heard it again:

Let's start off today by acknowledging that we're hosting this event on the land of the Darug people and the Darug nation and I'd like to pay my respects to their elders past and present. We all know this land was never ceded and that Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people have been suffering injustice and discrimination for 200 years since that land was taken. So, I would like to apologize for that and express my hopes and prayers that we can find a way forward for all Australians so that this can be a better place for all of us.

Unfortunately it just so happened that I'd traveled from Melbourne to Western Sydney University in order to attend a talk for research purposes, so as I wasn't about to get up and walk out I was reduced to breaking my promise while mumbling to myself "oh FFS", swearing that I'd excuse myself out the next time.

Fortunately enough I was actually able to score a twofer the next time, since by refusing to attend Melbourne's Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest (early on in the pandemic) I was not only able to avoid hearing a variant of the above statement (which was the first of two reasons for why I refused to attend), but I was also able to avoid hearing a protest chant I'd grown to cringe at and despise just as much (the second of two reasons):

Always was,
Always will be,
Aboriginal land!
A very pretty picture seen where else but on Melbourne's Hosier Lane (photo by Jay Galvin)

Having repeatedly cringed upon hearing the former statement at more formal events (but also at protests), repeatedly hearing the latter statement at protests was nearly enough to make me want to scream out "and when will Australia ever be non-Aboriginal land!?"

Putting aside the notion of whether the land belongs to Aboriginals or whether Aboriginals belong to the land, the litany of vacuous prostrations belted out at protests always reeked to me of oh so much virtue signaling, the benefit of that (for feckless protesters) being that no change in behavior is ever required (while in the meantime allowing oneself to bask in the notion of moral superiority).

To make matters worse, it was only upon doing research for this blog post that I discovered that the former statement is actually known as an "Acknowledgement of Country", a blithe offering codified by the Australian government as being "an opportunity for anyone to show respect for Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to country". As already stated, virtue signaling.

To my pleasant surprise I also recently discovered that I wasn't the only one that took umbrage at all this empty symbolism, since while a Bundjalung woman described Acknowledgement of Country as "lacking heart", the reaction of another Aboriginal woman was relayed by Megan Davis, a Cobble Cobble woman, as such:

For other Aboriginal people it incites feelings of resentment. I recall an incident involving a non-Aboriginal colleague who was outraged when an Aboriginal woman, invited to deliver an acknowledgement – which sometimes Aboriginal people do when it is not their own country – refused to do so when she took to the lectern. She declared the acknowledgement protocol as meaningless and existing only to assuage the guilt of white Australians. My colleague was appalled because she saw herself as well-meaning and regarded the political stance of the Aboriginal woman impolite. Despite the likely antecedents of this anger being explained to her, she found it near impossible to view the world through this Aboriginal woman's eyes. It reminded me of behavioural scientist Paul Bloom's argument "against empathy": empathy can be a blockage to law reform because it does not allow good intentions to transcend into meaningful change. These allies are the ones who think symbolic recognition is sufficient: anything is better than nothing, they chant.

Empty symbolism, empty words.

Or to put it more bluntly, how much difference is there between oh-so-concerned Australians (be they polite intellectuals at the Whitlam Institute or raucous malcontents at a Black Lives Matter protest) proclaiming their allegiance to the plight of Aboriginal Australians via an Acknowledgement of Country, and Donald Trump who so confidently proclaims that "Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody"?

As I've come to notice, empty symbolism seems to be the name of the game in Australia what is described by Megan Davis as "Australian polity's proclivity only for empty symbolism as opposed to substantive rights". An excellent method for achieving this state has come about via the – currently mired in "controversy" – highly contested Aboriginal flag.

Raising the Aboriginal flag without the black or yellow

The emergence of the Aboriginal flag

There's no denying that the Aboriginal flag (seen flashing at the top of this post) is probably the nicest looking flag I've ever seen. It's not too busy, the colours all work well with each other, it's nicely arranged, and each section is imbued with substantial meaning. As described by its creator, Harold Thomas, the black represents the Aboriginal people, the red represents the red earth of which Aboriginals have a spiritual connection to, and the yellow represents the sun, the protector and giver of life.

Thomas, a member of Australia's Stolen Generations, is a Luritja man from Central Australia who later became an accomplished artist. He won a scholarship to the South Australian School of Art in 1965, thereafter becoming the first Aboriginal to graduate from an Australian art school.

Created for the land rights movement as a symbol of protest and community, the Aboriginal flag was first flown at Victoria Square in Adelaide on National Aborigines Day on 12 July 1971. Following its inauguration it was taken by the Aboriginal activist Dr. Gary Foley to Canberra, where in 1972 it was flown above the Aboriginal Tent Embassy across from what was Parliament House at the time.

In subsequent years the flag was embraced as a respected symbol of Aboriginal Australians, and thus became not only recognized and summarily adopted as the Aboriginal flag itself but as an emblem with meaning for all Australians. In recent years that respect has, however, become tarnished, to say the least.

Property of Harold Thomas

Although the Aboriginal flag didn't exist in obscurity, it wasn't until the Aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman draped herself with the flag upon winning gold in the 400m dash at the Commonwealth Games in Canada that the flag gained international notoriety.

As yet to be recognized as the official flag of Australian Aboriginals, on 14 July 1995 it was subsequently proclaimed by the governor general to be a Flag of Australia under the Flags Act 1953. What this effectively did was confer the designation of public property on Harold's creation, a designation that Harold didn't exactly take to. As he later described it, "By taking the flag away from the people you're taking the power away from the people; it's the people's flag".

Fearful that his design would be reproduced overseas, Thomas decided to defend and reclaim his ownership of the flag's copyright by taking the issue to court. As might be expected with these kinds of things, a slew of other claimants came out of the woodwork stating the flag was their design, although in 1997 the Federal Court of Australia officially recognized Thomas as the sole creator of the flag.

Harold Thomas, creator of the Aboriginal flag

Protected under the Copyright Act 1968, what this effectively meant was that the Aboriginal flag was now copyright like any other work of art, a copyright which would last for 70 years after Thomas' death and which could be passed on to his heirs or anyone else Thomas chose to assign it to. Furthermore, since Thomas was designated as the sole copyright holder of the flag this meant that he had every right to license usage of the design to any party he saw fit, or conversely could refuse permission entirely. Likewise, Thomas could assert his rights against any usage of the flag, be it for commercial purposes or not, be it as a tattoo, a beer coaster, napkins, whatever. Last of all, what was also implied with this right to license was that Thomas was entitled to a royalty from any sold item adorned with the flag.

Although it took a bit more than 20 years for the issue to come to a head, this is where things started to get messy.

Grifters, mate

Starting off in 1998, Thomas struck what was a rather benign licensing agreement with Carroll and Richardson (also known as Flagworld) to be the sole manufacturer of the Aboriginal flag, an agreement that has lasted to this day.

Come 2005 Thomas signed another agreement, this one an exclusive licensing deal with what I presume was a mostly unknown company at the time, Birubi Art, Birubi allowed to reproduce the image of the flag on souvenirs. Thomas was apparently glad to do so, the agreement providing him with some financial benefit.

This agreement also lasted for many years, Thomas himself having been quoted on Birubi's website in 2017 as saying:

I, Harold Thomas would like to make a sincere statement of how the Aboriginal flag design has been utilised by Birubi Art and Ben Wooster of Brisbane. I have been associated with Ben Wooster for more than 10 years. Ben's company Birubi has an exclusive licence agreement to utilise the Aboriginal flag design for their products that are made available for purchase to the general public.

Ben Wooster has maintained a professional standard of the highest order. He appreciates the sensitivity and is cognisant of what the Aboriginal flag design is to the Aboriginal people as well as others.

It's nice to have such good friends, isn't it?

Well, it turns out that on 23 October 2018 the Federal Court of Australia found that between July 2015 and November 2017 Birubi Art Pty Ltd had "made false or misleading representations that products it sold were made in Australia and hand-painted by Australian Aboriginal persons, in breach of the Australian consumer law", due to the fact that it had sold more than 18,000 boomerangs, bullroarers, didgeridoos and message stones via various retail establishments across the country, all the while describing said items as being "associated with Australian Aboriginal art" and with words such as "Aboriginal Art", "genuine" and "Australia". There's of course nothing wrong with using such labels, so long as those items aren't being made in, well, Indonesia. Furthermore, it apparently actually is okay to sell fake Aboriginal art, just so long as you don't breach consumer law by falsely claiming that it's the real deal.

Trisha Mason may actually be a real person, I don't know

With the Federal Court also having found that Birubi Art had "made false or misleading representations that products it sold were made in Australia and hand-painted by Australian Aboriginal persons, in breach of the Australian consumer law", and seeing how the effects of Birubi's actions were "grave and far-reaching" and that they conferred "not just direct economic loss but a weakening of the value of the authentic products" as well as an "erosion of consumer confidence in the entire sector", the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) decided to seek a high penalty so to act as a deterrent to those partaking in practices that resulted in "serious cultural harm" upon Aboriginal Australians. As a result, and which proceeded by only a few months a report by the Australian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs in which the harms caused to Indigenous peoples and communities by inauthentic souvenirs and crafts was released, Birubi Art was hit with a hefty $2.3m fine, an amount of which was then the largest penalty of its kind.

As the Australian Copyright Agency and the Indigenous Art Code and Arts Law stated in a joint statement, "Fake art deprives Indigenous artists of economic opportunity and demeans Indigenous cultural heritage."

The only remaining detail you might then be curious about was how fast did Thomas get his ass out of there, right?

Right?

Well, for starters, Birubi Art never ended up paying a single penny of that $2.3m fine. How so? Well, on the very next day after the court ruling, 29 October 2018, Birubi entered into voluntary liquidation, a liquidator then appointed on the very same day. Following this, Birubi's assets were sold to another company, Gifts Mate, Gifts Mate being owned by – wait for it – Birubi's former (non-Indigenous) director, Ben Wooster. As National Indigenous Television / SBS put it, "Mr Wooster also runs a separate company, Gifts Mate, which was registered in May 2018 but appears to be Birubi rebranded. Google Birubi Art Pty Ltd, and Gifts Mate pops up."

"Appears" to be rebranded?

Well, if you take a look at Birubi's former website (archive.org is your friend) and Gifts Mate's current website, not only does the domain of the former redirect to the latter, but they're literally the exact same website with only different company logos. I mean, they didn't even bother changing the phone number. (To throw insult upon insult, Birubi's former website stated: "Birubi Art supports and promotes ethical dealings with Aboriginal people." That may technically be true, but it may also be a smokescreen for another part of the story.)

Come the following month, November 2018, Thomas decided to license the flag for clothing to another company, which he described [link?] as such:

As it is my common law right and Aboriginal heritage right, as with many other Aboriginals, I can choose who I like to have a licence agreement to manufacture goods which have the Aboriginal flag on it.

It's taken many years to find the appropriate Australian company that respects and honours the Aboriginal flag meaning and copyright and that is WAM Clothing.

That all sounds fair enough, and why shouldn't Thomas decide to sign a worldwide exclusive license for clothing with the recently formed company, WAM Clothing? Well, perhaps because said company is co-owned by – wait for it – Ben Wooster, the guy who the previous month had seen his company receive the biggest fine of its kind for scamming Aboriginal culture and heritage.

As mentioned, Wooster isn't the only owner of WAM Clothing, it also being co-owned by a Semele Moore, wife of Leslie Moore – a lawyer specializing in "insolvency, bankruptcy and restructuring advice", and who happens to be Wooster's lawyer.

One (former) owner of a company that scams + one artist = two scam artists? (from left to right: Ben Wooster, Harold Thomas, and Semele Moore)

To cap things off, in 2019 WAM extended its licensing in order to become the "exclusive worldwide licensee for the use of the Aboriginal flag on digital media and physical media", a rather amorphous statement in regards to who has to pay fees (social media users, tattoo aficionados?), thanks to the fact that the deal is confidential and that "any exemption is at the discretion of WAM Clothing. Any organizations who wish to understand what WAM Clothing’s licenses include are invited to contact us". Indicative of WAM's methodology, in mid-August WAM issued a "cease and desist" notice to the originator of a Facebook page entitled "New Aboriginal flag or flags discussion", due to the image of the flag "being used in a negative light".

As we've seen, and as we'll now see more thoroughly, one might wonder if it was only due to letterhead constraints that the company had to defer to removing a few letters and thus naming itself "Gifts Mate", reduced from the lengthier "Grifters, Mate".

Cease and desist

Although the Aboriginal flag's design and original purpose was associated with the Aboriginal land rights movement, it soon thereafter took upon a life of its own; while it became an emblem with meaning for all Australians, it more importantly was embraced by Aborigines as "their flag", "their symbol", the symbol of Aboriginal Australians. It can be seen at rallies and events, on posters and t-shirts, as part of Aboriginal organization logos, and more.

But while the Aboriginal flag has long been associated with a sense of pride and resistance, that feeling of goodwill amongst Aboriginals has been quickly waning the past couple of years, replaced with a creeping feeling of ill will, resentment and indignation.

Probably the most indicative story (not to say the story that has received the most limelight) of why the Aboriginal flag has been falling out of favor with many would be the fallout associated with a small charity over in Bundaberg.

The Indigenous Wellbeing Centre (IWC) is a non-profit health organization that as an incentive to encourage Aboriginals to visit the clinic for a preventative health check had been giving away free t-shirts with the design of the Aboriginal flag on it. In mid-2019 the IWC received a letter from WAM stating that as exclusive licensee of the flag it was entitled to a 20% levy on the cost of all the t-shirts that the IWC had already given out.

In a copy of an agreement seen by the Guardian, signed November 2018 and which appears to be between WAM and Thomas, it's noted that the Aboriginal flag design may be used by Aborigines for non-profit purposes. But as has already been mentioned, "any exemption is at the discretion of WAM Clothing". In what appears to be a bit of a take on the ol' "good cop, bad cop" ploy, WAM doesn't seem to actually grant any exemptions and, in the case of the IWC, demanded $2,200 in back payment. Upon an exemption sought by the IWC, WAM returned with an offer of a 15% charge so long as the IWC would sign a confidentiality agreement. Upon calculating that fees for giving away free t-shirts would cost the charity between $8,000 and $10,000 per year, the IWC decided to cut WAM a cheque for the $2,200 in previous fees and subsequently removed the flag from its free t-shirts.

In what has been more typical of its methodologies, and in a case that has attained national attention, WAM has been actively enforcing its licensing rights by sending out cease and desist infringement notices and retrospective bills for past usage to not only several companies, but to the Australian Football League (AFL) as well. But much like the IWC, and upon consultation with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council, the AFL decided not to engage with WAM and so refrained from reproducing the flag's design on the grounds, jerseys, and all other paraphernalia.

A backlash has of course ensued, and although I'll argue later on that the backlash may very well have been the first stage of the intended outcome, a ruckus has expectedly now ensued.

#FreeTheFlag

In March 2019 the Aboriginal-owned and -led fashion label, Clothing the Gap, sent a couple of letters to Harold Thomas seeking permission to use the Aboriginal flag design on various items of clothing they intended to sell. Although they didn't hear back from Thomas, they also had never heard of WAM Clothing. That all changed though in June 2019 when Clothing the Gap also became privy to receiving a cease and desist notice from WAM, WAM informing Clothing the Gap that WAM held the exclusive license to reproducing the flag on clothing, that there was "urgent action required", that "time is of the essence", and that Clothing the Gap had three days to halt its sales.

With assistance from the community, Clothing the Gap sold all of its "illegal merchandise" within the stipulated time-frame, thereafter ceasing all usage of the Aboriginal flag design on its products. Nonetheless, in August 2019, and with WAM in full litigation mode, another letter was received by Clothing the Gap in which WAM demanded to see all of Clothing the Gap's financial records in regards to sales of products featuring the Aboriginal flag.

Several Aboriginal-owned manufacturers have rather unsurprisingly reacted with anger to all these cease and desist letters, and not simply due to the connection of Ben Wooster, of WAM Clothing, to the previously-indicted Birubi Art.

(image via change.org)

In response to all this, Spark Health, "an Aboriginal owned and led social enterprise specializing in health promotion" and owner of Clothing the Gap, started up a #FreeTheFlag campaign on change.org in which it questions whether a non-Indigenous business should hold a "monopoly" over the Aboriginal flag, in hopes of lobbying the government to take action because "control of the market by a non-indigenous business has to stop". As of this writing the campaign has over 145,000 signatories, every AFL team also on board.

This raises several issues though, some much more concerning than others. First off, and with the savvy litigious practices of Ben Wooster and his lawyer Leslie Moore (again, whom Wooster's co-owner of WAM is married to), one has to wonder if their intent all along – for who knows how long – has been to force the hand of the Australian government to buy out their licenses (and Thomas' copyright) for what would presumably be a very handsome sum of money, all the while playing Australians at large like a bunch of rubes.

"Yeah, I think I might have to call bullshit on that one"

But more importantly, much more importantly, it's worth questioning if whether or not Australians, and specifically Aboriginal Australians, have been placated by an inconsequential hubbub over what is essentially no more than a pretty looking piece of cloth, distracted from the more important matters of the very health and lives of Aboriginal Australians, as well as the health of the land itself (which if memory serves correct is to a certain degree what the flag was meant to stand for in the first place).

I'll get to the former a bit later on, but for now we'll move directly to the dire plight and conditions that Aborigines are forced to live their lives amongst every day, if they're even so lucky – to live.

Protesting about a pandemic during a pandemic

Some racial clarifications

Before I even start, let's just make sure we're all clear about a couple of things first.

First off, when one hears the phrase "Black Lives Matter" (BLM), this isn't a response to the supposed question "which lives matter?" Rather, it's a reflection of today's racial climate in which the lives of black people are cheapened, implying that what it actually said by the phrase BLM is "black lives should also matter". Its purpose, therefore, is to highlight the devalorisation that black lives experience in our society. That being so, when one retorts to "Black Lives Matter" with the statement that "All Lives Matter" (as senator Australian Pauline Hanson has, whose related motion in parliament was overwhelmingly blocked by other senators), one is making the devalorisation of black lives invisible and by extension partaking in racism.

"Well you see boys and girls, the truth of the matter is that the little piggie in that George Orwell book had it right all along: All lives matter, but some lives matter more than others" (photo by Steve Daggar)

Second thing. Racism is not about discriminating against different races. Reason being, there is no such things as different races. Simply put, the notion that there's such a thing as different races is no more than pseudo-science, but more specifically it's (a) an outcrop of colonization and the attempt to make a biological justification for discrimination and prejudice, it's (b) a political appropriation and distortion of neo-Darwinian theories of evolution, and (c) it's an attempt to place those of white European ancestry at the top of a racial hierarchy in an increasingly intermingling globalized world.

If you want to ditch the "pseudo" and look at the actual science, a 2002 study published in the journal Genetics showed that there exists larger genetic differences within Africans than between Africans and Eurasians. As the paper stated, "Africans differ from one another slightly more than from Eurasians, and the genetic diversity in Eurasians is largely a subset of that in Africans".

That all being so, rather than racism being the discrimination against other "races", racism is the very notion that there even exists such a thing as distinctive "races", be they with varying characteristics or behaviors or whatever.

But those are all the dry, scientific, technical explanations, which I don't think do much to explain the presence of racism in a more cultural sense. To explain that I'll now relay the first of several quotes from the aforementioned essay in Wendell Berry's The Art of the Commonplace, a quote which I think properly upends our conventional understanding of the issue of racism.

