An Open Letter to Mitcham Council 

An open letter to the Mayor and Elected Members of MitchamCity Council. 

My name is Elizabeth Close and I am a Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara woman from the APY Lands in Central Australia. I have lived in Blackwood for the last decade. I am a professional Aboriginal Artist – in fact I’ve just completed a mural for The Department of Transport, Planning and Infrastructure at the Blackwood Railway Station. I’m also somewhat of an annoyance – I have written extensively about issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and have worked tirelessly for Aboriginal rights. 

I wish to draw your attention to the article written in the Hills Messenger dated September 13. Specifically, comments by the Mayor. In it, it says that “Social advocacy around Australia Day was “absolutely not” an issue for local government. And that he was “very happy” with current Australia Day celebrations in Mitcham Council. This is abhorrent. Only through a lens of white privilege can the Mayor make statements like this. 

The immense harm that these celebrations cause to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Mitcham Council and nation-wide is overwhelming. It’s also very clearly, not something that affects Mr Spear and therefore not something he’s motivated to change. But Mr Spear, Mitcham Council is not just made up of Middle Aged, wealthy, white men like you. I would argue that the wellbeing of your community IS the role of local government to concern itself with. Moreover, addressing the harm caused by the actions of local government in celebrating this date is similarly, the role of local government to address. You also represent me as an Aboriginal woman – even if you (and I) like it or not. I wonder if your view of what local government should concern itself with would change if it were your community of rich white men that were affected? 

This harms us. There is tangible harm caused to our community to see wider Australia celebrate a day that very clearly is not a day for all Australians. It actively excludes us. You are actively celebrating the end of our way of life as we knew it. You are celebrating genocide. You are celebrating rape. You are celebrating theft of land. You are celebrating the forced removal of children – one of whom was my grandmother. 
You are celebrating the erausure of 60,000 years of culture, language, art, song and dance. 
When you say that you’re “very happy” with current celebrations – what you are actually saying is that you have absolutely no concern for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. You have a blatant disregard for our wellbeing. And that hurts. 

You and your elected members are there to represent ALL residents of Mitcham Council. 
I urge all elected members to represent all of us – even the ones with a lived experience that is significantly different from your own and outside your world view. 

And please spare me a trite apology for the harm your words, your inaction and flagrant disregard for our wellbeing has caused. Instead, take action. Be brave. Be on the right side of history. We will look back on this with embarrassment and dismay, just as we look back on the 1967 referendum. Do you want to be reflected upon as the oppressor or the revolutionary? 

I’ll also direct you to a blog post I wrote on the subject if you’d like to read further:

This most certainly won’t be the last word on this matter – I and other members of the community look forward to discussing this further 
Kind Regards

 Elizabeth Close
I respectfully acknowledge the Kaurna People of the Adelaide Plains as the custodians of the land on which I live and work

Ngangkinna, Meyunna marni ngadlu tampendi ngadlu Kaurna yertangga.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s good that we recognise that we meet on Kaurna land.


Our Languages Matter 

it’s NAIDOC week! A celebration of all things Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander! Most people have heard about NAIDOC, as efforts to be more inclusive slowly permeate wider Australian society, but few people know the history of NAIDOC week. For those that don’t, here’s a brief history of how it came to be:
Before the 1920s, Aboriginal rights groups boycotted Australia Day in protest against the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians. Prior to 1967, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people weren’t even recognised as human under the Australian Constitution. At that time we were classed under the Flora and Fauna Act, and weren’t even afforded basic human rights. By the 1920s, the activists were increasingly aware that the broader Australian public were largely ignorant of the boycotts. If the movement were to make progress, it would need to be dynamic and innovative.

