ANZAC Day is the one day of the year…

ANZAC Day is the one day of the year that many Australians show any genuine respect for Australian history. For the remaining 364 days, many remain ignorant, dismissive, racist, sexist and bigoted. These overtly patriotic Aussies access a deeply-hidden reverence on April 25 and demand that the remainder of the population display an equal amount of pride in the achievements of soldiers and the nation as a whole.

Respect Australian history!

Many Australians implore us all to respect the nation’s history on ANZAC Day during personal conversations, across social media, in the workplace and on the flagpole in front of their house. These same people exhibit very little interest in the stories of women, migrants and Aboriginal people and the part they played in the nation’s history. History for many Australians extends to accounts of WWI and WWII, the Gold Rush, Federation and the Explorers. The figures they credit with building the nation are Diggers (soldiers) farmers, sportspeople and Explorers – almost all of whom are Caucasian and male. All Australians recognise the part these people played in shaping the modern nation, but some realise that women, migrants and Aboriginal people also made a significant contribution to contemporary Australia, and deserve to be remembered.

The respectful mourners cling to the following tried and true phrases about the history of this nation:

Australia has no history

Proud, flag-waving patriots often bemoan the fact that Australia has no history. They perpetuate this idea with reference to the age-old cultures and structures of Europe or Asia and compare these to Australia’s comparative youth. There is one major flaw in this thinking; it completely dismisses the existence of Indigenous Australians, who continue the world’s oldest surviving culture.

It happened long ago, forget about it

When confronted with the truth of colonisation and the forceful dispossession of Indigenous people from their land, many Australians tell Aboriginal people that ‘it happened a long time ago’ and that everyone should ‘let it go’, ‘move on’ or ‘forget about it’. They issue the same response to stories of the Stolen Generation, The Aboriginal Day of Mourning’ and accounts of individual massacres of Aboriginal people across the nation. Interestingly, they refuse to forget about WWI even though that happened ‘a long time ago’.

They defend our way of life

We are told that Australia’s armed forces defend the nation. We are told that our armed services personnel ‘keep us safe’ and ‘protect our way of life’. The last time we were reminded of this our prime minister, Scott Morrison, even forced himself to cry for the cameras. Most of us believe these broad statements, out of patriotism or naivety. We fail to recognise that these statements are often used to justify support of the multi-million dollar defence industry, and to send young people to needless deaths. Armed forces play a part in defending the nation, but so do trade and diplomacy.

Did the ANZACS protect Australia?

ANZAC Day was created to recognise the sacrifices, hardships and deaths of soldiers in WWI, particularly in Gallipoli, Turkey. WWI never directly threatened Australia. Australians lost their lives protecting Great Britain. ANZAC Day also recognises Australia’s contribution to WWII, when we fought again for the British. Our own country was directly threatened in WWII when Japanese submarines entered Sydney harbour and their planes bombed Darwin. It is also argued that the fall of Singapore posed a subsequent threat to Australia, and that Australian soldiers suffered while defending the tiny nation. That said, most Australian armed forces personnel fought for Great Britain in WWII, in battles waged a long way from Australia. Did they protect Australia, or did they protect our relationship with our colonial masters?

Current ANZAC Day commemorations pay tribute to soldiers who have have worn the Australian uniform in any war, but all of these battles have occurred overseas, most often in service of The United States during their wars in Vietnam and the Middle East. The only extended battle that occurred on Australian soil was the battle between the British colonisers and Indigenous Australians, but the ANZAC Day commemorators don’t like to be reminded of this. They cling to another popular phrase associated with the history of the nation: Australia was settled, and not invaded.

Do Australians realise this historical truth, or are they too enamoured with the patriotism of ANZAC Day to accept the subtle and nuanced details of modern history?

The strength and depth of emotion prompted by ANZAC Day could be explained by a question:

What is Australian?

The problematic nature of Australian identity also explains the heightened reverence towards ANZAC Day. April 25 has become a quasi national day and surpassed January 26 in the minds of many Aussies, because Australia Day is problematic.

Many Australians continue to celebrate Australia Day with joy and pride, while Indigenous Australians refer to it as Invasion Day. The day itself raises the difficult question of what it means to be Australian. Is an Australian an Indigenous person? Is an Australian a Caucasian soldier, farmer or athlete, or is an Australian a migrant who could have been born anywhere in the world? Is it all of the above?

For many Australians, this question is too difficult to answer, or even to consider, so they impose their patriotism on ANZAC Day. Some keen observers have tracked the increasing patriotism associated with ANZAC Day, and fear it could overshadow the remembrance of fallen soldiers, for whom the day was created.

