UTS Big Thinking Forum: Indigenous Australia and Captain Cook | Sydney Festival 2019

UTS Big Thinking Forum: Indigenous Australia and Captain Cook | Sydney Festival 2019


Larissa Behrendt: Hello everyone, and thank
you so much for joining us today, braving the heat to be with us here this evening for
what will be a fantastic discussion, a very provocative discussion, about how we should
be thinking about, exploring, reinterpreting the 250th anniversary of Cook’s voyage in
the Endeavour as he navigated and mapped his way around the East Coast of Australia. I’m Larissa Behrendt, and I’d like to
open our discussion tonight by a very important and respectful acknowledgement to the traditional
owners of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and of course, the topic
that we’re speaking about today and it being the eve of Australia Day, Invasion Day, Survival
Day, makes it especially poignant that we take a moment to reflect upon the generosity
with which the Gadigal people of the Eora nation have shared this land with us and pay
our respects to their elders past and present who continue to be the custodians of the knowledge
of this land.
And as you will know from its prevalence in
the festival, that the Eora language continues to be spoken on this country and I think that’s
a great symbol for how the connection remains so deep today.
So, as I said before, I’m Larissa Behrendt;
I’m the chair of Indigenous research here at UTS and I’m a board member of Sydney
Festival and a Council member of UTS and it’s my real privilege to be facilitating the panel
today with four Indigenous Australians who, I have to say, are four people whose work
I know and who I really admire.
So, I can guarantee I’m as excited as you
are to hear what they have to say. Now, we are recording today’s event; it
will be played on the ABC, on ABC Radio, so if I can ask you to turn your phones to silent,
not just because of that but because you don’t want it going off in the middle of the speakers. So, with all that out of the way, it’s my
privilege to introduce the panellists to you. And let’s start with Professor John Maynard,
who’s a Worimi Aboriginal man from the Port Stephens region of NSW. He’s currently the professor of Aboriginal
History and director of the Purai Global Indigenous
and Diaspora Studies Research Centre at the
University of Newcastle. He’s a leading Australian historian who’s
written on a range of Aboriginal histories, including political history, our contribution
to the armed conflict and achievements in sport. Another interesting area of John’s research
is also the links between African American and Indigenous political thought, and he’s
particularly shed new light on the Aboriginal political movement of the 1920s around the
work of his own grandfather, the leading Aboriginal rights activist Fred Maynard. Then we also – next to John, we have Rachel
Perkins who’s an award-winning filmmaker who lives between Alice Springs and Sydney. She’s known for her work on the TV series
Mystery Road, Redfern Now, the movies Jasper
Jones, Brand New Day, Mabo and other work
including the landmark documentary series First Australians. And I think you’ll agree, since I’m sure
all of you have seen many of Rachel’s works, that this body of work that she’s done has
made her one of the most significant storytellers
in our community today. Unknown speaker: Hear, hear. Behrendt: Stop laughing, Rachel! It’s true. She’s very modest, too. Unknown speaker: Yes, just take it. Behrendt: Now, next to Rachel I’m really
pleased to introduce you to Amrita Hepi who is an award-winning First Nations choreographer
and dancer from Bundjalung country in Australia and from Ngāpuhi in New Zealand.
She’s worked with leading Australian dance
companies Force Majeure, [name] and Ochres and toured work nationally and internationally
through theatres and galleries in Australia, Europe and the United States. She’s trained at NASDA and the Alvin Ailey
dance theatre in New York. Her work, The Ropes, is part of Sydney Festival
and really worth a look, and she’s one of the most interesting new voices in our community. So, welcome to Amrita Hepi. And for the very few of you in the room who
don’t know the person on the end, it’s my pleasure to introduce Wesley Enoch who’s
the artistic director of Sydney Festival, former artistic director of the Queensland
Theatre Company an I think one of the most
important voices in Australia’s performing
arts industry, and one of the leading creative thinkers in the country. The way he’s ignited Sydney with his direction
of the festival over the past couple of years has been truly inspiring and has been a great
contribution to the cultural life of the city. So, thank you. Well, now you know who everyone is, let’s
start off – and I’m going to actually start with John Maynard, because John is the
historian amongst the panel and John, I guess what I was going to ask you to have a look
at is you have done work around Cook and formed some views about how we should see him, and
I was wondering if you’d just basically share some broad brush strokes of those thoughts
with us. John Maynard: Yes, some years back, I spoke
at the East Coast Encounters at the National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. There was a forum there and an exhibition
and I spoke there, and I’ve also written
a brief piece about Cook in regards to that. And I guess in summary, for us as Aboriginal
people, I guess if we wanted a bogeyman to represent everything that’s happened to
us in this country after Cook, I mean, invasion, occupation, dispossession, cultural destruction,
segregation, assimilation, stolen generations – everything that has impacted onto us in
this country since has a start point and that is with James Cook.
So, there’s a lot of negatives, certainly,
for Aboriginal people in the memory of Cook and what he represents. But I think even in the discussion of James
Cook, we saw what happened with Stan Grant in 2017 and Stan going for a walk through
Hyde Park, comes across the statue of James Cook and Stan wasn’t denigrating the memory
of James Cook; he wasn’t asking for that statue to be torn down.
He just made the observation that it was wrong
in saying that James Cook had discovered Australia and wanted an amendment to reflect Aboriginal
people had been here for 65,000 years. And that’s an important point, but of course,
that unleashed a furore of backlash against Stan Grant at that particular point in time. IN saying that, I go back to my school years,
it was in the 50s and 60s, it was all about the discoverers, the explorers, the settlers,
even Bradman as a cricketer and Phar Lap as a racehorse, but the reality is that we weren’t
in that particular story and that particular narrative. But again, that East Coast Encounters, I actually
went onto the Endeavor replica down there
at Darling Harbour at that time, and it was
an incredible piece of maritime achievement to actually get that thing across the globe
and come through mountainous seas. It was so small and confined; we had to bend
down on the lower decks to get around. I wouldn’t want to be on that ship. Today it’d be like going to the moon or
to Mars or something, going to the other side of the world, and I’ve always liked to look
at Cook’s observations as well, because he wasn’t’ the norm for the British Navy
at that particular time.
