Medium.com

4 August 2018

Angry Guys are big business

This one isn't behind a paywall, so just click on the link above.

A lot of readers in the places I've published previously wouldn't like this one - but to publish it in places where the readers would like it is to miss the point. Sometimes we feel compelled to say things that the intended audience doesn't want to hear.

Daily Telegraph

26 July 2018 PDF

Former corrections officer ponders how and why affairs ever take place between guards and inmates

This was in response to a number of reports on female prison officers having it off with inmates. The Telegraph's opinion editor knew I had worked in corrections previously, and asked if I'd write a piece.
I worked in corrections only for a brief period, but I gained a lot of respect for prison officers in that time. I wanted to explain in this piece that most female prison officers are awesome, and that they play a valuable role.

 

Penthouse Australia

22 January 2018 PDF
Something More - an alternative perspective on Australia Day

I’m so glad that Penthouse kept the title I'd suggested for this piece. I had suggested it as a nod to the artist Tracey Moffatt's series of photographs, because I've always loved those images and I think they fit well with the things I've said. (Although Tracey Moffatt may disagree - I wouldn't know...)

The Spectator Australia - Flat White

11 March 2017   PDF
Goodbye, Uncle Bill

There’s not much I can say about this piece. Bill was a good guy, and he is greatly missed.

Quadrant

28 February 2017   PDF
The C-Word Polite Folk Won’t Utter

While we have a certain way of talking about violence against women in general, the discussion of violence against women in Aboriginal communities seems to operate under a different set of rules, where critique of ‘culture’ is off-limits.
If we believe that Aboriginal women have a right to safety, health and wellbeing as much as any other woman, we must be willing to oppose Aboriginal cultural norms that condone violence, and we must do so to the same extent that we would criticise such attitudes in the mainstream.

 

The Australian

2 November 2016  PDF
I’m offended by Human Rights Commission, not Bill Leak

My point here is that the Australian Human Rights Commission had been far from even-handed, in that it hadn’t actively encouraged complaints against Aboriginal commentators such as myself, or against several non-Aboriginal commentators, who had all made remarks that could be deemed just as racially offensive as Leak’s cartoon. I suggested that Bill Leak had been targeted for a reason:

Perhaps the Racial Discrimination Act is not merely concerned with what is actually said (or drawn), but with how many people might see it. A cartoon’s message hits home immediately, whereas text requires more effort from its audience. If that is the case, it doesn’t seem quite fair that the medium Leak happens to work in should expose him to greater risk than we scribblers might bear.

Or perhaps it’s not just about what gets said (or drawn), but about who says it. Leak, like Andrew Bolt, is a high-profile trophy scalp for the AHRC, whereas a few dissident Aborigines and policy boffins are a comparatively paltry prize.

Plus there is a bit of clever rhetoric at the end about the ways I’ve been made to feel ‘offended, insulted and humiliated’ by all this.

 

The Spectator Australia

15 October 2016   PDF
Spewing hate

There is a lot packed into this piece, but it’s fun: Some observations about Linda Burney vs Andrew Bolt, reframing Australia Day as a lucrative celebration of national neurosis, treaty as ‘an eccentric DIY project’, the campaign for constitutional recognition as ‘a failed project in search of someone to blame’, and a reference to the ‘Lardass barforama’ pie-eating contest from the 1986 film Stand By Me.

 

The Spectator Australia

17 September 2016   PDF
Creativity versus identity

This piece is a comment on Lionel Shriver’s appearance at the 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival, which sparked international debate on identity politics in creative writing, and the problems of ‘privilege’ and ‘cultural appropriation’.

An aspiring ‘non-white’ writer would do well to resist the siren song of victimhood and special pleading, and instead choose to view the supposedly more privileged writers around them as rivals, peers and potential mentors in the creative process. Flouncing out of lectures and whining about better writers ‘taking away our opportunities to share our authentic experiences’ achieves nothing.

 

 

The Spectator Australia

12 August 2016   PDF
Cartoon heroes

I get that a lot of Aboriginal people found Bill Leak’s infamous cartoon offensive. I didn’t share their point of view, but I would not dismiss their feelings as invalid. I had some feelings of my own about the #indigenousdads campaign that arose in response to Leak’s cartoon. I thought it was appalling; a narcissistic, callous, self-indulgent and immature response to genuine human suffering.

