Australia has always wanted to stake a claim on Aboriginal culture – but only when it benefits them. They remain ignorant when the legislative bullets are fired to weaken and destroy it, and do not seek to protect it when the right to culture and ceremony is in the way of profit and white prosperity.
But when we need to show ourselves to the world, when we need to present a different face, it is Aboriginal culture that is seen as the antidote to the cultural cringe.
Suddenly, Australia is proud of the 100,000 years of human habitation that colonialism sought to wipe out, and which Australia devalues. Suddenly, it is “ours”, and one for which we all hold a shared pride.
As Patrick Wolfe wrote: “In Australia, the erasure of Indigeneity conflicts with the assertion of settler-nationalism. On the one hand, settler society required the practical elimination of natives in order to establish itself on their territory. On the symbolic level, however, settler society subsequently sought to recuperate Indigeneity in order to express its difference – and, accordingly, its independence – from the mother country”.
The Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony was a reminder of this. The highlight of the night was the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elements, from the traditional smoking ceremony by Luther Cora, to the Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Torres Strait Islander hip hop artist Mau Power.
No doubt, the First Nations people who took part should be celebrated because their performances, despite occurring inside the arena, represented acts of resistance and defiance – a display of survival in a state that was one of the largest killing fields in the nation.
But it is deeply ironic that while the Aboriginal flag was being lifted, and broadcast across the world, right outside the arena, Aboriginal protestors were being arrested, their own flags dragging along the ground.
SBS journalist Stefan Armbruster, one of our allies and the few to be outside reporting on the protests, reported that three Aboriginal activists – Dylan Voller, Ruby Wharton and Meg Rodaughan – were detained by police outside the stadium.
All of them were part of a delegation to the Gold Coast, to protest the imperialism and colonialism of the ‘Stolenwealth’. They were continuing the legacy of previous resistance fighters, like the thousands who converged on Brisbane to protest under the draconian administration of Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1982.