Larrikinism and Casual Racism – Goodesy, MMM, Eddie and Harry

It’s been a strange old week, where it started with a 13 year old girl learning very quickly just what saying “ape” to an Indigenous man actually means.  Eddie McGuire certainly knew what it meant – I doubt Eddie has moved more swiftly to an opposition’s dressing room than he did that night. This moment reminded me strongly of that moment where the production team at Hey Hey it’s Saturday very quickly realised how having a blackface act belonged more to the 1890s than in the 21st Century world.

Flash forward to a quiet Wednesday morning in Austereoland at MMM, where it seems that Eddie McGuire had a few things running around his mind.  I’m guessing not least of all the number of meetings, commitments and events he goes to – but also Adam Goodes.  Up pops the words “King Kong the Musical” and a thought creeps into his mind “oh, in the old days, the promoters of that would have had tried to use Adam Goodes as a bit of a joke”. Those old days being the days when blackface was still “funny”.

Most of us would have dismissed those thoughts and known that such a cultural shift can’t be explained without causing offence, especially in the bubbling pace and tone of breakfast radio.  It may have been something for a history essay maybe – but not for a widely listened to radio station where such discussions cannot be done with the depth needed.  Hence the mess that Eddie waded into, out outlined here.

One of the problems with McGuire’s explanation is that he said it was “a slip of the tongue”. As Richard Colless of the Sydney Swans correctly pointed out though, this wasn’t a slip of the tongue. This was quite a few words.  a thought pattern.  It was a thought pattern that tells us plenty about the way we talk about race in Australia.   That to McGuire it was fine to talk about casual racism of the type of which McGuire was referring in a lighthearted fashion on a jokey, blokey radio station.  That to compare a human being to a primate is ok, as long as it’s done in a lighthearted tone and context.  It’s not a slip of the tongue, it’s a slip of the way many people of Anglo Celtic heritage think and speak.

An impressive side effect of this incident was the appearance of Collingwood player Harry O’Brien.  After this tweet about casual racism criticising McGuire:

Screen Shot 2013-05-30 at 5.17.58 PMHe was on AFL 360, pitted against his club’s president. The key point of his response was of how larrikinism is used in Australia to mask casual racism – that it’s “lighthearted” and “not serious” and the like – that the targets of these daily pieces of racism should just accept their lot and laugh along.  In what was an impressive array of comments, he also spoke of the demonising of asylum seekers by society and how it discriminates. He didn’t miss his targets and well worth a watch if you can see it – some of it is here.

There has been some blowback on O’Brien in the aftermath of his comments, especially after his comments directed at Tom Hawkins, which were unfortunate and discriminatory towards those who experience weight problems.  It should be pointed out, though, that he quickly realised his mistake and apologised.  Those who practice daily casual, indirect racism usually don’t. From what I have seen in the community, it’s usually framed as “only a joke” and “no harm was done – he was ok with it”.

If anything, this week has shown us that people who have experienced institutionalised, previously accepted casual racism delivered in a larrikin accent are starting to say “No, I’m not ok with it”.   It’s also provided high school teachers with a whole load of new material to show their students precisely what racism is and how it affects its targets. And that’s not a bad thing.


Stop These Things!

Every new Thing gets opposed by people in one way or another for a variety of reasons. Marriage equality, for example, where apparently if we get that, people will be marrying goats soon enough.  Those of us who support renewable energy solutions have been aware of opponents to wind farms for a while now. Like climate change deniers, the supporters have either dubious university degrees and / or silent financial backers.

The latest in this group of alarmists are the creators of the “Stop These Things” website. Their rally in Canberra on June 18 would ordinarily be a stock standard group of cranks with signs saying Stop The Things! We Don’t Like Things! Things (especially new ones) are Bad.  Normally, most people would probably ignore a campaign by such an organisation rallied around a blog site. I know my constant calls for rallies fall on deaf ears. No-one showed interest in my rally ideas – Better Beer in all Sydney Pubs, Genetically Modify Goats to Look More Like Bob Katter, Stop the Supercars (Wasting tens of millions of dollars in Homebush every year) and Stop the Boats (The Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race is a waste of money).

I should have just said “Stop These Things”, because this Stop These Things rally has gained the support of a variety of Federal politicians, including Craig Kelly, Alby Schultz, Chris Back, Nick Xenophon and John Madigan of the DLP, as covered in this Chris Johnson article. Oh, and Alan Jones.  Point him towards a “Stop The Things” rally of any sort and there he’ll be.  It does point, however, to a schism in Liberal Party ranks about climate change and their policies in relation to it.

As for Stop These Things!, their blog site is filled with the usual features of an astroturfing operation. Claims that

“We are not affiliated with any group, political party or industry… a kitchen table group of citizens concerned about what is happening across rural and regional Australia, by the harm being done  by the wind industry, in partnership with governments”

and yet follows up with

“We are surprised and alarmed by how the Green movement is now in bed with big industry.”

