Politics of hate shames all Australians

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Politics of hate shames all Australians
Geraldine Brooks argues this country can no longer hold its head high in international company.

IT HAS started already: the trickle of foreign journalists that soon will become a flood. They are here to do their Olympics curtain-raisers. Some of them are old friends - people I met covering the Gulf War in Saudi Arabia, or the break up of Yugoslavia or the crisis in Somalia. It's a foreign-correspondent tradition to take the resident hack out for a meal and get, in return, "a fill" on the local situation.

When I moved back to Sydney in December, I looked forward to greeting my international colleagues in my home town, explaining to them what a generous, tolerant, terrific place I came from. Now, I'm beginning to dread their calls, and the inevitable question: "What's the other story?"

For the other story - what almost every reporter who comes here is preparing to write about as the adjunct to their Olympic coverage - is Australia's apparent resurgence of racism.

I've started to wish Sydney had never won the right to host the Olympics, so intent does the Howard Government seem on using the moment it affords us in the international spotlight to flush our global reputation down the toilet.

When I was UN correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in the mid-1990s, Australia was one of a handful of Western countries - along with Canada, New Zealand, Finland, the Scandinavians and the Netherlands - that enjoyed an enviable reputation for fair, progressive and intellectually rigorous contributions to the organisation's debates on peacekeeping, sanctions, foreign aid and, above all, human rights.

Now, thanks to the bullying petulance of the past couple of weeks, Australia is more likely to be thought of in the company of Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and all the other deeply unsavory places which wish to claim that a human right is what the local despot says it is. It will not be many weeks before one of these countries starts to cite the Australian example when it tries to flout a treaty or justify a horrendous human rights abuse.

Is it outrageous to equate the edicts of dictatorships with the policy of a democratically elected government? Not really. For let's remember that the mandatory sentencing legislation the Howard Government battles so valiantly to defend represents the will of a bare majority of Northern Territorians - that is, a bare majority of about 1 per cent of the population of Australia.

It has taken Australia almost 40 years to shake off the taint of the White Australia policy. Living for the past dozen years in the United States, Egypt and Britain, I was often asked about that shameful time. I would explain that that was who we once had been. It wasn't who we were.

But as John Howard marches on with one racial incitement after another - mandatory sentencing, the submission minimising the number of indigenous children wrenched from their families, the decision to delay a reconciliation - it is becoming harder and harder to make that case.

First, because Howard is an astute politician, an able number-cruncher. He is doing these things not, it seems, from some heartfelt conviction, but because he calculates that somewhere there are hate-votes to be had.

Second, because the leadership from the other side has been so inadequate in expressing outrage at these things. Where is the voice of decent, fair-go, anti-racist Australia? I don't hear it adequately expressed in the tepid murmurings of Kim Beazley. It has fallen to a handful of brave backbenchers and outsiders such as Tasmanian Greens senator Bob Brown to fully articulate the case against mandatory sentencing and the damage done in rubbishing the UN.

You could say, I suppose, that it's cultural cringe to care what the world's media makes of us. And perhaps it is. But I do care. For there is so much that we have done well here - so much more fairly and generously than so many other countries. When I lived in the US and listened to the constant banging on that Americans do about being the greatest country on Earth, I used to smile and say to myself, "you wish". I always imagined that the 2000 Olympics would be an opportunity to show them a society that was better, fairer, saner. And there still is time - barely - to change the story.

Oh, I tell my colleagues about the Sorry Days and the Sorry Books and the Sea of Hands. But I also have to tell them that indigenous Australians live an average of 20 years less than other Aussies, that their infant mortality is five times higher, that their household income is half the national average, that their juveniles are 20 times as likely to be imprisoned and that about a third will have trachoma by age nine.

And then they ask me why the Prime Minister isn't sorry about all that, and I can only tell them that I haven't got a clue.

Geraldine Brooks spent eight years covering the Middle East and the UN for The Wall Street Journal. She is author of Nine Parts of Desire and Foreign Correspondence.


I hesitated a day in posting this article. Why? Well, I don't think Australians are racially that bigotted or play unfairly with racism issues. Indeed I go as far as saying we are probably one of the most evenheaded polyglot fair-minded socially experimentive nations on earth.

