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

  1. Avatar Charles Lowe says:

    Just want to thank you so much for your passion and commitment.

  2. Avatar Niko Leka says:

    thank you so much for this article. I was born here from Italian and Albanian parents who came as refugees in 1950. But it wasn’t until I read a book by Henry Reynolds Why Weren’t We Told? that I realised just how much our so called education was lies. The Aboriginal Passport I have states the passport gives the holder the responsibility to have:
    …an active commitment to respect and protect the land spanning the entire continent as well as a commitment to changing the current conditions. This includes speaking out and acting against the unabated murder of Indigenous people in various australian institutions, as well as the continual theft of Aboriginal land by large corporations with the protection of the Australian government.

  3. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    Dr VLAZNA: Out of an Anglo background – yet the same feelings as you re the racist invasion/theft of land and children/massacres/continuing murders of Indigenous/First Nations people in Australia.

    Last night on NITV-34 I watched a 2014 documentary on Lake Mungo – brilliantly outlining how archaeologists/scientists had to recognise and acknowledge and listen to the traditional custodians surrounding that place – the Muthi Muthi, the Ngiyaampa and the Baakandji. Salutary. Moving. A tribute to those “old women” in the main – who led the process! In whom all of us may take pride. I was in my early 30s when working alongside people of the calibre of Linda Burney and Lynette Riley and taking up studies in the field – but already on my rosary of significant people a strand of Indigenous people and students who had forged for me a pride in feeling enriched by that connection. And since which – nearly 40 years on down the track – the uncovering of family connections to Gurindji and to Worimi and other First Nations people confirms for me that that is the basis for any pride I feel in being Australian. Thanks Dr Vacy VLAZNA – and like you if though not to the same extent – I am active on behalf of Palestinians against the ugly Likudnik/Netanyahu regime in Israel – and any other peoples oppressed in their own countries, too.

    • Avatar Vacy Vlazna says:

      Hi Jim

      I watched the Lake Mungo doc also and was intrigued by the process of the Aunties’ midwifery in the archeologists and historians for respect for the sacred in Indigenous culture and country. Since watching Ernie Dingo’s Lake Mungo visit in Going Places, I have been planning a pilgrimage there.

      Lucky you to have Indigenous family connections, I have at least the Aboriginal Passport that I value way above the dark blue one.

      Thank you also Jim for your support for the Palestinians.

      • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

        Dear Vacy:

        I’ve read your part 2 essay! I am finding my community.

        To-day (Saturday January 25th at 11.00 a.m. I joined half-a-dozen like-minded folk – a couple of TAFE educators, A Christians-for-Peace fellow – (we have mutual friends) someone from the political activist left – another woman part of a choral movement and community activist – holding aloft placards insisting NO WAR ON IRAN – and the ousting of US marines from their base in Darwin – and asking drivers at the busy intersection where we stood to Honk their Car Horn if they want PEACE. For an hour we stood there – hundreds of cars turning/crossing the major intersection by the Westfields Shopping Centre (we, carefully, standing on the pavement so as not to “trespass”) honking their car horns. Or waving to us – pedestrians negotiating their way carefully around us – giving us the thumbs-up! And sharing our own personal stories with those alongside holding up other placards! A Centre security guard crossed to the middle of the road to snap our photos. Very broad community support for bringing our troops back home/for ending involvement in the Straits of Hormuz with Trump arm-twisting – out of totally unnecessary harm’s way – and to saying good-riddance to US bases and Marines on Australian soil! To use a Peter Fitzsimons’ phrase: “Novocastrians – you’ve gotta love them!”

    • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

      I meant to add: the photos taken of our activism was by the security guard kindly taking our ‘phones to do so. Not any sinister surveillance – perhaps we all reminded her of grand-parents!

  4. Avatar Dr Michael Powell says:

    Thank you for your article. It was warmly moving and absolutely to the point.

  5. Avatar Peter Small says:

    Take heart Vacy Vlazna, 250 years of white settlement is just a blip in the 60,000 years of indigenous occupation. Whilst today all our political parties in Australia are secretly white supremacist, the membership of our Parliaments is completely out of step with our national demography. So change will come…eventually. In the meantime there is an ever increasing number of indigenous people who are gaining education and skills to provide a voice for their people. And they do it with calm and composure, completely non aggressive like our leaders, acting as if they know that time is really on their side!
    Of course we could speed the process up by acknowledging our past. Perhaps the first thing we could do is for us to acknowledge that we have stuffed up land management, and hand it back the care of our public land to the indigenous people,- with appropriate resources of course! (Which should inevitably result in higher taxes so we all hurt a bit to fix up the land management mess we have created).

    • Avatar Vacy Vlazna says:

      I’m with you Peter on the optimism track. And yes, Australia has undergone an initiation by fire into knowledge of national survival through astute Indigenous custodianship and sanctification of Country.

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