You had to come from the right family background,
you had to come from moneyed background, privileged background. Cook’s father was a farm labourer, and he’d
had to work his way up and through that, and for me, his observations were reflective of
doing things tougher in regards to that. And in Australia, in his log, he made the
observation that as far as Aboriginal people are concerned, they are far happier than we
Europeans. They live in a tranquillity undistributed
by the inequality of life. The earth and sea provides them with all the
things necessary for life, they live in a warm and temperate climate, they’ve got
a good air to breathe. So, he was clearly making these observations,
being able to look at London and Britain of that time, raw sewage is running through the
streets, disease is rampant, and to actually rise yourself up, there were a lot of difficulties
to get there. Cook was an exception. So, he was looking at egalitarian Australia
where everything was about sharing and everybody were looked after and he had that observation
to make, I think, which is an important point to consider as far as Cook’s concern. But the downside to Cook, of course, is when
they were in the Pacific to witness the transit of Venus across the sun in Tahiti, and then
he had secret orders and the secret orders
were after that transit of the sun was to
sail to the south and look for the Great Southern Land, which had been reported as being there. Of course, he did come into New Zealand, where
Tasman had been before, and he found that
and circumnavigated New Zealand, and then
he came across and he bumped into Australia and he sailed up the entire East Coast. Now, his orders were that if they were to
come into contact with people – I mean, this is from the admiralty, and as such, from
the Crown – he was to open up dialogue and discussion and communication with the natives
and gain their consent to open some trading posts for the Crown. Of course, we do know he bumped into a few
Aboriginal people up the East Coast of Australia, and some of those accounts are telling [inaudible
9.51] as well. In one instance, he quite clearly said, ‘All
they seem to want from us was to be gone.’ And you can’t be any more blunt than that. But after that, of course, they ran into the
Great Barrier Reef – they were lucky to
survive – and they spent several weeks up
at what is now Cooktown and repaired the ship and sailed further up the East Coast and bumped
into Possession Island, what is now Possession Island, where he stamped down the flag and
claimed the entire East Coast for the Crown. But as I’ve said, that was against what
those orders were, in reality. He didn’t open up discussion, he didn’t
gain any consent from Aboriginal people in that respect, so our sovereignty was never
given up at that particular point in time. Behrendt: Thank you. That’s a great grounding. Wesley, John obviously highlights a couple
of really important things you’ll have to grapple with next year as you go into Festival
2020, and that is the fact that for many Australians, Cook’s a really revered figure, and I remember
the art historian John Mundine sort of saying any attempt by Aboriginal artists who, in
any way, denigrate Cook, it’s almost like a sacred cow. But then at the same time, as John points
out, there’s obviously a very strong Indigenous
connection – a very strong view that even
if he wasn’t the one who first came and set up a colony here, he started it. So, as the artistic director of the festival,
going into 2020, how are you thinking that you might pull all of these threads together? Wesley Enoch: Well, I mean, the thing for
me is that there’s the reality of Cook and
all the things that the history books will
tell us, but the fact that he is now more symbolic than real – that he does not exist
as a real person; he exists as a myth. You know, and those kind of mythic qualities
are what we should unpack. For me, the conversation in a festival should
be about inviting artists to create work that are as much from the people he met along the
way – so, what does it mean for the people of the Pacific, to talk about this journey? And weirdly, he came the wrong way; you know
when all the winds go the other way, he came this way I go, how’d he do that?
That’s an amazing skill it itself. But the people he met along the way, and I
still want to have the Hawaiians come and visit – that would be amazing to see what
they do. I know Peter White’s in the audience and
he talks about a number of those kinds of projects. At the moment, the conversation we’re trying
to have is very much from the ship viewing the shore, and I think what we need to do
is also have the counterpoint, which is from
the shore looking at the ship, so that we
can have a balanced view. So, what are the things that we’re doing? I’m talking to Brook Andrew, who’s also
the artistic director of the Sydney Biennale,
which runs for this period of time, and we’re
talking about a project at the moment which – don’t tell anyone; shhh – but this
notion of flag-making, and how, by placing a flag somewhere you occupy it, you own it,
you proclaim ownership, and how that means that anyone can actually create any flag they
want and plant it somewhere and say, ‘I own this.’ But what real depth does that have? So, we’re looking at a big flag project
around that.
I’m very interested at the moment about
ideas of occupation, the conversations in my head, at least, is to talk to different
Pacific nations to come and build a Pacific village somewhere and occupy this land for
a period of time to see what conversations can come from that. And this notion to the re-enactments drive
me spare, because again, it’s only on a mythic level that these re-enactments occur,
not about the realities of things, and that even the – like, this kind of oh, going
around, the circumnavigation of Australia … [Laughter] Enoch: … a historically inaccurate re-enactment. It drives me spare, because if it is about
learning about what this journey is and what it meant and what the secret orders were etcetera,
we’re not going to do it. We’re only going to stay in the mythic,
and we’re only going to be like this – Noel Pearson has those – I’ve said this so
often, so forgive me if I repeat myself to you – Noel Pearson talks about the three
narratives of this country: the longest continuous culture on earth, the British colonial project
and the institutions we’ve inherited, and also the most successful multi-ethnic multicultural
nation on earth. And what the Cook anniversary does is start
to lift one up in favour of the others, and tries to build, if you like, a kind of competition
for airtime. And what I think we should be doing is saying,
‘All those three things is our lived experience.’ We look around the room right now and those
three narratives are being formed, are being re-enacted, are being exercised. Just us. Our lived experience is those three narratives,
and when we want to – and which is, I’m going to say Australia Day, when we lift the
26th of January up and that anniversary up
and don’t want to see the symbolism of that,
then I go, ‘Oh, that’s really problematic,’ and hence why we’ve been looking at the
vigil to say – and this is a big invitation: tonight, at dusk until dawn tomorrow, everyone’s
invited to come to Barangaroo.
Not, well, as many people as we can fit are
invited to Barangaroo Reserve to sit vigil and, if you like, to build more compassion
and understanding for an Indigenous perspective, to say if we can sit vigil and think what
was it like the day before the arrival of the First Fleet and we build a compassionate
viewpoint, then we actually build a stronger community that can actually have the 26th
of January and that anniversary.
We can still mark that if we actually understand
the stories around it as well. And that’s not to do with Cook, but I love
that these two things just collide – the politicians can’t work out what happened
in 1788 versus 1770. This notion of our nation-building is mythical
but so young, and so for me, it’s really
about getting artists to create projects which
are about from the shore looking at the ship. Behrendt: That’s a good point to move to
Rachel. Obviously, as Wesley said, we’ve grown up
in a country that had some very big myths and very big narratives. It’s been a fairly recent phenomenon, that
we have had more profile of Indigenous counter-narratives, Indigenous storytelling, and I was wondering,
Rachel, if you could share your reflections on the role of those counter-narratives or
Indigenous narratives, and particularly how you use that through your work. Rachel Perkins: Yeah. I think Stan looking at those monuments that
are littered around Sydney of Captain Cook
and noting the exclusion of Indigenous figures
from this area demonstrates the emphasis that we’ve had on the colonial narrative. And that’s been part of nation building
that began with settlement and accelerated after Federation and continued on, so this
anniversary is another part of that. Can I say that I think we are more advanced
than we’ve ever been in terms of an inclusive
approach to the narrative, but I think that
in Australia, the colonial narrative still dominates and indigenous artists, filmmakers,
historians, performers, academics and our fellow Australians who support and have been
engaged in that work as well have been crucial in pushing that narrative forward. In terms of filmmaking, which is what I do
– my contribution – this year I just wanted
to talk about a project that I’m working
on at the moment, because it brings into questions this whole debate about how we present these
narratives. And I think I’m interested in progress and
inclusiveness in my upbringing, in what I believe and so my filmmaking work aims to
bring together rather than separate and divide. So, at the moment – but that’s a difficult
thing, and that’s a nuanced approach to narrative-making that brings people together,
because it’s so easy. We know how easy it is for people to back
into their corners and their own experiences and their own opinions. You want your work to be effective; you want
it to cross borders and speak to a wide audience, not just sit in a silo. So, at the moment I’m working on a project
called First Wars. The byline is, ‘Lest we remember.’ So, of course, what we haven’t come to terms
with in this country, and it’s symbolised
in Cook, but of course, he was just a great
navigator and seaman, and his secret instructions, of course, asked for him to get the consent
of the natives, but actually, consent of the natives was a mere footnote. What it really was is an expression of sovereignty
in relation to other European powers to claim the continent, not to Aboriginal people. That was an expression to the rest of the
world that the East Coast or the eastern part of Australia was the Crown’s. So, our issue, fundamentally, is with the
Crown and the state, which our institutions are still based upon. And of course, the conflict in Australia,
you can say – it’s poetic to say, I think – that Cook, he shot the first bullet in
the warfare that would continue across the country in a very complex way over 150-year
period, and that started at that Botany Bay [inaudible 19.52] Botany Bay, and it then
swept across the country because of the fact
that they would not enter into treaties at
that time or acknowledge the sovereignty of Indigenous Australians. So, my challenge in telling the story of the
first wars, which began with that colonial endeavour, is how to not separate and divide
the country with the presentation of that truth? Because of course, I have European heritage;
I am an Australian of mixed heritage; I do
not want to seek to divide. But it’s a terrible truth.
