Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Joyful Sorrow

I try not to talk too much politics on this blog, since it's often alienating, even to people who might agree with me. However, I feel like this is the day to break that tradition, if only so I will have some personal record of it. Wanky as it is, I do feel like this is a day that History Happened.

I just came from watching the parliamentary apology. My first reaction, right this moment, is this: Fucking Brendon Nelson, get your head out of your Arse and at least pretend to be gracious. I mean it. I mean all those swear words (something else I try to keep off of the blog) All of them. I thought my years of being ashamed to be an Australian every time I saw a politician on my screen were over. Not so. I don't think I could have cringed any more. After Rudd's speech which, ok, was not perfect in delivery but was at least heartfelt, Nelson's piss-weak excuse for an apology was deeply painful.

Let's try a metaphor here. This path - it's the way to a whole and healed nation. With me? OK. The gorse and broom weeds on the edges? Brendon Fucking Nelson.

God. Way to screw up your moment in the sunshine.

OK, now onto the petty sniping which I do so well. I enjoyed watching the benches as the speeches wore on. Julia Gillard spent the whole time looking dignified, and nodding along, looking at the back of Kevin Rudd's head as though she Believed. (For those non-Aussies, Gillard is the one who, a few years ago, called another member of parliament 'a grub'. When told by the Speaker to apologise, she said 'I apologise for any insult I may have caused to the Honourable Member. Or to grubs.' Makes me miss Keating.)

On the Labor side, most of the White, Middle Aged Men looked varying degrees of bored or glum. Maybe they were going for gravity. I think they missed. Except, of course, for Peter Garret.

That's right, for those of you who live overseas or haven't been paying attention, our Minister for the Environment used to be the lead singer of Midnight Oil. I saw him speak at my left-wing uni one time. The guy who used to run around with dreads and bare feet came dressed up like a Quoll, and tried to dump a bucket of barkchips over Garret's head, shouting 'What about the Tasmanian Forests, Peter? What about the Forests?!?!' while the security guards chased him round and round the food court. Good times.

Anyway. Garret was on the edge of his seat, looking tense and excited. The women, of whom there are a fair few scattered along the back benches, were more interesting. I am going to show my ignorance now, since I know none of their names, and I can't look them up since none of them look anything like their official pictures. My only excuse is the Howard years - I just couldn't stand to pay attention anymore.

The woman directly behind Rudd, along with a few others, were weepy. The woman behind her was engaged and dignified, except for when Rudd mentioned mothers, when she did a little simper-sob thing, and looked mushy for a few minutes.

The Liberal benches just looked bored, glum, sullen, sulky. When Nelson got up to speak (boo, hiss) the contrast of Julia Bishop sitting behind him to Gillard was interesting. I actually had to ask someone to check that she was not, in fact, Camilla Parker-Bowles. She looked either glum or sneery throughout.

There were shots of past prime ministers - Keating next to Hawke, Hawke next to Whitlam (interspersed with wives). Keating looked OLD, which made me feel old, likewise. Those were the days. I was in primary school, we had a prime minister who had worked for a living, and the future was hopeful. We never dreamed of Howard.

During Nelson's speech, we got a shot of Hawke and Gough. Hawke looked like he needed a drink (badump, cha), and Gough was leaning forward, looking appaled, like he just couldn't tell where that horrible smell was coming from. I know. It was from Nelson.

Apparently people on the lawns outside stood and turned their backs on both Parliament house and the screens showing Nelson's snivelling face, bringing back memories of the time Howard was similarly snubbed. My reliable sources tell me that Elder park, here in Adelaide, saw similar disapproval. At work, we fired up the TV screen and there were 6 or so of us early birds, and the heckling was intense.

I am just so ashamed. Rudds speech was compasionate, heartfelt, sincere. It was full of feeling, without being sentimental. Nelson, on the other hand, was sickly and sentimental, and seemed to undo, step by step, Rudd's good words.

OK, so Rudd did not deliver the speech with the same vim that you could imagine someone like Keating doing it. He's no Barak Obama. But as he got going, I got caught up in his words, in the story he was telling of my country. It was one filled with real people, with lives, and real pain.

I hope you won't think I'm being overly dramatic if I say that it was the first time in my entire life that I have heard a Prime Minister of my country describe it in a way that I recognise. Rudd spoke about my reality - a reality in bad things happened, and need to be addressed. A reality in which ignoring other people's pain is not only morally wrong, but also counter productive. A reality in which, if we can't acknowledge these wrongs, we must keep feeling ashamed of them. Only when things start to change, can we be, as Nelson claimed we already are, free of the guilt of our prosperity at the expense of the first peoples of this land.

But it is still a reality in which there is room for hope.

For me, it was a very hopeful speech. I could see a glimpse of a future that, two years ago - heck, six months ago - would have been laughably optimistic. A future where Australians are Australians. Where we can live with our past, without feeling it as a weight. Where an aboriginal person walking down the street is no more noteworthy than someone in a headscarf, or a white woman with her child, or an Asian student with fluffy things hanging off of her mobile phone. I can't get over how you can see the members of any nation walk towards you and not blink an eye, but when a member of our first peoples is walking, everyone crosses the street.

I was hoping to come away from this morning feeling lighter. I don't. I feel a strange mix of uplifting hope and grinding, belly-wrenching shame. I'm not sure which will win.

I expected to come away feeling good about the people in charge. I certainly didn't expect to be so incensed by Nelson - I was hoping for hope for bi-partisan movement. I'm not feeling that, now.

All I know is, I'm hopefull. And I'm so, so, sorry.


Vellan said...


I haven't found copies of the speeches yet (note to self: check YouTube) but the performance of the Liberal party sounds very disappointing.

I'm no political analyst, but my guess is that the Liberal party failed because they have bigger problems. They've gone from being government to being a joke with astonishing speed. BFN *isn't* in control, as far as I can tell. What they needed was someone to say "Look. I don't care how you feel. Politics is about image. And if we aren't seen to be supporting this enthusiastically, our image will be shit. So make like a politician and start acting."

I think they were too busy with their internal leadership issues (and questions like whether they stay a Liberal/National coalition or whether they form a new party) to get their shit together and look good (or at least not embarrass the country).

I think it's an apology that was long overdue. And I'm glad that - even if it lacked a little lustre - it has finally been delivered.

My friend's children are 1/4 aboriginal, and I've seen her in tears about the way her eldest's classmates reacted when they found out, and his subsequent shame and rejection of his heritage. It's disgraceful, and unfair.

I'm with you in hoping that this is the start of a larger change.

(Sorry for the long comment, and for language.)

Poppy & Mei said...

I'm really hopeful too & looking forward to coming home proud.
It's been a while...Xxx