[T]he root of our racial problem in America is not racism. The root is in our inordinate desire to be superior – not to some inferior or subject people, though this desire leads to the subjection of people – but to our condition. We wish to rise above the sweat and bother of taking care of anything – of ourselves, of each other, or of our country. We did not enslave African blacks because they were black, but because their labor promised to free us of the obligations of stewardship, and because they were unable to prevent us from enslaving them. They were economically valuable and militarily weak. [47]

Australians hit the streets for what matters

Despite pleas for restraint by the prime minister and state leaders in lieu of what were claimed to be concerns about the current pandemic, in early-June tens of thousands of Australians not only hit the streets to show support for BLM protests, but they did so legally, on once occasion after having appealed and successfully overturned attempts by police to ban demonstrations. While it's highly unlikely for people to spread COVID-19 between one another in open air conditions, organizers at the Melbourne rally nonetheless made sure to consult with organizations such as the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service as well as to procure 55,000 PPE masks and 55,000 bottles of hand sanitizer for distribution by staff.

(photo by Matt Hrkac)

Contrary to a "misinformed" statement by the federal minister for the Pacific, Alex Hawke, that protesters congregated en masse "to attend a self indulgent 'protest' about matters in other countries", the reasons why Australians protested in the streets were however very much Australia-centric, those reasons specifically being for the purpose of protesting about institutional racism against Aboriginal Australians and their deaths in custody.

But while condemnations were leveled against the early-June BLM protests as being riders of the US BLM bandwagon, the Rupert Murdoch masthead The Australian – whose maxim appears to be "a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on" – was at the head of a chorus of media outlets scapegoating Melbourne's BLM protest via publication of a front-page "exclusive" entitled "Coronavirus: Black Lives Matter protest linked to tower cluster". But while the only (non)evidence given in the article is conjecture and "may have been"s, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has subsequently, and repeatedly, stated that there is no evidence to link the two, and by extension that Melbourne's BLM protests were in no way linked to Melbourne's COVID-19 outbreak.

In light of all the evidence to the contrary, why would publications like The Australian, and government ministers like Alex Hawke, continue to push outright lies? Perhaps, one might surmise, such practices could be related to a variant of popular placards that one could see at the various Australian BLM protests: "Racism is a pandemic".

(photo by Matt Hrkac)

Because while the recent riots in the US were a direct result of the murder of the black American George Floyd at the hands of the police, Floyd's final words – final pleas – were words Aboriginal Australians are similarly known to have also gasped at the hands of the police, words that were chanted all across Australia during the BLM protests.

"I can't breathe."

Marching for justice, marching for David Dungay

In December 2019 a black American from North Carolina, John Neville, died in custody due to being asphyxiated while being restrained, depriving his brain of oxygen and resulting in his heart ceasing to beat. While being restrained and hooded he had cried out more than 20 times "I can't breathe!" In July 2020 a nurse and five former jail officers were charged with involuntary manslaughter, an outcome which (black) Aboriginals can only wish might ever happen in Australia.


On 29 December 2015 a 26-year-old Aboriginal Dunghutti man, David Dungay Jr, was three weeks away from being released after having served time for assault. He was in his cell at Sydney's Long Bay jail hospital, eating some biscuits, which guards told him to stop doing (he had diabetes). Dungay continued eating the biscuits, and so five guards rushed into his cell, dragged him to another cell, held him face down, and injected him with a sedative by a Justice Health nurse. All the while he cried out twelve times – captured in harrowing footage seen in court – the exact words that George Floyd managed to eke out to his murderers: "I can't breathe!" Shortly after the injection Dungay lost consciousness, and died.

Three years later a coronal inquest found that not one of the guards that restrained Dungay should face disciplinary action. Their conduct, said the coroner, was "limited by systemic inefficiencies in training", and there was deemed to have been no need to raid his cell, all of which was done without the proper authority.

It was neither necessary nor appropriate for David to be moved and that he did not pose a security risk. From a medical point of view there was no evidence of any acute condition which would have warranted a cell transfer.

It was noted by the coroner that the nurse who administered the sedative should have their professional conduct reviewed by the Board of Nursing, and an apology acknowledging "organisational failures" was issued by the NSW Corrections commissioner.

Having received no justice, the Dungay family have been seeking two things ever since: that SafeWork NSW investigate Dungay's death, and that criminal charges be lodged by the NSW director of public prosecutions against the guards involved. Twice now SafeWork NSW has refused to investigate Dungay's death, and so less than two months after Australia's early-June BLM protests the Dungay family and allies organised another rally in support of the call for an investigation.

After having set up a change.org campaign that also called for the opening of an investigation, Leetona Dungay, mother of David Dungay, stated the following:

I am going to keep marching until we get justice for my son. We buried him in Mother Earth, and that's where I'll walk tomorrow and every day until charges are laid against the guards involved in his death.
Sign the Petition
“I can't breathe": Charges must be laid for the death of David Dungay Jnr

This time around organizers lost the court appeal to have the prohibition against public assembly – and thus their protest – overturned, the New South Wales supreme court ruling in favour of the police, implying that demonstrators were at risk of being fined and arrested for breaching COVID-19 restrictions on mass gatherings. Nonetheless, the Dungay family vowed to continue with their march, but stated that they were willing to call it off if the New South Wales premier would commit to asking SafeWork NSW and the director of prosecutions to investigate whether or not charges should be laid against the five guards. As David Dungay's nephew, Paul Silva, stated:

We won't stop until there is justice for my uncle's death. The reason we are protesting is because after five years not a single person has been held accountable for the death of my uncle.

I tell you what, if the premier can commit to asking SafeWork NSW and the DPP to investigate whether charges can be laid in relation to my Uncle's death I'm sure that we can put off the protest.

If she refuses then it just goes to show that no one cares about our lives and we will see you on Tuesday.

True to their word, the Dungay family and their supporters went off on their (small) protest, armed with their petition (as well as masks and hand sanitiser) to be presented to parliament.

Paul Silva and Leetona Dungay on the right carrying a box with some of the 90,000+ signatures – which has now reached 113,000+ signatures – calling for the opening of an investigation into the death of David Dungay (photo via change.org)

While the few dozen protesters had organized themselves in groups of less than 20 since no more than 20 people were allowed to gather "for a common purpose", the protesters were met with an uncannily heavy police presence that far outnumbered the protesters and which included riot police and dog squads. Everybody was ordered to move on due to there being more than 20 people overall, said the assistant police commissioner Michael Willing. The Dungay family and supporters dispersed, but not before six were arrested and two were levied with fines of $1,000 each.

But as the assistant police commissioner curiously put it,

As we said all along, we are not anti-the right to protest. This is about public safety. At the end of the day, we are in the middle of a pandemic. The Supreme Court judge himself described the current situation in NSW as being on a knife's edge.

Why the assistant police commissioner's statement was so curious was due to a notable paragraph tucked away in the Crikey Worm that hit my inbox the next morning:

Footage released by Nine reporter Andrew Rickert yesterday appears to show dozens of anti-CCP protesters – apparently from the “New Federal State of China”, a separatist group backed by Steve Bannon – marching outside Sydney’s Chinese consulate. Protesters also appeared masked and social distanced, but no arrests or fines have been reported.

That is, on the exact same day that protesters were being arrested and fined for seeking justice for the death of a (black) Aboriginal man in custody, in another part of Sydney protesters backed by a far-right Donald Trump ally, and in a group that far outnumbered the Dungay family and their supporters, were allowed to proceed unimpeded.

To make matters worse, three months later, when the 20 person restriction was still in place, a "one-off exemption to the Public Health Order" was passed by the NSW government that increased the limit of public gatherings to 100 people, so long as social distancing measures and such were adhered to (which is what the Dungay family and their supporters abided by). But most interestingly, what was this exemption for? Answer: Remembrance Day. In other words, the NSW government said it was okay for people to gather above the 20 person limit to mourn the deaths of what was vastly a bunch of white men that occurred several decades ago (nothing inherently wrong with that), but it was not only wrong for more than 20 people to gather to denounce the deaths of black men, it was wrong for more than 20 people to gather to denounce the deaths of black men that occurred not several decades ago but today. (As an aside, it would seem that the protestor that ripped up his $1,000 fine and stated "Garbage, this is going in the bin. That's all it's worth" might have not been so wrong after all.)

As we'll now start to see, these litanies of double standards should come as no surprise in so-called "multicultural" Australia.

Please Australia, no racism against the rich and privileged

A taste of Australian racism in Canada

Having grown up about an hour's drive north of Toronto, Canada and with not only a father born and raised in Denmark and a mother born and raised in Colombia, but a mother who had eight brothers and sisters who all moved to the Toronto area as well, you might say that my family is about as "multicultural" as it gets. Over the years, and counting only those who had married my aunts, uncles and cousins, my family has included those who came from – or who had parents who came from – Italy, Israel, Burma, Belgium, the Ukraine, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and most relevant in this case, Jamaica.

Aware that I'd been to Australia a few times, my Canadian-born uncle, whose parents were from Jamaica, relayed a story about an occurrence he had back in high school, sometime in the late 80s. He'd been sitting in a classroom doing his schoolwork when a few members of a visiting Australian high school rugby team walked past the open door. Upon noticing my uncle in there, who is black, several of the players got enraged and rushed him, the only thing stopping them from attacking my uncle being a couple of their coaches who restrained them. My uncle, stunned, swore to himself that day that he'd never visit Australia, and although he's traveled all around the world over the years for both work and leisure, he's kept his word and has never laid a single foot in Australia.

There's of course no doubt that racism exists in Canada, but nonetheless, if ongoing events are any indication, then my uncle's oath of avoiding Australia is something he should probably keep.

Racism is by no means accepted in Australia, except for when it is

While it's already been shown that Australia has been experiencing an array of BLM-related protests over the past several months, Australia has been simultaneously also experiencing a rash of protests against protests, albeit rather selectively. Although these selective condemnations have been voiced by several government ministers, (assistant) police commissioners, and those in the media (all of which I'll elaborate on momentarily), it's arguable that the cue taken by these people and media outlets have come from none other than Australia's prime minister himself, Scott Morrison.

In regards to the BLM protests, Morrison made his point when he stated that

[W]e shouldn’t be importing the things that are happening overseas to Australia. I'm not saying we don't have issues in this space that we need to deal with but the thing is we are dealing with it. And we don't need to draw equivalence here. We should be Australians about this and deal with it our way, and we are.

But is Australia in fact dealing with these issues? (Spoiler: it most adamantly is not.) Or is Morrison essentially giving lip service in order to sweep things under the rug?

Well, when it came to anti-lockdown protesters claiming that COVID-19 is a "plandemic" hoax, that 5G towers (paradoxically) cause the virus, that it was all part of a QAnon conspiracy, and that authorities should "arrest Bill Gates" because the "plandemic" was part of a grand plan to implant people with a microchip via a vaccine, Morrison's concern about "importing... things [from] overseas" was nowhere to be found. Instead:

It’s a free country. People will make their protests and their voices heard.

Perhaps this isn't so weird, considering that the wife of Australia's leading QAnon figure is best friend's with Morrison's wife Jenny, both of whom were bridesmaids at each other's weddings. Moreover, this leading QAnon figure is said to have influence over the prime minister.

(photo via @cameronwilson)

Regardless of all that, it's rather interesting to note then that in April Morrison told SBS News that when it came to racist attacks "I'm massively disappointed because it's just so wrong", and that people should "stop it". Thing is, Morrison wasn't talking about racist attacks in general (which would include racism against Aboriginal Australians), he was specifically talking about racism against those with Asian appearance (which has been on the rise during the pandemic). To little surprise, many of Morrison's ministers chimed in in agreement. (Meanwhile you've also got senators in Morrison's Liberal party idiotically demanding that born-in-Australia Australians of Chinese descent denounce the Chinese Communist party.)

A few months later Morrison's deputy prime minister Michael McCormack had free reign to go on the television show Q&A and claim, months after it had been repeatedly debunked as incorrect by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, that Melbourne's June BLM protest had caused Victoria's second COVID-19 outbreak. It was only after the host interjected and challenged McCormack's assertion nine times (by pointing out that any notion of a link had been thoroughly disproven) that McCormack finally conceded and stated "I'll accept that but people shouldn't be protesting".

McCormack accepts what? That he was being deceptive if not outright lying? And secondly, is it "people shouldn't be protesting", or is it "people shouldn't be protesting in support of Aboriginals?

Because it was only the following morning on the ABC when Greg Hunt, Australia's minister of health (who as the minister of health recently failed to condemn a couple of backbenchers for their vocal support of hydroxychlorinique and other University of Facebook COVID-19 treatments), was confronted with the fact that McCormack had been perpetuating the falsehood that there was a link between Victoria's COVID-19 outbreak and Melbourne's BLM protests. Hunt continually evaded the question until he finally stated that "Well, given that we are dealing with the question of public health consistency, our approach has been consistent. We have not supported any of these protests." Which is correct. They have condemned some protests (BLM) and turned a blind eye to others (Steve Bannon-linked protests).

Anyhow, what's of even more interest is the way in which Morrison managed to address the BLM protests. In a mid-June radio interview Morrison stated that "It was a pretty brutal place, but there was no slavery in Australia." This of course triggered the sentimentalities of a swath of pundits, many of whom were quick to denounce Morrison's comments and remind Australians about Aboriginal Australians and others who had experienced blackbirding, stolen wages, indentured service and indentured labour, all of which were the equivalent of slavery but just labeled differently.

What all these pundits have seemingly neglected to realize though is that Morrison's nickname (typically delivered in a pejorative manner) is "Scotty from Marketing" for a reason. While stating that he didn't want to get into the "history wars", he all too easily put his critics on the defensive when he added that

[T]here have been all sorts of hideous practices that have taken place, and so I'm not denying any of that. OK? I'm not denying any of that. It’s all recorded.

As he then put it a couple of days later, it's important to be "honest about our history" and

We've got to acknowledge the positive and the negative. But, you know, I think we've also got to respect our history as well, and this is not a licence for people to just go nuts on this stuff.

What Morrison's critics have obviously failed to give him credit for was his ability to play them in order to endear himself to the mainstream view of Australians: that unfortunate events most certainly occurred in the past, but that apologies have been made. So can't we just move on and get on with our lives?

Another factor that many of the pundits have overlooked as playing a part in this instance of racism in Australia is the cold-hearted "reality" of how much Chinese foreigners (students and tourists) vs. Aboriginal Australians contribute to Australia's ponzionomic economic system.

When it comes to education this is Australia's fourth-largest foreign exchange earner, valued at A$38 billion per year and of which 37.3% of the 442,209 overseas students in 2019 were Chinese.

When it comes to tourism, 1.44 million Chinese visited Australia in 2019 (15% of all short-term arrivals) , spending about $A9,235 each, which amounts to roughly A$12 billion and therefore 0.6% of Australia's annual GDP.

When it comes to Aboriginal Australians, well... I suppose you can say they sell a lot of didgeridoos, which probably contribute about 0.000000001% to the country's GDP (unless they're Birubi Art Indonesian knock-offs, then they probably only contribute 0.000000001% to the country's GDP).

In other words, when the name of the game in our system of growth-based economics is how much do you contribute to the nation monetarily, and when a particular people aren't "pulling their weight" in comparison to others, there's a good chance that said people aren't going to be given the superficial respect begotten by those with deep pockets.

That all being said, Australia likes to laud itself as being a multicultural country. As that's the case, shouldn't that mean that Aboriginal Australians are therefore happily welcomed into the mix in one way or another, that everybody is able to live in some kind of harmony of acceptance?

Well, would you believe me if I told you that the exact opposite is actually closer to the truth, that "multiculturalism" as we know it is not only a detriment to the well-being of Aboriginal Australians, but to the future of Australia itself?

I didn't think so (and if you did agree with me then I suggest you put away your Tiki Torch because you have absolutely no idea what I'm getting at). But by the time you finish reading this overly-lengthy blog post, you may very well come to agree with me that what we now regard as "multiculturalism" is no less than the greatest boondoggle in the entire history of Australia.

The tokenism of (faux) multiculturalism

Taken for granted as a truism by virtually every Australian and trotted out like clockwork by Tim Soutphommasane (Australia's Race Discrimination Commissioner between 2013-2018) is the generally accepted maxim that "Australia is a multicultural society, often trumpeted as the most successful of its kind in the world".

Contrary to the accepted wisdom, I beg to differ.

What I don't mean to suggest is that in a "my dad can beat up your dad" manner Canada is an even more successful multicultural country. On the contrary, what I mean to suggest is that, like Canada, Australia isn't multicultural in the slightest.

Hear me out.

For starters, a main tenet behind the notion of multiculturalism is the goal, if not accomplishment, whereby people of various cultures are able to live amongst one another in relative harmony, without racism, something that Soutphommasane was alluding to in his earlier comment. I'll hold off on fully explaining the massive oversight in these regards until we get to the multiculturalism section and subsections later in this post, but for the time being I'll relay a rather insightful quote by Wes Jackson (founder of The Land Institute) in regards to slave-era, 19th century United States.

The South had coal, of course, but not as much. It was a more agrarian society. Northern supporters, who were more profligate pool-users [users of non-renewable pools of energy-rich carbon], could afford to be more self-righteous than the more agrarian, less coal-using, slaveholding South. Leisure often makes virtue easier.

That is, the energy from fossil fuels (specifically coal) in the North provided the energy required for various kinds of work, something that the scarcity of fossil fuels (coal) in the South didn't allow for (oil hadn't been discovered yet). Applying this notion to the previous quote by Wendell Berry, the racial problem in the United States came about because Americans were yet to access the energy of fossil fuels that would alleviate themselves of the need to utilize their own bodily energy (primarily for the growing of food), who as a result resorted to enslaving Africans so that their bodily energy could be utilized instead. A thorough unpacking of all this is found in Andrew Nikiforuk's utterly fantastic book The Energy of Slaves: Oil and the New Servitude.

The Energy of Slaves
A radical analysis of our master-and-slave relationship to energy and a call for change. Ancient civilizations routinely relied on shackled human muscle. It took the energy of slaves to plant crops, clothe emperors, and build cities. In the early nineteenth century, the slave trade became one of the…

One thing achieved by this correlation between the energy of human slaves and the energy of fossil fuel "slaves" is the insertion of a spanner into our generally accepted notion of where racism comes from. I'll explain by way of a study recently published in the Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues which found that 75% of Australians hold an implicit bias against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. What I think was most interesting was not that the level of bias didn't decrease amongst those with tertiary education, but that this lack of decrease disappointed the researcher: "[This] is certainly a little depressing to see".

Why, I ask, should this be depressing to see? Answer: (a) the assumption had been that the uneducated skew towards being racist while the educated skew towards not being racist; and (b) the researcher had a bit of his bubble burst upon being confronted with the fact that he and his colleagues weren't as (morally) superior as he had perhaps assumed they were, and was possibly also confronted with the fact that the notion that racism is a malaise of the uneducated, if not the rural, was nothing more than a crude and incorrect assumption.

Paradoxically, it is this presumed state of (moral) superiority that can enable certain sections of the educated to treat the uneducated and other disadvantaged people – what some refer to as being "deplorable" – with disdain and contempt, consigning the downtrodden to the sort of "menial" tasks that the privileged would rather not have to do themselves.