For instance, in Queensland, 65,000 Aboriginal
people lost their lives on the frontier. Those numbers are bigger than the total Australian
death rate in the First World War. Now, we have no monuments; we have two monuments
in Queensland to those warfares. So, in terms of the colonial narratives, in
terms of the narratives that shape our country,
my challenge and our challenge, I think, is
how do we accept those truths that are still very present, you know, we still have – as
Henry Reynolds the great historian says, ‘You
can’t hand down guilt, but you can certainly
hand down property.’ So there are still families who were engaged
in this warfare, there are still people who remember it very clearly in oral history,
we still have these narratives that we must overcome to be a more mature nation, and I
think in Aotearoa they’re more advanced, in other countries they’re more advanced,
and the Cook opportunity, if we see it as
an opportunity, gives us a moment to look
back on our past and think about how our country was created and try and be inclusive and try
not to increase hatred and resentment, which is so easy to do. Enoch: in some ways, 1998 is a good example,
like a lot of the Indigenous performing arts infrastructure was created between ‘88 and
‘93. That five-year period was a fantastic moment
for Aboriginal theatre companies and dance companies etcetera that really took off. Why? I think ‘88 provided a moment of reflection,
a crucible that things clashed, yes, but also that reflection created a moment of momentum
and if anything, we could actually get that out of the Cook anniversary as well. Perkins: I think, you know, I have positive
and cynical moments, right, but I think we have to try and suspend our cynicism if we
can. And really, in a way, we’re sometimes fooling
ourselves in that process, because if we look
at the bicentennial and our hopes that we
had then, we were convinced at that time as we walked through the streets, just around
here, that we would have a treaty. And all these anniversaries – for context,
there was ’88, then there was 2000, the year 2000, and then there was Federation,
2001, we hoped for something then, and then
there was the referendum anniversary, you
know, 2017, and now we have the Cook anniversary, and Indigenous people in their great – what
can I say? Hope? Ambitions? Optimism? We wait. We hope. And let’s hope that this thing gives us
some resolution. Behrendt: Amrita, I might bring you in now,
and hopefully you’re hopeful. Your work does look at complex and multi-faceted
identities, and I wonder if you could maybe give us your reflections on the extent to
which you think it’s possible to even have a united Indigenous view about some of these
issues, and how do you see the creativity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
and their creative practice contributing to the national story? Hepi: It’s a big, big question. I think I first want to draw attention to
the generosity that’s already been shared
on this panel in relation to answering the
questions around Cook, around the voyage also too, and not just going into this while we
are resisting, while we are fighting for a future where we’re more included, I feel
that I have to draw attention to the comprehensive answers that everybody here has already given,
and including all of the different perspectives. And I think in continuing what you were saying,
Rachel, it’s like, you know, I don’t think I can call myself an optimist, but I would
say that I’m a prisoner of hope. [Crosstalk] Perkins: Good way of putting it. Hepi: That’s actually not my line; that’s
Cornel West. In terms of complex identities and having,
I guess, a united Indigenous view, I guess I want to start with the idea of the fact
that I think that there is very, very complex histories that we are advocating for in this
country, and I think that underneath, whether we want to say it’s colonisation, capitalism,
underneath these forces there is a tendency to flatten everything. There is a tendency to flatten everything
so that only the hegemonic can arise – so that we can only see a kind of 2D story of
a thing, and it can only be presented in this one way, when really, actually, there’s
a multitude of ways that Indigenous people could be represented, Cook could be represented,
and we are at a point where we need to be reimagining these stories and not flattening
them, and not looking for the tropes that are easy to understand in what Indigeneity
may represent. I’m with you in saying that I want it to
be inclusive and I also want it to have the ability to be innovative, to be able to go
to new heights and new boundaries and to be complex, but I think in doing that – and
I think this is what a lot of my peers are really locking into – it’s really, it’s
coming into localities, it’s working deep into the personal with rigour and respect
and then being able to hope to touch on the universal. And I’m saying this in a way that I’m
not presenting a universal view; I’m digging
deep into the personal of what I can know,
of what I’m trying to know better within this diaspora in order to present something
that I hope that can touch on in a universal perspective. And this is, you know, it’s really – I
feel like we’re always revising and bringing
up the fact that it’s an exciting time,
but I really feel excited by the work that I’ve seen in this festival but also by the
conversations I’m having with my peers and
the people around me. And also, too, I guess, in different communities,
I feel sometimes you’re kind of held to talking about your identity sometimes more than the
work, if you’re sitting at the intersection of a lot of things.
And I think that sometimes we can get muddled
into wanting to have to present political views rather than having to or being allowed
the freedom to talk to these stories in order to maybe touch on these in a broader light. So, yeah. I think in terms of a national Indigenous
view, I think it is, it’s relocating all the localities of the different countries
that exist around this big island. Behrendt: John, going back to the actual Cook
narrative, can you share with us some of the ways that we’re now seeing, perhaps, more
broadly, in the broader community, for the first time, an Indigenous perspective being
brought into that conversation? Maynard: Yeah, I think that – and all the
speakers have touched on that, the importance of that. I mean, if we’re going to have a shared
future and a shared history to look at, I mean, that’s got to be an equitable and
we all have, actually have a say. I was a keynote speaker recently at the Cook
Exhibition at the National Library and they had a forum there, and one of the really telling
things, and this touches on what Wesley was saying on bringing in Hawaiians and Islanders,
the speakers and that forum were from Hawaii, Maoris, Tahiti, islands across the Pacific. They were the dominant speakers at that forum.
I just thought, this is a real important moment
here, and it was a great forum. And it certainly changed the dynamic in regards
to what was being spoken and how it was being spoken, and it wasn’t attacking Cook or
anything like that, and I think it was a real positive. I think that’s the way, certainly, to go
for the future, not just in Cook but how we look at our history, that shared approach,
and Rachel’s touched on that as far as her work is concerned with film – it’s got
to be more inclusive. I mean, my family, Aboriginal Irish, and also
during the war, my grandmother’s sister, my auntie, she married a Greek guy who came
out here.