Don’t criticise ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day is sacred. ANZAC Day is off limits. Even this article is likely to be met with scorn and criticised as unpatriotic or an insult to fallen soldiers – most likely by the same people who carry bumper stickers reading:

Australia, if you don’t like it, fuck off!

Any questioning of any aspect of ANZAC Day is interpreted as an attack on the memories of fallen soldiers and their surviving families. These reactive, emotional responses exemplify the blind reverence for April 25 among a section of the Australian population, who show little to no interest in nuanced and varied accounts of Australian history for the remainder of the year.

Should we ignore ANZAC Day?

No

Absolutely not.

This article is in no way intended to diminish the sacrifices of individual soldiers, civilians and their families. It is not intended to brush aside the sufferings and horrors of war. It is designed to remind people that historical perspective should be exercised every day of the year, not just when commemorating war. It is also designed to remind all Australians that patriotism is a vital component of ANZAC Day celebrations but it should not overshadow the original purpose of the day; to pay respect to individual soldiers, and to do everything possible to make sure war never happens again.

Image: http://www.abc.net.au

Australians flock to churches after closure of Uluru.

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Australian and international tourists are planning to hike through places of worship across the country following the announcement that Uluru will be closed for climbing in October this year.

The Desecration Tour, as it has been labelled, will begin at St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney before continuing to other churches as well as temples, mosques and synagogues throughout the nation. Streets surrounding religious buildings will soon be inundated with vehicles parking illegally, while residents have been warned that their gardens are likely to be used as toilets and rubbish dumps.

Participants in the Desecration Tour are determined to hike in as many sacred sites as possible after learning that they will be prevented from climbing Uluru due to the wishes of the Anangu people, the traditional custodian of the land on which Uluru lies.

The famous rock in the centre of Australia has always been scared to the Anangu people, who ask visitors to respect their culture and beliefs. Despite their wishes, and the multiple, multilingual signs at the base of the rock, hundreds of tourists climb the rock every year.

Tourists are set to don hiking shoes, backpacks and zinc cream as they descend upon places of worship, where they will take selfies, enjoy a picnic, leave behind rubbish and place themselves and others in danger.

Visitors will be encouraged to visit as many sacred places as possible, and record their achievements through the Sacred Summits App and facebook page, where they can upload photos as proof of their conquest. Visitors will earn extra points for conquering a sacred place during a religious ceremony, such as the Christian mass.

The facebook page has already attracted thousands of ‘likes’, ‘shares’, ‘comments’ and ‘posts’ and has united tourists, who are calling on religious organisations to install toilets, rubbish bins and other amenities on the altar or consecrated section of each religious building, in order to cater for the visitors. Countless members have also demanded doggie bowls so that their dogs can have a drink.

Religious groups have issued mixed responses to the news. Many were horrified that grown adults would knowingly desecrate a sacred site in direct opposition to the stated wishes of the custodians of the land, while others promised to welcome all visitors.

“We’re just glad to have someone turn up to Mass,” conceded a spokesperson for Christian church groups in Australia.

“The only person who has been on the altar of our churches for many years is the priest, or minister, because most of our parishioners are too old to reach the altar, and we can no longer invite children to the altar in light of recent events.”

Tourists, meanwhile, have taken to social media to express their delight at finding a new opportunity to demonstrate their respect for sacred beliefs.

“Religious sites belong to all Australians, and all Australians should be able to climb them.”

“If I don’t climb this mosque, someone else will.”

“This rocks – let’s bag this b/.ch”

“Wow, great idea, plus it’s free, heaps cheaper than Bridge Climb.”

“Great way to teach my kids true Aussie culture and Aussie values.”

“Wonderful initiative, hiking through sacred sites will help me to gain a greater understanding of various religions.”

“Following the footsteps of Moses, who climbed…something.”

The Desecration Tour is set to continue for an unspecified period of time, and will even involve scaling the stage of the Horizon Church in Sutherland, in Sydney’s south, where Prime Minister Scott Morrison prays for all Australians. Tourists have already created a spin-off called Climb the Hillsong, to take place at every Hillsong megachurch throughout Australia.

Image:www.australiantraveller.com

 

 

My soul for your sol.

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Photographing people can be challenging.

Photographing people of different cultures, religions and nationalities can be even more complicated.

How do we photograph people while travelling without causing offence?

This conundrum presented itself to me while travelling in Peru.

It soon became apparent that many local people living and working near tourist hot spots such as Cusco and Arequipa did not like being photographed. It was also apparent that certain travellers insisted on photographing these people.In reaction, some local people demanded payment for appearing in traveller’s photos. For a few ‘Nuevo Soles’, they would acquiesce to performing the role of subject.

