Saturday, November 12, 2011

@Aboriginaloz Blog: Part-white or part-Aboriginal?

@Aboriginaloz Blog: Part-white or part-Aboriginal?:

"Ignorant men raise questions that wise men answered a thousand years ago." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There are some calling for a national debate on Aboriginal identity... or in more accurate terms they are calling for a general free for all to slam Aboriginal people. To slam Aboriginal youth, Aboriginal parents, Aboriginal communities, and Aboriginal people who aren't Aboriginal enough according to some non-Aboriginal people...

Rather than a national debate, I am calling for a series of national education.

Today's lesson is about what happens when you combine two racist stereotypes:

1. The idea that Aboriginality is something that is 'bred-out' of people over time. That once a person's physical appearance and/or 'blood-quotient' reaches a certain point, then that person can be considered to be not Aboriginal and;

2. The idea that Aboriginal people are a 'privileged group' in this country.

The result?
"the part-whites who are making a racket out of being so-called Aborigines at enormous cost to the taxpayers".

That is the heart of some recent and on-going tension in the media, but that isn't a recent quote.

It was said in 1988, by Bruce Ruxton... but it sounds like something that could have been said much more recently. Even more plausibly so now that 'Aborigines' seems to have made an unwelcome resurgence in the media lately.

This recent debate is actually quite old, and it is reliant on the fact that people don't know it is an old debate.

Any serious journalist with even a passing interest in Aboriginal identity, and an interest in serious reporting, would quickly find something like this research note, available from the Parliamentary Library, titled "Definition of Aboriginality".

It comes up when you do a google search for 'Definition of Aboriginality'...

It mentions:

"In his analysis of over 700 pieces of legislation, the legal historian John McCorquodale found no less than 67 different definitions of Aboriginal people.

Though colonial legislation initially grouped Aboriginal people by reference to their place of habitation (e.g. aboriginal natives of New South Wales and New Holland), 'blood' quantum classifications entered the legislation of New South Wales in 1839, South Australia in 1844, Victoria in 1864, Queensland in 1865, Western Australia in 1874 and Tasmania in 1912. Thereafter till the late 1950s States regularly legislated all forms of inclusion and exclusion (to and from benefits, rights, places etc.) by reference to degrees of Aboriginal blood. Such legislation produced capricious and inconsistent results based, in practice, on nothing more than an observation of skin colour."

Sounding familiar yet? "based, in practice, on nothing more than an observation of skin colour"!

What a long way we have come...

but wait, there's more:

"When policy entered a more progressive period in the late 1960s and 1970s the blood-quantum definitions, which had never been accepted as meaningful by Aboriginal communities themselves, were relatively easy to abandon."
"In the 1980s a new definition was proposed in the Constitutional Section of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs' Report on a review of the administration of the working definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Canberra, 1981). The section offered the following definition:

An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he (she) lives.

This three-part definition (descent, self-identification and community recognition) was soon adopted by Federal Government departments as their 'working definition' for determining eligibility to some services and benefits."

"The advantages of this three part definition were not, however, apparent to all. In 1988 the Victorian State president of the RSL, Mr Bruce Ruxton, called on the Federal Government:

to amend the definition of Aborigine to eliminate the part-whites who are making a racket out of being so-called Aborigines at enormous cost to the taxpayers'.
" the three part definition has generally been found to help protect individuals from the tendency among 'mainstream Australians' to consider 'real' indigenous people as people living somewhere else and others as manipulating the system."

"It also sits well with the definition used by the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations in 1986:

Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies ..., consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories ... They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems."

And here endeth the lesson...

... but right now, as I write this, I get the image of a man trying to explain to an angry mob why he shouldn't be burnt at the stake for arguing that the world is actually round... and that the matter was actually resolved quite a long time ago... and that we don't burn people at the stake anymore... and that it is kind of silly to believe in a flat earth in 2011... and again, please don't burn me at the stake for pointing out the obvious!