As Wendell Berry further explains,

It seems likely, then, that what we now call racism came about as a justification of slavery after the fact, not as its cause. We decided that blacks were inferior in order to persuade ourselves that it was alright to enslave them. That this is true is suggested by our present treatment of other social groups to whom we assign the laborious jobs of caretaking. For it is not only the racial minorities who receive our indifference or contempt, but economic or geographic minorities as well. Anyone who has been called "redneck" or "hillbilly" or "hick" or sometimes even "country person" or "farmer" shares with racial minorities the experience of a stigmatizing social prejudice. And such terms as "redneck" and "hillbilly" and "hick" have remained acceptable in public use long after the repudiation of such racial epithets as "nigger" and "greaser". "Rednecks" and "hillbillies" and "hicks" are scorned because they used to be known as "nigger work" – work that is fundamental and inescapable. And it should not be necessary to point out the connection between the oppression of women and the general contempt for household work. It is well established among us that you may hold up your head in polite society with a public lie in your mouth or other people's money in your pocket or innocent blood on your hands, but not with dishwater on your hands or mud on your shoes. [47-48]

To translate into Australian speak, the derogatory term "redneck" isn't used in Australia so much as the term "bogan" is. That being said, if an Australian wants to move up in the world and migrate to someplace like New York City then one is required to upgrade their vernacular lest they appear parochial and unsophisticated.

Likewise, and paralleling the approach of possessing moral superiority, if one wants to occupy space on the left-of-center portion of the political spectrum then it can most certainly pay to pick up the multicultural mantle and become a professional offense taker. A golden opportunity in these regards came in mid-August when The Australian published an editorial cartoon featuring American Democrat politicians Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the piece prompting the expected cadre of federal Labor MPs, a certain former Race Discrimination Commissioner, and even a former prime minister, to elicit their condemnation on Twitter and the like by decrying the cartoon as racist.

From where I'm standing the cartoon, which closely used Biden's own words ("little black and brown girls") wasn't so much racist as much as it was making a mockery of Biden's casual racism and misogyny, as well as his tokenism of choosing a black woman as his running mate. Then again the cartoon was after all published in Rupert Murdoch's The Australian, which with what is pretty much the worst track record around makes it rather impossible to give the benefit of the doubt to.

Regardless, that's all besides the point. Because what should be of prime concern is the way in which all the centre-left professional offense takers were quick to cry "racism", but nary one of them were willing to point out Biden's and Harris' track records. Namely, and among much else, that Biden was a leading crusader for mass incarceration in the '80s and '90s (his 1994 crime bill significantly contributing to the incarceration of black Americans) and this his corporate politics are no different than Donald Trump's. Meanwhile Kamala Harris, who failed to prosecute Steven Mnuchin (then the CEO of OneWest Bank and now Donald Trump's Secretary of the Treasury) for mortgage fraud, fought tirelessly to keep nonviolent and even innocent prisoners behind bars so that California could have a cheap supply of $5.12 a day firefighters, blocked payouts to the wrongfully convicted, withheld evidence that would have freed several several prisoners, and more, all of which renders her as little more than Joe Biden's slave-catcher.

Yet you'll never hear any of that come out of the mouths of Australian federal MPs, Race Discrimination Commissioners, or former prime ministers, thanks to the fact that they're not so much concerned with structural racism so much as they're concerned with the optics of goodwill gestures and platitudes of support (and nor are they about to call out the corporate alignment of fellow politicians lest they effectively be calling themselves out as well).

What you will however repeatedly hear and read about in newspapers in "multicultural" cities like Melbourne and Toronto, be it from politicians or not, are denunciations of foreign-trained doctors, scientists, engineers, etc. from third-world countries that are relegated to driving taxi cabs, their skills said to be wasted rather than contributing to society. And what you'll never hear or read about in these same newspapers are denunciations of Mexican or Polynesian farmers coming to Canada or Australia to work as day labourers on monocultural farms, their skills as farmers wasted when they could be contributing to more ecological methods of farming.

From what I can tell, Harold Thomas seems to be in the former camp. As he put it himself,

The journey of us is still continuing. Today you can be a doctor or a lawyer, but you also need to maintain your identity, you gotta bring your mob with you. Too many people forget who they are. Young people are our future now. They need to stand together.

It's not clear if by "identity" Thomas means anything beyond fashionable cliché, because if I'm interpreting things correctly this statement that "young people are our future now" seems to suggest that ways of life close to the land are over and it's best to get with the (modern) times seeing how the more traditional ways of life of the not-so-young are (supposedly) coming to an end. With Thomas' statement singling out that Aborigines can nowadays become doctors and lawyers rather than singling out, say, that someone can become something along the lines of a small farmer practicing agroecological principles, this is because the name of the game when it comes to the modernity that Thomas seems to be championing is little more than upward mobility (with the inclusive aura of so-called "multiculturalism").

Although he doesn't use the terms "upward mobility" or "multiculturalism", Berry does however have a few relevant words to say about all this.

The problem of race, nevertheless, is generally treated as if it could be solved merely by recruiting more blacks and other racial minorities into colleges and then into high-paying jobs. This is to assume, simply, that we can solve the problems of racial minorities by elevating them into full partnership in the problems of the racial majority. We assume that when a young black person acquires a degree, puts on a suit, and achieves a sit-down job with a corporation, the problem is to that extent solved.

The larger, graver, more dangerous problem, however, is that we have thought of no better way of solving the race problem. The “success” of the black corporate executive, in fact, only reveals the shallowness, the jeopardy, and the falseness of the “success” of the white corporate executive. This “success” is a private and highly questionable settlement that does not solve, indeed does not refer to, the issues associated with American racism. It only assumes that American blacks will be made better or more useful or more secure by becoming as greedy, selfish, wasteful, and thoughtless as affluent American whites. The aims and standards of the oppressors become the aims and standards of the oppressed, and so our ills and evils survive our successive “liberations.” [48-49]

Or to use the Australian term, "reconcilitations".

Anyway, while becoming as greedy, selfish, wasteful and thoughtless as the affluent is no solution, how welcoming might those environments be to those who do nonetheless decide to join the ranks? Not so great, it would seem. In an article entitled "Adding people of colour to a racist workplace isn’t the answer", author Jinghua Qian states that

I am sceptical that this nascent reckoning will lead to any real change in Australia. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are usually a way for a company’s management to abdicate responsibility to a junior colleague who doesn’t have authority to challenge structural racism. Maybe there’ll be a couple more of us in the room. But what happens when we get there?

A hostile and abusive environment it may very well be. For as Qian quotes Aboriginal woman Kerry Klimm from Twitter,

Diversity in newsrooms is critical. But don’t hire a Blak journo without decolonising the newsroom & ensuring it’s safe.

While I will question the over-emphasis on anthropocentric diversity a bit later, and while the call for diversity in newsrooms is a bit beside the point, I do question the notion of placing an over-emphasis on the decolonisation of places such as newsrooms when the greatest colonisation that currently exists is the colonisation that we humans have imposed upon the land, most critically via our monocultural method of agriculture and which I doubt more "diversity" in newsrooms would inherently imply more coverage of.

Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed gets at the core of the problem when he states in his recent piece, "White Supremacism and the Earth System", that

We have to start by recognizing this structural racism for what it is — the extension and legacy of a global imperial system, premised on ecological plunder: A system of accelerating resource extraction and wealth centralization premised on imperial violence that is literally destroying the ecosystems on which all life on Earth depends.
White Supremacism and the Earth System
The protests, the pandemic, and the planet: from systemic decline to civilizational renewal

(If the avove link is still behind a password, use this link in the meantime.)

Problem is, while these are daunting enough issues to address in the first place, it's virtually impossible for a people to contribute their part towards changing these trends when said people not only meet oppression at virtually every turn, but when they are incarcerated at horrifically over-represented numbers.

So before we get to describing what a more authentic multiculturalism would be, and how we can address the colonial plunder of the land, we first need to touch on the deaths in custody that occur to Aboriginal Australians due to their over-incarceration and  over-representation in the nation's jails.

The subjugation of Aboriginal Australians

Incarceration

As Donald Trump said during the campaign for his presidency, "We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning". And "winning" the United States has most certainly done, a couple of its most recent accomplishments being a higher number of cases of COVID-19 and deaths from COVID-19 than any other nation in the world. (Albeit completely unrelated, the United States' share of the world's total COVID-19 cases and deaths, both slighty less than 20%, are coincidentally enough roughly the same percentage of the world's supply of oil that it uses.)

Having denied Americans of health care during a pandemic while simultaneously orchestrating the greatest upward transfer of wealth in American history, Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats spend eight minutes and fourty-six seconds demonstrating how to properly choke and kill off marginalized Americans en masse. (And what was on Nancy Pelosi's mind for those eight minutes and fourty-six seconds? Ice cream, of course.)

But one thing the United States has surprisingly not won at is the percentage of black people it puts in jail, as well as the ratio of black people that die when placed in those jails. Between the United States and Australia that trophy, believe it or not, would be handed first to Australia.

In the United States, black Americans make up 12% of the nation's population but count for an abhorrent 33% of the prison population. In Australia, (black) Aboriginal Australians account for a mere 3% of the nation's population, but an absolutely staggering 29% of the prison population. To top it all off, while 0.3% of non-Aboriginal Australians are in jail, 4.7% of Aboriginal Australians are in jail, which means that an Aboriginal is fifteen times more likely to be in jail than a non-Aboriginal, none of which is because Aboriginal Australians are committing their "fair share" of crimes. If that all weren't bad enough, the amount of incarcerated Aboriginal Australians has doubled over the past three decades, resulting in the grim fact that Aboriginal Australians are the most incarcerated people in the world.

There's obviously an array of reasons for why this all happens, but the root of it all is the systemic racism that exists in Australia, a system that views the actions of Aboriginal Australians more so as crimes and as a result treats them more harshly.

For starters, while Aboriginal Australians are over-targeted with low level offenses like public drunkenness (more on that in a moment), one can look to the way of which in New South Wales –

  • 82.55% of all Aboriginal Australians found with a non-indictable amount of cannabis were taken to court by police, while the rate was 52.29% for non-Aboriginal Australians
  • of those, only 11.41% of the Aboriginal Australians were let off with cautions, while 40.03% of the non-Aboriginal Australians were let off with cautions
  • it was found that in the Richmond-Tweed region and Sydney city areas, between the years 2015 and 2019, Aboriginal Australians were twice as likely as non-Aboriginals to go to jail for any offense
  • also in Sydney, Aboriginal Australians were more likely than non-Aboriginals to go to jail simply for offensive language, even though they were charged less often with this offense
  • nearly a third of all inmates in New South Wales prisons are Aboriginal Australians, while the figure is 84% in the Northern Territory

To make matters worse the construction of Australia's largest prison was recently completed, the Grafton prison in the northern area of New South Wales costing $700m and privately run by Serco. That'd be the same Serco that lost its Mt. Eden prison contract in New Zealand after there fight clubs were discovered to be running in the jail. Moreover, while prisons inherently end up becoming training grounds for crime where prisoners learn how to become better criminals, it's hard to imagine these prisons – particularly private prisons – being as concerned with their prisoners as much as they are with their money-making opportunities.

With the amount of incarcerated Aboriginal Australians there's not only a concern for their over-representation, but the cruel reality of what can – and often does – happen when held in custody. As one Aboriginal woman stated,

When our mob go to jail, the families do that time with the person that's in custody, because we've all got that fear in the back of our head – are they safe? Are we going to get that call?

Deaths in custody

Coinciding with the over-incarceration of Aboriginals in Australia is the abhorrent amount of deaths that have occurred while in custody, as of this writing 441 and counting since 1991.

I say 1991 because it was twenty-nine years ago that a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was undertaken, its purpose being to decipher why so many Aboriginals were dying while in custody. Its finding? They were dying because they were arrested and jailed at disproportionate rates. In other words, with the over-representation of Aboriginals in Australian jails, and with 441 more deaths since 1991 (that's one death every three weeks), nearly nothing has changed. I say "nearly" because whereas in 1991 14.3% of Australia's prison population was Aboriginal, in March of 2020 it had increased to 28.6%, numbers that have been increasing every year for 29 years straight. Things haven't not changed, they've gotten worse.

To then throw insult upon insult is the absurd, cruel and unconscionable fact that in these past 29 years not a single criminal conviction has been laid down in any of those 441 deaths, even when excessive force or neglect by police officers was evident. And much like the already-described case of David Dungay, the lack of criminal convictions for all-too-obvious negligence and reprehensible actions is too preposterous to be taken seriously.

There was the Ngaanyatjarra elder, Mr. Ward, who in 2008, and according to the coroner, was "cooked to death" in the back of a security van as it drove 400km across Australia in 47°C heat. He had been arrested the day before for drinking and driving. The guards' evidence was said to be questionable, suggesting collusion, but which resulted in no more than a suspension from duty.

There was the 22-year-old Yamatji woman, Ms. Dhu, who in 2014 was subjected to "unprofessional and inhumane" treatment by Western Australian police. She was picked up and jailed for $3,622 in unpaid fines, and while in custody suffered from an infection in the rib that had been broken more than three months earlier. Following treatment from police and hospital staff that was deemed to be influenced by preconceived notions about Aboriginal people, she died of a heart attack. Nobody was held accountable.

There was Wayne Fella Morrison, who in 2016 was in remand and had never been in prison before. He had been restrained by 14 guards and fitted with a spit-hood, and then accompanied by seven guards who placed him face-down in a police van for a short drive to another prison block. All of this was captured on CCTV. There was no CCTV in the van however, and when the van arrived at the other prison block, where there was once again CCTV, Morrison was seen to be unresponsive and that the guards then began to perform CPR. Upon finding that there had been "serious shortcomings" in the department's conduct, the ombudsman criticized the lack of CCTV in the transport, recommended prison guards wear cameras at all time, and... ordered the South Australian Department for Corrective Services to issue an apology to Morrison's mother and sibling.

There was the Yorta Yorta woman, Tanya Day, who upon having fallen asleep while intoxicated on a train in 2017, and who was causing no disturbance, was arrested "for her own protection". She was locked up in a concrete cell, fell and hit her head on the wall, and was left lying on the cell floor for over three hours, the police having only conducted two checks through the cell door for a matter of seconds. Day died 17 days later from a brain hemorrhage sustained from her fall, which if given proper care may have been preventable. The coroner found that the checks were inadequate, that the police officers failed to provide proper care for Day's safety, that one of the officers was not a credible witness, and also stated that "an indictable offense may have been committed". Nonetheless, no criminal charges were laid.

There was, in September while putting this post together, a 48-year-old Aboriginal woman who died while remanded in custody in a Brisbane watch house. The postmortem examination found that she had died of "natural causes", which, at this point, is now starting to sound as if with the cause being over-incarceration that it's now only natural, and thus acceptable, for Aboriginal Australians to die while in custody.

Moreover, if it's become natural for Aboriginal Australians to die while in custody, then it almost seems as if it too has become natural to "get 'em while they're young". Because like I relayed earlier, if you think things are bad in the United States, that's child's play compared to what they do in Australia. Or rather, they at least give their children a chance to play before shuttling them off to jail.

Dropping juvenile Aboriginals into Australian quicksand

It's a shame all those QAnon people are completely off their rockers, what with their belief in a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring (and yes, believers in "Q" have been increasing here in Australia). Because if they weren't, perhaps they could better utilize their time by worrying instead about the fact that what Australia does run is what can pretty much be called a national child incarceration scheme.

There's a good chance that as a reader of this blog you've never had much reason to give a second thought to the notion of child imprisonment, due to the fact that you likely live in a country that agrees with the United Nations committee on the Rights of the Child whereby the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be set at a minimum of 14-years-old. Except, that is, if you live in the "developed" first-world country that is the exception to that rule, that being Australia – where a hungry 10-year-old can be thrown in jail for stealing a loaf of bread, particularly if that hungry 10-year-old that has stolen that loaf of bread is a hungry (black) Aboriginal 10-year-old that has stolen a loaf of bread.

So while the global median age of criminal responsibility is 14-years-old, all Australian states and territories (except for one as of last month) not only throw children between the ages of 10 and 13 into jail, but an unsurprising disproportionate amount of those children are (black) Aboriginal children. Although 6% of 10 to 13-year-olds in Australia are Aboriginal, 65% of incarcerated 10 to 13-year olds are Aboriginal – which means 26 times more likely to be incarcerated. Not tall enough to ride the big roller coasters, but old enough to be taken into a barbed wire facility, strip-searched, and placed in a concrete cell.

Part of the reason for why a disproportionate amount of Aboriginal children are placed in jail is because they're criminalized for the disadvantage that their families find themselves in. They get charged for the most minuscule of offenses, be it stealing bread or a chocolate or for a minor public order offense. And once incarcerated in various police watch houses they have the privilege of experiencing abusive practices such as solitary confinement, hog-tying, sedating, hooding, and gassing. And like older Aboriginal Australians, they too experience police racism, violence, racial profiling and harassment, all without any accountability.

The result of these Aboriginal children getting placed in jail often amounts to them becoming "trapped in the quicksand of the justice system". While it should be obvious enough that imprisoned children are less likely to complete their schooling, complete further education, and then gain employment later in life, 94% of those imprisoned between the ages of 10 and 12 end up returning to prison by the age of 18, while those imprisoned before the age of 14 are three times more likely to become chronic offenders in their later years than those who are locked up after 14 years of age. Their early incarceration becomes a life sentence.

Another factor for why the actions of Aboriginal children can result in them getting incarcerated is because they're children, children whose brains haven't fully developed of which would otherwise enable them to better manage impulse control, better enable them to understand the criminal consequences of their actions, and thus be less likely to take unnecessary risks. As pointed out by Dr. Li-Zsa Tan, a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians,

Behavioural and neuroscientific studies show the brain undergoes an intense period of development and synaptic change during prepubescence and adolescence. These changes directly affect how children perceive and react to risk-taking under peer influence, and these issues are compounded in vulnerable communities.

It is for all these reasons and more that the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of Physicians, the Law Council of Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre, and Amnesty International have all called for all governments in Australia, all attorneys-generals, to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age and thus bring Australia in line with international standards.

A perfect opportunity for this came on 27 July of this year when a meeting was held between the Council of Attorneys-General, a group made up of attorneys-general from the Australian government as well as all states and territories, they having already agreed in 2018 that it would be appropriate to consider raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

Prior to the meeting, Sydney barrister Arthur Moses, SC, formerly president of the Law Council of Australia as well as for the NSW Bar Association, had stated that a failure to implement the changes would look poorly on the country.

The state and territory attorneys-general need to have the courage to do what they know is right. Australians are decent and intelligent – they will support this law reform. A country is judged based on how it treats its most vulnerable including our children.

Well, the Council of Attorneys-General not only failed the country, but in particular it failed Australia's Aboriginal children.

New South Wales attorney-general Mark Speakman said the decision had been postponed to 2021, adding that there was not only more work to do but that at this particular point in time they "are yet to be convinced" that the age should be raised. One of his reasons seemed to have a certain kind of undercurrent to it, repeating something similar to what Victoria's opposition leader Michael O'Brien had stated earlier (this being the same O'Brien that would have opened up Victoria long ago and let COVID-19 rip through and decimate the state). As Speakman put it,

There is understandable community concern when, for example, 13-year-olds in far north Queensland are alleged to have raped a minor, and understandable community concern that kids may feel they can get away with things if there isn't some criminal sanctions attached.

