Full Circle

There is no hint of defeatism in this title, no sense of merely ending up where you began. The full circle instead represents the unity and comprehensiveness of the rich, ancient tapestry of indigenous Australian kinship, land and culture and how this has survived decades of forced assimilation.

Edie Wright has compiled the stories of her family over three generations. She uses these oral histories to trace her family’s connection with the remote Kimberley coast and re-establish ties with her Cape York people. Biography fleshes out the daily realities of living as aliens in your own land and provides insight into indigenous history over the entire 20th century.

During three generations her family lived through no fewer than 40 different government acts and amendments, many of which were overwhelming in impact. Government policy dispersed indigenous families, bringing both grief and hardship, and included the forced removal of native children from their families: the ‘stolen generation’.

The scale of this tragedy of displaced lives is only slowly coming to be understood, especially in terms of how powerfully it affects indigenous Australians today. There have been huge disruptions in communities and culture. The tapestry has been scuffed threadbare in some patches and wantonly vandalized in others.

Edie Wright’s style is powerful and unpretentious. Reading these stories is like sitting in on a family get-together – but thanks to her openness and generosity, as a welcome guest rather than voyeur.

Those Who Remain Will Always Remember

More than 300,000 non-indigenous Australians marched across Sydney’s Harbour Bridge last year to kick-start the nation’s ‘Sorry’ day. Similar marches took place in each capital city. Adding further embarrassment to Australia’s conservative Federal Government, rock band Midnight Oil had their unambiguous ‘Sorry’ message emblazoned across their clothes during their televised closing act at the Sydney Olympics.

Saying sorry: a precursor to reconciliation. Slowly, slowly, some things change. Indigenous voices are beginning to be sought. This inspiring anthology of Aboriginal writing typifies the passion of such voices.

Featuring short stories, poems, myths, legends, essays, political and ceremonial writings, it shows the diversity of Nyoongah – or ‘Aboriginal’ – concerns. Kinship, suffering and survival are dominant themes. Even though the various life narratives have their own rhythms, they are often fragmentary. Yet in all cases they refreshingly read Aboriginal ‘history’ in a non-Anglo-Celtic way.

Subjects range from blackbirding in Broome to nuclear testing in central Australia. The writers deal with the country’s harsh assimilationist programmes, referring to times when Aboriginal people had to carry dog licences as identification.

The anthology is a compelling tribute to the strength and identity of indigenous Australians. Together these writers present a powerful testimony to the importance of the past in the construction of a better future. They also take us by the hand to allow us to see that mourning must inevitably precede healing.

Selling the Work Ethic: From Puritan Pulpit to Corporate PR

Long, hard work gives little social benefit and only meagre financial reward to the majority of the world’s workers. Yet we struggle to find alternative ways of structuring our lives or challenging these dictated values.

Science and technology specialist Sharon Beder outlines both the origin and practice of the ‘culture of work’ in which the wealthy are respected and inequality is justified. She shows that those who benefit most from them have promoted these values through social and corporate propaganda.

This is a well-researched and challenging book that deserves close attention. Compelling and insightful in most of the areas it deals with, it could, however, be stronger on the so-called Protestant Work Ethic – a concept first coined by Max Weber, who argued that early Protestants wanted work to absorb all available time. They taught that work wasn’t for self-benefit but for the whole community and those in need. Material success was never taught to be the reward for godly living.

But early secularizers such as Benjamin Franklin corrupted the ‘work for the community’ view into ‘work for self-accumulation’. Industrialism was delighted to harvest this embryonic shift towards consumerism. Not surprisingly the distorted ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ arose among the upwardly mobile but outwardly religious middle classes on both sides of the Atlantic.

Beder could have produced a more thorough critique had she explained more fully how work is both perceived and pursued differently in cultures with non-European histories. Overall, however, the book issues a strong challenge to the entrenched and corrupted views of work which damage the way we fill our lives.

White Nation: Fantasies of White Supremacy in a Multicultural Society

*George Fisher*

Although quite different in approach, Ghassan Hage’s book also takes to task white arrogance. Pakistanis in the British midlands, North Africans in urban France, Indo-Chinese in suburban Australia: all have felt the sting of betrayal that comes by living in what might officially be a ‘multicultural’ nation. *White Nation: fantasies of white supremacy in a multicultural society* is a journey through the lived, rather than the official, realities of Western multiculturalism. An anthropologist, Hage dismantles that peculiar feature of dominant white groups that so generously ‘allow’ others to co-exist with them.

His main target is the self-congratulatory smugness of the white middle-class, inner-city dwelling liberals who see migrants as little more than a range of interesting cuisine. Hage introduces some helpful terms, such as ‘ethnic caging’ and ‘national will’, and teases out the discourses of ‘enrichment’ as well as the colonial art of collecting ‘otherness’. He believes whiteness has more to do with state of mind than with race. Thus migrants can ‘accumulate’ whiteness.

The energy in this book shows that Hage remains positive. The reactionary ‘worriers’ who express endless concern about migrant levels or origins, says Hage, represent merely the ‘last resort of the weak’. There is the usual call for radical change – in particular to de-whiten the police, courts and media. What is less usual is the tone of the work: uncompromisingly passionate and full of hope.

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