Let­ters and Ge­off Pryor’s car­toon.

The Saturday Paper - - Contents -

The lie is that this coun­try has a ma­ture dis­course, that the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion could be scan­dalised by an ex­cess of rhetoric.

It’s a lie of con­de­scen­sion, a lie that lets Jeff Ken­nett tell a young Indige­nous ac­tivist to “buy a oneway plane ticket”. It’s a lie that lets him say “those who use in­ap­pro­pri­ate lan­guage against the coun­try they choose to live in, use lan­guage like that be­cause they don’t have the in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity to ar­gue their case”.

It’s the dis­course that lets a News Corp colum­nist look at a hash­tag such as #IS­tandWithTarneen and head­line their cor­re­spond­ing piece “#InTheQueueAtMcDon­ald’s”. It’s the dis­course that cap­tions the pho­to­graph in an­other piece, “Tarneen wants Aus­tralia to burn, but prob­a­bly not all the pie shops”.

Tarneen Onus-Williams was speak­ing at an In­va­sion Day rally when she found the words that of­fended Jeff Ken­nett. Those words have noth­ing to do with in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity: they are about anger.

“Fuck Aus­tralia. Hope it burns to the ground,” Onus-Williams said.

“If you cel­e­brate Aus­tralia Day, fucker, you’re cel­e­brat­ing the death of my an­ces­tors. All you fel­las with the Aus­tralian flag should be so em­bar­rassed with your­self. It’s em­bar­rass­ing. It’s em­bar­rass­ing that you cel­e­brate peo­ple’s deaths, the peo­ple of this land’s death. You make me sick to my stom­ach.”

Onus-Williams is a Yi­gar Gun­ditj­mara and Bin­dal woman. She is a mem­ber of the Koorie Youth Coun­cil and an early par­tic­i­pant in Vic­to­rian treaty talks. Pre­dictably, there has been a call for her to be sacked.

She has been mocked and be­lit­tled.

Her anger has been used to dis­credit her. As the aca­demic Chelsea Bond wrote this week: “Black women are not al­lowed to be an­gry, yet at the same time, we can never be cast as any­thing but the ‘an­gry black woman’.”

The re­sponse to Onus-Williams pre­tends that her cri­tique of struc­tural op­pres­sion would have been more ef­fec­tive if she hadn’t said “fuck”. It pre­tends that Aus­tralia would be in the process of calmly re­mak­ing it­self if she hadn’t first sug­gested it be burnt to the ground.

This is an­other lie, a use­ful one. It’s a lie the con­ser­va­tive press have spent all week telling, in­stead of deal­ing with the truth of Onus-Williams’s anger. It’s a lie that keeps peo­ple quiet.

“It’s been an emo­tional day and it was a strong state­ment, but I am not go­ing to apol­o­gise for it,” Onus Williams said af­ter mak­ing her speech.

“It was a metaphor, not ac­tu­ally a state­ment to be taken lit­er­ally. I just want ev­ery­thing, all the gov­ern­ments, to fall apart, be­cause our peo­ple are dy­ing and no­body cares and the whole sys­tem needs to change. The lead­ers of this coun­try con­tinue to ig­nore and op­press us. I am sick of our peo­ple get­ting locked up and dy­ing in cus­tody, of our young peo­ple sui­cid­ing.

“I don’t have all the an­swers of what is go­ing to lib­er­ate us. I just know the cur­rent sys­tem isn’t work­ing. Since coloni­sa­tion noth­ing has worked for black­fel­las on this land.”

All of that is true. Re­gret­tably, we have a brit­tle and self-im­por­tant dis­course in this coun­try, in­tent on

• keep­ing it that way.

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