If we want to discuss Aboriginal identity and failure in Aboriginal programs that is fine by me, in fact I strongly encourage that conversation; but I must ask that we include Aboriginal people, and consider relevant information, as well.
Two things that have been sorely lacking in the media on these issues, and on most issues affecting Indigenous people over the past four decades or so...

Oh, and if we could cut out the malicious racism, misinformation, lack of Indigenous representation, and maybe even include a capital I for Indigenous, and avoid terms like 'Aborigines' in these 'discussions', then that'd be just great too... thanks.

... and to answer the question that is the title of this article: No.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let the yarning begin, whats your deadly story?

The first week of July celebrates National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander week, when all Australian’s can celebrate our countries first people and their positive contributions to our culture past, present and future.
I always look forward to the announcement of the THEME and this year I am very excited by the power of it and the opportunity it provides.
“Change: the next step is ours” is the 2011 NAIDOC Theme
I hear so many people talking about what changes need to occur; to close the gap; to help make the change for this country and all of our mob. Government’s and bureaucrats are talking. Policy makers and politicians are talking. Shock jock DJ’s and bleeding heart hippies are talking. A lot of talking is being done but is it the type of talking that is going to facilitate the change?
In thinking about this, I thought, “if the next step is ours, what is it that we can bring to the table, what next step can we offer that is different, is truly ours? Then I read a blog by my mate Tom Hearn from Bush TV who asked the question ‘could the art of yarning be the secret?’
As a performer, and an opera singer I understand the power of the human voice. I also know that there is nothing more incredible than to be heard, to have your voice listened to, to have your words resonate in another, to express heartfelt emotion and be heard.
In the wider spectrum of human nature, whether from a baby’s cry or giggle to an elders wail or body shaking bellow in hysterics there is nothing more precious and unifying than the sharing of raw human emotion. 
Now lets think about the history of this country. Our ancestors couldn’t speak the Queen’s English; they had no way of yarning with the invading ‘settlers’. Families were torn apart and moved all around the country. Their languages were outlawed, their children taken away from them. Crippled by this and many other atrocities, generations were torn apart and so much culture was lost including our ability to yarn in our way, in our time and on our land to our own mob, let alone the ‘settler’s’.
Now I hear you thinking, “Wait up Don, Donnie, Donald. What are you suggesting here? You want me to start yarning with them bureaucrats, with them politicians, with them shock jock dj’s and bleeding heart hippies?
And my answer – If you have the opportunity – YES, do it!
What I really think each of us can do today and for the rest of our lives is start yarning amongst ourselves, with our friends and families. Taking the time to sit down and truly yarn and share positive things and simple truths to share our deadly stories. The Qld Government, Dept of Communities has launched a site and social media campaign around exactly this.
Think about it, who do our youngsters get to yarn with about success, positive choices, bouncing back from wrong choices, persistence, and honesty? I am sure many of us remember being told “People are always watching, expecting you to fail simply because you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.” 
I don’t want our kids to NOT fail, I want out kids to be successful in all areas of their lives. To do that, we need to be yarning about SUCCESS. We need to be sharing how we succeeded, how we battled and won, how we helped someone else to become a success.
So let the yarning begin and be the change you want to see for our community, our country, because Change - the next step is OURS!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Judged on your moment of weakness