The #indigenousdads campaign took the chaos and hopelessness of Aboriginal underclass life and used it as a backdrop to assert a middle-class Aboriginal identity… Leak’s cartoon depicted the awful state of Aboriginal family dysfunction that far too many Aboriginal children live within, to which successful and prosperous Aboriginals responded with a series of smug, ‘look at me and my nice family’ selfies. What to make of this new vanguard of Aboriginal elites, who talk solidarity and shared suffering with ‘our people’ in remote and marginalised Aboriginal communities the one minute, and then mount a PR campaign to emphatically distance themselves from distasteful Aboriginal realities the next?

 

The Australian

2 August 2016   PDF
NT juvenile detention footage points to parenting deficiency

This piece was written in response the ABC Four Corners report on the NT’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.

The juvenile justice system creates strange and unsettling relationships between children and adults. Chronic juvenile offenders navigate a world where adults are their “workers” or their jailers, with very few normal relationships between… Dealing with deeply damaged, and often violent and unpredictable children of varying ages, sizes and mental capacities is no easy task, and it can take measures that the public can view as horrific.

Like most frontline workers, correctional officers become unhappy when procedures are unclear and when leadership is inconsistent or absent. In the same way that lax parenting creates unmanageable children, lax leadership creates dysfunctional institutions. Some of the behaviour in the Four Corners footage (but not all of it) appeared unprofessional, but this is what happens when workers feel as though nobody is in charge, or that the people who are supposed to be in charge don’t care.

Bill Leak later told me that his 'parental responsibility' cartoon - the one that got him into so much trouble - was partly inspired by this piece.

 

The Spectator Australia

16 July 2016   PDF
Resistance to Acknowledging Country is futile

This piece was included in The Best of Spectator Australia – 2014-2017. Personally, I think ‘Hard Luck Stories’ was better, but I’m not complaining.

While there is no shortage of mockery from the commentariat of the ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ ritual, I thought it was important to note the consequences for ordinary people if they fail to perform obeisance correctly. As a person with Aboriginal heritage, I am fully aware of my own relative immunity. As one who has seen the workplace star-chambers in action, I am painfully aware of the vulnerability of others:

If you feel compromised and unhappy about saying words you don’t really mean, or if you dread situations where you might be obliged to perform a ritual that you don’t really believe in, my recommendation is that you stop worrying about things beyond your control and just do it. Unless your situation is extraordinary, any puny resistance you could muster against the orthodoxy is likely to achieve very little. You would gain no benefit, and you could very easily lose almost everything – your career, friends, reputation, and possibly your bank balance if someone like me deemed your behaviour legally offensive.

 

The Spectator Australia

5 March 2016   PDF
Hard luck stories

The expression of an urban, middle-class Aboriginal identity inevitably includes a potted history of personal misfortune. We are encouraged to magnifies our recollections of slights and indignities, and to interpret them all in terms of racism. This distorted view obscures the suffering of others around us, both in the past and in the present:

Many educated, upwardly-mobile Aboriginal professionals inhabit a culture that strongly encourages them to apply this interpretation to any incidents of childhood misery and misfortune that they can recall. There is little encouragement to remember any similar incidents of misery and misfortune they may have observed amongst their non-Aboriginal peers, however…The formative experiences of articulate and powerful Aboriginal public figures inform the popular view of what is ‘true’ about race relations in this country.

 

 

The Spectator Australia

13 February 2016   PDF
Niceness 101

A solid piece of writing, this. It is based on the (awful) case of an Aboriginal university administrator bringing a s18c complaint against some university students over exclusive access to a computer lab. The case raised complaints that universities aren’t the bastions of free thought they once were – but were universities ever that, really? I argue that the role of universities is to train young people in the middle-class social mores of the day, which at present include the ability to model ‘cultural sensitivity’:

Conservative commentators often dismiss ‘virtue-signaling’ as merely a silly fashion amongst trendy inner-city lefties. Yet the preoccupations of the rich and the culturally influential, no matter how silly, are never trivial. If a university is to furnish students with the necessary skills for success in a world where virtue-signaling is a preoccupation of important and powerful people, then perhaps it is the duty of universities to bully their students into becoming appropriately sensitive and virtuous young professionals.