This arrangement led one fellow traveller to remark,

“They’ll give you their soul in return for your Sol.”

The traveller was referring to a commonly-held belief that Peruvians, and other indigenous people, are reluctant to appear in photographs because they think that the camera will steal their soul.

Some cultures forbid being photographed. Australian Indigenous people traditionally forbid photographs, even though today’s youth, even in remote communities, have fallen under the spell of the selfie.

Local people living in tourist hot spots, such as those in Peru, detest photography because they’re simply sick of it. Sick of arrogant tourists appearing in their community on a fly-by visit only to shove a camera, or phone, in their face and demand a photo.

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Analysing this phenomena theoretically or philosophically informs us of the concept of the ‘other’. Theoretically, the ‘other’ is a person or thing that does not belong to our culture and is therefore different. Our culture is the norm, and any other culture, and people belonging to that culture, are the ‘other’.

Travel, and photographing people, can be a manifestation of ‘othering’. Travellers, who journey to lands that are different to their own, seek photos with people simply because they are different. The visitor is not interested in that person’s thoughts, personality, motivations – only interested in what makes that person exotic, strange, different…the ‘other’.

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Without delving too deeply into philosophy, it could be argued that the visitor chases photographs of the ‘other’, because sharing those images with friends and family makes that person appear more travelled, more worldly, more exotic.

Some local people have responded to their ‘othering’ in a pragmatic way. Some reluctantly pose for tourists, in return for cash or in the hope that visitors will buy more of their Maasai souvenirs. Photo done, the traditionally-adorned Maasai warrior resumes playing on his smartphone.

In contrast, some local people are perfectly happy to be photographed, especially kids.

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Personally, I have never experienced any major issues with photographing people. I try to be respectful traveller, but I’m also not a passionate photographer (in fact, at the moment I don’t even own a camera) so I simply don’t take many photos.

I have, however, been in situations in which the opportunity arose for me to take a photo of a public event, even a private event that was happening in a public space, and I took the opportunity to snap a photo as a passive observer. My photo was never going to make any difference to that event.

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Photographing children is another topic altogether. Their images can appear anywhere, and be used for any sinister purpose. Such is the potential danger that a Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney, Australia, has banned parents from taking photos of their own children during ‘Nippers’ (junior life saving training). Instead, the club hires a professional photographer to take photos of the children, and parents can only access those photos through a password-protected site.

This is the world we live in.

Also, as an aside, when I first started backpacking (when I was a boy…) smartphones and even digital cameras were rare. Many travellers carried a film camera and had to re-stock on film, preciously guard their used film, and wait until they arrived home, which could be six months later, before they could process the film and see how their photos turned out.

In such circumstances, one travel buddy once remarked.

“Film is more valuable than your passport. You can replace your passport, but you can’t go back to that very moment and take exactly the same picture.”

Thus, while photography can be a fulfilling activity to accompany a journey, perhaps we should all remind ourselves to enjoy that very moment.

 

The none too subtle art of photographing people.

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Travel offers countless opportunities to take wonderful photos. Exploration of new frontiers allows us to perfectly capture landscapes, architecture, cuisine, monuments, ruins, culture…and people.

Most visitors yearn for a keepsake image of local people in traditional attire, but capturing such an image can be problematic.

During a trip through Central America, my travel buddies and I wanted some photos of elderly Guatemalan men in traditional clothing in the villages on the shores of Lago Atitlan.

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We were mindful of keeping our distance, aware that the men may not like to be put on the spot with the request for a photo. We also wanted to photograph the men in their natural setting. Most of all though, we wanted to photograph the men because they looked so stylish.

The question was, though, how do we take a photo of the men? We could ask them to pose, but that seemed disrespectful and the photos were likely to look stilted – and we had no interest in being in the photos ourselves as we were dressed in the clothes that had served us during the last 3 months of backpacking.

We decided that two of us would pretend to pose, near our subject, while the other took the photo. The photographer would point the camera at us and just happen to catch the man in the frame.

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Despite our concerted efforts to appear natural and innocent, most of the men knew they were being photographed. One seemed displeased, others unconcerned and a few shot us a small knowing grin as they saw us fail to hide our own laughter.

We persevered with this charade for some time, and only captured a few images. We felt more foolish with each attempt and decided that enough was enough. It was time to get the bus back to the hostel.

At the bus stop, what did we find? A number of local gentlemen on their way home, looking extremely dapper. This time, my two travel buddies brushed off their fledgling Spanish and asked the men for a photo.

The men happily obliged.

I guess another thing that travel teaches you is that anywhere in the world, no man can resist the charms of two attractive young women.