This week is National Reconciliation Week in Australia. It is a time for all Australians to think about how they can contribute to reconciliation in the country given the historical hardship suffered by indigenous people. They have ample food for thought. Last Friday Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) announced that he was standing down as host of Q+A, a topical news show in Australia, due to sustained racist abuse.
Last Monday, on his final show, Grant thanked those who had offered their support but admitted that the “grotesque racial abuse” that he had experienced after speaking on the impact of colonialism ahead of the king’s coronation in London had taken its toil.
“I’m sorry that I must have given you so much cause to hate me so much, to target me and my family and to make threats against me. I’m sorry. Sometimes we need to just take time out. Sometimes our souls are hurting and so it is for me. I’ve had to learn that endurance is not always strength. Sometimes strength is knowing when to say stop.
“I am down right now, I am. But I will get back up. And you can come at me again, and I will meet you with the love of my people,” he said.
During a segment for the coronation Grant spoke about how the royal ceremony was not something to be celebrated for his people. “It holds weight for First Nations people because that crown put a weight on us, and we are still dealing with that.” He said that the symbol of the crown represented “the invasion, the theft of land, and in our case, the exterminating war”.
In a subsequent opinion piece Grant stated his opinions on the coronation had unleashed a barrage of racist bile against him and his family. “Since the king’s coronation I have seen people in the media lie and distort my words. They have tried to depict me as hate-filled. They have accused me of maligning Australia,” Grant wrote.
“On social media my family and I are regularly racially mocked or abused. This is not new. Barely a week goes by when I am not racially targeted. My wife is targeted with abuse for being married to a Wiradjuri man.”
Grant also stated that he had received no public support from ABC management while he experienced relentless racial abuse. Last Wednesday Grant appeared at a Sydney police station and it was reported that a man in the west of the city was being charged for racial abuse online directed at Grant.
ABC staff walked out across Australia in support of Grant, and the broadcaster said that it was reviewing how it responded to racism experienced by its staff. ABC chair Ita Buttrose said she was “appalled” by the abuse Grant experienced. “If I’d known any earlier I would have spoken to him about it, but I didn’t know, and I don’t think many of us knew until fairly late in the piece,” she told ABC Radio.
Against this backdrop of racial strife the debate on Voice to Parliament gathers steam, with all major sporting organisations including Australian Rugby Union, National Rugby League and the Australian Football League (AFL) all throwing their substantial weight behind the yes vote to allow an indigenous voice in parliament. This is a constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders through a voice to parliament, an advisory group on issues affecting these peoples which parliament and government would be obliged to consult.
However, the vote is in the balance, with many Australians unable to grasp the exact detail of what the Voice to Parliament actually means and the opposition leader Peter Dutton warning that “the voice will re-racialise our nation”. He said it will “have an Orwellian effect where all Australians are equal, but some Australians are more equal than others”.
Last Friday night in Sydney the AFL’s “Marn Grook” game took place between Sydney Swans and Carlton. The game celebrates indigenous Australians’ vast contribution to the AFL and pays tribute to the game’s roots that is inspired by an ancient traditional indigenous game played with a ball made out of possum fur.
Before the game a bronze statue was unveiled outside the Sydney Cricket Ground of former star Swans player Adam Goodes in an indigenous war dance celebration from 2015′s Marn Grook game. That season would prove to be Goodes’s last in the game as he was hounded out by sustained racial abuse. Like the ABC, the AFL apologised to Goodes and promised they would learn from the experience. Sadly it appears that history will not stop repeating itself in Australia.