On Australia Day, 1938, protestors marched through the streets of Sydney, followed by a congress attended by over a thousand people. This was one of the first major civil rights gatherings in the world, and it was known as the Day of Mourning.
From 1940 until 1955, the Day of Mourning was held annually on the Sunday before Australia Day and became known as Aborigines Day. In 1955 Aborigines Day was shifted to the first Sunday in July after it was decided the day should become not simply a protest day, but also a celebration of Aboriginal culture. In the 60s, the National Aborigine Day Observance Committee was formed; and in 1967 on the back of the referendum, The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was formed and became instrumental in the evolution of NADOC week, and as such, it became a week long celebration of culture.
With a growing awareness of the distinct cultural histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, NADOC was expanded to recognise Torres Strait Islander people and culture. The committee then became known as the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC). This new name has become the title for the whole week of NAIDOC celebration. Each year, a theme is chosen to reflect things that are inherent to, and enmeshed within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Last year, the theme was Songlines. Songlines are, in essence, where dreaming and landscape meet. Passages of land woven through country, where creation beings carve their way through the landscape, creating it in it’s wake. These Songlines are specific to the language group that are custodians of that landscape, and are passed down in the form of song, dance, art, and story. The 2017 theme – Our Languages Matter – aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in both cultural identity, in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

Some 250 distinct Indigenous language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late eighteenth century. Most of these languages would have had several dialects, so that the total number of named varieties would have run to many hundreds.
Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.
National NAIDOC Committee Co-Chair Anne Martin said languages are the breath of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the theme will raise awareness of the status and importance of Indigenous languages across the country.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages are not just a means of communication, they express knowledge about everything: law, geography, history, family and human relationships, philosophy, religion, anatomy, childcare, health, caring for country, astronomy, biology and food.
“Each language is associated with an area of land and has a deep spiritual significance and it is through their own languages, that Indigenous nations maintain their connection with their ancestors, land and law,” Ms Martin said.
Committee Co-Chair Benjamin Mitchell hopes that the theme will shine a spotlight on the programs and community groups working to preserve, revitalise or record Indigenous languages, and encourage all Australians to notice the use of Indigenous languages in their community.
So I challenge you; a call to action! I challenge you to learn the language group of  the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which you live or work. Learn the traditional names for places. Learn to greet Elders in their language. Download the ‘Welcome to Country’ App and educate yourself. Do your bit to ensure our languages live on through our children. I was asked to spend some time this afternoon at my daughters pre-school. They greeted me with the Hello song of the Kaurna people which is the land of whom we live. I taught them a song in Pitjantjatjara and my 3 year olds eyes lit up and she was able to boldly stand up and sing a song that I have sung to her since she was a baby – proudly sharing her language with her peers. 
Not just today. Not just this week. Do this always. Celebrate the linguistic diversity of our Indigenous Peoples: “The preservation and revitalisation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages – the original languages of this nation – is the preservation of priceless treasure, not just for Indigenous peoples, but for everyone.”


The Spirit of Australia

Ohhhhh NAIDOC week! Good to see you again! What a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and share Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture! Or have it exploited by corporate greed in multinational, multi billion dollar corporations like Qantas.

Day two of NAIDOC, day two of white fuckery. (Aaaaaaaand cue the white fragility screaming reverse racism! I’ll give you this for free: reverse racism is not a thing.)  

On Tuesday, Qantas rang me and asked me to come and paint some crockery left over from the Business Class and First Class cabins – they wanted me to paint “totems” and the corrosponding “Aboriginal word” in line with the theme of Our Languages Matter (but apparently Qantas wants to celebrate our languages by homogenising them, erasing the languages of individual language groups). 
I was somewhat embarrassed because she was so excited about this… project. Also, she clearly hadn’t looked at my work because I rarely paint animals; that’s just not my style. Instead she thought I was a generic Aboriginal Artist. A generic Aboriginal Artist who could paint generic Aboriginal Art and then paint generic “Aboriginal Words”. All in the middle of the Qantas Club Lounge where the largely white corporate passengers could dictate what “totems” and animals I paint. Awkward. 

The best bit? They want me to work for free. Oh but there might be some “exposure” or other “incentives”. I politely declined and told her that it was exceptionally disrespectful to ask an Aboriginal Artist to come to them, during NAIDOC, to share their time, skills and culture and not remunerate them. I expressed my profound dismay that a multi-national corporation would not make room in their budget for corporate responsibility; particularly given that Qantas certainly like to appear to celebrate Aboriginal culture with their uniforms, decor, Indigenous traineeships and so forth. 
Then she apologised and said she didn’t realise that I was an established artist. Even if I were an brand new emerging artist, I would still deserve to be paid for my work. Whilst I appreciate that to them, their intent is good – the reality is that Qantas are seeking to exploit an Aboriginal Artist to make themselves look culturally aware. Sit with that for a moment. 
I do a lot of charity work. I often donate my time and skills to local schools and other causes. I have 2 pieces in a charity exhibition this week. But I’m not prepared to give my time and skills and share my culture for a poorly thought out project by a billion-dollar corporation. 
I got a middle management apology and an assurance that the staff involved would receive some education in cultural competence. 