By "13-year-olds in far north Queensland" I shouldn't have to tell you what colour of skin such a person would have. Secondly, fear-mongering as such fits nicely into the narrative of an out of control crime wave in far north Queensland, what with some having dubbed Townsville with the moniker "Crimsville". As stated recently in The Guardian,

No expert disputes that crime is a problem in Townsville, where the rate of offending is marginally higher than other regional areas in Queensland. But evidence suggests the notion of an unending crimewave or "exploding" problem has been greatly overblown. And the result is recycled punitive policy ideas that experts say are proven failures.

But as Speakman also stated,

If there is a move to raise the age of criminal responsibility you have to identify what is the alternative for children who would otherwise be subject to the criminal justice process. And that is where further work needs to be done. What are the therapeutic interventions the behaviour interventions, the social support, the educational interventions that offending children need if they are not going to be dealt with by the criminal justice system?

Once again Speakman's comments – coming off as if the situation the Council of Attorneys-General was dealing with was rocket science – come up hollow. Because just three weeks later, suggesting that at least some Australians may in fact actually be "decent and intelligent", the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) voted to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 – the first jurisdiction in the entire country to do so. And in what would appear to be for the Council of Attorneys-General the re-invention of the Sputnik, part of the ACT's decision was that "there should be options to shift the age or provide exemptions for more serious criminal offences". Which the entire Council of Attorneys-General somehow couldn't manage to pull off itself.

Taking everything into consideration, it's hard to imagine that the Council of Attorneys-General, or perhaps particular members within it, are purposefully stalling in order to continue the disenfranchisement of Aboriginal youth. Because the more 10 to 13-year-old Aboriginal children that fall into the quicksand of Australia's penal system, the longer Aboriginal people can be kept in what is often a destitute position.

As put by an advisor to Amnesty International Australia, Rodney Dillon,

Attorney-General [Christian] Porter is purposefully dragging his feet on this issue and everyone knows it; it’s time for the states and territories to take up the job of raising the age of criminal responsibility as soon as possible.

Nonetheless, the path is now clear for other Australian jurisdictions to follow in the ACT's lead. But whether the political will is there, and/or whether Australians are willing to demand it of their politicians is, however, another story altogether.

Minding the Gap

In light of all the aforementioned (which touch on but a sliver of the pressing issues) it should be expected that governments will be compelled to take action, although what can't be expected is for that action to be anything more than an attempt to save face if not push an alterior agenda. The Australian federal government's recently updated National Agreement on Closing the Gap initiative (which was announced on virtually the same day of the announcement that the age of criminal responsibility would not be raised from 10 to 14-years-old) is made up of both of these approaches, particularly the latter.

Put simply, the initial iteration of Closing the Gap appeared in 2008 under the Kevin Rudd Labor government, the basic premise behind it being that it was a framework that aimed to reduce the disadvantage imposed upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by aiming for seven specific targets. Twelve years later, and with the first iteration being nothing to write home about, in July 2020 the Scott Morrison Liberal government released the second iteration of Closing the Gap, the premise behind this one being to... reduce the disadvantage imposed upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by aiming for not seven but... wait for it... sixteen specific targets!

Pat Turner, Ken Wyatt and Scott Morrison

Pat Turner, the co-chair of the Coalition of Peaks and of Gudanji-Arrente heritage, unveiled Closing the Gap with prime minister Scott Morrison in late-July, championing it with the statements that "Today truly is an historic occasion" and was a "huge step forward" (it really wasn't). Although it was by no means an about face, in late-September Turner stated that Morrison needed to show "a bit of backbone" when it came to such and such and it's really of no consequence if you ask me so I won't even try and wrap my head around it all and not just because I don't have a Qantas barf bag handy on me right now.

Seeing how this is a family-oriented blog I'm going to refrain from trying to guess what Pat Turner was describing to Australians

So rather than try and make sense of this debacle myself, in this case I'm going to defer to a much more qualified, thorough, and rather excellent explanation as given by Guy Rundle in Crikey (for those interested I very much recommend reading the piece yourself, a trial subscription enabling you to get passed the paywall).

Distant goals, rather than immediate action, means new Closing the Gap is a squib
New targets. Same old story. We're at the point where our failure to Close the Gap has become a perverse source of self-congratulation. Something needs to change.

In regards to annual reports on life conditions for Aboriginal Australians that have been been released for more than a decade, and which Rundle calls "something of a sick joke",

[E]very year, the same reports... bubble through the mainstream press: we are still not meeting the targets, our national shame, etc.

By a few years it should have been obvious that such reports were now complicit in the giant con that Closing the Gap had become. The function of Closing the Gap was to make us feel better about ourselves. We were trying. We were good people.

Bizarrely, the annual failure to get any movement at all towards the targets became some sort of perverse source of self-congratulation. Even though it was clearly difficult, we were trying. It was difficult. We were very good people.

The principal thing Closing the Gap did was disguise the political character of oppression.

What Morison's new iteration of Closing the Gap will do, or will at least attempt to do, is reduce Aboriginal socioeconomic difference. It will do little to nothing to confer upon Aboriginal Australians the ability to exercise self-determination in political and economic domains, and will bestow upon them no worthwhile control over activities happening on their Country.

Closing the Gap's substitution of quantitative goals for qualitative goals has one effect: it makes cover for there being absolutely no progress at all, year on year.

It obscures the fact that some of these issues can only be addressed by structural change. School attendance is poor in part because schools are urban industrial institutions, which only enforce their own discipline in such societies, and a different type of school, or even a post-school educational form, is required for remote area societies.

To put it rather crudely and simplistically, the idea of Closing the Gap isn't to give Aboriginal Australians any semblance of sovereignty over their own lives and cultures, but rather to provide them with the kind of opportunities that would allow them too to one day revel in the ownership of big screen TVs, courtesy of all the wonderful doodahs of consumerism and the market, or better yet, industrial civilisation.

The ridiculous idea that these very different societies will become full-time waged labour work societies should be abandoned, and forms of labour/life activity – tending, gardening, land and heritage management – recognised as part of a remote area universal basic income scheme.

I'm a bit iffy on the universal basic income scheme (as has been written here on FF2F before, money but is a proxy for energy), but nonetheless, Rundle nails Closing the Gap revisited on the head: "we will use our total failure and redoubled determination as a measure of our virtue".

Like much else Closing the Gap has been a massive letdown to Aboriginal Australians as well as to Australians as a whole, implying that a completely different approach is needed. Rather than a bunch of abstract benchmarks that disguise ineffectual approaches, this new approach will require something significantly more substantial, more cognizant of the Country.

I'll get to that in a moment, but before doing so a few words on some goings on in the Country.

Between a rock shelter and a Juukan Gorge

A nation fit for ruin

What we did not understand at the time of slavery, and understand poorly still, is that this presumption of the inferiority of economic groups is a contagion that we cannot control, for the presumed inferiority of workers inevitably infects the quality of their work, which inevitably infects the quality of the workplace, which is to say the quality of the country itself. When a nation determines that the work of providing and caretaking is "nigger work" or work for "hillbillies" or "rednecks" [or "bogans"] – that is, fundamental, necessary, inescapable, and inferior – then it has implanted in its own soul the infection of its ruin. [48]

Coming from the understanding of an American agrarian, what Wendell Berry was speaking of there was the way of which when a people – black Americans in this case – are treated with a lack of dignity, that that treatment has knock-on effects whereby the land is degraded in turn. Berry was of course referring to the health of the land agriculturally-speaking, but his observation can also be understood to apply to the way in which the lack of dignity conferred upon Aboriginal Australians is reflected upon the destruction inflicted upon the Australian land (land that the ancestors of those same Aboriginal Australians have inhabited for millennia). Likewise, and although the United States and Australia encompass two very different situations of which will have different outcomes, the inevitability of the ruin that Berry spoke of, and that is coming to fruition in the United States as we speak, will just as inevitably occur in Australia as well if it remains on its current path.

Although the destruction of Australia's agricultural health and fertility is being realized just as effectively as it is in the United States (i.e. soil erosion, soil salinization, aquifer depletion, nutrient depletion, loss of pollinators, loss of genetic diversity, loss of cultural knowledge, etc.), the kind of destruction I'll be referring to here is not the destruction of Australia's agricultural potential but rather the destruction of its unique land formations.

Although I could probably explain this via dozens of different examples, what I'll be specifically describing in this case is the recent destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia, formations that are known to have been occupied by Aboriginal Australians for more than 46,000 years and whose destruction at the hands of mining giant Rio Tinto entails deception and possibly malfeasance and skullduggery.

Along with stories about the Juukan Gorge rock shelter that have been passed down from generation to generation, we know that the occupation of the site goes back 46,000 years thanks to an excavation and preliminary archaeological report made in 2014 (six months after permission for its destruction had been granted) by the archaeologist Dr. Michael Slack. Along with artifacts such as grinding and pounding stones that appeared to be the earliest use of grindstone technology in Western Australia, and with the site being "one of those sites you only excavate once or twice in your career", Dr. Slack stated that

the Juukan 2 rock shelter has the amazing potential to radically change our understanding of the earliest human behaviour in Australia. To date, there is no other site of this age with faunal remains in unequivocal association with stone tools. The significance of this cannot be overstated.

Despite a full archaeological report then made in 2018 as well as two ethnographic reports describing the site's significance, all of which were delivered to Rio Tinto, no one at the mining giant managed to flag the site as a potential risk. That being so, on 24 May of this year explosives were set off in order to collapse the cave into a pile of rubble. It was only later that night, Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques told a follow-up parliamentary inquiry, that the CEO learned of the site's significance.

Before and after

Turns out though that red flags had in fact been raised, albeit by a people whose status, as you may have noticed by now, doesn't count for too much down here. Those would be the Puutu Kunti Kurrama Pinikura (PKKP) people, the Traditional Owners of the Juukan Gorge.

It's tough being white and laden with guilt

For someone who isn't too familiar with the sort of gravity bestowed upon Aboriginal Australians when they're recognized as the Traditional Owners of a particular place, the situation seems a bit awry to say the least.

Under the Native Title system, Aboriginals who have rights over a piece of land, a piece of land that a mining giant wants to extract resources from, pretty much have no choice in the matter. In order to obtain royalties or compensation for a piece of land a land-use agreement must be signed with the proponent. If the parties don't come to an agreement then the native tribunal makes a decision, and they rarely reject mining leases. Moreover, when usage of land is granted by the tribunal the Traditional Owners, having not made an agreement, lose out on royalties and/or compensation. To a neophyte like myself it's hard not to interpret this as extortion as well as another method by which more white guilt can be assuaged, the latter being via the visage of ownership and then "fair" payment upon the Traditional Owners "voluntarily" negotiating their rights away under pressure. Essentially take it or leave it.

So with permission to do as they please with the rock shelters, on 24 May of this year Rio Tinto detonated explosives so they could expand the Brockman 4 iron ore mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, reducing Juukan 1 and Juukan 2 to rubble. However, it turns out that in the lead up to the destruction entreaties had been urgently put forward to Rio Tinto by the PKKP to delay the blasts due to the significance of the rock shelter as a heritage site, a full five days before the detonation. Stating that it was too late to remove the explosives, Rio Tinto went ahead with the detonations, part of the suggestion being that there was no other option.

But when the destruction of the rock shelters set off worldwide coverage and then international condemnation it wasn't too long before a federal parliamentary inquiry was called, an inquiry which revealed Rio Tinto's questionable actions.

Naughty by nature

For starters, it turns out that there was four approaches that Rio Tinto could have taken in regards to extracting resources from the Juukan Gorge formation, three of which would have left the rock shelters intact. However, and as stated in the inquiry, it was only the fourth (most destructive) approach that would enable Rio Tinto to access an extra eight million tonnes of high grade iron ore, ore with an estimated value of $135m at the time. Furthermore, it turns out that Rio Tinto somehow managed to forget to make any mention to the PKKP of the three non-destructive methods, something that would have bestowed upon the PKKP some actual choice in the matter, the "oversight" calling into question the whole notion of informed consent.

To make matters worse, the PKKP had signed a financial agreement with Rio Tinto in 2011 and again in 2013, part of the agreement being that the PKKP would not oppose any applications to destroy or damage heritage, this all coming under the notorious section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act. A provision, however, was that "Rio Tinto [would use] its reasonable endeavors to minimize impacts on those operations". With traditional owners thus left "appealing to the mining companies' better nature", one can't help but think of the story of the frog and the scorpion. Shackled behind gag clauses that stop Traditional Owners from speaking about terms of agreements, which thus allow mining companies to conduct their operations in secret, it would appear, as even the ABC states, that "section 18 of WA's Aboriginal Heritage Act legalizes the destruction of Aboriginal sites".

Before and after (photo: PKKP Aboriginal Corporation)

As a spokesman for the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation put it, "the true extent of the dysfunctional process which led to this desecration... has belittled our heritage".

Sorry not sorry

If you want to know what Rio Tinto thinks about the destruction of the rock shelters then one need only refer to a leaked tape from a staff meeting that occurred a few weeks after the story hit international headlines.

According to the Australian Financial Review, which says it heard a recording of the meeting, Rio Tinto's iron ore chief executive, Chris Salisbury, informed staff that the apology that had been given was for any distress caused, not an admission that the company had done any wrong. "[T]hat's why we haven't apologized for the event itself, per se, but apologized for the distress the event caused".

It shouldn't exactly come as any surprise then that, as revealed via meeting notes released to the parliamentary inquiry, upon the PKKP issuing an urgent request to delay the blast Rio Tinto responded not by putting things on hold but by hiring a team of lawyers (three days before the blast) in order to counter any possible injunction. Never mind that this also contradicted earlier statements by Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques that senior executives had no knowledge of the site's importance until after the blast.

Jean-Sébastien Jacques, making signing away Australia's heritage and future look easy (photo by Codelco)

As stated by James Fitzgerald, legal counsel for the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility,

The minutes show deliberate efforts to lawyer up and defend the destruction that hadn't yet occurred. There is no record of surprise, shock, regret or remorse by Rio executives.

So although Rio Tinto released a report saying it had the legal authority for the project yet conceded it was wrong to have followed through with the blast, it also stated that the failure of the three executives were nothing more than "acts of omission, rather than commission", and that there had been "systemic failures in the cultural heritage system".

That being so, while the chair of the parliamentary committee pointed out that Rio Tinto's appearance before the committee had raised more questions than it answered, he also stated that it appeared Rio Tinto had misled the inquiry:

It is hard to argue that we have not been misled by Rio Tinto's evidence to the inquiry when you look at what was said together with the documents the company has provided on notice. It is a profound statement to say that senior executives did not know when the company has been aware since the early 2000s of the significance of the caves.

That's all fine and dandy though. Because while political parties on both sides of the aisle – such as those that run these inquiries – like to behave as if it isn't so, it's no secret that mining giants call the shots in Australia via the political influence their routine donations buy. But sometimes, when things go belly up and the heat from the fallout is too much to handle, then there's often little other recourse than to throw somebody, or somebodies, under the bus.

As Australian National University emeritus professor Jon Altman put it,

The mining industry is very effective in lobbying for its commercial interests and recognises that at times it needs to give some minor ground in the face of public disquiet if it is to retain its privileged position in gaining a licence to operate irrespective of the wishes of Indigenous native title interests.

To little surprise, BHP, Rio Tinto, Gina Rinehart’s Roy Hill, Woodside and Fortescue Metals all told the parliamentary inquiry that the federal government should refrain from taking a more active role in Aboriginal heritage protection. Aware that they needed to give some kind of sacrificial concession, BHP suggested that fines should be increased into the millions – fines which of course are partially passed on as higher costs for their customers to absorb and which are simply "the cost of doing business".

To allay frustrations a bit further, Rio Tinto decided that CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques would lose out on $5m in bonuses, while iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury would lose out on $1m. A lot of money to you and I, but pocket change to highly paid executives.

So James Fitzgerald (the aforementioned legal counsel for the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility) once again needed to pipe in, this time stating that "Tens of thousands of years of cultural significance get blown up and all that goes to show for it is $7m of lost remuneration", while the chief executive of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors added that "Remuneration appears to be the only sanction applied to executives. This raises the question – does the company feel that £4 million (about $7m) is the right price for the destruction of cultural heritage?"

Rio Tinto's non-executive chairman, Simon Thompson, tried to quell things a bit by suggesting that because the fault of the rock shelter destruction had been the result of "systemic failures" that nobody should have to resign (Thompson had obviously stayed up late studying the David Dungay case).

When that didn't work the board of Rio Tinto is said to have "bowed to intense investor pressure for strong action", resulting in the departure of CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques, iron ore chief executive Chris Salisbury, as well as corporate affairs boss Simone Niven, all who are said to have left "by mutual agreement".

As then put by the legal counsel for the Australian Centre for Corporate Responsibility, James Fitzgerald, "Shareholder democracy and investor action is alive and well in Australia."

Ah, here we go, I found one (photo via eBay)

But of course the real beneficiaries from all this are Rio Tinto and the shareholders, and even Jean-Sébastien Jacques himself.

For Rio Tinto (and their mining brethren), the hope is that the resignations will act as a circuit breaker and thus prevent any momentum in the changing of the laws that provide them cover.

For the (Australian) shareholders (who get to pretend that it was they who forced out the executives), they may want Rio Tinto to behave better but they don't actually want to divest from Rio Tinto themselves. What they do want to divest from is some of their (white) guilt, while at the same time making sure their wonderful dividends stay intact. So far so good, and as an added benefit they managed to save $7m that they would have otherwise paid out in bonuses.

For Jean-Sébastien Jacques and his fellow executives, they had it toughest of all. Because as stated in the agreement of their departure, they – of course – got to keep their financial packages and long-term bonuses.

Sky-high juggernauts

What all of us – black and white – must understand is that the existence of industrial executives, as we now have them, implies inevitably the "nigger work" of garbage collectors and other menial laborers, as we now have them. The career of the black executive implies just as much "nigger work" as the career of the white executive. And the degradation of this trade in careers and souls is not limited to people. For the garbage cannot be hauled out of the world; it must be put somewhere. The inevitably misnamed "sanitary landfills" were once places of dignity, woodland or marshes or farms, the homes of creatures, and now they have been made niggers also. [54-55]

Jean-Sébastien Jacques and his fellow executives are departing, but they'll be replaced, and since it's easier to beg forgiveness than to get permission it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody when the next round of "mishaps" occur.

For starters, the mining sector does not support legislative reform. It'd prefer that the federal government doesn't get involved and that agreements made under the Native Title system remain as the basis for managing Aboriginal cultural heritage. In other words, the mining sector wants Australian at large to believe it can be trusted to self-regulate, even after the recent Juukan Gorge catastrophe.

The Western Australian government sees differently, but only slightly. That is, in a draft bill introduced in early-September it was outlined as a strong possibility that all section 18 approvals would be recognised and that Traditional Owners would be given the right to appeal any mining approval.

Not everybody has much faith that the new Aboriginal heritage legislation will correct the current imbalance, such as Grant Bussell, chief executive of the Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation (YAC), the YAC located south of the PKKP. As Bussell stated,

I don't see a single thing that would stop Juukan from happening again. This is Western Australia. The mining industry is powerful. It's a very good force for the country and for WA but when you bring it up against Aboriginal people and this remarkable heritage we have … you guys know as well as I know who is going to come out on top.

Those of the Wintiwari Guruma Aboriginal Corporation (WGAC) apparently find it hard to see differently, which is little surprise considering their experience with Fortescue Metals Group (FMG). According to WGAC representatives it's now customary for FMG to withhold royalties from the Eastern Guruma people until they sign off on further mining leases. According to the WGAC's Tony Bevan,

FMG routinely do not honour their agreement. Over the past three years we've started issuing dispute notices whenever they breach the agreement. We've issued six dispute notices in a period of a year or two.

