VACY VLAZNA. On Becoming Australian: A Migrant Story, Part 1

 Australia is an unresolved crime scene

As Invasion Day rises on the horizon proffering national citizenship ceremonies, it raises a seminal question: Does citizenship make us true Australians?

 I believe that I am not a true Australian until I respect First Australians and respect their 60,000 year custodianship of our Great Southern Land.

This respect alone can bequeath to me, a non-Indigenous person, my true Australian identity.

Identity and history are symbiotic, and so I have had to root out truth buried in the silence of denial.

The denial of the First Nations’ history, which is pre-colonial and wondrously Pre-prehistoric, is a downright act of enterprising racism.

It strategically rendered First Nations peoples void of history, i.e. homo nullius sans identity, so as to render terra nullius; a land ripe for the colonial grabbing.

Since 1788, successive governments have also suppressed the black history of Frontier Wars, of colonial killing fields, past and present.

In effect, we are all victims of history abuse. I’ve been cheated. We have all been cheated of the privilege of and pride in 60,000 years of First Nations’ culture and traditions.

Hence the common view “Australia doesn’t actually have much of a history” because Australians have been groomed as children to believe that the dawn of Australian history began in Britain. We have been groomed to believe white is superior and thus groomed to be compliant with centuries of systematic racist abuse much like good German bystanders of Nazi crimes.

In primary school, my favourite pencil was black and when I licked it, it became wet black ‘paint’ and the vivid memory of my drawing of an Aboriginal man with a spear on the ready remains. It is a remnant of my fake ‘British’ school education on Aborigines as primitives. Sunday prayers for Christian missions completed the lie of holy beneficence that in fact shamed and tamed the ‘savage’.

By contrast in the 50’s, my mother, then in her 30s, had a Namatjira print on the wall between two imposter ‘aboriginal’ ceramic wall plaques; one a kangaroo and the other a fish. I never asked why, and it’s too late now, why she, a wog, a political refugee from Czechoslovakia, was drawn to Aboriginal culture.

I assume, it was partly the attraction to an unique art lying far beyond her familiar consciousness of planet Europe; lying curiously beyond her scarred familiarity with Nazi and Russian occupations.

Perhaps, in part to an affinity with her oppressed Australian compatriots.

Perhaps, as she was an actress, she had a gravitational pull towards the edgy frontiers of art; to a western mind, Aboriginal art was the first frontier of the imaginative human spirit.

Trending Aboriginal art appreciation was not the only crystal ball she juggled; her uncle with whom she wove the Ariadne thread to her beloved homeland was in a lifetime gay relationship. My mother and her uncle had 300 years of theatre in their blood. Gay, in the theatre world was à la normalité, and so was the attitude of our family. We didn’t understand Australian society’s homophobic cringe and cruelty.

Over the years, in her need to assimilate, she became more conservative as her Bohemian (actually she was born in Moravia, I in Bohemia) soul was bowed by the snarls and slurs of outrageous Anglo-elitism i.e. racism. Anglo-Australia ruled and does. We copped the usual offensives; ‘wog’, bloody new Australian’, ‘go back to where you came from’, ‘foreign bastards’,’speak fukin’ straylyn yur in fukin’ Strayla’.

Each new ethnic wave of immigrants pushed us, rung by rung, up the Not Quite Good Enough Ladder. We climbed, however the entrenched racism, hailing from Rule Britannia imperialism, continued and continues to shackle Indigenous Australians to the bottom rung.

Ever ascending, my parents remained rooted to their mother country while bound to their new through gratitude. They voted Liberal – because they viewed Labor as communist – until my father met East Timor patron, Tom Uren. Unyieldingly political, they determined not to return ‘home’ while it was under occupation. They visited after the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Prior to my first visit to the Czech Republic, I was excitedly expecting to kiss Czech earth in a prodigal rapture of return. Nothing happened.

I’d always wanted to experience wall-to-wall Czechs, but, to my surprise, the mono-carpet lacking multicultural flair made me feel as alien as I had in Australia. On the plane back, I had an epiphany; I realised that the multicultural faces returning to Sydney were my people and Australia was my home. I was born-again and keen to unlearn the lies.

Ironically, it was my human rights activism for peoples beyond Australian shores, for the East Timorese, Achehnese and Palestinian struggles against brutal colonial occupations that mirrored the oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and opened my eyes to the ongoing stolen land, stolen lives, stolen identity, stolen culture, stolen languages, stolen children, stolen wages, stolen dignity of Indigenous Australians.

Australia is an unresolved crime scene.

NITV gems, books such as Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu, Minmia’s Under the Quandong Tree, Scott and Heiss’ The Intervention, Kelly’s The Memory Code, Reynold’s Forgotten War, Hooper’s The Tall Man as well as Death in Custody protests and Invasion Day rallies began filling the fact gaps with wonder and horror.

What really fired a blow torch to my brain were the obscene colonial images of Indigenous men, shackled as slaves, as criminals, to each other by iron neck chains; images that damn white violence against human dignity.

For us, born to a western cage-mentality, we cannot comprehend the split-second-forevermore trauma of captivity to these men who were freemen on their Country, self-governing men with millennia of hard-wired free-range freedom spiritually bound in sacred kinship with the flora, fauna, winds, rivers, seas, desert, sky, stars and mountains.

The scourge of captivity trauma endures.

Today, the blight of the penal colony mindset lords over the descendants of Australia’s ancient sovereign peoples. Rates of Indigenous incarceration soar beyond reason. Most are incarcerated for trifling crimes as were the early convicts. Father of 5, Eric Whittaker’s death in custody while shackled to a Sydney hospital bed in 2017 and Veronica Nelson Walker’s prison death on January 2, 2020 are the tip of Australia’s apartheid system of injustice.

According to the 2018 Guardian report, “More than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the end of the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991.”

Since before and after the 1838 Myall Creek Massacre trial, no police officer or prison staff have been found guilty for the ongoing prison massacre.

This impunity is given licence by Australia’s widespread unconscionable ‘casual’ racism. We’ve seen it howled by huge crowds that booed Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes for umpteen AFL games, and spruiked by unmuzzled bullies like Eddie McGuire, Sam Newman, Alan Jones, Tony Abbott, Pauline Hanson, Kerri-Anne Kennerley etc. etc. etc…triggering tsunamis of racial tourettes on social media.

This impunity is reinforced by the white supremacism of modern Aboriginal Chief Protectors: by Howard’s refusal to apologise to the Stolen Generations and his campaign of lies against the Wik Native Title, by Rudd’s limp Apology backed by Labor’s intensification of the racist NT Intervention and by Turnbull and Morrison’s blunt dismissal of the Uluru Statement From The Heart’s Voice to parliament as a third chamber to parliament; a deliberate Lie. The dismissal of the Voice in the Australian Constitution furthermore has demoted Ken Wyatt’s ministership to a mere mouthpiece for the Chief Protector’s agenda. Neither of whom attended in October 2019, the historic reclamation of the sacredness of Uluru.

Continued in Part 2.

Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001

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