 

 

The Spectator Australia

4 July 2015   PDF
 Elevating victimhood

It’s a shame about this piece; it only gets to the point half-way through, and the first part is not my best writing. I think part of the problem was that I was writing about an issue that had already been done to death: the case of Rachel Dolezal, a ‘white’ American woman who reinvented herself as ‘black’, and went on to make a career for herself as an African-American academic and activist.

My point, however, was that a lot of men were complaining that, ‘as straight white males, they are prohibited from openly expressing an opinion (on such cases) for fear of being branded a racist, a rape-apologist, or myriad other dreadful things.’

This annoyed me:

‘The consequences have never been milder – no gulag, no stocks, no stakes or firing squads anymore – and yet the fear is so normalised that it is not considered a shameful thing for a man to admit he is just too damn timid to speak up for himself.’

Even though I was taking a swipe at the Spectator’s core readership (particularly the ones who complain about curbs on free speech from behind a pseudonym, for heaven’s sake), I received little to no blowback. I doubt that many readers bothered to plough through the first half. My bad. It’s a pity, because there are some great lines in there once it gets rolling.

The Spectator Australia

6 June 2015   PDF
Time Gentlemen, please

In this piece, I’m being slightly mean about all the ageing Aboriginal activists campaigning for constitutional recognition. But that was the point: the mainstream won’t pick on Aboriginal activists in the same way they’d criticize and make fun of activists in other political movements.

Many other characters in the political landscape who cherish a stubborn attachment to incoherent, nostalgic ideals are fair game, after all… Is it not possible to be both an Aboriginal leader, and a vain, obstinate blowhard at the same time?

Yet again, I’m preaching to the choir in The Spectator on this. An outlet sympathetic to your message will publish your work, but it might only be read by people who are already in general agreement with your point of view. I am grateful to The Spectator Australia for their support, but still, it would be nice to find a way out of the echo-chamber without having to compromise too much on the message.

The Spectator Australia

27 September 2014   PDF
Who or what is a fair dinkum First Australian?

This piece was included in The Best of Spectator Australia – 2014-2017.

Normally I try to pack a lot into my 1000-words, whereas the point I’ve argued here is very simple: Aboriginal heritage doesn’t make you special.

… descendants of the original inhabitants are heirs to ancient cultural values and practices – just as those of European descent are heirs to the remnants of other ancient cultures. Yet Aboriginal Australians today are also heirs to the same cultural values, technology and practices that govern all of us who live in this country: those of a modern, democratic nation-state.

For too long this nation has indulged the crippling conceit that the exigencies of modernity do not, or should not, apply to people of Aboriginal descent. As a result, many Aboriginal people today need assistance to cope with the basic demands of daily life.

Even though the message is simple - that being a person of Aboriginal descent doesn’t  exempt you from the demands of modern life - it's a message that must be pointed out again and again if we want to see anything improve. Christopher Hitchens said in Letters to a Young Contrarian, “If you really care about a serious cause or a deep subject, you may have to be prepared to be boring about it.” I am in a good position to be boring about this particular cause, but I couldn’t claim to be doing enough right now. It takes a lot of stamina.

 

 

The Spectator Australia

28 June 2014   PDF
Recognise What?

I wrote this piece to coincide with the launch of Recognise What?, a book of essays on the proposal for Aboriginal recognition in the constitution. While the legal ins-and-outs of recognition could be rather dry, the propaganda campaign surrounding the proposal was fascinating.

If Constitutional recognition is self-evidently good for Aboriginal people and for the nation as a whole, why must $10m of taxpayer funds be devoted towards its promotion? If Reconciliation Australia is so lavishly funded to promote something so obviously good, why is the Recognise message so very vague and superficial?

The Recognise campaign (mothballed in 2017) urged Australians to get involved in a conversation about recognition, yet 'getting involved' seemed to entail little more than clicking ‘likes’ and buying merchandise. Speaking from experience in Aboriginal affairs, merchandise (t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, fridge magnets and so on) tends to feature heavily as a means to promote the benefits of government policies and programs. It's weird; like some sort of cargo cult.

Years later, I think this piece still stands up reasonably well, and I still think this subject is fascinating.

Quadrant

10 June 2014 PDF
Mona And Those ‘Rich Old White Males’

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist and activist, made some remarks on the ABC’s QandA program about freedom of speech, race politics, and money, and suggested that free speech was largely the province of ‘rich, old, white men’.