Families are so diverse these days, and that
is reflective of what this country is today, and we’ve got to touch into that. This is not just the Anglo history of the
past; it’s a shared history, right across the board, and it’s so diverse today. And we’ve got to look at and include all
of that and give that more broader inclusive history. Behrendt: I might just throw in one question
that’s come through the Twitter feed that does touch on what everyone’s been speaking
about, and the question was, why the negativities directed at Cook which should really be directed
at the British Crown? And I wonder if you have any observations
about that, why he’s become such a catalyst, and does that really mean the British Crown
is off the hook or is it just another part of the conversation? Maynard: We’ve got to find a guilty party
somewhere, haven’t we? [Laughs] Who’s to blame? I think for us, and I’m speaking for us,
we have to be realistic to say, if it wasn’t the British, it was going to be someone.
We’re not going to be left alone here in
regards to what happened, so we’ve got to look at that, and as I said, Cook certainly
became the bogeyman for us, but again, when you look at those secret orders, I mean, it’s
such a complex area. I mean, you’re a legal background; I mean,
it’s there to say, had to open up conversation and gain consent but you didn’t do that. I mean, was he violating the Crown’s orders
in that respect to go back to that? Enoch: In some respects, as I was saying before,
Cook isn’t the man. Speaker: The myth. Enoch: The myth of him.
Even now, we’ve just found Flinders’s
body. Perkins: Underneath the train station. Enoch: And we found the wreck of the Endeavour
and some particles of wood on the bottom of
a bay, and we talk about these as holy kind
of objects, somehow, when you go, actually, they’re just human beings and they made
mistakes and that’s alright, but they get lifted up. I’m still old enough to remember at school,
Cook was absolutely taught as – we learned
about Cook as the discoverer, all of that,
we talked about Aboriginal and not even Torres Strait Islanders, Aboriginal people as stone
age, all this stuff, so the mythical qualities of him actually mean we just want to burst
the balloon, just want to let a little bit of air out of him, let him go [makes deflating
sound], let him just kind of deflate a little so we can deal with the reality of the issues,
and I think that’s why we want to talk about
Cook in that way. Maynard: Scott Morison would be happy with
Flinders remaining in the grave, I think, because he didn’t circumnavigate Australia;
Cook did, for goodness sake. Leave him in the ground, Wesley! [Laughter] Behrendt: I’m surprised it took this long
for Scott Morrison to come up on this topic, but anyway. Wesley, I wanted to come bac to you and follow
up with something that you touched on earlier, which is how you’ve started to conceive
acknowledging marking Australia Day, and I
think that that’s been a really interesting
thing. The Sydney Festival’s always run across
Australia Day, and it really wasn’t until we had an Indigenous artistic director that
it became more controversial about what we were doing, because you were kind of in the
spotlight a bit about how you were going to handle what is now a really polarising day,
really, sadly. And I was just wondering if you could talk
a little bit more about how you handled that and then a little bit more about now what
we’re seeing in the festival as part of
that conversation. Enoch: Well, like the other panellists here,
my Filipino family, my Danish family, my Spanish family – it’s interesting that Aboriginal
Australia, maybe all those that lived on the fringes found ways of communicating with each
other more than those who found themselves in the centre. You know, you talk to lots of non-Indigenous
Australians who have a kind of, let’s say an English background, they married into their
own a lot, whereas I think there’s a lot of cross-fertilisation that happens on the
fringes. And I think we’re living in an era now where
we’re in a donut of a society. The centre feels empty and the natural kind
of energy is those from the fringes are finding themselves in the centre, because we are articulate
about our cultural milieu. We live and breathe it, but we’re also analysing
it as we’re going. So, to become the artistic director of the
Sydney Festival was I think the board – thank you very much – the board found the conversations
more stimulating that a festival for its city could actually live, not just in the what
can we pull in from the best of Europe or the best of wherever else, but what are the
stories that can come from here and be about here? At the moment, down at the drama theatre of
the Opera House is Man with the Iron Neck, which is talking about resilience of Aboriginal
families facing suicide of young people. Now, you couldn’t have – I mean, oh, I
get all funny just – the story of those women, those young women who’ve taken their
lives in just the last few weeks is pretty devastating, and alongside that there’s
a narrative of a replica of the Endeavour doing a, you know, inaccurate historical re-enactment. These things are so weird. The dissonance is huge, and so for me, I’m
more about saying, ‘Let’s talk about the dissonance.’ The Australian newspaper actually was saying
– sorry, I’m going to pick on The Australian,
but they were saying, ‘Oh, this festival
lacks oomph, lacks wow,’ because it didn’t have the big opening event; it didn’t have
the big street parties; it didn’t use taxpayers’ money to throw more privilege on privilege. We were saying, ‘Here are important stories
that need to be told.’ What’s been fascinating is that the people
of Sydney who may have been ignored or starved of that sense of ownership of story or the
space have come out in droves. We’ve had close to 100,000 tickets sold. It’s interesting, one show, which had a
very strong Chinese component to it had 20 per cent of the audience were Chinese, singing
along with the songs. Where were they a couple of years ago?
And it’s part of me that goes, we have to
remember that this country is no longer dominated by the one narrative. And this sense that someone who is on the
fringes coming to fill your hole, which sounds very bad when you say it like that … [Laughter] Enoch: Come into the centre and occupy the
centre. We have so much to share, Aboriginal Australia
in this case can teach you so much more about
putting culture in the centre of your society,
education being told through song and dance, how narratives can fill you up, So, for me,
the shows that we’re doing around our First Nations brothers and sisters from Canada or
New Zealand, the new playwriting festivals of First Nations, these things are not new. They’ve been things we’ve been doing them
for ages, but now we’re putting them in
the centre and people are coming, because
it’s filling a hole in themselves in many ways. The dissonance between the Cook narrative
in its most simplistic form being expressed, and you can feel it now, the mocking of it. Everyone’s going oh, what’s this? It’s not us. And the lack of leadership, the lack of providing
narratives, the sense of the dissonance between the actions of our leaders and the ambitions
of our society, you just feel it crashing up against each other all the time. And it’s strangely, if our political leaders
can’t enter into the territory, the artists,
the storytellers, we’re ready to go. Behrendt: Now, speaking of storytellers ready
to go, Amrita, you’ve done a lot of work on how we could see colonisation in Cook’s
voyage. What are some of your key thoughts around
the area and what are your reflections on similarities and differences in our world
views with other nations around the world
in relation to this? And the things that you think make us distinctly
Australian. Hepi: I think, most of actually my work, I
hadn’t actually delved as deep into Cook as I have in the last three months with everything
that’s happening, and while I have definitely spoken about colonisation, I think the thing
with Cook is this kind of cultural amnesia that we have, but also to this, and our Prime
Minister has said, this kind of wanting to protect certain narratives as if they’re
going away somewhere – as if they’re not protected already, as if they’re not the
history that is already, that most of us sitting in this room were taught in schools. You know, wanting to really keep that inertia
rolling. So, it is, then, I guess, and I’ve always,
I think in my work it has definitely touched on this dilemma around authenticity – you
know, the realest thing that can emerge. And I think when we’re talking about global,
broader narratives, I mean, I can only – I’ll
start from speaking from, I guess, my family
in Aotearoa, when we’re talking about that in relation to Australia, in relation to maybe,
I guess, Canada, one of the broader global narratives, I know we were speaking about
this before, Wesley, is connection to the water, protection of the water, cultivation
of the water, and really what’s happening
– like, voyages across the water and I feel
like that’s one of the bigger, broader things that I’m seeing in contemporary art-making
at the moment.