These dispute notices "go nowhere", said Bevan, and nor is there ever any disciplinary action against FMG for withholding these royalties.

Putting it all together (section 18 gag clauses, ___ rulings that virtually always rule in favour of the mining sector, and royalties held back to extort the signings of further mining leases), the designation if "Traditional Owners" upon Aboriginal Australians is effectively little more than a token gesture offering to give the semblance of any actual self-determination that Aboriginals may have. Similarly, the general public gets to have any white guily assuaged once Aboriginals get their token payouts.

Those are of course my opinions and not necessarily those of any Aboriginal Australians, although a few words by a WGAC director, Joselyn Hicks, relayed by the SBS, is no less glum.

Ms Hicks said, after the destruction at Juukan Gorge in May, Rio Tinto decided not to destroy a rock shelter at the Silvergrass mine on Eastern Guruma Country despite having section 18 approval, which would allow them to destroy it under the Western Australia Aboriginal Heritage Act.

"Rio recently decided not to destroy our 40,000 year old rock shelter at Silvergrass, even though Ben Wyatt had given them permission to destroy it," she said.

"They told the media about it before they told us.

"We welcomed this decision but it was sad that it had to take the destruction of the PKKP site and international media attention to make government and mining companies pause for thought."

When Traditional Owners were asked how much confidence they had that the mining company would not destroy the site once the spotlight was off the issue of heritage destruction in the Pilbara, they answered, "None".

PKKP Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Carol Meredith this stated that "We are very much feeling that we are up against a huge machine". That's an understandable statement, but perhaps not entirely correct. Or rather, doesn't get at the underlying crux of the issue.

To get a better idea of the underlying problem to all this we might look to the (rather academic) book Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin by geologist and architectural historian Gray Brechin. As Brechin sees it,

Agriculture and mining represent the two prototypical human activities from which towns first sprang. Until recently, they stood for opposite ways of regarding and transforming the natural world. [K]

But as these towns grew larger and larger, as did their populations, they turned into cities which had "both [a] reach and [a] power to transform the nonhuman world on which its people depend",[D] resulting in Brechin's description that "No area on the planet is now free from the process of global urbanization. Wilderness has ceased to exist". [E]

That last observation may be a bit hpyerbolic (supposing one can ignore all the microplastics and such which have reached every nook and cranny of the planet), but the inordinate effect that cities have had on the planet are undeniable. As Brechin explains it,

Scholars have long noted that cities are humanity's transformers. Few, however, have observed their awesome destructive power. The majority of books on urban history celebrate the city—particularly the imperial cities of the past—as the locus of civilization itself, as the hothouse of technological, spiritual, economic, and artistic progress. Architectural monuments, lordly gardens, hotels de luxe, and the deeds and thoughts of great individuals have traditionally constituted the body of history classes. All of that is well worth study, for the city at its best transforms the human animal by civilizing it as it furnishes an escape from the harsh exigencies of nature. Moreover, the city provides valuable goods and services to both its citizens and the hinterlands upon which it draws. All this and more I grant. [F]

That's all fine and dandy, although it most certainly glosses over the ultimate impact that the city has on the planet of which we all live upon. For as Brechin continues,

But to understand the city's environmental impact requires one to abandon the usual anthropocentric perspective and to seek others overlooked or edited out of the record by those who write it. [F]

What Brechin thus describes in his book is a system that he believes precedes and even supercedes and capitalist econonomic system, an "invisible structure" that he calls "the Pyramid of Mining", a pyramid which embodies dynastic, corporate, and political alliances. [G] Armies, navies, and the marketplace were then required in order to construct the grandeur of "the opulent architectural piles of Rome, Constantinople, Madrid, Paris, London, Vienna, Brussels, Amsterdam, and New York." [B] As Brechin further elucidated in an interview with Alex Smith of Radio Ecoshock, "Venice devastated much of the Eastern Mediterranean in order to make itself beautiful", adding that "I think that cities today do very much the same, they take from wherever they can to build themselves". And in that process our cities destroy the unique for the creation of the homogenous.

But as already mentioned, Brechin most certainly did make sure to differentiate between the aforementioned "two prototypical human activities". For as he put it,

Committed to place, the farmer creates landscapes of cultivated beauty while the miner makes infernal wastelands before advancing to his next conquest. Both farming and mining create the city, but each activity predisposes those engaged in it to perceive the land they work in very different terms. The miner's realm is necessarily dead, divisible, and detached, a treasure trove for the taking and leaving. To regard it otherwise would make the wounds inflicted on the earth unendurably painful. [N]

It is in this sense that Australia, being a miner's paradise of which its politicians and citizens happily desecrate in order to appease the aspirations of not only their own cities but also the imperial cities of the world, is little more than a "necessarily dead" land whose destruction will come back to ___ haunt those who live upon it.

Not all is for naught though as Brechin did have some more hopeful words to say about farming.

Literally rooted in organic reality, the life of the farmer was traditionally tied to the rhythms of earth and sun, changes and vagaries of the seasons, and, above all, cultivation and replenishment of the soil for human ends. Cities first rose upon the surplus biotic energy that the Agricultural Revolution made possible, as well as on the settlement in place that it demanded. Within the city wall, granaries provided a measure of security never before available to nomadic tribes—a reservoir of calories to drive human and animal labor, which in turn could transform nature into finished goods, leisure into thought, and thought into technical innovations to yet further transform nature. Out of the pool of surplus energy that farmers produced for those within the city rose the nonproducers: priests, nobles, bureaucrats, merchants, and armies. The city served, above all else, as humanity's great transformer. As long as it remained small and close to the land, it furnished the tillers with a nitrogen-rich source of fertilizer that they returned to the soil in a closed organic loop. City and contado [country, countryside] existed ideally in harmonic symbiosis. [L]

A key word here though is "ideally", because our modern methodology of farming, industrial farming, is virtually indistinguishable from mining and is in fact the epitome of an unsustainable system. We mine nutrients from the soil and fail to replenish them, we mine water from depleting acquifers, we extract natural gas from beneath the ground in order to create petrochemical fertilizers, we mine phosphorus to add upon the aforementioned fertilizers, we even mine genetic diversity, something we treate as a "treasure trove for the taking and leaving" of whose destruction our descendants will scorn us for for millennia.

That all being said, ecologically sound and thus sustainable farming is however most certainly possibly in Australia, however possibly not to the point of being able to feed the current population. As Brechin relayed, "the historian Tacitus permitted a vanquished cheif to say of the Romans: 'They make a desolation and call it peace'". Translated to modern Australia, "They make a desolation and call it multiculturalism".

Rio Tinto, in the city, before it all (perhaps even quite literally) comes tumbling down (photo by Harry Cunningham)

Multiculturalism is dead, long live multiculturalism!

"The Gap" is a trap

The psychic wound of racism [has] resulted inevitably in wounds in the land, the country itself. [47]

Rejection of the land, with what is effectively a deferrence to racism against Aboriginal Australians. Putting aside the cafés and the restaurants and the beaches and the winery tours and all that stuff, if you want to sum up ever-urbanizing and upwardly-striving Australia in one sentence then that would pretty much be it.

Having held a centuries-long disdain for the people who have not only lived here for millennia but who have largely lived in an ecological balance with its various ecozones (call them "representatives of the land", if you will), it should be of no surprise that Australians find themselves on the precipice of calamity, something that the fallout from COVID-19 has ever so slightly pulled back the curtain on. (To give just one non-ecological example, the idea has recently been floated that Australia may have to introduce conscription. Not for war purposes, but to fill labour shortages on farms.)

To varying degrees the crises that Australia faces this decade and this century are quite similar to what all other countries will be up against in the upcoming years. Likewise, all countries (and their regions within) have their own characteristics and conditions which include varying strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and so forth, and the more cognizant a people are of these the better off they can prepare themselves for the inevitable changes coming down the pike courtesy of various resource shortages, not to mention climate change.

Perhaps the foremost characteristic that Australians could harness to their advantage is the notion that Australia is a multicultural country. Because the fact of the matter is nothing could be further from the truth than the notion that Australia is (authentically) multicultural, and if Australians could harness the opportunities that such a realization would allow for, then the country and the people – all the people – could be incomporably better off than via any other approach it could take.

To start addressing the expected question "Australia not multicultural, WTF is this guy talking about?", I'll begin by pointing out that even Aboriginal Australians seem to be caught up in the "multicultural" boondoggle, even though it's done them as a people more harm than anybody else. As stated in the excellent ABC piece "Our story is in the land" by Aileen Moreton-Robinson, a Goenpul woman of the Quandamooka people and also professor of Indigenous research at RMIT University,

Australia was a multicultural society long before migrants arrived. It is estimated that over 500 language groups held title to land prior to colonisation. Indigenous people owned, lived on, were taught to know and belonged to particular tracts of "country" – which is the term used to refer to one's territory/land of origin or a person connected to the same piece of land.

This is mostly correct, and so far as Moreton-Robinson describes the relationship (traditionally) held by Indigenous people to the land it's by far the best description I've ever read by an Australian on what multiculturalism authentically is. The only issue I have with Moreton-Robinson's statement is what might be the insinuation that Australia is still multicultural today, because the fact of the matter is that Australia has been progressively becoming less and less multicultural ever since European and then other migrants first arrived, to the point that the term has now become little more than an anachronism.

I'm sure I've got you even more confused than when you first started reading this section, so let me unpack some of this via the next four subsections which contain adaptations of material written a decade or so ago for my (still) unpublished manuscript.

Culture and the Land

Back in 2005-06, and after having finally decided to ditch university and a career in the film industry, I spent the better part of a year volunteering and working on a variety of farms in New Zealand. One result of this, amongst many others, was a rather funny question that came to me.

To give a bit of back story, whenever I volunteered on farms and such (via the WWOOF program – Willing Workers on Organic Farms) they were nearly always broadly diversified systems – be it with fruit and nut trees, animals, honeybees, vegetables, and so forth. Whenever I worked for money, the only opportunities were on monoculture farms – just apples, or just asparagus, or just grapes, etc. Within a week of returning home to Toronto, a place that is often referred to as "the most multicultural city in the world," a seemingly odd question popped into my head:

It's often said that "we are what we eat." But since the majority of the food that the majority of us eat is grown in monocultures, would that not then make us monoculturalist rather than multiculturalist?

Funny question, I figured, particularly when I noticed that I was looking at the topics of agriculture, monocultures, and multiculturalism. So off I went to take a closer look at the term culture, a term which over the years I'd often noticed used in so many ways and so loosely thrown around that it seemed to me as if it had attained a rather ambiguous standing.

For starters, one often finds the term culture used in reference to the customs and traditions of a particular society, other times in regards to the "artistic" styles and creations of these societies. Similarly, travellers and vacationers are said to visit various countries in order to experience the "cultures" of other peoples.

One also hears the term culture used in conjunction with a myriad of human activities. There are the cultures of music, automobiles, books, sports, fashion, etc., all of which can be further broken down into specifics such as opera, hot-rods, antiquarian books, antiquarian baseball cards, ping-pong, pom-poms, etc. Then there is nightlife culture, bar culture, pub culture, club culture, rave culture, underground culture, cyberculture, and so on. As far as I'd noticed, one can take any activity partaken by a group of people and label it as a culture of its own.

Furthermore, while studying and making films in university I was lectured on and read about high culture, low culture, popular culture, mass culture, sub culture, counter culture, "culture as a production of meaning," "culture as a signifying practice," and more.

Basically, I'd been lectured on culture so much, overheard the term used in association with so many activities, and read about it in so many contexts that it'd all been enough to throw me into utter incomprehension. (Otherwise put, it was a catch-all associative word for virtually anything, which was enough to suggest that it meant absolutely nothing.)

What finally led to the alleviation of my confusion were the very things I was pondering in regards to my book: agriculture, monocultures, and multiculturalism.

"Huh, interesting."

The first thing I did was go back and reference one of my first-year university texts, An Introduction to Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. Bad idea. That just brought me back into the realm of confusion.

A short time later while in the Toronto Reference Library I came across the book Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture. With hopeful curiosity I looked up the term culture, and these are the first paragraphs from the first two definitions:

1) From the Latin verb colere, to cultivate and the noun cultura, the term "culture" is used today mainly with two meanings; the first and the most ancient of these, taken up at the beginning of the seventeenth century by Francis Bacon, refers to the body of knowledge and manners acquired by an individual, while the second describes the shared customs, values and beliefs which characterize a given social group, and which are passed down from generation to generation.

2) The oldest definition of the term "culture" refers to the cultivation of soil or the raising of plants or animals. However, two different meanings of the term are most in use today. The first of these, "the training, development and refinement of mind, tastes and manners" (Oxford English Dictionary) had already begun to take precedence over the old Latin meaning by the 1950s. The second, which has grown in common usage since the nineteenth century, chiefly owes its increase in popularity to the sciences of sociology and anthropology...

What initially caught my attention were the first one or two lines from each definition. In the first definition the origin of the term culture is located in "the Latin verb colere, to cultivate." In the second it is stated that "The oldest definition of the term 'culture' refers to the cultivation of soil or the raising of plants or animals," all the while noting that this definition is not in common usage today without giving any explanation as to why this is (almost suggesting that it was now some kind of archaic and outmoded way of thinking that needn't be considered or even addressed anymore).

This was all new to me as I had never been taught (in university or otherwise) about any relation between culture and cultivation, and nor had I ever thought about their similarity in word structure. Having noted all this, particularly the idea of cultivating soil, I couldn't help but wonder if this implied some importance and connection between culture and agriculture.

Soon thereafter (in October of 2006), while reading up on Thanksgiving at the Toronto Reference Library, it was announced over the P.A. system that author and cultural critic Hal Niedzviecki was about to give a little talk. I'd previously read two of his non-fiction books and so figured it couldn't hurt to stop over and listen to what he had to say.

It was about halfway through his talk on blogs (a topic that bored me and didn't interest me in the slightest – although I did end up reading my first blog post in 2013, and, well, now have a blog) when it dawned on me that I was right in front of a cultural theorist whom I could query about the term culture. I waited until what I figured to be the closing of the question and answer period, put up my hand, and when motioned to I roughly mentioned to him the definitions of culture that regarded cultivation and asked him what his opinions were on this.

He replied by saying that this was a fantastic question to finish the night with, and proceeded to respond by saying – with metaphorical rhetoric – that "this is how things grow, from the ground up," and in relating this to "communities of blogs" said that it is something he firmly believes in. He didn't address what I wanted him to, essentially due to me not stating my question properly, or even at all.

So I walked up to him afterwards and, having clarified my question in my head, asked him, "as a cultural theorist, what do you see as being – if any at all – the relationship between culture and agriculture, metaphors aside?" To this he replied,

I don't know if there is any relationship besides metaphor. I mean, when was the last time any of us saw a cow? You know, there were folk cultures and they'd do their work and play the banjo singing songs about various stories and endure long cold winters, and that's how cultures arose, but I don't think there's any relationship between culture and agriculture. Nowadays agriculture is done with big machines and uses all the newest sprays. I don't know, but maybe there are cultural theorists specializing in agriculture that you could find.

These were thoughts I could certainly relate to. I can clearly remember being in a car as a child and often pointing out the window proclaiming "vaca!" (that's Spanish for cow). Although there are many variables at play here, roughly thirty years later I find it a rarity to see cows grazing on fields in the area of Ontario where I grew up.

However, just because I no longer readily see cows grazing, and just because the modern conventional usages of the term culture rarely relate to the cultivation of soil, plants, or animals, this does not mean that the oldest definition has automatically expired past any period of significant application or that thinking about such things is mere nostalgia. In fact, it's quite possible that culture and agriculture are innately related in ways that we no longer readily realize or comprehend.

Thinking that it was worth a more thorough look, I picked up a book that I'd come across and intermittently read while perusing through the library at the University of Auckland, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. Not until this more thorough reading did I notice a passage that I obviously hadn't paid much attention to – or perhaps hadn't even read – the first time around.

The word agriculture... means "cultivation of the land." And cultivation is at the root of the sense both of culture and of cult. The ideas of tillage and worship are thus joined in culture. And these words all come from an Indo-European root meaning both "to revolve" and "to dwell." To live, to survive on the earth, to care for the soil, and to worship, all are bound at the root to the idea of a cycle.

What the poet, novelist, essayist and farmer Wendell Berry thus conveyed appeared to be an elaboration of what "the oldest definition of the term 'culture' refers to," and compared to other definitions I'd been exposed to bore little if any resemblance. What remained to be seen of course was whether or not this definition had any relevance in our present, modern-day world.

The Art and Culture of Authentic Multiculturalism

In this modern, industrialized civilization of ours, questioning whether culture has anything to do with agriculture is bound to get you funny looks, yelled at for not realizing that "things change!", or pitied upon for supposedly holding romantic ideals of a care-free existence with nature. (And yes, I speak of experience.)

But regardless of most of us being blissfully unaware or staunchly in denial, the reality of the matter is that we in this modern world are living in a time that is fast approaching the limits to growth – limits to freshwater supplies, energy resources, minerals, agricultural fertilizers, and much more, including limits to how much longer printing presses, lending institutions, and now digibit conjure-ers can prop up what are essentially false economies.

While this all implies a descent from our current industrial civilization to whatever it is that comes next, suffice to say that if we don't pre-emptively realize the importance of culture to agriculture then reality will soon have its own way of correcting our ignorance. That being so, a proper understanding of the term multiculturalism could go a long way in contributing to the alleviation of much of our misunderstanding.

To properly define the term multiculturalism requires, I believe, an examination of what the term multi is in reference to. Attached to culturalism, derived from the term culture, what we are dealing with is the idea of multiple cultures. Clearing things up a bit further, a passage from Fred Kirschenmann's book Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher has a bit more to say about the terms culture and agriculture.

The term "agriculture" is made up of two words, ager from the Greek (meaning "field" or "land") and colere from the Latin (meaning "to cultivate"). Colere, however, is multifaceted; both "cult" and "culture" are derived from colere. Embedded in its meaning is the notion of a community caring for its own refinement. Colere presumes a transcendent ethic guiding the community in its efforts to enhance its quality of life. We may therefore assume that to ancient people the word agriculture meant cultivation of plants and domestication of animals in the context of a caring community committed to the sacred obligation of caring for the land.

So, seeing how culture is intimately related to agriculture (and not merely in a semantic manner), going by what "the oldest definition of 'culture' refers to", I can't help but wonder what multiculturalism would entail if we conceived the idea of multiple cultures as referring to – at the very least – multiple approaches towards "the cultivation of soil or the raising of plants or animals."

For as it stands, we currently live in the time where oil supplies are bouncing around the tip of the bell curve (peak oil), what is also the beginning of the end of the era where a historically ridiculously small percentage of us have been required to involve ourselves with agricultural activities. With less energies available for tractors, petrochemical fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, transportation, refrigeration, processing, and so forth, what food systems that remain will by default be more local, and the planting, harvesting and processing of food will necessitate more manual labour.

No longer able to rely upon automation and all our fossil fueled doo dahs, the production of food will once again become a cultural endeavor. In other words, culture did have something to do with agriculture, it will once again have something to do with agriculture, all of which some of us have been able to temporarily dismiss thanks to our easily accessible supply of (fossil fuel) energy slaves. Furthermore, this is all regardless of whether or not we proactively try and prepare for all this, is regardless of whether we will have enough food to feed all the hungry bellies, and has nothing to say in regards to whether or not any of the societies we're moving towards will be ones where slavery once again becomes more blatant.

