This post has been proferred by Imogen, a reader of Blak and Black.
As South Korean-born Dami Im’s X-Factor win in Australia is celebrated with a number one single it’s a shame that this demonstration of a multi-cultural country is also accompanied by an expression of that country’s darker side. While Im won on a public vote, her victory was also accompanied by that dispiriting modern phenomenon, an outbreak of racist social media posts declaring her not a real Australian. Im has reacted with grace to the attacks and perhaps her win should be seen as a demonstration that the battle for tolerance is being won, but it seems Australia – a country of immigrants by definition – still has a battle to be fought.
New South Wales’ leader has been moved to promise tougher action on hate crimes after an assault that has been described as “the most serious anti-Semitic assault in Australia for years”. Four men and a woman were attacked at the end of October and needed hospital treatment in the tourism hotspot of Bondi in Sydney. The state’s premier promised zero tolerance on religious discrimination, while the leader of Australia’s Jews warned of a pernicious culture of low-level abuse towards identifiably Jewish people accompanied by vandalism and racist graffiti at Jewish buildings. Three men have been arrested – and worryingly, they are young, aged 17 to 23-years-old – but the police have appealed for other offenders to turn themselves in.
An Old Problem with Modern Consequences
Another hopeful landmark in the fight against racism is accompanied by worrying portents. Nova Peris was the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold and now she is the first indigenous woman to sit in the country’s Federal Parliament. She used her maiden speech to warn that Australia will never achieve equality for its black and white citizens. Indigenous Australians are not even recognized in the country’s constitution and a petition calling for a redrafting is being prepared. Norman Miller, the man behind the campaign, presents his signatures to politicians on giant boomerangs. He notes that until 1967 Aboriginals were counted alongside native flora and fauna on censuses and is asking for a number of changes to the constitution, including the removal of two sections which can be used to pass racist laws or ban voters because of their race. Miller would also make government racism constitutionally illegal and recognize both indigenous Australians and their languages as the nation’s first. This could matter hugely for Australia’s future. Tourism is a massive driver for the national economy, which will be there long after the minerals boom has ended. Visitors want to see Australia’s great modern cities and its stunning nature, but they are also fascinated by her native peoples. Uluru, as Ayer’s Rock has finally been renamed, is an Aboriginal holy site and Indigenous guides greet tourists and explain its significance. The ancient art of Kimberley is a major tourist attraction and the world’s oldest rain forest, Daintree Rainforest, offers tours from the Wujal Wujal people who teach traditional skills that are an integral part of how the world views Australia.
Why Visit Where You’re Not Welcome?
Yet Australia can still show a hostile face to the world. The country’s treatment of asylum seekers and the sometimes poisonous rhetoric that can accompany it is flashed around the world, and it doesn’t look good. Australia’s history may be of British domination and the country may remain a European outpost because of that history. Geopolitical and economic realities are changing, however. Australia’s enthusiastic links with America may play well at home, but revelations of spying on Indonesia that have resulted from US security contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks have already strained relations with one of the country’s biggest and most important neighbors. Why should newly-powerful Asian economies – who surely hold the key to Australia’s future far more than the distant “Old Country” – engage in business with a country that refuses to engage with their way of life and commerce and acts as agent against them for a distant super power? Why should rich Asians visit a country where a young woman on a talent contest is told that she can’t be a proper native because of her Korean heritage? And, why should anyone visit a country where its original population represents a fourth of its prison population and one in four native Australians are behind bars?