Eltahawy says that “freedom of expression is bought by money”. In some ways I agree, though perhaps not as Mona intended. It can be difficult to manage the impact of one’s participation in political debate upon one’s private life and livelihood…(However) it makes no sense to blame those with more wealth or personal freedom for the inherent unfairness of life, nor is it sensible to expect the state to intervene to level the playing field of political self-expression. All we can do is sharpen our pencils, apply our intellect, express our views as coherently as possible, and deal with any consequences in our personal lives as best we can.

I am especially wary of those who would encourage me to view members of a particular social group (such as “rich, old white males”) in blanket terms of dominance and oppression, rather than as a source of potential allies in effecting social and political change.

In my experience, ‘rich, old, white men’ might not always make for perfect allies, but sometimes they can be useful, and we must do our best with the resources we have available.

 

 

The Spectator Australia

26 April 2014   PDF
 Repeal section 18c

This piece takes too long to get to the point, which is this: People have a right to decide for themselves how they feel about the idea of ‘race’ and racism. In order to do that, they need to be free to exchange ideas about these matters, and this includes the freedom to say whatever they like — however ugly — about people like me.

Unfortunately, too much of this piece is taken up with acknowledging my ‘unearned privilege’, in being given a platform to make remarks that non-Aboriginal people wouldn’t be able to get away with. I’ve had plenty of complaints from gentleman-writers on the conservative side of politics, that it’s unfair I get attention so easily - being female and Aboriginal - whereas they have to struggle and strive to get noticed by their peers.

I don't apologise for their inconvenience anymore. Perhaps it was a necessary phase, but I'm well over it now.

 

 

 

 

The Spectator Australia

5 January 2013 PDF
The final insult

This piece, on proposed laws to prohibit speech that may causes someone to feel ‘offended’ or ‘insulted’ on the basis of their race, is the first I wrote for The Spectator. There are bits in it that people still occasional quote when they’re arguing on Facebook, such as:

As an autonomous adult, I cannot think of a single human being whom I would ever trust to decide on my behalf what I could and could not bear to hear about myself — and I deeply resent anyone who presumes to do so. This proposed law strips me of my dignity in a way that another’s malicious remark could never do; it reduces me to the status of a child.

 

 

Quadrant

1 December 2012  PDF
Silencing dissent inside the Aboriginal industry

This enormous essay is the result of years of close-up observation of the Aboriginal industry, as both a beneficiary and a functionary:

I began to realise that commodifying Aboriginality—placing a positive value on an individual employee, student, consultant, adviser or client purely on the basis of their “race”—was doing little to produce sensible policies and effective programs to solve the problems many Aboriginal people face, and was doing nothing to address the ongoing calamity of daily life in many remote Aboriginal communities. Instead, it was producing divided, fearful and risk-averse organisations where the subjective happiness of Aboriginal staff, stakeholders and clients took precedence over the wellbeing and effective functioning of the organisation overall.

I am grateful that Quadrant published this long essay in its entirety, and I must confess I was chuffed that it bumped former Prime Minister John Howard off top-billing in the December 2012 edition.

This piece has been referenced in academic papers both domestically and internationally. While I’m happy enough with the standard of writing, I think the attention it received was more due to the fact that first-hand accounts of the corrosive effects of identity-driven policy and service delivery models are relatively rare.

 

 

ABC - The Drum

1 December 2012   PDF
Why I burned my 'Proof of Aboriginality'

Years have passed since I wrote this piece, and I still have absolutely no regrets about it. The piece attracted about 700 online comments at the time, and it continues to pop up online to offend the unwary. I've been attacked for my arrogance, my ignorance, my insensitivity, and for disrespecting my ancestors, but no-one has yet offered a coherent rebuttal to my reasoning.

If you are an Aboriginal person with the literacy and media access to be reading this, you are not 'disadvantaged'; you are one of the most fortunate people on the planet. You don't need special assistance because you are Aboriginal, you are not owed recompense because you are Aboriginal, nor do you possess special powers to perform tasks that others could not.

To genuinely challenge racism we need to stop rationalising our individual self-interest, reject preferential treatment, compete in the open market for jobs, grants and audiences, and accept the financial and career consequences of refusing to be bought.