Each day's mistakes explode into the continuing nightmares that then entwine into the next day's distractions causing more defeats. The constant nagging and pulling away of my focus and awareness. I want to cry, to run away, I want to yell and scream. I want to stop, to press pause and give myself time to recover, to find my rhythm, to be at peace, to wash away the crap. I can't recall the last time I awoke ready to enjoy the day ahead.
Last night repeating over and over in my head not allowing me a moment to sleep was Better Midler, singing 'I think it's going to rain today' - is it a metaphor, is there something in this song for me to hear? Some words are clear others get lost in the general head banter. I don't know. I just want it to stop!
Lonely, lonely. Tin can at my feet, I think I'll kick it down the street, that's the way to treat a friend.
Bright before me the signs implore me: Help the needy and show them the way. Human kindness is overflowing, and I think it's going to rain today.
Constantly having to better my last efforts, to find the missing piece, to expose my flaws and relentlessly ask questions of myself that I have no answers to and then have the fortitude to engage with all of those in my life, as if I am 'normal'. I simply can't, it's too tiring. I am moody, I am exhausted, I am drained, I am at a loss and I am sick of being kicked around like a tin can.
So, I am left exacerbated, pondering why? Why sing? Why opera? I mean I understand why I started but why do I want to continue with the day in and day out of it all. Some days my choice overwhelms me and I hesitant; is the sacrifice, the daily cost, going to be worth it? Have I achieved enough?
"I believe there is a price tag on everything worthwhile, but it is seldom a monetary one. The price is more often one of dedication, deprivation, extra effort, loneliness. Each person decides whether he or she wants to pay the price. If you do, you achieve beyond other people." - Jim McKay
I have the love and support of amazing family and friends though even those with me in Melbourne seem like they are millions of miles away. I know I am not alone yet, I am lonely. The dedication, the extra effort and the loneliness are taking their toll and impacting my commitment to the daily grind.
In three month's, I will again deliver the role of James in Pecan Summer on stage at the Playhouse within the Arts Centre here in Melbourne and I am scared of failing. I am scared to let down the cast, the community and most importantly, Deborah.
“Half the failures in life arise from pulling in one’s horse as he is leaping.” - Julius Charles Hare
I write this as I want each you to feel safe, to know you can share your story of pain and sacrifice and be heard. Not judged on your moment of weakness but instead supported in your hour of need. It is the plethora of human existence that gives each of us our shades, lines and contours that makes us truly unique.
"May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, Enough trials to make you strong, Enough sorrow to keep you human, Enough hope to make you happy." - Cheryl Creed (my cousin)
As for me, hope gets me through. Hope that one day, my childhood dream is manifested. I stand proud with all I have already achieved but know there is more within me still not realised. I will not pull back but instead I know I must take the leap of faith and jump into the abyss of possibility by fully committing to the daily grind, and let go of knowing why or whether it will be worth it, because it already is.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pecan Summer tickets now ON SALE!

I am so excited to inform you that tickets are now ON SALE for the Melbourne season of Australia’s first Indigenous Opera, PECAN SUMMER presented by Short Black Opera Company.

Again the story of young Alice created by the incomparable Deborah Cheetham will have audiences spellbound mesmerised and yearning for more. Since the World Premier of this Yorta Yorta story on Country last October, as seen in the documentary on ABC Message Stick and broadcast on ABC Classic FM audiences have been demanding it tour the country. This will be your only chance in 2011 to experience this breathtaking Australian Opera.

Deborah has been working tirelessly to remount this production for the Melbourne season and continues to work closely with all of the cast in their operatic/vocal development. This year will include a few new talents that Deborah has discovered in her travels.

For me, this journey is incredible and continues to surpass all of my expectations - weekly. At present, I am working with phenomenal vocal teacher, Raymond Connell who is taking my voice to heights I never dreamed. I am so looking forward to performing at the Playhouse in The Arts Centre, here in Melbourne and showing you all, how far I have come.

You are not going to regret your investment to come to Melbourne in September 28-30 and see this amazing production. Do let me know which night you are attending so that we can catch up after the show. ;)

Thank you for your continued support. Don

Pecan Summer -

Libretto and Score: Deborah Cheetham
Musical Director: Dr David Kram
Stage Direction: Deborah Cheetham
Set Design: Hugh Colman
Lighting Design: Rachel Burke
Costume Design: Alexis George

What's On - Event Details - The Arts Centre - the home of the performing arts in Melbourne

Friday, May 20, 2011

Anita Heiss' Black Book Challenge (BBC)

I was living with my Nana, Brisbane Elder, Aunty Ruth Hegarty as she wrote and was awarded for her first autobiographical manuscript that become her first published book Is that you, Ruthie?
It was Nana's love of reading that really blossomed my own passion as Nana past on many books that she had recently read to me.