I don't think Johnny Appleseed would have approved of this orchard

But in the meantime, what we currently have as the convention in government-sanctioned "multicultural" Canada and Australia, melting-pot United States, "developing" African countries, and rapidly industrializing China and India (to name only a few countries) is the perpetual amelioration of the homogeneous approach towards cultivation. By this is implied monocultures, and by monocultures we mean single crops (monocrops) grown and harvested with methods that are as near to identical as can be from farm to farm, country to country, even continent to continent. (In short, this means single crops grown with petrochemical fertilizers, pesticides, and high-tech machinery – although you can substitute things like guano for nitrogenous petrochemical fertilizers if you like your monocultures Organic.)

Here comes the ethanol and high-fructose-corn-syrup!

Having realized how much of who we are as Canadians, Australians and Americans – or virtually any nationality for that matter – is based on monocultures, the concept of being multicultural should seem a bit hard to accept. Because everything from our fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, berries, nuts, herbs, red meat, poultry, shrimp, salmon, timber, cotton, flowers and even honey bees are all grown or exist in monocultures.

That being said, the fundamental difference between the current abstract, utilitarian, globalization-based practice of multiculturalism, and a local land-based multiculturalism, would be as a starting point the acknowledgement that there are multiple ways to approach the cultivation of land and soil – or better yet, that unique lands and soils necessitate unique cultivation practices – which would ultimately take us away from the destructive one-size-fits-all mentality that currently pollutes not only our soil, air and water, but also our ways of thinking. Just as it would not be in favour of the monocultural approach of corporate agribusiness, a multiculturalism of the land would in effect work towards putting a stop to these uprooted societal tendencies of ours, and by default would instead strive for countries that consisted of pluralities of cultures, each rooted in the land and in its place by means of local adaptation.

As put by the writer and farmer Wendell Berry in his book The Art of the Commonplace,

A culture capable of preserving land and people can be made only within a relatively stable and enduring relationship between a local people and its place. Community cultures made in this way would necessarily differ, and sometimes radically so, from one place to another, because places differ. This is the true and necessary pluralism. There can, I think, be no national policy of pluralism or multiculturalism but only those pluralities of local cultures. And if these cultures are of any value and worthy of any respect, they will not be elective – not determined by mere wishes – but will be formed in response to local nature and local needs.

Of course, if we're going to work towards establishing local cultures, then it would be worthwhile to gain a better comprehension – and along with that maybe one day an understanding – of a fuller sense of culture. For as it now stands, our current understanding of culture has little to do with anything more than art, that is, the "fine" arts of those whose works adorn our museums and galleries, fill our library shelves, and reverberate amongst our concert halls and stadiums. Culture, then, and art, have largely been reduced to commodities that non-artists feel it their duty to consume in their leisure time, but nary are they regarded as part of our everyday lives of which we work amongst; there is scant art to life.

As put again by Berry,

In a disintegrating, shallowly pluralistic society such as ours, the artist's role gravitates toward a kind of nonessential entertainment, which merely distracts us from things that matter. In a truly grounded, locally adapted culture, the artists would be the rememberers. They would memorialize great occasions, preserve necessary insights and so on.

Furthermore, how often is it that when we think of culture, or of an artist, that we think about somebody working with skill and wisdom amongst the practical arts of farming, gardening, beekeeping, forestry, or rearing seafood? Speaking from the perspective I had prior to having WWOOFed (some of which encompassed me as a filmmaker – an "artist" if there ever was one), I would say rarely to never. I now see this as a very poor and inadequate comprehension of culture, particularly when it is remembered if not realized that those rarely regarded arts I just mentioned (which can also be very scientifically involved) are also known as agriculture, horticulture, apiculture, silviculture, and aquaculture, to which we can add the arts of cooking, carpentry, knitting and crocheting, and much more.

A nice variety of fermented vegetables and dairy products (photo courtesy of Serendigity)

While ridding ourselves of much of the art to life as well as having relegated culture primarily to superficial affectations and decorative products we purchase, it is no wonder then that we have also quite commonly forgotten the living aspect of culture that resides, say, in our foods, so interestingly put by Sandor Ellix Katz in his book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods:

Isn't it curious that we use the word culture to describe both the bacteria in yogurt and sauerkraut as well as language, art, science, and the totality of human endeavor? Cultured foods are not culinary novelties. They are found in infinite variation in culinary traditions around the world and are often invested with profound symbolic meaning. The earliest writings all refer to ferments, and folklore around the world has long associated good health and longevity with such diverse live-culture ferments as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, yogurt, kefir, and vinegar.

Surely it is folly of us to have disregarded the importance of all these and other implications of culture, for as we have sat back and oftentimes not even watched, the food we eat as well as the state of our farming, gardening, beekeeping and forestry practices have become so dilapidated that we have put the very continuance of our health and even civilizations at stake. (Of course, there's also the issue of EROEI and diminishing returns, but that's another story.)

I'll close off with a final quote by Berry.

I think the highest earthly result of imagination is probably local adaptation. If we could learn to belong fully and truly where we live, then we would all finally be native Americans [and Canadians and Australians], and we would have an authentic multiculturalism.

I venture to say then that if we ever intend on becoming "authentically multicultural," we best ought to realize that we can't get by without taking heed of and even participating in these incredibly important arts.

The Multicultural Diversitywash

While doing a 6-week WWOOFing stint at Koanga Gardens in New Zealand, a seed saving and "Centre for Sustainable Living" establishment, one of the many things that I learned about was of the existence of diversity within types of plants.

I spent a bit of time in the greenhouses seeding various vegetables in seed trays, in time transplanting little seedlings to small pots to give them and their roots more space to grow. Wanting to witness the fruits of my labour, I came back a few months later to their Harvest Festival and saw the Mother Seed Garden abound with all sorts of different fruits, vegetables and grains, including a variety of astonishingly different looking tomatoes.

What I was beginning to learn firsthand was that amongst various species – tomatoes, corn, apples, beans, chickens, cows, etc. – there is an immense amount of varietal diversity. Although their physical differences can initially be the most arresting, what is of greatest importance is their varying usages, and even more so, their varying growing qualities. (Yes, I do like the taste of food as well.)

The tomato provides a good case in point. Originating in South America, under favourable conditions this fleshy fruit is actually a perennial – cherry-type tomato trees/vines are known to grow as high as 50-feet tall in their native Peru. A versatile fruit, there are oblong-shaped meaty tomatoes that can be dried or used for making pastes and sauces, rounder ones used for slicing and dicing, cavernous ones ideal for stuffing, and even small cherry-types for snacking on.

Barely even scratching the surface of the diversity in tomatoes

As significant as these uses are to various cultures and their culinary tastes, it is the tomato's adaptive qualities that allow it to flourish in a variety of climates that differ from place to place. Naturally being a heat loving plant, centuries of breeding and adaptation have resulted in literally thousands of varieties acclimatized to a multitude of conditions. Depending on the cultivar (cultivated variety), some are suited for hot or cool, long or short growing seasons, dry or humid air, high or low altitudes, wet or dry climates, and more. In northern(ish) Canada I once grew a carrot-leafed cultivar named Silvery Fir that came from Siberia, had been adapted for short/cool seasons, and sure enough, of the dozen or so cultivars I grew it was the first to bear fruit and ripen.

Locality thus plays a major role in the usefulness of our plant and animal diversity, we've been able to increasilgly pretend wasn't true thanks to copious supplies of fossil fuels. This rich heritage we have is the result of the diligent work of small farmers and gardeners who out of necessity have been breeding, selecting, saving and exchanging seeds and livestock, passing them down from generation to generation – and now on to customers – for thousands of years.

But aware of it or not, Canadians, Australians and Americans are, albeit indirectly, complicit in the squandering of this heritage of genetic diversity due to the food we generally buy and the kinds of companies we inherently support – and directly by the simple fact that we generally aren't growing out and saving these seeds ourselves, personally

Although one can go on and on with this stuff, here's a list describing the paltry kind of diversity existent in Americans industrial foods, in most if not all cases similar to the situation in Canada and Australia:

  • Although places like the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa are preserving more than 6,000 varieties of tomatoes, 15 cultivars dominate both the processing and fresh market industries.
  • 73% of all lettuce grown is made up of one variety – Iceberg.
  • 50% of all commercially grown broccoli is made up of one variety – Marathon.
  • 90 percent of the milk supply comes from a single breed of cow – the Holstein.
  • 90% of eggs come from a single breed of chicken – the White Leghorn.
  • Virtually all chicken meat comes from a single breed – the White Cornish Cross.
  • More than 99% of turkeys are Broad Breasted Whites.
  • Two varieties of peas make up 95% of the crop acreage, four potatoes make up 72%, and one sweet potato makes up 69%.
  • Out of roughly 3,000 varieties of potatoes in existence, one variety, the Russett Burbank, dominates about half of the world's crop, for the most part thanks to McDonald's and their French fries.

And here's another list, this one describing the loss of worldwide genetic diversity among an array of our agricultural crops and livestock:

  • China went from 10,000 wheat varieties in 1949 to 1,000 in the 1970s.
  • Taiwan (then known as Formosa) went down from 1,197 to 390 rice varieties in the early-twentieth century when its Japanese occupiers purposely went about eliminating varieties deemed unpleasant to their palate, preferring soft and white rather than the Taiwanese hard and red.
  • Mexico has lost more than 80% of its maize varieties since 1930.
  • The US went from 7,098 apple varieties between 1804 and 1904 to 977 today, an 86.2% loss. During the same period pear varieties went from 2,683 down to 329, a loss of 87.7%.
  • Approximately 5,000 livestock and bird breeds have gone extinct over the past century, and of the 6,300 remaining, 1,350 are endangered or already extinct. As of 2007, a UN FAO study stated that one livestock breed had become extinct each month since the turn of the twenty-first century.
  • Comparing the total varieties available in 1903 and how many of those were available in 1983 in the United States’ National Seed Storage Laboratory (NSSL), 97.8% of asparagus varieties have been lost, 94.1% of beets, 92.7% of carrots, 96.1% of sweet corn, 94.4% of cucumbers, 87.2% of leeks, 93.9% of peas, 89.7% of sweet peppers ("capsicums" in Australia), 88.3% of squash, 80.6% of tomatoes, and 91% of watermelons – to name only a few.
  • According to Kent Whealy, co-founder of the Seed Savers Exchange, "57% of the nearly 5,000 non-hybrid vegetable varieties offered in 1984 catalogs had been dropped by 2004."

Nonetheless, heaping on the praise as many have done before him, then-Member of Parliament (and now Canada's prime minister) Justin Trudeau – son of the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who brought in Canada's official policy of multiculturalism – was quoted in a Toronto Star article as stating that Toronto is "the most multicultural city in the world." In addition, he told the crowd at a fundraiser that "We need to say 'I accept, I respect, I open my arms and my heart to you and I know that together, diversity is our greatest strength.'" But while none of this Kumbaya stuff addresses the industrial and colonial practices that are still creating waves of destitute people around the world – continually arriving and adding to Toronto's and Canada's so-called "multiculturalism" – these comments of Trudeau's are by no means uncommon sentiments.

For right now, if one were to stroll around various parts of Toronto, it's possible to come across posters parading the official motto of the city, "Diversity Our Strength." In light of the losses of diversity just mentioned I think it appropriate to ask, What kind of diversity is this referring to? In the motto's catch-all kind of demeanor it ambiguously appears to entail a broad understanding of diversity. But we should be well aware by now that this is certainly not the case. We know that it does not refer to genetic diversity of plants or livestock, species diversity, crop diversity, or any other kind of agricultural diversity, for the simple fact that there is no reason to believe that these are strengths of Toronto's and supposedly weaknesses of other cities which would be comparatively lacking.

Similarly, I think it's safe to say that nor does the motto relate to less regarded forms of diversity such as diversity of building materials or various approaches of adapting our homes to our places. What's the difference between (brick) houses in Toronto, Canada, and (brick) houses is Melbourne, Australia? Central heating? Double-glazed windows?

With all the different looking faces one sees throughout Toronto, I think it's safe to presume that Toronto's motto refers only to a very narrow definition of human diversity. Although human diversity could certainly be included within the definition of species diversity (or biodiversity), since this category inherently encompasses much more than just humans, I think we can safely say that the Toronto motto refers solely to a diversity of peoples, an anthropocentric view of diversity if there ever was one.

Diverse skin colours? Sure. But then is there adaptation to place, or acquiescence to corporations?

In short, it should be apparent then that what is conventionally called "multiculturalism" in places like Toronto and Melbourne would qualify – although not brought about intentionally – to be lumped together with the terms whitewash and greenwash and so be described as a diversitywash.

If, on the other hand, we are to take seriously the idea that diversity – or for that matter the very notion of multiculturalism – is a strength, then at the very least we ought to go about complicating our ways of thinking.

For I think it's fair to say that under our current adoption of "multiculturalism" and its celebration of "diversity," we are systematically abetting the destruction of several if not all forms of diversity, which ultimately means our cultures and ourselves. In other words, it appears that what we are largely living amongst is a monoculture in multiculturalist clothing.

Multiculturalism of the Land

Although culture is certainly not limited to varying farming practices, the idea that it has something to do not only with the preparation and consumption of food but also with its production tells us that we must contemplate agriculture when we speak of multiculturalism. And if by multi we mean to regard a diversity, we would do well to regard the diversity of local cultures, diverse approaches to agriculture, and even diversity within agriculture and agricultural crops.

Not to romanticize farming practices of the past and suggest that they were in all ways better – which they weren't, since farming often consisted of breaking new ground and then moving on anew once the fertility was depleted – but prior to the fossil fuel era of industrialism, traditional methodologies of growing food would have simply been called farming. That being said, we are fortunate enough to be without the need of a trendy new label for diversity-based practices since they are already referred to as being mixed farming, and in contrast to monocrops and monocultures we have polycrops and polycultures.

The great agricultural scientist Sir Albert Howard made no qualms about this methodology of farming and began by succinctly summing it up on page one of his book An Agricultural Testament with a description of nature's workings:

Mixed farming is the rule: plants are always found with animals: many species of plants and of animals all live together. In the forest every form of animal life, from mammals to the simplest invertebrates, occurs. The vegetable kingdom exhibits a similar range: there is never any attempt at monoculture: mixed crops and mixed farming are the rule.

His reasons for so adamantly making these distinctions were in order to describe "the main principles underlying nature's agriculture." As nature's regenerative practices have stood the test of time, Howard believed that nature is "the supreme farmer" and that our methods of cultivation must thus be based upon her ways.

The chickens scratch through the cow pats, spreading the manure as well as eating up any grubs, reducing fly populations and disease

If a portion of the land to be farmed had, say, previously been forest, then it is the systems of the forest that must be looked upon for instruction, that the farmer in essence must be a student of the forest. In this sense, mulches could imitate leaf litter on the forest floor that protects bare soil, and compost piles could mimic the decomposition process that goes on beneath those leaves creating humus. Howard elaborates:

The main characteristic of Nature's farming can therefore be summed up in a few words. Mother earth never attempts to farm without live stock; she always raises mixed crops; great pains are taken to preserve the soil and to prevent erosion; the mixed vegetable and animal wastes are converted into humus; there is no waste; the processes of growth and the processes of decay balance one another; ample provision is made to maintain large reserves of fertility; the greatest care is taken to store the rainfall; both plants and animals are left to protect themselves against disease.

The first lesson to be observed is that mixed farming includes a wide variety of both plants and animals. Unlike monocropping, this system provides itself with a complimentary mixture of both plant and animal wastes that are able to decay into humus (the words human and humility are derived from the word humus, Latin for living soil). One benefit of the resultant rich organic matter is that its porous structure allows for better water retention as well as better drainage, giving the soil resiliency to withstand extreme weather conditions of both drought and flooding (a good characteristic to have in a time of climate change).

Alley cropping perennials between rows of fruit trees

Secondly, the cycle of growth and decay – which in his next book The Soil and Health was emphasized by Howard in more detail as "birth, growth, maturity, death and decay" – allows for organic forms of nutrients to be supplied to plant roots via decomposition, as well as for an array of symbiotic relationships that plants share with soil microorganisms (which in a more complex manner allow for the trading of nutrients between one another).

Thirdly, not only does such a system fertilize itself but, through stored reserves and symbiotic interactions, it can refrain from living a life dependent on off-farm inputs. Microorganisms gradually make nutrients available to plants over time (and in some cases on demand), markedly different from the effects of petrochemical fertilizers applied to monoculture fields sometimes only once a year – of which can lead to such problems as toxic build-ups of nutrients in the soil as well as nutrient leaching and run offs into waterways (hence all those algal blooms and "dead zones").

Because every place is different and has a wide array of varying conditions, both a mindful people and a proper approach are necessary to respond in kind to the local nature of the place and to the local needs of its inhabitants. Here arises many requirements, one of these being the requirement for multiple methods of cultivation, inherently providing the premise and foundation of how an authentic multiculturalism would be understood. This is figuratively, and even literally, the roots of multiculturalism: a plurality of local land-based cultures that have practices specifically tailored and adapted to the places in which they reside.

A young woman cultivates with a team of horses

As a people – a culture – act in care to shape their place, so too would the response of the place shape those people and their culture(s). This would then be the creation and continual evolution of culture, of local land-based cultures tied to place. As environmental activist and anti-globalization author Vandana Shiva put it, "Nature has created different ecozones which have been the basis of diverse cultures and economies."

Multiculturalism then would not simply entail a collection of different looking people from around the world congregated into crowded urban areas (sporting various flags on their vehicles every four years during the World Cup), who, while disaffected from their ancestral lands as well as their new lands, choose to steadfastly maintain eating habits and other practices from far off places thanks to copious and continuous imports. It would instead imply a multitude of local land-based cultures, regardless (yet respective) of the physical features of the people and various other differences amongst them.

(photo by Amy Forsthoefel)

As described by author and farmer Wendell Berry in the book Conversations with Wendell Berry,

This is what American [and Canadian and Australian and any other] multiculturalism is finally going to have to face. The question that is finally going to have to be asked and answered is not, what is your economic relationship to your place of origin, or what is your relationship to your ancestors, or what is your relationship to your old-world culture. The most important question, and ultimately the undodgeable question, is what is your economic relationship to this place where you are now? That would give us authentic cultural diversity... because of the great diversity of places. Cultures and communities that were authentically adapted to their places would be authentically different.

As too few of us realize, changes are on the way courtesy not only of climate change, but also due to peak oil and the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel and industrial eras. As a result, whether it be on the abrupt or the gradual side; out of reactive desperation or through pro-active pre-planning; ugly or pretty; one way or another, Canada, Australia, the United States, and everywhere else for that matter, are going to become – authentically – multicultural.

Best we stick to utilizing pitch forks for their intended usage – which is exactly how they're used by Ron Finley, the “gangsta gardener”

Multiculturalism comes home, to Aboriginal Australia

Having thus explained what an authentic multiculturalism would actually be, it should be reiterated that the only time Australia has ever been fully authentically multicultural was prior to the arrival of European migrants, implyig that that state of authentic multiculturalism has been deteriorating ever since. There are of course those of European and other non-Aboriginal descent that for several years, even several decades, have been working away at the arduous task of the kind of localization that would re-establish this state. (such as David Holmgren of Permaculture notoriety), although examples as such are by far an exception to the rule.