This reporter is pointing out a shameful minority and ballooning it to tabloid media humdrum. Heck, we even accommodate those freakz who actually are racist in thought and action. It's be a pretty bloody ordinary place if we did not.

Regards from Down Under where the Yanks are welcome too. Sheesh! :o)

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), April 06, 2000


I was living in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. While that was a very special time which I felt priveleged to to be part of, I must say that the white-hot spot light on Atlanta was frustratingly intense. Everyone seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief when the closing ceremony ended.

I remember the Olympics the way most Atlantans do, with a vivid mix of memories both fond and uncomfortable. People down here still talk about the games with a sense of awe. In a way, I envy the residents of Sydney, but in another way, I wouldn't trade places with them this summer. They're certainly in for a wild ride.

Good luck, Pieter. May your games be less eventful than ours!

-- Nerd Rustler (nerdrustler@nonya.not), April 06, 2000.


A while back I stopped into my favorite store to procure my daily dose of fermented malt beverage. The gentleman who runs it is an "Aussie". So out of curiousity I asked him about a phrase I had heard early in the day. I asked, "Why do you folks down under call Americans, Septics"? Well, he stammerred and hesitated and mumbled something inaudible and I never did get an answer from him. Care to take a stab at it?

ps What's your favorite brand of Australian beer? Describe it, thanks.

-- Outta beer (East of the smoke stack@usa.here), April 06, 2000.


Don't feel too badly. For decades, the American Government has made a career out of dividing this nation, and either directly or indirectly fomenting racial divide. The United States are no longer really United. There's the South. There's the MidWest, there's the NorthWest and so on. There's blacks, whites, Protestants, Jews, and so on.

Religious groups have played into this with their campaigns against whomever doesn't ascribe to their particular religious tennants.

The bottom line is that no one is supposed to like anyone else, especially if their different.

Pieter, thanks for this post. Sorry to learn that bigitory, hate, and contempt for anyone "that is different" is alive and well someplace besides the United States.

-- Richard (Astral-Acres@webtv.net), April 06, 2000.


Is the Howard government actually doing anything to further or permit racism, or is the reporter stirring up a divide? What gives?

Watch six and keep your...

-- eyes_open (best@wishes.2all), April 06, 2000.

Early Morning South OZ Time - 6. a.m. Friday.

Nerd Rustler,
Our economy is heated due to Olympic Games city, Sydney, where over a quarter of OZ population resides. A very sociable bunch. Unfortunately the rest of the nation isn't so hot, yet cop economic decisions based on the heat. It'll be lovely after the show is over.

Outta Beer,
Americans are called Yanks Down Under, and anywhere else too for that matter. Only in OZ do we have strine, a language of rhyme brought through time by the London Lymes who arrived as POMs in convict days. Thus see Yank rhyme with septic tank which duely got shortened to 'septic' in the local parlance. It seems to have become common usage during previous wars when Yanks on R&R nicked our women when there was a shortage of skirt. Septics thus was a derogatory term, but today has become one of endearment to many.

When the next Federal election comes the debate will include racial stuff. It'll ferret out the real wankery of the issue by genetically modified hotchpotch politicians. The rest of the country will more than likely just get on with business with all and sundry nomatter what colour or stature. We just can't be bothered by this bullshit. Life's too short and you're a long time dead. As for the politics of it all? Well, they're the walking dead already, a bit like the Royals from over the ol' country.

The Howard government is sending out a mixture of confusing signals brought about by pressure from its constituency in the rest of the country beyond the Canberra, Melbourne, Sydney axis that represents the urban multitude. What gives? Economic Rationalism which isn't rational - that's what. They bring on the racial thing to draw attention away from the real thing - the place is making a new poverty based on inequity in our Nation's wealth. Us peons are being made into a foreign form stamped by multinationals.

Everytime I reread this particular journalist's article my heckles go up. I live in a different Australia to the one she is describing. Most tepid bit of media beatup Blegh! Sadly we'll get more of it. On the news last night Norway expressed concerns about us. Norway? Who the hell are they? Haven't they got something better to do?