But I guess, yeah, the thing that really,
yeah, surprises me in relation to Cook and in relation to where we’re at at the moment,
I guess, is really coming back to that, just the total amnesia of what we’re trying to
represent now and to keep that, as Wesley was saying, myth alive. But again, and then in terms of how could
we – the last part of your question around – what was the last part of your question
in regards to Australia? Behrendt: The things that are distinctly Australian
when you look at other Indigenous people around the world, or even around the Pacific, think
of Cook? Enoch: I know New Zealand have had six years
thinking about Cook. Six years of negotiating what it would mean
and the conversations already. Behrendt: Oh, it’s next year! Enoch: Hello! Hepi: It’s funny, the representations of
Maoris, globally, when I’m talking to people they’re like, ‘They’ve got it figured
out down there, ay? They really know what’s going on. They know whassup.’ And I’m like, ‘I mean, yeah, in a way?’ There’s these amazing things that are happening,
but they’re all still entering into the same struggles with incarceration, with their
kids still being taken away, with suicide. You know, it’s – we can’t hold them
up, even though I think a lot of people like to. And they are doing great work. Enoch: Rachel’s point about treaty, though,
where you go, there is a structure – how
inadequate it is is another story, the Treaty
of Waitangi At least there’s a starting point for conversation. Cook, Philip and then in 1835, they robbed
us the ability to negotiate what’s at least possible. Hepi: One of the best renegotiations of treaty
that I have seen happened in Oklahoma when they renegotiated a treaty that said, you
know, ‘We will provide you with funds as long as the grass is growing, and the river
is long’ etcetera etcetera ‘and we will provide you then with earth and mineral rights.’ And so then the people from Oklahoma actually
got to a point in federal recognition where they took that back and actually reinstated
that treaty and actually, instead of completely, you know, mining all of their mineral rights,
they’ve done it in a way that’s democratic and then actually goes back in to serve the
First Nations people in that community, which I think is great. Enoch: Can I just add a little story? I was talking with some of our Canadian friends
who’ve come over with a show called Dear Woman, and in six nations they have what they
call Bread and Cheese Day, which was written into the treaty they would get a day, every
treaty day they would get five dollars and collectively they now spend that five dollars
having bread and cheese as a kind of remembrance of what the treaty is.
So even now, it’s inadequate, but the sense
of that it, it still occupies, and they go up and say, ‘Where’s my chickens and where’s
the other things that are in the treaty’ but they have bread and cheese on a day of
remembrance of the treaty. Hepi: And how could you be, I guess, reinterpreting
what is owed or what is – like, how are we allowed to be speculative and bigger than
that in what we’re taking back, you know? I think theatre does it quite well and same
with dance. Behrendt: Speaking of these big picture things
like treaties, Rachel, you’ve been really centrally involved in the national conversations
about constitutional recognition, the Uluru statement, voice to parliament and treaty. How can conversations around Cook provide
an opportunity to address some of these issues that you’ve been working to progress and
what sorts of things would you like to see happen? Perkins: Yeah, it’s a good question. We had hoped, of course, that the 2017 anniversary
would provide some leverage, because we don’t have the leverage. We’re such a small minority, so how do we
get the majority to make structural reform in our, to our benefit? So, these national moments are points of leverage
for us, and mostly, they’ve failed [laughs] to deliver our aspiration. And talking about days, of course, Benita
Mabo passed away recently. Her aim was to have Mabo Day, the 3rd of June,
recognised, some equivalent acknowledgement of Native Title, which of course speaks to
this challenge we have in our history about colonisation. So, at least to have some balance that you
have a day that represents the occupation of our continent by the British and then the
acknowledgement of the High Court of our existing title that remained at, you know. So, what was the question? What can we do about the Uluru statement? Well, of course we have now a Labor Government
in May.
[Laughter, crosstalk] Perkins: We all know that’s going to happen. Speaker: Chickens, chickens, chickens. Perkins: I’m not saying how I’m voting,
I’m not saying how you should vote, I’m just saying that is the reality, right? [Laughter] Perkins: Unless Warren Mundine might change
the whole thing, you never know. [Groans, laughter] Perkins: And good on him [inaudible 45.09]. Go for it. But I say they have already promised a referendum
on this issue.
They have already agreed to set up what we
call a Makarrata Commission, which will negotiate treaties, whether they are local or global
– national. So, there is change ahead for the nation. Now, our challenge, I think, as artists and
historians and academics and lawyers, is to try and take the nation with us in that process
towards that change. And so, sometimes I think in failure, like
in the rejection of the Uluru statement by Turnbull and Abbott and Scott Morrison, three
prime ministers have all said no to one of the central aspirations in that, sometimes
out of rejection can come a positive thing, because the nation galvanises behind that
injustice. So, for example, the Yolngu, losing their
case for land against Nabalco. Out of that, the Whitlam Government introduced
land rights legislation. So, sometimes out of loss can come change,
and I think we’ve seen the nation – not the nation; let’s not be too ambitious. [Laughter] Perkins: We’ve seen a small percentage of
Australians … [Laughter] Perkins: … get behind the aspirations of
the Uluru statement and want to understand that, and let me say just briefly, because
I don’t want to put too much – that comes from the history of the Barunga Statement,
you know, the [inaudible 46.56] petition;
the Larrakia Treaty. This is not a new thing. In fact, the aspirations of the Uluru statement
have been repeated over and over and over
again in all those various statements, and
many recommendations in the reconciliation process and we have not yet achieved them
at a federal level. So, I think it gives us leverage, but at some
point, I’m going to break out of the prison,
hope prison, is that the prison? [Crosstalk] Perkins: If it doesn’t happen soon, I’m
going to break out and I’m not going bac to the hope prison.
I’m going to the cynical, bitter twisted
prison where I’m just going to go, ‘I give up.’ Maynard: I’m dragging my chains along in
the hope prison’s [inaudible 47.28] and
no disrespect but talk is cheap and there’s
a lot of empty promises in our history. And if that’s the case and the Libs are
gone and Labor’s coming in, they really need to stand up to what they’ve said. And I mean, they’ll be held accountable
if they don’t, because as I said, we’ve had a lot of empty promises in the past.
Perkins: And let us say though, we have more
Indigenous parliamentarians than any other time in our nation, so that is a thing of
great hope, so we must remember our advancement as well. Behrendt: We’re all teetering between hope
and – I’m still on the hope side, thanks guys. [Laughter] Maynard: Dragging me chains with me, but I’m
there. Behrendt: This question’s to all of you
and I’ll ask you individually; it sort of mirrors a question that’s come through the
Twitter feed as well, which was asking, if
we debunk the Cook myth, what is the national
myth that’s in its place? And I guess I was thinking a similar thing,
which is at the heart of these questions about
how do we acknowledge Cook’s anniversary,
what does Australia Day mean, how do we mark it, is that broader question of what sort
of country should we be and here’s a real chance for you to give us all some hope about
what your vision is for the country, what
is your wish for the country, and I might
start with you, Amrita, since you’re the youngest so you’ll probably have the most
timely … [Laughter, crosstalk] Enoch: All that moisturises gone to waste! Behrendt: I know, we’re the same age, Wesley,
as you mentioned last year to everyone and announced our age. [Laughter] Hepi: I think I just – I mean, the glaring
thing that keeps banging on in the back of my head is that you don’t spend $6.7 million
on a boat to re-enact it. That is just like, that’s at the very forefront
of my brain so I’m just going to say that
out there, but in terms of going with Cook
or how we’re going to incorporate this into our history or how are we going to, you know,
celebrate it?