But while there are those working away at more ecologically- and locally-based methods of agriculture in Australia, it should also be noted that an increasing amount of evidence has been emerging pointing to the fact that Aboriginal Australians not only practiced forms of proto-agriculture (such as leaving begind portions of yams in the ground to upon leaving a specific location, to be harvested possibly years later), but that they did in fact partake in full-blown agricultural practices.

Most recently that would be evidence of 2,000-year-old banana plantations cultivated by the Goegmulgal people of Mabuiag Island in the western Torres Strait, while the ABC article "Rethinking Indigenous Australia's agricultural past" quotes author Bruce Pascoe from his recent book Dark Emu: Black seeds, agriculture or accident? (which I've only just heard of and is now at the top of my reading list):

Hunter-gatherer societies forage and hunt for food and do not employ agricultural methods or build permanent dwellings. But as I read these early journals, I came across repeated references to people building dams and wells, planting, irrigating and harvesting seed, preserving the surplus and storing it in houses, sheds or secure vessels... and manipulating the landscape.
Dark Emu
2016 Indigenous Writer’s Prize in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards WINNER – 2016 Book of the Year in the NSW Premier’s Literary AwardsSHORTLISTED – 2014 History Book Award in the Queensland Literary AwardsSHORTLISTED – 2014 Victorian Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing Dark Emu ar…

Not only does emerging evidence overturn centuries of misconception, but it also adds further truth to the notion that Terra Nullius – that the Australian land belonged to no one upon the arrival of European migrants, resulting in the refusal of sovereignty to Aboriginal Australians – is nothing but a legal fiction. It was thus European migrants who not only saw Australia as little more than a colony for Britain, but who saw themselves as pioneers who would be the first to take control of and thus manage the land.

As Moreton-Robinson put it,

According to these discourses, it was the hard work and determination of these early migrants that developed the nation. Through their achievement, usually understood as being individual in nature, singular and independent, these British migrants brought us "civilization" – they "gave" us democracy and the market economy. These migrants represented the newly emerging national identity. Belonging to this new nation, therefore, was racialised, and inextricably tied to the accumulation of capital and the social worth, authority and ownership which this conferred. The Indigenous were excluded from this condition of belonging.

To take it not one but several steps further, it was at this point that Australia began to lose its state of being an authentically multicultural land and set out on what inevitably became a path to ruin. As the early European "pioneers" of Australia never had any desire to become, as Wes Jackson describes it, native to this place, it was only a matter of time before the cultural and ecological debts would pile up and thus put the continuation of its inhabitants' society at risk. Those debts are now coming due.

It is sadly ironic then that while European and other migrants have "prospered" in Australia, it is Aboriginal Australians that have unjustly suffered, both in the cultural sense and sovereign sense. As Moreton-Robinson also put it,

As the written word is generally regarded as more reliable by courts, all claimants must be able to substantiate their oral histories with documents written by white people such as explorers, public servants, historians, lawyers, anthropologists and police. These documents often distort and misrepresent events through misinterpretation as they are racially and culturally biased. In the process of preparing a native title claim, this often results in the generation of conflicting reports which lawyers usually seek to resolve by introducing the words or texts of yet another white expert. And so confirmation of the Indigenous belonging to country is dependent on the words of white people.

The legal regime of the nation-state places Indigenous people in a state of homelessness because our ontological relationship to the land, which is the way we hold title, is incommensurable with its own exclusive claims of sovereignty. The legal regime has reproduced the doctrine of Terra Nullius in order to give place and a sense of belonging to itself and its citizens. According to this regime, it is Indigenous people who belong nowhere unless they can prove their title according to the criteria established by the state. Those who are unable to demonstrate ritual, ceremonial and the exercising of continuous rights in land do not belong anywhere other than to be positioned within a discourse of citizenship that seeks to erase dispossession through privileging white sameness over Indigenous difference.

I think it would be safe to say that what Australia faces is a litmus test. If it's to judiciously address the rash of calamities the world is facing – simply put: resource shortages, climate change, and the social implications of those – while also establishing an authentic multiculturalism (which is in fact the only way said calamities can be properly addressed), then it's probably going to have to stick to the golden rule of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you". That is, if European and other non-Aboriginal Australians (read: the ones with the leverage) expect to be able to establish Australia as a country of authentic multiculturalism, then they must not only allow for but go out of their way to create the conditions so that Aboriginal Australians too can become native to this place. And they must go out of their way not for reasons of unwarranted charity but because of the horrendous treatment that Aboriginal Australians have faced at the hands of European migrants for centuries, much of which continues to this day.

Starting from the bottom,

  • in order to break the cycle of despair Australia must raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, and better use should be made of Aboriginal alternatives
  • the Victorian government (as well as the Queensland government, the only other holdout) needs to decriminalize public drunkenness. If Victorian premier Daniel Andrews and company can put so much effort into getting rid of COVID-19, they should somehow be able to manage to get rid of public drunkenness laws as well
  • all low-level and petty crimes – which are used to target and over-police Aboriginal Australians – must be repealed, thus reducing the over-representation of Aboriginals in the courts. The local court magistrate David Heilpern showed how this issue isn't unsolvable – he threw out charges of assault that occurred because an Aboriginal man swore at an officer, deeming the arrest unlawful, resulting in the case going to the Supreme Court where the ruling was upheld
  • with not a single conviction in the 442 Aboriginal deaths in custody since the royal commission in 1991, there needs to be a re-investigation in many of these cases, starting off with the case of David Dungay
  • an independent body – separate from the police themselves – needs to be set up for the immediate investigation of any Aboriginal death in custody. Furthermore, Aboriginals themselves must be centrally involved
  • Aboriginal-led court programs such as the Koori Court and the long-awaited Walama Court need to be expanded, where elders and local cultural norms play a greater role
  • strong healing programs need to be set up so that Aboriginals can be connected back to country and culture
  • last of all, Aboriginal sovereignty must be recognized in the constitution, which in particular would acknowledge their status as the original inhabitants of the land, that they never ceded the land, and that the land was thus taken without consent

No guarantees, but it is only by addressing "the psychic wound of racism", as Berry put it, that non-Aboriginal Australians will be able to address the wound they have inflicted upon themselves and upon "the land, the country itself." Likewise, and supposing Australians do in fact want to inhabit this land in the coming years in a non-brutish manner, it is only by meeting Aboriginal Australians on an equal footing that Australia will ever be able to become authentically multicultural.

*** DRAFT 2 ABOVE ***


*** DRAFT 1 BELOW ***

Identity [needs proper title]

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The emergence of new flags

The Aboriginal flag has become a rug

Although nothing initially came of it, in June 2019 the Indigenous Australians minister, Ken Wyatt, met with Harold Thomas to discuss freer use of the Aboriginal flag, undergoing "quiet discussions" that were "extremely complicated" and involved many "complex issues". Wyatt stated afterwards that the Commonwealth had no plans to purchase the copyright (while Thomas is reported to have stated that he wanted to maintain his creative rights to the flag anyway), the minister also pointing out that although the government technically had the power to compulsorily acquire the flag, he was reluctant to do so.

That all began to pick up on 28 August 2020 when, after months of preliminary discussions, senior bureaucrats from the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) began discussions with representatives of Thomas and the flag's licensees. Turns out the government is now in fact undertaking negotiations to potentially purchase the rights to the flag so as to allow for the flag's free usage, although this would not only require compensating Thomas for his copyright but firstly would necessitate compensating the license holders.

Where protests – and their flags – go to die (background photo courtesy of Dean)

For various reasons, this is where things get rather sketchy.

First off, the cost of the copyright and the licenses wouldn't come cheap, Wyatt having mentioned a price tag of roughly $25m based on the $13m paid out by the Sydney Olympic Committee for the boxing Kangaroo. Laying out the legal basis and reasoning for such a purchase, Wyatt stated the following in an article he penned for The Australian:

In doing so, we all need to be very aware of the role of government; particularly in relation to the rights of individuals, and in this instance the rights of an Indigenous artist who is protected by Australian law.

Legal protections for copyright speaks to our nation’s entrepreneurship and the ambition of economic empowerment that we know is fundamental to providing greater opportunities and security for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

We must delicately balance the wishes of all Australians for free use of the Australian Aboriginal flag with the law of our land, designed to uphold and protect the intellectual property of every Australian.

To put on trial individuals who are exercising their legal rights and asking them to act in good faith presents a risk to the protections we all hold dear.

Those who seek to force an outcome are disrespecting both the copyright holder and the basis in which we legally protect the intellectual property of Australians.

Fair enough. As far as the convention goes, Thomas has produced a commodity – a very nice looking commodity I might add – and deserves every penny for his creation, just like any other Australian. But Wyatt takes it a step further, which completely invalidates his comment above:

But we have an opportunity before us to again unify our nation.

The flag is more than a symbol, and it is more than a piece of art.

It is who we are – both as individuals and as a nation.
Red represents the earth, whereupon mangoes are able to flourish; yellow represents the flavour of mango flavoured Tim Tams, Tim Tams being the giver of life to Australians; and black represents Harold Thomas, who likes to represent Harold Thomas

First off, you can't have it both ways. The basis of why the Aboriginal flag qualifies as deserving of copyright is because it is deemed a piece of art, created by someone who is described as an artist. To state otherwise is to partake in unwarranted hyperbole.

Secondly, to suppose that a commodity can "unify" a nation is an absurdity based on nothing but abstraction, implying that to be an Australian is similarly no more than an abstraction as well. If so, Australians might as well be unifying around Tim Tams while Aboriginals unify around witchetty grub flavoured Tim Tams.

Moreover, with Wyatt suggesting that "it is who we are – both as individuals and as a nation", is he trying to say that Australians are... a flag? Wyatt should know better, and not simply because he's someone who identifies, at least partially, as Aboriginal (he's of English, Irish and Indian descent, while his mother is of Wongi and Noongar ancestry and his father of Yamatji ancestry). As stated by Catherine Liddle, an Arrente and Luritja woman and Aboriginal activist, "We are indistinguishable from our country which is why we fight so hard to hang on." If the country is not what Aboriginals – and Australians at large – are, then what are they?

Perhaps we can take some further words from Wyatt as indicative of what he (and his ilk) think Australians are. First off,

The abhorrent practices undertaken by those who produce fake Indigenous Art unquestionably erode Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and diminishes economic opportunities for our people.

Right. I mean, people shouldn't be selling Aboriginal artwork from Indonesia and claiming it as authentic, seeing how one could get fined in the amount of... oh, I don't know, $2.3m?

As Wyatt also states,

And in keeping with our efforts to battle inauthentic Indigenous art, the Morrison government respects the copyright of Mr Thomas and the interests of all parties.

I may be a bit confused here, but by "the interests of all parties", is Wyatt referring to the license holders of the flag, specifically WAM Clothing, and even more specifically Ben Wooster. The Ben Wooster whose Birubi Art was fined a record $2.3m for selling, in Wyatt's words, "fake Indigenous art", "inauthentic Indigenous art"? "The Morrison government respects" scammers so much that it's willing to pay them out a cut on what may very well be $25m? If not of the country, is that Wyatt thinks Australians are? Grifters of the land, and grifters of each other?

Suffice to say, what Wyatt and his ilk are effectively doing is working to bring Aboriginals into the realm of expoiters in which Australians exist amongst, while the Aboriginal flag, which does nothing for the state the land or the connection of Aboriginals to it, is no more than a good looking rug into which to sweep under and hide away the various travesties that Aborginals in Australia face today, everyday.

Please refrain from looking underneath

As superficial and ineffectual as such actions may be, in the United States professional athletes go on strike over the killing of a black man. In Australia, professional athletes get upset not over the 441 Aboriginals that have died in custody over the past 29 years since the ____, but because they have to pay an undisclosed amount of dollars for usage of what is ultimately a stupid flag.

So how much are Australians willing to fork over for a fancy rug?

The Aboriginal flag goes in for its (official) castration

With the saga revolving around the Aboriginal flag still at an impasse of sorts, the flag's high stature inevitably landed its future status in a place rather representative of what it was supposedly protesting against. Deemed a "symbol of unification" whose copyright and licenses had placed its usage in a sort of limbo, it was only inevitable – calculatingly inevitable? – that its position of limbo was going to land something of such high importance in no less than a federal inquiry.

But with a federal inquiry thus revolving around the flag rather than around what the flag stood for, it's hard to see this all as anything more than the beginning of the end of the Aboriginal flag, its fate sealed once and for all as no more than a symbol of impotence.

The purpose of the federal inquiry, which commenced in early-September and was led by the Select Committee on the Aboriginal Flag, was to establish who the financial beneficiaries from past and current copyright and licensing arrangements are, how those effect Aboriginal organizations and communities, as well as decipher the options available to the government for "enabling the flag to be freely used by the Australian community".

The inquiry started off a bit strangely, what with one of the first days being the first time that a WAM Clothing representative had spoken publicly at length about its agreements with Thomas – that representative being none other than Ben Wooster. While Wooster confirmed to the inquiry that WAM Clothing was currently partaking in negotiations with the NIAA in relation to acquisition of its exclusive license (all of which is apparently confidential at the request of Thomas), he also confirmed that its clothing featuring the Aboriginal flag was in fact made in Indonesia. I'm not sure which clothing that'd be, seeing how WAM's website displays nothing more than watermarked Shutterstock spec images of t-shirts.

What was even more awkward was when it came time for Semele to answer questions – or rather, not answer questions, Moore stating that the deails were commercially confidential. It's worth quoting The Guardian at length.

In a tense and awkward exchange with Western Australia Labor senator Pat Dodson, who asked how many cease-and-desist letters WAM had sent to Aboriginal community organisations, Moore told the inquiry she did not know.

The inquiry chair, the Northern Territory senator and Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri McCarthy, suggested Moore could provide answers on notice, or confidentially, but Moore declined.

"Negotiations are ongoing between a number of parties and we would not intend to put in any further information on these matters," she said.

When asked if she was able to provide a comparison of the company’s earnings over the past two financial years, Moore said: "I don't have the information and no, I don’t intend to submit it."

Dodson asked: "Do you intend to answer any questions?"

"I'm happy to answer questions, however the questions that you're asking me …" Moore said before Dodson interjected, saying: "I would have thought, operating a business, you'd have those sorts of details at your fingertips."

Moore replied: "I don't have the files, I'm sorry, I don't have my laptop in front of me, I can't answer the question."

It was at this point that Queensland LNP senator Amanda Stoker chimed in and pointed out the inappropriateness of the inquiry to be "delving into the business arrangements between Mr Thomas or WAM, or quite frankly anybody else".

Which is technically true. All the same, it's a bit rich when WAM repeatedly seeks out the financial information about charities in order to justify charging them licensing fees, yet won't divulge any of their financial information to a federal inquiry when it comes to assessing the merits of the various options involved with this very public flag. One almost wonders if it had already been suggested to WAM to say as little as possible, what with Wyatt having suggested that "A Private Members Bill will not help this issue, nor would a Parliamentary Inquiry."

Nonetheless, as in the inquiry progressed things at least got a bit less strange, particularly when the inquiry began to hear about three unique options for going forward, each option delivered by a separate witness.

One of these witnesses was Indigenous academic Professor Marcia Langton. According to Langton, the commercial restrictions had "tainted" the flag and it should now be made free to people and community groups via an independent, Aboriginal-run body. Nonetheless, the flag should not be acquired compulsorily, implying that Thomas should be monetarily compensated. As Langton put it, in regards to Thomas,

He is a member of the stolen generations and for the government to cause him harm a second time would be unconscionable. The only way forward is for him to relinquish all of his rights to the Australian government, and I understand from reading newspapers that minister Ken Wyatt has engaged in negotiations with him to acquire the rights to the flag.

Furthermore,

His ownership of the rights of the Aboriginal flag has been affirmed by the federal court. He used ordinary intellectual property rights that are available to anybody. He has used licences to make a living and provide for his family. How can the government [acquire it] without being unjust to Mr Harold Thomas?

If [negotiations are] successful, the flag should be under the ownership of a commonwealth body that acts as a trust and would have an Aboriginal board, a small board, say three people, who give approval for its use.

Where the ownership of where the flag would reside aside, there are those who wouldn't pay a single penny for the flag. According to Mick Gooda, a former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission,

I understand and support Mr Thomas's right to benefit from his intellectual knowledge and contribution. While he has a right to do so, I have a right to not use and contribute to some white bloke who is going to benefit from our flag.

I have sort of abandoned the flag now, and I belong to the Gangulu people of central Queensland, and we are designing our own flag now … This is a personal thing, but I am not at ransom for paying people for that right [to use Thomas's flag].

Especially when a company owned by that "white bloke" has been indicted for scamming Indigenous art, I'd say. As Gooda further elaborates,

If somebody is going to take ownership, it should not be government. We should be looking for an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation … Step one is consent, and government can be part of the negotiation, but the ownership should be with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait organisation.

Taking things a bit further, Nova Peris, the former senator and Olympian, stated that it was her belief that Thomas had given express permission and later implicit permission for use of the flag via its usage in 1972 when given to Dr. Gary Foley for it to be flown at Tent Embassy in Canberra. In effect, the flag should be acquired compulsorily, without any compensation. As Peris stated,

People have marched under this. People have put this flag over their coffins when they have died, they have it as tattoos … When it was given to us it was free. Now, 49 years later, you are saying we need to pay to use it?

Harold Thomas has been paid. He has been paid hundreds and thousands of dollars … The Aboriginal flag is a lot more expensive than the Australian flag [to reproduce]. Don't think Harold Thomas has not been compensated – for 23 years he has been receiving royalties from the world.

But although those words from Peris were the most terse of all three witnesses, they were but a side-story to what I think was the most pressing matter brought up. For as Peris also stated,

I understand it is part of this process, but I find it disgusting that anybody in our federal parliament can give the time of day to Mr Ben Wooster.

He has been found guilty of exploiting our culture and art, he has disrespected our 40,000 years of culture in pursuit of cashing in on gullible tourists at the expense of it.

Which is one hundred percent correct. Putting aside all the cease and desist letters, the licenses, and so forth, why is it that Peris was the only one to bring up this most crucial matter? Moreover, is the fact that Wooster is conceivably about to financially benefit off of what is arguably the most famous peice of Aboriginal art after having skimped out on paying the $2.3m fine for selling fake Aboriginal art not something to be highly concerned about?

But as rare as that was to hear, there's one thing that you never hear. As in zero, zip, zilch, nada, Jack. Shit. That is...

How is it, if Harold Thomas was just as aware as any other Australian of Wooster's fraudulent practices, that he was not only very willing to sign over to Wooster's WAM Clothing an exclusive license, but even went so far as to say, as already quoted,

Ben Wooster has maintained a professional standard of the highest order. He appreciates the sensitivity and is cognisant of what the Aboriginal flag design is to the Aboriginal people as well as others.

Does Thomas get a free pass to sign up with a known fraudster? A fraudster who defrauded Aboriginal heritage? Again, why the free pass? Because Thomas is Aboriginal? Because he was a victim of the Stolen Generations? Because he's an artist and all artists are supposedly virtuous or something? Because he has a mental deficiency? As an artist is Thomas supposedly neutral or something, or perhaps seen as a victim? What's the deal?

Or better yet, and to parallel Peris, why does anybody give Thomas the time of day when he's consciously signed on with a scammer, a scammer who supposedly shouldn't be given the time of day himself?