So no, I won’t be painting plates for Qantas for free this week. Happy NAIDOC! 

Oh you’re sorry? Me too. 

Two days ago, May 26, is National Sorry Day in Australia. It is the anniversary of the day in 1997 when the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report from the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Stolen Generation was tabled in the Australian Federal Parliament.  
One of the key recommendations was that an official apology be extended from the Prime Minister to the people and families who were affected by the policies around forced removal of children. Then PM John Howard, a conservative Coalition MP and all round shit bag, refused. Anangu are still suffering under his legacy of his NT Intervention so we didn’t hold our breath anyway. Well he refused, basically citing the fact that he personally hadn’t wandered into an Aboriginal household and plucked a newborn from its mothers breast, so therefore why should he apologise? It took 11 years and a change of government, until 2008 when then PM Kevin Rudd finally took that step. It was an incredible moment in Australian history – I recall watching it, silently crying as I saw my kinfolk clutching one another in the public gallery.  It promised to be the start of a new chapter. 9 years on; little has changed. 

Each year these anniversaries roll past and I (tearfully) explain to my children what happened, the assimilation policy of ethnic cleansing to take over where genocide left off. the profound impact it had on our family – and look into their earnest faces and promise them that they will never, ever be taken away from their family and placed with non-Aboriginal people. Ever. ……and I hope to the ancestors that I’m telling the truth.

But the truth is, I can’t actually be sure.
Because this small truth is; I always, no matter the state of my house, automatically apologise for the mess, or this being untidy, or that being dirty, or the dishes in the sink. Or toys on the floor. I apologise even if the house is spotless. Even if I’ve just spent all morning cleaning it. The reason? I’m always scared I’ll be the Aboriginal woman reported to “Families SA” for living in squalor and my Aboriginal children will be removed.
Another small truth? I fear visits from the Child Health Nurse; but I fear declining them just as much. I fear that if I decline the visits, that I’ll have my baby removed. Or a note in a file, a red mark against my name. When Isaiah was born they came every fortnight for 6 months; until I learned that it was voluntary and stopped answering the door after they told me that Baby Led Weaning was endangering my baby, and that he needed purées. When Benji was born they rang and told me they’d be coming to “inspect his sleep space”; I have co-slept and bed-shared with all of my babies and Benji is no different, so naturally I declined. Then, terrified; I rang back and said I’d changed my mind and asked them to come. Then spent an an hour scrubbing the grout in the bathroom the day before and putting fresh sheets in the bassinette that my baby has never so much as shut his eyes in, let alone slept in. 
All this fear, lest my kids be taken away for neglect. 

All this fear, all that cortisol; all through my pregnancies. 
And yet, many still question if Intergenerational Trauma even exists.

The Public Holiday Which Must Not Be Named

12 months ago I wrote a piece about The Voldemort of Public Holidays.

I shouldn’t be at all surprised that one year later I’m right back in exactly the same place, playing the same song, For those that didn’t follow me then, you can find the full post here.

I wrote about the day “that the rest of Australia celebrates our dispossession, oppression, and genocide; with tacky singlets, BBQ’s and public drunkeness. Of course naturally, and somewhat ironically, they argue that they’re celebrating the making of a nation. Of inclusiveness and diversity! Of muticulturalism! Of the building of a great nation! A nation that was built on illegal occupation, theft of land, of sovereignty that never ceded. Of women raped, children stolen. For Aboriginal Australia, there is no question that today (Jan 26) is a day of mourning.” 

Last year on January 26, I was vilified for speaking Pitjantjatjara to my daughter. Told that it was ‘Straya Day and we speak English in ‘Straya. The irony was thick. 

But Australia; I just do not get it. What am I missing here? Explain it to me. I do not understand celebrating genocide and ethnic cleansing; of Aboriginal slavery; of the loss of sovereignty and country. The loss of our right to practice culture, the right to speak our languages.

I was yelled at in a shopping centre car park. Bellowed at by a white woman in Australian Flag leggings and an Australian Flag towel draped around her shoulders like a cape, as she walked out of the adjacent bottle-o. The Bigoted Avenger; one of the lesser-known super heroes. 

