GO & A

GQ (Australia) - - SOURCE -

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

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