With this broadside we hear the creaky line about a “Green conspiracy”, then discover on the same site that Alan Moran of the IPA will be speaking at the Stop These Things rally – indicating a strong link to one of our oldest and most clandestine lobbying groups, in terms of hiding their links to business and big industry.

It’s a not so new tack for these movements, claiming to be a “kitchen table” movement, then claiming some kind of major conspiracy, while hiding their own connections.  Later on, they follow up with a picture of the lone opponent to the tank at Tianamen Square, invoking a new China related version of Godwin’s Law – maybe Tianamen Law – attempting to categorise yourself as powerless in the face of a monolithic machine.  Yet they manage to attract politicians and a broadcaster with a large audience to speak at their rally. Powerless?

When I first read the website I was hoping, as ever, that this new group was honest and have the intention of just expressing an attitude towards wind farms and wasn’t an astroturfing operation. I hoped it had no links to the Waubra Foundation and its relationship with fossil fuel company employees and “Not in My Backyard” campaigners. I hoped that, unlike Tasmanian wind farm opponents, they won’t seek expensive support from PR companies linked to things like the Galileo Foundation. (thanks to @leroy_lynch for those links).

A purview through the site, however, didn’t fill me with confidence. On the “experts” page, listed with one expert – an acoustic engineer. Then they have a “people who get it” page, listing Sarah Laurie, the CEO of Waubra; Alan Jones (the most expert English teacher in the history of English teachers); John Madigan and Nick Xenophon; Graham Lloyd, from the Australian (whose campaign against wind farms is dissected here), and Robert Bryce, a spruiker for the Manhattan Institute, a think tank funded by fossil fuel companies.  And, as mentioned, they have Moran from the IPA speaking at their rally.  It should be concerning us that Xenophon and Madigan are supporting things like this Stop The Things idea – they hold a good chance of holding the balance of power in the next Senate.

Ultimately, groups like this come across as cranks who don’t like the look of wind turbines and make up spurious claims of health impacts – but, more importantly, do not offer any alternative solutions for long term power generation. There’s not any support provided to the idea of renewable energy alternatives to wind farms, nor is CSG mentioned – even though CSG poses more of a threat to public health than any wind turbine.  I would suggest, though, that people could turn up to the rally in Canberra on June 18, ready with signs declaring “Stop These Things”, but with a variety of Things on them.  That would liven up the event.




and finally…


They are Things! And they must be Stopped!


Oh, and as a postscript, this video should convince you why we need to create Kattergoats.

Cultural Comment Sport

The Giants – A Continuing Eggshell Walk

Those who know me and my writings about sport will know of my interest and reasons for supporting the GWS Giants. Today was hard, sitting amongst the dismal crowd of 5,300, watching what was possibly the worst performance in the time I have been following the team.  I can’t say my supporting life is as hard as that of long suffering Bulldogs, St. Kilda, Richmond or Melbourne supporters – the latter currently writhing in despair.

It’s still hard though. 5,300.  Loss by 130 + to a team that probably won’t make the finals. I walked very slowly to my car.

It was clearly also tough on the coach, Kevin Sheedy, whose post match press conference revealed the pressures brought to bear on the club that has so many millions of dollars riding on its long term success.  In the press conference, as outlined here, he isolated two key concerns for the club – its growth as a playing group and growth of a supporter base.  They are the main issues affecting the club and will be for the next five years.

For passionate Melbourne based football fans, Sheedy’s comments will echo loudly in the next week. He places the blame on the current performance of the Giants at the feet of existing powerful clubs unwilling to let go of existing stars whose presence at a club like the Giants would make an immediate and profound difference. As can be seen by the presence of Gary Ablett Jnr at the Suns, as well as the work of Chad Cornes last year at the Giants, experience and body development count a great deal towards the success of a team in AFL. You just can’t build a team entirely on the promise of 19 year olds.  From where I sit, if there were two more experienced players in the back, two more experienced players in the forward line, the difference would be marked.   You will hear, however, on the SEN talkback in Melbourne that clubs “shouldn’t be giving up players they developed” from a range of passionate fans.  I can understand their point. The idea of transfer, however, is a feature of most football codes in the world, but is considered sacrilege by many in AFL.

This is a key difference between the on field success of the Western Sydney Wanderers and the Giants. The Wanderers had players of varying levels of talent and experience – with key outstanding players like Ono, which helped to create a team that was quick to mature and blossom. This is why their sudden success of the year shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise as it was.  Soccer (I will call it soccer here, as distinct from Australian Football) easily transfers players from other clubs, it’s part of their game.  In AFL, it is a major, painful sticking point.

What we will also hear is reaction to his other comment – already he is being accused of being a racist.

“…That was probably a reminder of what the Swans have been telling us. (Sydney chairman) Richard Colless says you’re going to do it hard early.  So it just tells everybody how tough it’s going to be to build the club. We don’t have the recruiting officer called the immigration department, recruiting fans for (successful A-League soccer club) Western Sydney Wanderers.  We’ve got to start a whole new ballpark and go and find fans.”