Look, I’m committed, even though I’m,
again, I’m going to side with you and say I’m not an optimist, but I am committed
to serving certain things. I’m committed to serving, I mean, I’m
committed to keeping on with thinking about how I can or make or support others that are
making things that would contribute to a broader history. I’m committed to serving and continuing
to learn about how to serve others as a custodian. What I’m not committed to serving is a singular
colonial history about a boat circling our country, that’s what I’m not committed
to serving.
So, I mean, I’d like to continue to be in
service until I’m back into the prison of hope [laughs].
Behrendt: What about you, Wesley, when you
think of what your idea Australia would be? What are some of the ideas you have for that
– what do you hope for the country? Enoch: I think that the biggest thing for
me is the denial that comes from fear. You know, that what we’re doing, often,
is because of fearfulness and Eva Cox is here, and you know, one of the big things for me
when the Boyer lectures came out and talked about social capital and the loss of social
capital, which is now we’re talking about – those lectures were years ago. And we’ve seen this kind of, our social
infrastructure be frayed and privatised and
we’ve become algorithmically tribal through
social media and we are fearful of others in a way that I just don’t understand, because
we lack things that we hold onto. And that forms a kind of denial – denial
of other people’s experiences, other ways of being, and it’s reminded me that in South
Africa when they had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and they talked about different
definitions of truth. They talked about a personal truth – things
you believe to be true; a forensic truth – the things that science could prove; this notion
of an official truth – a governmental media truth; and then a kind of community or healing
truth – a truth that incorporated everything
to take us forward. What we’re yet to find I that kind of healing
truth in this country, because we are so busy just dealing with the denial of our very,
very long history. When people say, let’s say Australia Day,
that it’s – ‘Oh, it’s always been there.’ You go, ‘No it hasn’t.’
We all remember 1994 when they said, ‘Oh,
we had to do it on the 26th of January.’ Some of you might be too young.
But what it was was whatever long weekend
we could have at the end of January so we could finish off summer. These things are not long held, but they get
held onto because we’re fearful of something else. And I think the human, the Australian character,
is a lot more adventurous and al to more curious than we get credit for. We’re egalitarian at our core, we believe
in the rights of others to have a good life, not just to protect our own. And these things are being eroded because
of, I think, adopting alien kind of values. It’s interesting, in the United States they
have three days: Columbus Day, like Columbus
ever went to North America – anyway, that’s
another story. [Laughter] Enoch: Columbus Day, Thanksgiving and Independence
Day. And they ask each of those days to play a
different role in their society. What we try to do is go, oh, why don’t we
do it all on the same day, and that’ll be the 26th of January, because that was significant. We don’t actually know why we’re doing
it. So, we denied the conversation because of
the fear, and what we need to do is actually make sure we feel confident enough, and unfortunately
a confident and positive and hopeful society is not very easy to govern. So, the more fearful we are, the more divided
we get, the more split and angry we are at each other, the easier we are to govern, not
just by our elected representatives but by the businesses that thrive off our fear.
So, for me, the biggest vision – the most
hopeful thing, and maybe it’s transgressive in this day, is to have this overwhelming
optimism that we are actually stronger together than we are pulled apart. [Applause] Behrendt: So, happiness is a subversive act.
Enoch: It’s, yes. Happiness is subversive. Be happy! I dare you. [Laughter] Behrendt: What about you, John? What are your thoughts when you think about
a vision for Australia, the kind of country you want? Maynard: Yeah, look when you think about your
kids and then grandkids and the future for the children of this country, it has potential
to be such a rich future, but that means to be equitable just where all of our people
can join hands and walk together to this promised land, so to speak. And I think Wesley’s touched on that – the
fear today, and it is fear, this global drum-banging fierce nationalism that is rampant across
the globe at this particular moment, what we need in this country is leadership to not
act like sheep but to be brave and do things differently. And so, this is what this country needs to
do, and I said that is all about being inclusive, and I think for us, it’s also about being
inclusive on probably the richest treasure the country holds, which is 65,000 years of
Indigenous cultural connection to this place, and really incorporating that and making that
a part of this very diverse country as it is today. And I said the potential is there, but we
need brave people at the top to take that particular step, to have this wonderful future
and opportunity.
Behrendt: And Rachel? Visions for Australia, the kind of country
you want it to be, as the outed optimist on the panel? [Laughter] Perkins: I’m not really – I mean, this
whole thing – I mean, I’m trying to be positive, you know? But I must say that we are getting the crumbs
off the table in this situation. You talk about the 6 million, but then there’s
the 46 million for the statue thing that’s going to be put over at [inaudible 56.04]
and you know, we got what, 2 million to try
and repatriate some stuff at AIATSIS out of
that. And I don’t want to moan about it, but we
still get the crumbs off the table in Australia and we still are treated with a total lack
of respect in terms of our governance and our right to have a view about policies that
affect us, I think. And can I say that the last decade has been
the most disrespectful experience that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot of governments
growing up as a girl to this point, and we
need change, you know, in that situation. So, what do I want?
I want a country that, you know, that embraces
al of the things that you guys have said – that puts Indigenous culture, as you just said,
actually, which I thought was, I try not to say it, very funny, you said, ‘It’s a
donut and we’re going to fill the hole in the donut. [Laughter] Perkins: Something like that? Less mushy. I mean, there’s so many things that we require. It’s such a big question to answer. We need Indigenous language properly funded
and we need cultural resurgence, we need proper land rights. You know, we need decent health in our communities
and basic fundamental respect for us as a
people, which has been lacking. So … Hepi: And is it too much to want for it all? Perkins: And how do we get that? I think some of the Indigenous leadership
are forging ahead to try and pursue that, and that gives me great hope. You look at, on both sides of politicise,
people like Ken Wyatt, Linda Burney, Patrick [name], you know, they’re showing great
leadership, so that gives me hope. But things have to change, and Indigenous
people can’t stay positive forever. You know, we’ve been asking for this sort
of stuff for, you know, 30, 50 years. Maynard: Longer. Perkins: Just the structural reforms. Maynard: 90-odd years.
[Crosstalk] Perkins: Yeah, I mean, how do you want to
encapsulate it? These sorts of structural forms, we keep repeating
over and over again. Behrendt: There is a couple of questions that
have come through on the Twitter stream that I guess I’d be interested to ask all of
you if you’ve got a view about, and that’s the connection between the narratives, the
storytelling, the symbolic actions preamble
and then the actual concrete things – the
money for health, the suicide prevention education. What is the connection between the two? Do we get distracted by one, or do you actually
see a profound link between them, and if you do, what are those links? Maybe start with you, Wesley. Enoch: I guess the argument is, if you follow
that argument all the way through to its natural conclusion, you would never spend money on
any art, because health is always so important. And often, I think, there are issues which
are, yes, symptomatic of a much stronger, bigger disease, and culture, I think in a
lot of Indigenous experiences, is the thing you have to make stronger to help deal with
all the other things.