I still consider myself an avid reader, regularly reading on the Tram, or whilst walking or just finding a bit of rare spot in the Melbourne sun. So tomorrow at ACMI at Federation Square, I am hoping to sit in with Author, Anita Heiss at the Melbourne and Victorian launch of her latest tale, Paris Dreaming. But this is not about Anita's latest book instead about a recent post by Anita that got me thinking how little Black/Aboriginal Authors I have read.

I had no idea that there are over 5000 published Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia (see Black Words), and as I read Anita's blog of here TOP 100, I was horrified to see how narrow my reading has been til now. Anita's concedes that whilst the list is endless, these are easily some of her ‘must reads’ that she recommend to us.

Check out Anita's post and let me know how many you have read and what your next will be. For me, I am going to read Anita's latest, but have noted a few the next time I am at my local library.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The power of the words that follow I am

I am scared, I am alone,
I am disconnected from all
I am lost, I am afraid,
I am helpless to call

I am numb, I am empty,
I am unable to cope
I am tired, I am stressed,
I am lost to all hope

These words go around, tearing at my mind
I don’t know how or where to find
To stop, to change, to start again
Is there power in the words that follow I am?

I am always someone to speak with,
I am your ally, I am a friend
I am here, I am now,
I am beside you with no end

I am make the most of whatever comes
I am from the heart, I am blessed
I am no matter what, I am no matter when
I am seeing you at your best

These words go around, tearing at my mind
I don’t know how or where to find
To give, to share, to inspire friend
Tell them the power in the words that follow I am

I am proud, I am passionate,
I am grateful every day
I am here, I am present,
I am blessed in every way

I am fun, I am joy,
I am laughter with friends
I am power, I am will,
to which the world bends

These words go around, tearing at my mind
I don’t know how or where to find
To give, to share, to inspire friend
Tell them the power in the words that follow I am

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Indigenous Australia needs more followers not leaders

Madeleine Madden has been named 2011 National Youth Week Ambassador following her 24th October 2010 inspirational ‘Address to the Nation’.

Maddy called on all Australians to help end the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous key indicators of Health, Education and Employment and join in a national conversation.

 Maddy with Generation One CEO Tim Gartrell

Ambassador is a title of much prestige and of great honour and is not a position I envy. It is tough to stand out. It is tough to be in the spotlight and speak on behalf of such a large and diverse country as Australia. And it is tougher to speak on behalf of one of the most disadvantaged peoples in the world when you have been gifted a very different life.

Throughout my life I have been placed into positions of leadership and I have watched others with equally varying success. We have been subjected to the aussie tall-poppy syndrome; ridiculed, discouraged and shouted down by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

I don’t believe that Australia has a problem with leaders as we have always had our share of those willing to stand up for what they believe. We have a problem of joining in, of following - well unless it involves alcohol, sport or gambling but I digress.

The ability to follow is where leadership is really shown. To join the lone nut and risk being ridiculed yourself by joining the conversation on the tough issues and encouraging others to join you.

This idea comes from a great 3 min speech on TED website for Ideas Worth Spreading by Derek Silvers. He states that to create a movement is not about the first lone nut but ‘the first followers are the underestimated leaders that turn a lone nut into a leader and into a movement.’

How awesome would it be if this was the generation to demonstrate true leadership?

How fantastic if this was the generation that the true leaders of change supported and encouraged others to join?

So whilst I don’t envy Maddy in her upcoming role, I will 100% support her and this amazing opportunity. You can support Maddy and help end disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians by joining

I challenge you to join up and get 10 of your friends and family to join by the end of the month. TOGETHER we can  make a difference in this GENERATION.

And the next time you see others knocking our Indigenous Leaders, be different and show leadership by searching for what they are doing for positive change and encouraging others to see it also. Because Indigenous Australia needs more followers to demonstrate leadership