Regards from Down Under.

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), April 06, 2000.

Outta Beer,
Let me say right away that beer and I have parted following a rebellious liver that threatened to malfunction permanently. However I can boast seventeen years of heady application in the arts and sciences of boutique brewing including some years of pub- ownership which accelerated my demise.

The best OZ beer without compare is Cooper's Ale, a schooner glass of which does wonders to the imagination. It even makes some sheilas look positively enticing and puts a throb in the nob. It's angelic and makes for chiming poetry and strokes everyone's muse.

The next best is Coopers Stout, a blackest meanness if heavily partaken of, but simply heavenly in a complex sort of way. On a frisky morning a stubby of stout makes for an inner glow as you amble behind the birddog in the immensity of creation by the mobile sanddunes nearby. If you're into angling and piscatorial delights I'd have it too with a green ginger wine chaser to wash away the foul language and to polish the ivories.

Cooper's pale ale is a lighter day-time affair you'd actually could get passionate about.

As for the rest? Just tepid nothings really, but better than any foreign apologies that have the ill fortune to grace our shores.

You Yanks don't brew well I'm told, but then I'd swallow anything once.

Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention two rare brews. One is called Cascade something or other from Tasmania which is a good enough brew to migrate to there for. The other is a Ballarat concoction of rare form.

Whatever you do do not touch the longneck green death called Southwark. It's pure Torrens sludge with blue algae.

Trust this helps. At least our beer does not shame us.

Regards from OZ

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), April 06, 2000.


It would not be a disservice if you were to give all a quick tutorial on AU.

Such as mentioning the fact that Australians are NOT in the habit of "rooting" for their favorite sports team, and mentioning the 50 cycle vs 60 cycle electric power which does odd things to electronic equipment.

Other such things as to what a "Shelia" is and the fact that you drive on the wrong side of the road, light switches are flicked down to turn them on, and such other interesting facts.

HHmmmm Ausstudy and military service, beer for breaky and holiday for days off, Barbies aren't plastic dolls... you get the idea.

Also, the avarage Yank is not aware of how the children of the natives were taken from their parents to be raised in foster homes, it would probably be better coming from you then them hearing it as part of a blurb on AU for the Olympics. Another thing, most are not aware of the fact that Christmas is height of summer for you there-poor Santa!

Cherri-who has had internet friends in AU for over 4 years now and love them and Australia!

-- Cherri (sams@brigadoon.com), April 06, 2000.


Thanks for the dissertation on Aussie brews my mouth is watering. Our local beer warehouse claims to have carried every beer on earth at least once. I'm going to wander over there after work and see if I can find any of the brands you mentioned, assuming they export. I use Coopers Malt in my homebrew and it works quite well.

"You Yanks don't brew well I'm told, but then I'd swallow anything once."-Pieter

If your thinking of the biggies like Budweiser, Coors and Miller well you hit the nail on the head. Mass produced watered-down swamp water. But to our credit Microbrews have multiplied exponentially over the last 15 years, mainly on the West and East coasts. They offer flavors that would satisfy even the most descriminating imbiber.

"At least our beer does not shame us."-Pieter

Can you say, "Fosters"? Australias biggest seller in the USA, comes in a 25 oz oil can over here. I'd rather drink oil.

Sorry to hear you can't tipple any more, I'll toss one back for ya. Cheers!

-- Outta beer (East of the smoke stack@usa.here), April 07, 2000.

rhyming slang

septic tanks, yanks


-- richard (richard.dale@onion.com), April 07, 2000.

Outta Beer,

I prefer to use the term 'boutique brews' rather. Microbrews indeed. You Septics brewers are quaint.

To brew Coopers Malt etc. I used to think bore water was tastier. Rainwater makes it less enticing. Hard water makes for a better brew especially our limestone filtered ground water.

I controlled the temerature with a 25 watt globe in an old oven with the door slightly ajar. It got so bad with me that I had my bed alongside the plopping slobs to savour the aroma for more value. It's now but a passing memory. Shuckzzz!

Regards (Fosters = arsenic = toxic blegh!)

-- Pieter (zaadz@icisp.net.au), April 07, 2000.

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