To repeat another already given quote by Thomas, which he made after Birubi Art got handed the $2.3m fine,

It's taken many years to find the appropriate Australian company that respects and honours the Aboriginal flag meaning and copyright and that is WAM Clothing.

What, then, is "the Aboriginal flag meaning"? If Wooster is a scammer, a scammer of Aboriginal art, culture, heritage, and thus Aboriginals themselves, is it Wooster's ability and expertise in defrauding Aboriginals that Thomas wanted to tap into? Is that the meaning, and purpose, of the Aboriginal flag – to defraud fellow Aboriginals?

It's hard not to conclude so.

Moreover, is the idea to clap our hands in a congratulatory manner, proud for Harold Thomas to be a shining representative of the "ascension" of Aboriginals into the realm of the exploitative characteristics, traits and practices of European settlers? A people who have never become native to Australia, and who seem to have no desire of becoming so?

Again, it's hard not to conclude so, and it's hard not to imagine that this was WAM's very purpose from the get go.

The WAM scam?

If I had to take a guess, I'd say that Ken Wyatt and the rest of the Scott Morrison government are stalling for time. As Wyatt himself stated on the eve of the kick-off to the federal inquiry on the Aboriginal flag,

A Private Members Bill will not help this issue, nor would a Parliamentary Inquiry.

We shouldn't bully our way to a satisfactory outcome.

We must display leadership, and do what we can – we must resolve ourselves to deliver an outcome that respects Aboriginal Australians – both as a community and as an individual.

This may take time.

That goes along with all his aforementioned comments about the government being involved in "quiet discussions" that were "extremely complicated" and involved many "complex issues". Sure, there's several variables that need to be considered (many of which were covered in the federal inquiry), but ultimately, is it really that tough to come to a conclusion of how many zeroes are going to be included in the package of the flag's buyout? Does that really take more than a year and a half?

It of course doesn't, and the most likely reason for why Wyatt and the Morrison government are stalling should be plainly obvious: the flag was created in 1971, that being 49 years ago. Wait another few months and the year is 2021, which would effectively be the 50th anniversary of the flag's creation. And what better occasion to announce – and celebrate, celebrate!! – the freeing of the Aborignal flag for usage by all Australians than its 50th anniversary?

Likewise, we'd be naive to think that those at WAM, and those involved with WAM, don't know exactly what they're doing and that they have impeccable timing.

First off, it makes sense that WAM wouldn't be involved with producing and selling actual flags, seeing how the production of flags would an undertaking most suited to a company already set up for such an operation, but more so because there's relatively little money in it. For the most part.

Yes you too can own your very own, limited edition, Harold Thomas-signed Aboriginal flag for the low low price of only $425!

Secondly, the easy money isn't in producing silly flags but rather in licensing and, by extension, litigation. But that's still child's play, having gone from thousands of dollars in profits to tens of thousands of dollars in profits.

Because thirdly, if you really want to hit paydirt, and you've got something that people really want to have, then what you do is not only time things properly, but you hold back on what you've got just enough so that certain bodies are left with little choice but to buy you out for a very handsome sum. That is, you've now gone from profits of "mere" tens of thousands of dollars to potentially – as Ken Wyatt stated himself – tens of millions of dollars.

Turns out I may not be the only one with these thoughts, with a few words on WAM's website insinuating something along the same lines. No, WAM's proprietors don't mention anything of the sort themselves, although quite a few comments – which strangely haven't been deleted – allude to such a thing via comments about "lazy oxygen thieves", "con artists", WAM being "a scam to try and make money from a flag. Greedy pigs", and most presciently WAM as "a copyright squatter who use[s] the aboriginal flag as a way to scam money from the government". And by "government" is implied Australians who pay taxes.

While Thomas has every legal right to Close His Gap and make a cheap buck off of Australians (and even off of economically distraught Aborginal Australians), every Australian (including Aboriginal Australians) also has the right right to be gullible enough to allow their government to hand over their taxes to a bunch of grifters via a flag buyout. Of course, said Australians can also raise a ruckus so as to not get grifted, but that's up to them.

The yellow represents the sun; the red represents the land; the black represents Australian Aborigines; and the white represents Harold Thomas, Ben Wooster and Leslie Moore milking the Australian Aborigine struggle, as well as Australia in general, for all they're worth

Supposing Australians don't want to get grifted they might be worthwhile to take heed of the following words, given by Clothing the Gap as their Opening Statement to the Aboriginal Flag Select Committee:

Without Aboriginal people's endorsement and love of this symbol, the flag is meaningless and it's losing value every day.

Many people are talking about retiring the Aboriginal flag and creating a new one.

#DitchTheFlag

Although one can read the comment section of the Ken Wyatt article in the Australian to find an assortment of criticisms regarding the Aboriginal flag (many of them simplistic, some of them toxic), I'd say the opinion that matters the most when it comes to the future of the Aboriginal flag is Aboriginals themselves. Or rather, Aboriginals other than Harold Thomas.

In a Guardian article entitled "'The Aboriginal flag is slowly dying': stoush over use is harming communities, inquiry told", Michael Graham, chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS, who like the IWC is another non-profit who was asked to pay up for usage of the Aboriginal flag design on t-shirts), stated that the situation revolving around the flag was "dividing the community". No argument there, although what may be even more divisive are comments by Harold himself.

Much like the IWC, Graham sent a letter to Thomas in hopes that the VAHS, as a non-profit, could be exempted from the licensing fee. As Thomas replied,

Aboriginal medical and legal services have always used and promoted the Aboriginal flag from the very beginning, and we are grateful. Because of recent events some people have been reckless to say the least. I suggest contacting WAM and say that we have spoken. The issue will be amicable. I support you 100 percent. Your friend, brother and member of a beautiful great race.

Graham did as instructured, but nonetheless, WAM looked into VAHS's financial records online and deduced it was capable of making payments (albeit at a discounted rate). But what's more pertinent here are the final words in that quote of Harold's, which if anything are the truly divisive issue here: "a beautiful great race". As I clarified earlier on, there is no such thing as "races". There's no "great races", there's no "inferior races" – it's all a bunch of pseudo-science.

Continuing on, Thomas' declared purpose of the flag comes off just as wonky:

The Aboriginal flag is doing its job as it was intended to do, to bring unity and pride to all Aboriginals. At times we get the few who snigger and are disenchanted. I can't satisfy all black people who wish to break up the Aboriginal unification. [radio interview]

That the flag would bring pride to Aboriginals is understandable, if only for the fact that it's the nicest looking flag out there. But when Thomas starts talking about "unity", that's when things start getting a bit wishy-washy or, better put, abstract. In fact, if one looks at a #FreeTheFlag image critical of the Aboriginal flag's categorization as a piece of art as opposed to as a flag, its abstractness is not only blatant but indicative of its placelessness – it exists high in the sky, by no means rooted in the land.

(image via Clothing the Gap)

This statement of the Aboriginal flag bringing "unity" is a notion one comes across quite often: "We just want to use [the flag], we want to keep our people united", said Graham. But what one never hears is an explanation of what this "unification" accomplishes. No doubt the feeling of kinship can bring comfort to people, but when it comes to the Aboriginal flag it does seem as if the flag is an end rather than a means, that it's no more than a pallative.

Although the Aboriginal flag was originally created in response to the land rights movement, there is no indication that it has any of that purpose today, and while it seems to do little else than unite Aboriginals in their ostracisation from the land (as is the state of most non-Aboriginals), if anything it comes off more like a security blanket than anything.

With all this in mind, and even though he certainly behaves otherwise, it's getting tougher and tougher to see Thomas as anything more than your run-of-the-mill salesman. That is, a salesman in Aboriginal clothing.

Salesman or not, it seems like fewer and fewer people – Aboriginals – are falling for the pitch. As was stated in Clothing the Gap's Opening Statement to the Aboriginal Flag Select Committee,

If Aboriginal people had known Harold Thomas would end up asserting his private ownership rights over the flag and appointing non-Indigenous licensees to shut down its use unless fees were paid – we would never have adopted it.

And as described by The Guardian, Indigenous academic Professor Marcia Langton stated to the Committee that "if negotiations failed, then regretfully she would recommend that the government hold a competition to design a new, publicly owned Aboriginal flag." As just one example of such a thing already happening, earlier on I relayed the quote by Mick Gooda who pointed out that the Gangulu people of central Queensland have already begun designing their our own flag – as many others are now doing as well.

Which got me thinking. Certainly I wouldn't be one to enter a competition to design a, never mind the, replacement Aboriginal flag. However, how about trying my hand at creating an authentic multiculturalism flag?

But more importantly, what the ransom-practices as partaken by Thomas, Wooster and the Moores show us is that flags created for any group or organisation will not only be in need of a legal setup that takes into account all of the aforementioned events, but perhaps a legal setup separate from the castrating hands of the government.

The authentic multiculturalism flag

The first thing that popped into my head when I thought I'd try my hand at creating some kind of flag was the notion that an upside-down flag represents being anti something, particularly anti the country that the flag belongs to. That's not entierly correct however, as according to the United States Code Title 4 Chapter 8,

(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

Anarchists do however apparently like to fly flags upside down as an act of "denial of state authority", so my previous understanding wasn't completely incorrect. That being said, flying the flag upside down in Australia as a sign of distress is frowned upon, as according to the Australian National Flag protocols

Do not fly the flag upside down, even as a signal of distress.

Regardless, with the thought of an upside down flag in my head the though of a mining cart popped into my head.

Step 1: Find an SVG of a mining cart

"Cart, coal, mining icon"

There's lots of these available, but this one stood out for me. It was, however, obviously in need of a bit of added spice.

Step 2: Flip the mining cart upside down and add some colour

Although I had no intention to create a replacement to the Aboriginal flag, I did however figure that out of deference to Aboriginals (not so much deference to the current Aboriginal flag) I'd stick with the current colour setup. It was obviously too bright, which needed to be changed.

However, before switching things around, and upon taking a look at the upside down cart, I couldn't help but think that it looked rather like the head of a... a frog? With... three tongues? I tried to recall any notable frogs in Australia, then realised rather disappointingly that "ah shit, that ain't so much a frog so much as it's a toad – a cane toad". Needless to say, cane toads aren't exactly something one wants to be celebrating as representative of Australia. Nonetheless, I persisted.

Step 3: Switch around the colours

That was much better, although to me it still looked like a frikin cane toad – albeit a cane toad with three tongues.

But upon starting at the image a bit longer it almost seemed as if the cane toad had only one tongue with yellow things on either side. To differentiate things a bit it seemed to me that it'd probably make sense then to change the colour of the singular tongue to something else. Looking at the current colours I figured that it'd make sense to change the yellow tongue to b–

– and that's when it hit me.

Step 4: Change the colour of the tongue to blue

That's not a cane toad, that's a blue-tongued skink!

So I did an Internet search to get a look at one of these blue-tongued skinks, and what do you know –

Tiliqua nigrolutea of south eastern Australia (photo by JJ Harrison)

It's got a yellow jaw!

Anyway, not that one would be needed by any means, but I couldn't help but think that there couldn't be a more appropriate design for an authentic multicuralism flag than this. Here's why:

  1. There isn't a single blue-tongued skink species but actually eight of them, seven of them endemic to different parts of Australia (inluding Tasmania). With species diversity being a central tenet to authentic multicultrualism, this would be an excellent launching point for discussion about this topic to children
  2. The colours used, apart from one, are the exact same as those used in the Aboriginal flag, which could also be used as a launching point for discussion with children about the travesty and abomination that that flag was
  3. Although more complex design-wise than the Aboriginal flag, it is still rather easily reproducable by children
  4. When flipped upside down one can easily see that the image is a mining cart, again an excellent launching point for discussion with children about the downfalls that mining the earth has imposed on ecosystems
  5. When flipped upside down the items of the mining cart are yellow and blue, the yellow being fossil fuels (the energy of which originally came from the yellow sun) and the blue being other minerals, and if you really wanted, the black being Aboriginals who at times were forced to bear the burden of shouldering the weight of slavery. All of this, yet again, would be an excellent launching point for the discussion with children (all age-dependent, of course) of not just fossil fuels and the way that industrial civilization was built upon them (and will disappear with them), but of the way in which the previously-mentioned book by Andrew Nikiforuk, The Energy of Slaves, explains that it was the energy of coal that to a large extent replaced the energy of slaves (and not, it should be added, some supposed moral advancement of humans)
(click/tap the flag to rotate it 180°)

With that all out of the way, there's still the issue of how to "protect" the flag, be it in terms of this particular flag or any other. If the idea is to not monetize the flag, not have it placed in the hands of a castrating government, yet to make it available for anybody's usage, then an ideal option might be to license it under a Creative Commons license (as the posts of this blog are licensed under).

There's several different Creative Commons licenses available, so supposing one wants to allow for the free – yet non-commercial – usage of one's flag, then a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license would be the way to go. Upon creating your own public repositiory on GitHub, uploading all your images and the license you'd like to use (download and rename the relevant file from this list to "License.md" and upload it to the root of your repository), then all you've got left to do is share the link so that the flag is available to anybody.

The authentic multiculturalism flag
SVGs and PNGs of the Creative Commons-licensed authentic multiculturalism flag

By setting things up in such a way one's flag would not be able to make anybody millions of dollars, it wouldn't be able to be confused with being a piece of art, and if not associated with anthropogenic notions of unity but rather a land-based unity, then it could in fact be a flag firmly rooted in the land.

"So how exactly do I eat this thing?" (background photo by Photoholgic)

Last of all, although in this CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 licensing scenario a flag wouldn't be available for commercial usage, it would however be freely available for all non-commerical, non-profit usages. That would range from people printing their own flags to health organizations and even individuals using the design for the creation of clothing.

That could include the more younger crowd:

The slightly less younger crowd:

"You'll have to excuse my whitey and wannabe-whitey friends – they're always behind in the trends"

And yes, even the guys:

The one and only, SuperSkink

Conclusion

Upon thinking about how to close all of this off I was trying to think about what was worse – the sham that is (faux) multicultiralism or the scam that is the Aboriginal flag. That took all of a few seconds to decipher, seeing how when it comes down to it the Aboriginal flag is nothing more than a decoration. The future stability of Australia and the chances of survival for Australians themselves, however, highly depends on it transitioning away from the extractive and destructive implementation of what we currently call (faux) multiculturalism, for the more land-based and respectful of all kinds of diversity authentic multiculturalism.

Ten years ago, when attending my first Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas, I had the chance to speak with Wendell Berry himself, and I of course brought up the topic of multiculturalism. As he succinctly said to me, "You can't elect a culture". Rather than try and interpret that statement, I'll relay the last four paragraphs from Berry's "Racism and the Economy" essay, which I think do a better job of interpretation than what I could do anyway.

Community cannot be made by government prescription and mandate, but the government, in its proper role as promoter of the general welfare, preserver of the public place, and forbidden of injustice, could do much to promote the improvement of communities. If it wanted to, it could end its collusion with the wealthy and the corporations and the “special interests.” It could stand, as it is supposed to, between wealth and power. It could assure the possibility that a poor person might hold office. It could protect, by strict forbidding, the disruption of the integrity of a community or a local economy or an ecosystem by any sort of commercial or industrial enterprise, that is, it could enforce properties of scale. It could understand that economic justice does not consist in giving the most power to the most money.

The government could do such things. But we know well that it is not going to do them; it is not even going to consider doing them, because community integrity, and the decentralization of power and economy that it implies, is antithetical to the ambitions of the corporations. The government’s aim, therefore, is racial indifference, not integrated communities. Does this mean that our predicament is hopeless? No. It only means that our predicament is extremely unfavorable, as the human predicament has often been.

What the government will or will not do is finally beside the point. If people do not have the government they want, then they will have a government that they must either change or endure. Finally, all the issues that I have discussed here are neither political nor economic, but moral and spiritual. What is at issue is our character as a people. It is necessary to look beyond the government to the possibility – one that seems to be growing – that people will reject what have been the prevailing assumptions, and begin to strengthen and defend their communities on their own.

We must be aware too of the certainty that the present way of things will eventually fail. If it fails quickly, by any of several predicted causes, then we will have no need, being absent, to worry about what to do next. If it fails slowly, and if we have been careful to preserve the most necessary and valuable things, then it may fail into a restoration of community life – that is, into understanding of our need to help and comfort each other.

But while it wasn't hard to realise that the worst between the sham and the scam was the sham, it must be recognized that before the former can be seriously addressed, the even worse situation must be addressed – that being the treatment that Aboriginals recieve daily in Australia, never mind the 441 and counting deaths in custody since the Royal Commission. That being so, I think it'd be best to give the closing words to a few Aboriginals themselves, which I think speak for themselves.

The first is by Leetona Dungay, mother of David Dungay:

Here in Australia the Black Lives Matter movement has meant my family has received an enormous amount of support. Tens of thousands have attended our rallies. More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on the attorney general to refer this matter to the DPP for charges.

We need ... the DPP to act on this right now. We will give them some time to listen. If we do not get any action on this, we will be calling more protests.

Black Lives Matter. My son’s life matters. We need manslaughter charges right now.

Secondly, a few words from the article "We need to go beyond empty gestures if we're going to end Aboriginal deaths in custody" by Cheryl Axleby, chief executive of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement of South Australia and co-chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, and Nerita Waight, chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and co-chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services:

We are strong, despite the oppressive weight of the legal system crushing our lives. We rise for our ancestors, those killed, our kids and for their kids.

We have had the solutions to ending our deaths for almost three decades. Join us, contact your MPs, talk to your family and friends. Tell them that this is the moment to create real, systemic and lasting change. If this is going to be a pivotal moment in our history, we need to go beyond the empty gestures of the past.

Australia, do not let us down. Our lives depend on it.

Here's to hoping that Australians awake from their slumber and rise to the occassion, and not only for the sake of Aboriginal Australians.

"Hold up, why isn't this working? Oh that's right, you're already fast asleep" (background photo by _TC Photography_)

Sounds of COVID-19, with Fanfare Ciocărlia

Yes, the human predicament has often been extremely unfavorable, possibly no greater than we find it today. Nonetheless, it is especially in times like these that it can't hurt to be occassionaly reminded that not all is for naught. So once again we have the Romanian Gypsy brass band Fanfare Ciocărlia to remind us of this, this time with their eponymously titled song – spiced up with a side of Colombian cumbia – "Fiesta de negritos". But just make sure you're aware –

grifteritos not welcome.

Not sure what this "Sounds of COVID-19, with Fanfare Ciocărlia" thing is? Then be sure to check out its dedicated page for an explanation:

Sounds of COVID-19, with Fanfare Ciocărlia
Get ready to give your hips a workout, cause COVID-19 is about to meet its match in the one and only monsters of brass

UNUSED IMAGES

Every soccer mom (or soccer dad, I had a soccer dad) is gonna want one of these!
The G***yh*le flag that Harold Thomas, Ben Wooster and Leslie Moore are using to f*** Australia with
Let it be known: bread and circuses matter (photo via @mariekehardy)
While it's generally suggested to stand back as far as one can, popcorn is often the preferred snack for watching the collapse unfold. We'll let it slide this time though since – like most everything else – Cool Ranch Doritos are mostly made from corn as well (photo by Richard Grant)

  1. Fancy!!

Formerly a budding filmmaker, now jawboning on the collapse of industrial civili­s­a­tion & the renewal of culture. READ MORE

  ALLAN STROMFELDT CHRISTENSEN  2020