If Australia, you truly think you are celebrating us as a nation “coming together” and “leaving the past in the past”, thinking that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aren’t currently being denied the ability to practice culture and speak language, then you my friend, are sorely fucking mistaken. I might not be hanged for speaking Pitjantjatjara to my daughter in 2017, but my kids can’t access their Indigenous languages in the mainstream education system, oh and I might be verbally abused and humiliated in a public space for trying to pass my language on to my kids; there’s that. 

If you think that the genocide has stopped and we need to “move on”, perhaps you ought to consider the Aboriginal deaths in custody and more broadly, the Aboriginal incarceration rate. As Chris Graham writes in his astute critique of this years lamb ad; “We still jail Aboriginal people at – literally – world record rates. Western Australia has the highest Indigenous jailing rate on earth and it’s more than eight times greater than the jailing rate of black men during Apartheid South Africa. In the Northern Territory, 96 per cent of children (and almost 90 per cent of adults) locked up are Aboriginal. They make up less than one third of the population.” 

But yeah you’re right, genocide and all that stuff is in the past. So let’s get drunk and celebrate. And let’s pretend that we aren’t celebrating that fact that “we (they; looking at you White Australia) won” 

Does that sound defeatist? You bet. I’m tired. We all are. We’ve been beating the same drum for a while now. Graham nails it again; “The fact is, the nation I know bears no resemblance whatsoever to the nation being depicted in the lamb ads. It is entirely aspirational, and frankly, ‘aspirational’ is worth a pinch of shit when you’re still doing and denying much of what we did and denied almost 230 years ago.” The celebration of a utopian wonderland where everyone is equal is one that exists only in the minds of White Australia. And it’s not just us Blackfullas that are subject to this bullshit discourse. You guys lock up other (non-white) people who want to come to Australia indefinitely, in tropical death camps. You house them in squalor, subject them to unimaginable conditions but don’t truly see the irony of your own beginnings on this land (“oh yeah we came on boats too but those ones aren’t like us.“) Oh and the LGBTQIA+ community is welcome in this fairy tale too apparently! Except that you can’t get married, and gay panic is still a legitimate defence to murder in some jurisdictions. So just keep your homosexuality tucked in, act straight and you should be safe. Maybe. But probably not.

So where to from here? I did this last year too; we need a treaty. We need to recognise Aboriginal Sovereignty over this land. We need to change the date. We need to listen to Aboriginal Australia when we tell you to put the reins on bullshit attempts at “Recognition”. We need to stop glossing over our history; own the fuck up to it, truly acknowledge and speak openly about every abhorrent, blood stained little detail, and take some genuine steps towards meaningful change. 

I’ll see you back here in 2018. 

Prove me wrong, Australia. 

If you want to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal Australia this January 26, perhaps consider exchanging the beer and sunburn with attending your local Survival Day activities. 

Extra Salty

So yesterday I was able to access my personal Facebook account again after receiving a 24 hour ban. I know what you’re thinking; it must have been something really offensive to get not only my comment removed but get banned from the social media platform for 24 hours. It was. Well, I guess if the term “white people” offends you it was. 

You read that right; I got banned for the use of the phrase “white people”. Specifically, it was a comment in response to the prolific Facebook bans for the use of the phrase, the descriptor, a term that is most certainly not a racial slur. 

There have been literally dozens of cases that I’ve seen and probably many more that I haven’t, of primarily People of Colour being banned and having their comments removed for use of the term “white people” and “cracker” (‘cracker’ is a term used in the US meaning racist white people – I guess because they’re white, fragile and salty). And before you start; reverse racism isn’t a thing. We’ve already been there and covered that.
Facebook groups dedicated to social justice and Inclusivity have been infiltrated by people opposed to the movement, and comments and posts have been reported en masse for the sole purpose of harassment, silencing and disruption. Moreover, troll accounts have been created on Instagram and Tumblr to troll social justice advocates. Facebook algorithms are such that posts and comments that recieve multiple reports are more likely to attract the ban-hammer. This was a targeted attempt to silence those speaking out in social justice spaces about race and privilege. I was the lucky one – many others have faced repeated bans for longer durations, one Woman of Colour for a one word status update: “cracker”
Why? What could these people possibly have against efforts to make spaces on the internet more inclusive to marginalised people; primarily People of Colour?! I’ll tell you why; it’s because discussions of race, racism and privilege make the dominant majority – white people – really uncomfortable. So uncomfortable they go to unusual lengths to circumvent it that discomfort. 

