The opening ceremony of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games provided a glimpse into one of the most cruelly ironic aspects of Australia’s contemporary culture; the inclusion of Indigenous Australian performers and stories in opening and closing ceremonies at major international events.
This time-honoured tradition sees Indigenous Australians wheeled out in front of a global audience to create the facade of a unified and reconciled nation which acknowledges and respects the traditional custodians of this land.
An Aboriginal elder normally welcomes the audience and visitors to country, before yidaki and bilma (didgeridoos and clapsticks) fill the stadium with hauntingly beautiful traditional stories to accompany the dancing and ceremony.
When the Indigenous people have served their purpose, they are shipped back to their dysfunctional communities until the next major outpouring of nauseatingly jingoistic patriotism.
The Indigenous presence in the Gold Coast opening ceremony was actually substantial and refreshing. It was also a major part of the ceremonies for the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000. In fact, the same performer, Christine Anu, sang the same song, My Island Home, 18 years apart. Yet in those 18 years, the status and plight of Australia’s Indigenous people has not improved – many experts would argue that it has only become worse.
This is Australia’s shame.
The urban, rural and remote communities to which the performers return are rife with unemployment, crime, derelict housing, illiteracy, drug and alcohol addiction, poor health outcomes, welfare dependency, family violence, incarceration and an average life expectancy well below that of the rest of the Australian population.
Diseases which sound like something from a Charles Dickens novel, such as scabies, continue to afflict Indigenous people in Australia.
Many Australians may not even know what scabies is, even fewer would realise that it exists to this day in their own country. This is largely because Aboriginal people and issues are largely ignored by the general populace. This is blatant racism. The simple fact is that the physical and daily manifestation of racism in Australia, one of the most multicultural nations on earth, is directed most aggressively at Indigenous people.
This is why Indigenous people have chosen to disrupt and protest the Commonwealth Games.
Many Australians might argue that I have completely misread this situation. They might argue that Aboriginal culture is included because Australia has no other distinct ‘culture’. We did not invent the Haka, Mariachi, Ballet, K Pop, Reggaeton, Bollywood, Salsa or even Lederhosen, and you can’t build a ceremony around meat pies and Tim Tams.
Thus, the only truly distinctive culture Australia has is the world’s oldest surviving culture – a culture of which most Australians are entirely ignorant.
The decision to protest at The Commonwealth Games is telling. It presents an even greater irony. The Commonwealth Games were borne out of Empire and were initially called the British Empire Games. They were established to celebrate the might of the British Empire established through the successful colonisation of a large portion of the globe.
Almost every nation competing at the Commonwealth Games was brought into the British Empire through colonisation, the process of forcefully acquiring land through the deliberate and violent displacement of the indigenous people.
This is not a commentary on the athletes, officials, staff or volunteers attending the games. The athletes are proudly representing their countries and dedicating themselves to the pursuit of personal excellence and, for the lucky few, battling for a global sporting medal.
For any Australians reading this, you have to forget terms like ‘peaceful settlement’ and ‘settlers’ and ‘introduced diseases’, which you were most likely taught at school.
Yes, introduced diseases, for which Aboriginal people had no natural immunity, did kill some of the Aboriginal people, but most Aboriginal deaths were the result of murder.
Australia was forcefully invaded, by the very Empire that the Commonwealth Games celebrates, and the impact of colonisation is still being felt today by Indigenous people-another fact that most Australians fail to accept.
So, when a symbol of that Empire, in this case Prince Charles, declares open the Commonwealth Games after enjoying the performance of the people over whom he reigns, he perpetuates the ongoing fallacy of a nation, and a Commonwealth, united in mutual cultural respect.
This is why people are protesting at the Commonwealth Games.