There are cultural solutions to some of these
goals, and it’s interesting, the whole Closing the Gap conversation, which is, in fact, an
extension of the deficit narrative, you don’t have this so therefore we’ll give you this
to make you more like us. Where in fact you should say, ‘What is the
solution at the heart of it that is a cultural solution? How would you deal with these topics?’ rather than saying, ‘We’ll do this to
you.’
And it’s – I don’t want to say that
health isn’t important, but I think also the culture and the storytelling is also important. And just taking this thing about Cook, there’s
a chance for us to wrestle this narrative to one about navigation, to one about science,
to say, ‘He wasn’t the first boat and nor was he the last boat to arrive here.’ And we relate to boats in a very different
way – why? Why is there this deep psychological issue
around arriving on these shores on a boat? Maynard: And that’s an interesting point. Geoffrey Blainey said that thing about boats,
and that’s interesting coming from Geoffrey Blainey, but the greatest maritime achievement
known to humankind was Aboriginal people getting to these shores over 60,000 years ago – I
mean, navigating across in regards to that, so that is, you know. Enoch: But the idea that the Cook narrative
could be one about science. It could be one about arrival and connection,
and there are opportunities within the Cook narrative. We cannot deny the fact that Cook arrived
here in 1770. That’s fact; that’s done. But what we can do is say, ‘How is that
useful to us as modern Australians?’ And we as storytellers and you as Australians,
how do we say, ‘We want this narrative to be the dominant narrative here.’ Hepi: But how – I guess then my question
around that, in changing narrative, which I agree with, is the why do we keep his name
at the centre of it? Why can’t we talk about navigation, why
can’t we talk about, like why can’t we also talk about other Aboriginal, Malaysian,
[name], Indonesian explorers? Why aren’t their names being talked about
when we’re talking about – if we want – like there’s so many different narratives,
and if we want to talk about explorers, then maybe we should talk about the people we were
trading with in Australia, quite peacefully exchanging language, games, spices, etcetera
etcetera, in different parts of the country for many, many years? Enoch: Let’s do it. Let’s start calling it The Great Endeavour.
[Laughter, crosstalk] Behrendt: Thinking out loud. Rachel, do you have any thoughts about the
link between storytelling and actual change on the ground? Perkins: Yes, well, people always criticise. They say, ‘Oh, that’s just symbolism.’
But the truth is that Indigenous people and
our supporters are working at the national symbolic level, but we’re also working at
the, sorry, ground level in a very detailed way, so you can actually do both things, and
I think both are important, because we need – both serve different functions. Because we need to move the Australian population,
we need to educate them, because all of us were ripped off in our education, we learned
nothing – very little – about our country’s deep past or the culture.
So, we need to educate the country and move
them nationally towards our support and we need to then improve the lives of our people
and, you know, I won’t say grassroots but
at that community level. So, we can do both, I think, and if we have
support and the purse strings open and the
commitment to do it, that is possible. And we have seen it in other countries; we
know that it’s possible. We’ve seen it in Canada, to some extent. We’ve seen it in Aotearoa, to some degree.
We know that countries – we’ve seen it
in South Africa. We know that countries can reconcile their
past and get a truce and acknowledge a truce
and we have struggled to do that in this country,
but we have models. And so, we need to look to these national
opportunities as leverage to do so. Behrendt: John, there was a question that
came through that I’m going to direct to you, because it was about the extent to which,
I guess what became known as the History Wars, the white blindfold black armband views of
history that became really part of the conversation during the Howard era is still the state of
play. Have we moved on from that, or is this Cook
anniversary another opportunity to see that
divisiveness occur? Maynard: Erupt again?
I certainly hope not. I think we have moved on and I think we’ve
certainly started a process of looking at a more shared approach to history, and that’s
inclusive of Indigenous and non-Indigenous historians working together in regards to
these stories. Stories have always been important to us,
and I mean, as I’ve mentioned before and others have mentioned, we were deprived of
history for so long. So, it’s critically very important for us,
and that’s my role. I mean, I speak to a lot of our people at
grassroots level and certainly kids in regards to that, the importance of them having heroes
and heroines of their own, which we never had in the past. We weren’t in that particular space, but
I think, certainly I think we’ve come through that rough patch. I mean, you look back and that’s been touched
on – you look at the 60s, 70s and 80s, that was an exciting time period.
There was a mobilisation not just of Aboriginal
people but incredibly, non-Indigenous support for us at so many different levels.
And you looked at the change of history actually
impacting through the 70s and there were so many people like Henry Reynolds and Anne [name]
and Peter Reid and many others, non-Indigenous historians who stepped into that space, certainly
encouraged by people like Stanner and the Boyer lecture back in ’67 and there was
a change for us to come into that space and
actually tell our narrative and our stories,
and I think there was a dip and certainly a – we basically ran into a brick wall at
one point, but I think we broke through that
wall – I mean, even the Berlin wall come
down – and we’ve come out the other side of that now and I think there is an opportunity
to present that great, shared narrative of this place, and that’s not just what happened
since 1788 but is inclusive of 65,000 years of history, and that’s the important narrative
that has to be told. Behrendt: Wesley, there was also a question
that was wondering if you, anyone on the panel,
but I’ll start with you because you did
mention it specifically, have any thoughts or reflections about why the telling of counter-narratives
is met with fear? Why is fear the reaction to that? Enoch: I think that the nature of all power
sharing is that people have to let go of some
power for others to have power. I mean, we’ve seen it in the feminist movement
very clearly, and if we are saying that there is going to be a power sharing into the future,
not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but also for those who come
to these shores more recently. When 42 per cent of all Australians are either
born overseas or have a parent born overseas, you start to realise there’s a lot of arrival
going on in the last few decades or maybe 50 years. So, power sharing is, by its very nature,
an analysis of how much power you have, how much power someone else doesn’t have, and
how you might have to forego it. So, no wonder people feel fearful, but also,
when other things are being taken away from them, you know, the coalmines and people who
are making livings out of coalmines and feeding their children and buying houses and buying
investment properties and buying the third car, you know, that kind of world might not
be sustainable.
