GO & A
Gareth Evans, John Kerin, Peter Walsh, Neal Blewett, guys forged by the tumultuous ’60s, the Vietnam War, huge social shifts in Australia in the ’70s, the Dismissal. And on the other side John Howard’s committed opposition could see the need for economic change and a union movement led by Bill Kelty. All of them fred with a real desire to do something. I saw then how politics can be used for the good, how people can stand up and prosecute a case even if it’s not popular because it’s going to set us up for the future. That’s how it should be and that’s what would motivate me to be part of it.
GQ: Is it advantageous that you’ve lived in the real world and were not raised in the political machine? SG:
I’ve had a really strange, improbable life. I’ve stood in the Oval Offce next to the President of the United States… yet I spent the frst 12 or 13 years of my life essentially homeless. We would move from town to town, no place to hang a picture, put a book on a shelf. No place to build memories, to build a garden. No friendships that endured from childhood. We were utterly itinerant and nomadic. ‘Home’ depended on Mum and Dad having the capacity to fnd work at the bottom rung of the ladder, put food on the table and a roof over our heads. We were marked by our poverty but also by our blackness. History had put us on the margins of society.
GQ: You still carry the scars from that period – what’s your abiding memory of those early years? SG:
Looking out the back of a car window at night watching the white posts go by, sleeping in little gypsy caravans or sawmill shacks. Really, there is no reason that I should be where I am today. By the age of 12 I’d changed school 14 times. Even then I had a great awareness about identity. My mother would tell stories. She’d write poetry about the welfare men coming to take kids away or going to bed hungry. Those stories nourished me. But I do carry scars. Throughout my childhood I had constant anxiety, pains in the stomach and blinding headaches, because I was always worried. It was a bloody hard way to grow up. No one in that parliament can say they’ve travelled as far as I have in my life.
GQ: Given your long career as a journalist, are stories where your sense of belonging come from? SG:
People talk of identity as if it’s something you fashion or choose. But it’s as natural as breathing. Growing up we weren’t Aboriginal people, we were Wiradjuri people. When I go home I can tell you if I cross a border not because it’s a line on a map but because it’s a shift in the landscape that sits deeply inside me. As a boy, one place really stood out for me as somewhere I loved the most, a little place called Coolah. Only later on in life, did I fnd out that Coolah marked the exact point where the Wiradjuri country of my father meets the Kamilaroi country of my mother.
GQ: You’ve quoted Professor George Yancy saying ‘all white people benefit from racism and in their own way are racist’. Do you believe that of Australians? SG:
There is an easy acceptance of the virtues and the benefts that come from systemic racism even by people who are not aware that they’re engaging in it. Racism isn’t just a conscious act of bigotry: it can be an act of omission, an act of ignorance. A white person is much more likely to live a full and prosperous life in Australia than an Aboriginal person. That’s a fact. Why? Well, frstly, you took everything from us; our inheritance is loss and pain. The inheritance of the people who took the land is wealth. I’m not saying that they didn’t build on it or that they don’t deserve what they’ve built. But someone had to pay a price and we paid it. What we need to do now is accept the full responsibility of our history – live up to the full measure of our greatness and deal with this original grievance between Indigenous people and settlers. And we’re doing it every single day in so many ways. I see it in schools. I see it in the friendships of my kids. I see it when people respond to what I write and say. It tells me we can be better.
GQ: Let’s talk about that speech at the Ethics Centre – it’s been a couple of months since it went viral – has it been a crazy time?
SG: The last thing I did before I got up to give that speech, completely off the top of my head, was hold an axe head [a Wiradjuri artifact gifted to Grant]. It fts perfectly in my hand – with a little groove for my thumb and a beautiful, sharp point. That’s no coincidence. The axe was telling me that the story I was about to tell was not just my story.
GQ: We’re sure your 1994 Logie for Real Life as Most Popular Current Affairs show emits a similar energy? SG:
[Laughs] I’ve been really lucky. I’ve won a lot of awards – a Walkley last year and a Dupont award in America, which is the broadcasting equivalent of the Pulitzer. Awards are not integral to me, though they are meaningful in the sense my family can see that the struggle is worth it. n