Australia is a racist country, and the worst of that racism is directed towards Indigenous Australians.
Racism has existed since the establishment of the colony in 1788. It underpinned the colonisation of this land and every other land the English claimed.
Many groups have been subjected to racism since colonisation. Chinese miners suffered during the gold rush, and the racism has since been directed at different times towards people from Greece and Italy, South East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Racism towards Indigenous Australians is a constant.
Recent events suggest it is possibly as strong as ever.
Cassius Turvey was murdered while walking home from school in October 2022. He was Indigenous. He was 15. Turvey died in hospital 10 days after he was allegedly struck with a metal pole by a man while walking with friends in Perth, Western Australia.
An investigation into the death continues, but it is commonly accepted that the attack was motivated by race. Even the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, conceded this:
“This attack that clearly is racially motivated just breaks your heart. We’re a better country than that and my heart goes out to the family and the friends.”
Politicians guard their words. Politicians rarely commit to bold statements. Albanese’s words demonstrate the blatant nature of the attack and the presence of racism towards Indigenous people in Australia.
Rallies commemorating Turvey’s death are being held in every capital city and in many regional towns across the country, as part of a national day of action and a show of support to the family. At the same time, there has been no national outrage. Media coverage has been muted, despite the fact that an adult male allegedly beat a 15-year-old boy to death as a result of racism.
Roebourne Regional Prison
Just days after Turvey’s murder, reports emerged of treatment of prisoners at Roebourne Regional Prison in remote Western Australia. The West Australian government has refused to install air conditioning in the cells, despite temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius during summer. The majority of inmates are Indigenous.
In the same region, the same government is spending $AU2.2 million on an air-conditioned pound for stray cats and dogs in Port Hedland.
“I feel sick to my stomach that we as a community are valuing the lives of dogs and cats higher than Aboriginal people,” said Aboriginal Legal Service lawyer Alice Barter.
“The community should be outraged, the community should be angry with this McGowan government and they should recognise it as racially discriminatory because that’s what it is.”
IndigenousX is a Twitter account managed by Indigenous Australians. Every week a different Indigenous person hosts the account and posts content relevant to Indigenous people and the broader Australian community. In September of 2022, the account had to be closed down.
“Given recent events, the IndigenousX team is concerned that we cannot currently provide a safe space for hosts or followers via this account.”
“As such, we are hitting pause on hosting in order to give us time to consider the best course of action for the future.”
Former AFL player and TV presenter Tony Armstrong received a vile and offensive email, attacking him because of his race. So offensive was the message that police were notified.
Armstrong recently won an award for Best New Talent the national television awards, the Logie’s. Even this was not enough to protect him from racism.
Fellow AFL player Adam Goodes is an even greater example of the racism directed at Indigenous Australians. Goodes was incessantly attacked because of his proud Aboriginality and his decision to stand up to racism. He was booed every time he touched the ball during games, attacked by faceless people on social media and even by famous sporting commentators and ex-players. The racism, which continued for years, drove him out of the sport completely.
So vitriolic was the racism towards Goodes, that it prompted two documentaries: The Final Quarter and The Australian Dream.
Goodes won the Brownlow Medal twice, as the best player in the league. Even that was not enough to protect him from racism.
Sticking with AFL, two clubs have highlighted the extent of racism towards Indigenous Australians in wider society.
One high-profile person to attack Goodes was Eddie McGuire. At the time, McGuire was president of the Magpies, and a very influential figure in AFL and the Australian media. He jokingly compared Goodes to King Kong during a radio segment. McGuire ran a club which was found guilty of systemic racism towards Indigenous players, and a player of African descent.
The Hawthorn Hawks club made the headlines after Indigenous players and their families accused the club of racism. Among the accusations were claims that Indigenous players were told to move out of homes with their partners or families, to cease having any contact with their families, to give their SIM cards to coaches, and to break off relationships with partners. One was even told to force his partner to abort their unborn baby. All so the team could win football games.
The accusations were made against two Hawks coaches at the time: Alastair Clarkson and Chris Fagan. Both stepped aside from the respective duties when the story emerged, but Fagan is now coaching at another club, and Clarkson has been allowed to begin his new coaching role at a different AFL club, before the official investigation has been completed.
The two clubs were also nominated for The Frownlow Medal, a satirical award given to the player from the four major football codes who commits the worst off-field scandal in any given year. The award is normally for individual players, but the actions of the clubs earned them both nominations.
The late Lang Hancock is one of Australia’s most successful business people. His daughter, Gina Rinehart, is even richer. In 1984, Hancock was already a very wealthy and influential man, and during an interview he said of Indigenous Australians:
“Those that have been assimilated into, you know, earning good living or earning wages amongst the civilised areas, those that have been accepted into society and they have accepted society and can handle society, I’d leave them well alone.”
“The ones that are no good to themselves and can’t accept things, the half-castes — and this is where most of the trouble comes — I would dope the water up so that they were sterile and would breed themselves out in future and that would solve the problem.”
Rinehart has never publicly condemned the comments. They came to light recently when Australia’s national netball team refused to wear jerseys with the Hancock Prospecting logo on them. The company was the sponsor at the time, but players took a stand against Hancock’s comments in support of Indigenous teammate Donnell Wallam.
The response to Hancock’s remarks was racist and not surprising. Many Australians told Indigenous Australians, and others outraged by the comments, to stop being sensitive, stop being woke, or to move on because it happened so long ago.
Wallam recently scored the match-winning goal in a nail-biting international against England. She should be a national hero. Instead, she was subjected to racial abuse on social media because of her Aboriginality.
The first step to eradicating racism is acknowledging that it exists.