So, we have to let go of certain things. Now, I think it’s the role of leadership,
artistic and cultural leadership, to say, ‘It’s okay; it’s all right. Nothing’s really going to go away; don’t
be fearful of this change’ And the counter-narratives, which are progressive, scare people. And the more we get up there and go, ‘Okay,
yeah, you may not have everything you used to have, but in fact, if you think back to
your great grandparents and go, how did they live? What was the meat and three veg on the table,
what was never owning a house really like,
what was actually building your own home like
,what was a sustainable world looking like, what did it mean to go to bed at sunset and
get up at sunrise?’ All these things that are built into us in
our DNA, they’re not that long ago and we should remember them in a very clear way. And so, for me, I guess the fear of a counter-narrative
is, it’s not my world view, it’s not what feeds me, instead of creating a world of compassion
and empathy and say, ‘Oh, I can see the world from your point of view now, and I’m
happy to share in the rewards, power, whatever that might be.’ Now, this is me being offensively optimistic,
but I think that’s something I need to be
as well. [Laughter, crosstalk] Hepi: What are you willing to surrender and
how much are you willing to work on cultivating something else? Enoch: Yeah. Hepi: So, what are you willing to give up,
and by giving that up, how could you support something, how can you grow something from
that? Behrendt: There’s another question that
came through the Twitter feed that in some ways provokes that in a very positive way,
and it asks: How can non-Indigenous people be allies for Indigenous people? So, Rachel, do you have any thoughts about
that? Perkins: Well, already we’ve seen such great
examples of non-Indigenous people being our allies. I mean, my mother’s not Indigenous, and
she’s been an ally since she was 21. [Laughter] Perkins: A long time ago – sorry, Mum! I think in practical terms, I think it’s
good to get across the issues in complex,
you know, in its depth. So, get across the aspirations that people
are talking about. So, read, inform yourself and talk to your
networks. You know, that’s the sort of bigger influencer. Be an influencer. I think, you know, in your families, in your
social situation, influence and inform. That’s a really powerful tool, because word
of mouth, relationships, are the things that change countries in some ways. And then there’s so many practical ways,
of course, to support, and there’s lots
of ways you can do that, but I think be informed
and use your influence is a really important thing that’s often underestimated that you
can do as an individual. Behrendt: John? Maynard: Yeah, I think it’s important to
look to the past for that, and my mother’s also non-Indigenous. [Crosstalk] Maynard: … in their support, but for me,
looking to history, I mean, Rachel’s dad
and those non-Indigenous students who were
on that bus in 1965 and when you look at the Gurindji walk-off at Wave Hill in 1966 with
the incredible trade union support at that
point in time. The ’67 referendum when 92 per cent of this
population voting to support us, and of course, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972; there
were a lot of non-Indigenous students at that rally, at that important moment in Aboriginal
history. So, we’ve had these incredible moments,
these incredible people, in our past who have
stood up and been prepared to walk with us
and speak out. And we need to mobilise people again, and
we want their support. So, go out, stand up! Behrendt: I think Anne [name] is in the audience,
so if you’re sitting near here, give her a hug because she’s been mentioned a couple
of times for her good works. Amrita, what’s your advice for non-Indigenous
Australians on how they can be good allies? Hepi: I guess it’s do the research. I was actually in a conversation around this
time of year on Facebook or via text messages; I get about 25 messages from people that I
haven’t spoken to that much during the year that are like, ‘Hey, so what are some sites
for Aboriginal people that are really important for Aboriginal people, and what are da da
da da.’
Maybe it’s just really actively thinking
before you’re just asking the question, though I do encourage dialogue and I will
try and answer as many questions as possible. I’m not always – and also too, the other
thing as well is that sometimes I‘m not across – realise that we’re not across
everything all the time always of what’s happening everywhere in the country as an
Aboriginal person. We’re not necessarily the guidebook. I feel like I’m talking about what not to
do rather than what to do, because I feel like everybody here has been really generous
about congratulating our allies, which are
very, very important. Um, active, really active listening and thinking
about where you could maybe volunteer your time. If somebody is running a rally, how could
you be a martial, how could you – because usually, and there’s been a lot of people
talking about this at the moment, people that are organising rallies are, they need help. They need help and support from people, so
maybe get involved before the day and before
these specific days, like months in advance. Hell, you could set up a transfer of $4 a
week or PayPal certain organisations. That would be another very small, amazing
way to help people, such as potentially Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance.
There’s a few others. Yeah. I think there’s – that’s what I can
think of off the top of my head right now. Behrendt: There’s some good lists. Wesley? Enoch: I’m just thinking, often our allies
have access to conversations that we will never be allowed into. That might be that people hold their attitudes
close when there’s an Aboriginal person in the room, they may not express their deepest-held
views unless they fell that they’re not going to be jumped on. So, the idea that if all the white ears in
the country were listening to moments and
then found that they could say, ‘Oh, I actually
disagree with you on something’ and actually engage in a very positive conversation about
something that’s been said. So, if someone says basically a racist remark,
‘All Aboriginal people get free cars.’ Actually, just go … Hepi: It’s true. [Laughter] Hepi: I want mine. Enoch: But that sense of saying, ‘Engage.’ Often, we’re quite passive in our support
because it actually means putting yourself out there. Actually, there’s this great story: the
chicken and the pig go for breakfast and the chicken says to the pig, ‘I’ll order,
I’ll order. Let’s have bacon and eggs.’ And the pig says, ‘I’ll have breakfast
with you because we should bond, and we should be together, but just realise that we have
a different relationship to this breakfast. For you, it’s a contribution and for me
it’s a sacrifice.’ So, I reckon, stop being chickens and make
a contribution. [Laughter] Perkins: Although, can I counter that and
say, you know, it’s our responsibility, the challenge is for us, as Indigenous people,
to galvanise the overwhelming support that exists for Indigenous people in this country
and animate that support for political change. That is our challenge, I think, and it’s
what they did so well in ’67, across Christians, communists, wharfies, conservatives, etcetera.
That’s our challenge, I think. Speaker: Agreed. Behrendt: We have to start winding up now. Wesley has to leave to cycle – very environmentally
friendly, cycling down to the Opera House for another event. But I think we’ve learned some really great
insights. I’ll never look at bacon and eggs again
without some deep reflection. [Laughter] Behrendt: I’ve also learned that we can’t
have reconciliation without a lot of donuts, and that being happy is a great act of subversion. But I also think we might have taken away
the fact that it is about time for a treaty or Rachel is going to lose her optimism. [Crosstalk] Behrendt: I’ve never heard a better argument
– the time is now.
I’d like to thank you all for being here
today. Take some time to do the survey. A big thanks to the team at UTS and Sydney
Festival for all the behind the scenes work. A shoutout to Kylie and Nat from Auslan for
their great work today – thank you, yeah. [Applause] Behrendt: And thank you all, everyone, for
being here for this amazing event, and I hope you still enjoy Sydney Festival – quickly,
Wesley, what can people do over this last weekend? Enoch: There’s the vigil tonight, there’s
a ferry race tomorrow, there’s Man with the Iron Neck, there’s Beware of Pity, there’s
One Infinity, there’s – go down to the Spiegeltent in Hyde Park, there’s Gateau
Chocolat doing a fantastic show, as well as [name]. A lot of it’s still sold out but try.
Just try. [Laughter] Behrendt: And Amrita’s exhibition. Enoch: And Amrita’s exhibition. Lots of fantastic work. Behrendt: At Cement Fondue in Paddington. Enoch: At Cement Fondue. There’s still the visual arts program happening
throughout for the next couple of days if not going a bit further.
Behrendt: So, there’s lots to do while you’re
being subversively optimistic and happy. So, thank you all so much for being here. [Applause; crosstalk] Behrendt: One more time to thank our panel:
Wesley Enoch, Amrita Hepi, John Maynard and Rachel Perkins. Enoch: And Larissa Behrendt. [Applause]

One thought on “UTS Big Thinking Forum: Indigenous Australia and Captain Cook | Sydney Festival 2019

  1. Excellent panel and I'm surprised there aren't more 'supporters' who agree. Wesley's pun, The Great Endeavour, used to describe a route of reconciliation through the recognition of cross-cultural enterprise in science, navigation, arrival, connection was an illuminating moment. Though we focus upon the 'achievements' of Cook and his retinue, the same achievements were a part of the other cultures impinging on the Australian continent across the ages, indigenous and non-indigenous. Knowledge and experience of the place is what we should be celebrating, not some isolated landing; though of course its consequences were disastrous for so many.

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