A US academic coined the term “White Fragility”. Dr. Robin DiAngelo, a White racial and social justice educator who created the term “White Fragility,” breaks it down like this:
“White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to what I refer to as White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviours such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviours, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium.”
White fragility is a frustrating dynamic that People of Colour encounter a lot when engaging with white people about race and privilege. It’s the “all lives matter” dogma. But here’s the kicker; all lives didn’t matter until the Black Lives Matter movement started. They couldn’t possibly understand that People of Colour were literally dying in the streets at the hands of those who swore to serve and protect. All lives matter is a blatant attempt to centre whiteness. To derail the discourse. White fragility is the #notallwhitepeople argument. The suggestion that “oh that might be the case, there might be *instances* of racism by neo-nazis, but that’s not me. I’m not doing anything to uphold white supremacy.” 

But here’s the kicker; if you aren’t actively holding a mirror to your own privilege. If you aren’t actively working to dismantle systems of oppression that maintain the white equilibrium, if you aren’t talking about racism in frank and uncomfortable terms; you’re upholding white supremacy. And if you think this doesn’t apply here in Australia, you’re sorely mistaken.
I’m going to end with the words of a woman named Cleo Lebron. A dynamic, strong Woman of Colour from the US who has had her words removed and her account suspended, along with many others.
“How can Facebook ever be a place where people have a voice if the reporting system silences people expressing and bearing witness to the very things worth speaking against.”

It’s been a while.. 

Gosh I didn’t realise how long it had been since I’ve updated Gerald! 2016 has flown by! So many fantastic arts projects this year – I’ve really enjoyed the street art projects I’ve been involved with this year. I made my street art debut during the Adelaide Fringe and the Little Rundle Street Art Project with ‘Municipal Gum’ and ‘Burnt Scrub’. I absolutely loved the challenge of working on such a large scale. I was fortunate enough to work with the same group of artists in another project painting the walls along Goodwood Road outside the Adelaide Showgrounds. I also had my first solo exhibition – “Kurunpa” this year and some more textile releases with Lifewear. Not to mention the many canvas pieces I painted this year. 

We’ve also added a new addition to the family, Benji Walter was born; it seems like only a month or so ago that I was lying on my belly on the bitumen in Little Rundle Street, feeling a little bloated and suspecting that there was a little being growing there. He was born critically ill and spent the first week of his life on a ventilator. I too was very unwell; it was a rough few weeks for everyone. After 21 days of IV antibiotics to treat suspected meningitis, Benji came home and we couldn’t imagine life without him now. An Anangu Ngangkari came to visit Benji and I on day 2. NICU staff watched on curiously while he blessed Benji and administered healing Anangu way. Did it help? Well… he’s here in my arms and perfectly healthy. 

In 2017, Min starts school and Emmeline starts kindy. Finding a school that respects and celebrates Aboriginal perspectives and displays a high level of cultural competence  has been… interesting. I went to a school tour and asked the principal what this particular school offered Indigenous kids. His response? “Oh well I’ve worked at *insert school with large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population* and I’ve got some Aboriginal friends. Oh and see that girl over there? I don’t know if you noticed but she’s Aboriginal!” Upon challenging him further he then said “if you want that kind of thing you need to go to Elizabeth or Christies Beach…” Needless to say, we opted not to send him there. DECD still has much to learn. Having said that, I’ve worked with some exceptional educators this year who “get it” – and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in their daily practice. 

Next year, I’ve got the most exciting artistic collaboration I’ve probably ever been involved with coming up during the Adelaide Fringe street art explosion and I cannot wait! I’ll be working with one of Australia’s most incredible street-art exports! Watch this space! 

I’m also headlining ‘Wonderwalls’ – a street art festival being held in Port Adelaide. I’ll be painting a wall down there over the weekend of 21-23 April, so come and check it out! 

To everyone who’s supported us in 2016; thankyou. I wish you all a safe and happy festive season – whatever that looks like for you, and a prosperous new year.