On this Day in 1788…

Image of setting sun in similar style to the Aboriginal Flag, accompanying a piece on Australia Day
Photograph by Oliver Frank

Today was a public holiday here in Australia. 26th January is known to some as Australia Day, to others as Invasion Day. A day of celebration for some, for others, a day of mourning and/or activism- acknowledging the past and present injustices to the indigenous peoples of this country- for others still, simply a welcome time off from work.

Today, I didn’t celebrate, but thoughts of injustices were on my mind. There are gaps in health, mortality, education, social inclusion, services- you name it, there is a gaping hole that divides the original custodians of this land from its other inhabitants. I was not going to write about it, until an email from a friend inspired me to share some words, a quote attributed to Lilla Watson, although she prefers to see it attributed to ‘Aboriginal activist’s group, Queensland, 1970s’.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.

But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

I love the quote, as ‘help’ is too often about making the ‘helper’ feel good without an understanding of what is really needed- be it a government initiative, or the voluntary act of an individual. The alternative is acknowledging the other person’s humanity and seeing that we need one another- a good place to start- with a paradigm shift still needed, some 40 odd years after those words were spoken, and 228 years since the arrival of the First Fleet.

 

26/01/2017: This was first published on 26th January 2016. It is still relevant a year on. Prison populations, education, employment and morbidity and mortality rates have not made any forward leaps for positive change. This time around though, I am not merely a saddened spectator but playing a small part in change by participating in a Reconciliation Action Plan working group at my place of work.

26/01/2018: A year on and the sentiments and their cause remain. I am still part of the Reconciliation Action Plan group at work, but now with a more formalised role, representing my business group. I haven’t personally made any tangible steps toward the RAP but I have clarity now in what I can contribute, following a seminar I attended on Aboriginal Water Values in late 2017. It is sometimes overwhelming to see injustice and not know where or how to make a difference- but what better way than in one’s area of expertise and circle of influence? I will focus on ways to ensure that cultural values of water are a factor in water management decisions. Without elaborating on the seminar that I found inspiring and how water is intrinsic to indigenous culture, I will leave you with a trailer for the documentary ‘Ringbalin’ which I saw for the first time at the seminar.

Ringbalin Trailer from Ringbalin on Vimeo.

 

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Tales from the Diaspora

I’ll admit it, I hung my parents out to dry long ago. However, I am not immune to the occasional glimmer of compassion brought on by insights into the complexity of their lives and factors that contributed to making them the people I know. A recent glimmer can be traced to a late onset appreciation of The Weeknd’s I Feel it Coming. One minute I was grooving to my new favourite song, switching from the original to alternate versions including an 80s version complete with hair and outfit of that era. I also came across a cool trick to edit the url of the original to be transported to an ambient verison but I can’t remember how to do it- please let me know if you know what I’m talking about.

While I was wading in the sink hole of ProcrastYounationTube™, a video by Eritrean-American Bethlehem Awate, titled When Habesha Parents Discover the Weeknd…caught my eye, ‘Habesha’ being a loose term for people from the highlands of the Horn of Africa. For the sake of simplicity, and because I am not a scholar in the area, let’s say it is a loose umbrella term for Ethiopians and Eritreans. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd is Canadian of Ethiopian descent. I was born in Ethiopia, moving to Australia at the age of six where I have since spent most of my life, save for a four year stint in Europe. Continue reading

The Gum Tree and the Magpie

“I have only one requirement of any bird that wants to pirch upon the generous seating I provide, I expect to be compensated with the preservation of my legacy, in this paddock and beyond. How else am I to remain immortal, than to have my seeds spread? Following years of draught, and destruction of saplings spawned from my gumnuts all around me, I have no choice but to punish those who drop by just for a seat or to peck off bits of my offshoots to build their nests, or worse still, to crush and eat my seeds with disregard for my needs.”

The disgruntled branch of the majestic gum tree was in deep conversation with the magpie, who sat pirched upon him, the branch bowed beneath the magpie’s weight. The magpie had no need to eat, filled up as he was from the more jovial branches above. Being a good listener also won the magpie the approval of the disgruntled branch, who was only too happy to waive his strict requirements for the sake of having an audience.

The disgruntled branch continued. “You understand then, the crimson rosella causes me great offense, refusing to spread my seeds and instead destroying them to feed its greedy belly. It doesn’t have the same sweet song that you sing to me, dear magpie. I see no use for it at all.”

As he spoke, the clouds that had been brewing a storm for some time let loose, the mighty cumulonimbus throwing around its weight. The branches above, who were graced with many more leaves than the disgruntled branch, caught the falling rain and showered their less agreeable neighbour as they shook with abandon. And so it rained and rained, much more than it had rained for years, for there had been a draught, as the disgruntled branch had mentioned in his monologue to the magpie. The ground below, parched for so long now without the rain, didn’t take so well to the deluge, and the rain flooded at the base of the trunk that housed the disgruntled branch and all the others. With enough rainwater pooled beneath him, the disgruntled branch was able to see his own reflection How I have aged, I am bereft of most of my leaves, he thought. At his furthermost extremity, he could see the black and white feathers of the magpie, sitting patiently to listen, occasionally offering his sweet song. As the rain increased its pace, falling in large drops and broadening the pool, the disgruntled branch caught sight of the carefree branches above. They flaunted their beauty, with their abundance of leaves, but there was something else. Shaking a little in disbelief at what he saw, the disgruntled branch was struck by the jewels encrusting every other branch. Ruby and sapphire, as though being full leaved were not fortune enough. “Do you see that, magpie? Do you see how the others flaunt their youth, rubbing it in my face. They’re bedecked in jewels, surely the weight of which will crush me if they break”.

The magpie finally spoke “My dear branch, they are not jewels, they are the red and blue plumes of the crimson rosellas that caused you great offense.”

 

Write your story from the point of view of a branch with a bird pirched on it (prompt from one of hundreds found on this site).