It’s a silly comment, a clumsy, insensitive attempt at humour and should not have been made. What I suspect Sheedy was trying to say was that soccer has a wide following from people who come from overseas to Australia while AFL, being home grown, doesn’t have that natural, from birth support. It is an accurate observation to make, especially when we consider that the soccer mad UK is the source of the third highest number of migrants to Australia.

DIAC Source Country for Immigration Statistics, 2011 - 12
Source Country for Immigration Statistics, 2011 – 12 – from DIAC.

It is also the case that soccer’s supporter base in Western Sydney was well established amongst various British, Irish and non – British migrant communities long before the Wanderers came along. This explains why the Wanderer support base was quick to form. Due to that heritage, I still think Western Sydney should have had a soccer team before Sydney.  I was a supporter of the Parramatta Power back in the NSL days.  That the Wanderers was a hurried afterthought was an indictment on the A League’s founders.  However, maybe because it was an afterthought that it’s been a success.  Perhaps, if there had been more planning, Parramatta Leagues club might have stumbled in and repeated the mistakes they made with the Parramatta Power.  Due to the fact almost all games are played at Parramatta, the Wanderers are little more than a reborn Power, but this time with genuine grassroots engagement, as opposed to top – down control.

Thus, what Sheedy should have said in the press conference is that AFL doesn’t have the same cultural roots in Western Sydney as sports like soccer and rugby league and this makes it a hard, long sell.  But he didn’t, thus leading us to what will be a bit of a storm on which the media will feed for a while.

Sheedy did come out and explain his comments on Twitter later in the evening, which fit into what I suspected he meant –

Sheedy Tweets

What he will find very quickly though, that it’s a thorny field, talking about immigration and Western Sydney.  Accusations of dog whistling are always quick to form whenever immigration is mentioned.  It will be interesting to see where this issue heads. Soccer fans will be furious, saying that it shows that Anglo Celtic people like Sheedy see soccer as “wogball” and only played by European migrants. Yet others will see it as sour grapes because the Giants haven’t built the support that the Wanderers have.  In truth, I don’t think Sheedy should have mentioned the Wanderers at all in comparison to the Giants. They play at a different time of the year for a start and the codes don’t necessarily compete for juniors.  The two junior codes play on a different day – Saturday is soccer day, Sunday is AFL day in Sydney.

Ultimately, Sheedy should have focused on the fact there’s still work to be done on the team and on the poor mother’s day scheduling. It would have been less controversial and not make it into an us and them issue. The Giants and the Wanderers should not be fighting against each other, no matter what journalists will ask and write in their articles comparing the two codes.

As for what might happen next, I think we will see Sheedy on the TV in Sydney a bit this week, apologising, showing how he likes the cultural diversity in Western Sydney as well as soccer.  In Melbourne, however, he will be quizzed about “stealing” players from the successful clubs.

For me, though, it’s just been a hard Sunday. The Giants have a long way to go, in terms of team and crowd development. I sincerely hope these comments don’t make people think Giants fans and staffers are all racists and that we hate soccer. I just want to see better efforts from the players and more people to be part of what should be a great AFL club representing one of the best – and most misunderstood – parts of Australia.

Cultural Comment

TedX – Hillsong for Atheists?

Many people in the business world like going to conferences. They are often subsidised by their employers to go, stay in a nice hotel, listen to some ideas, schmooze and go home recharged – either by the ideas, the schmoozing, the hotel or a little of all of the above.  Teachers, too, like conferences, though they are often less swish than the business ones – and often pay their own airfare and accommodation.

These conferences have a various array of themes, concepts and types of presentation tools being used. Powerpoints were the rage until recently, replaced in part by videos and the swooshing of Prezi.  While business conferences are usually closed door affairs, however, teacher conferences are marked these days by the lines of teachers tweeting what is being said so that their PLN – Professional Learning Network – can read what is being said.  These teachers are more than aware that there are many teachers who cannot make conferences, due mainly to cost and family commitments.  They tweet so those colleagues and friends can keep up to date.   It is not, as many other teachers used to say at such conferences, a “rude thing to do”. It’s the opposite.

I say this because there is another strain of conference concept emerging – the TED talks. Teachers are aware of TED, largely because there’s not a term goes by where teachers see a TED talk being transmitted during an inservice day. This is not a bad thing – TED talks are often excellent, informative and can be inspiring.

What is intriguing, however, is how regional TED talks are organised and run. In 2012, the first TED talk in Sydney (at least, the first of which I was aware), was held at Carriageworks, in Redfern – a relatively low key venue for the ideas being spread. It was a free event, but one had to “apply” for entry with an interesting biography. Each potential audience member had to prove just how interesting they were to be provided entry to the event. The deciding panel therefore became some kind of doormen outside the hottest thought club in town. I wasn’t cool enough – I thought back and realised I should have just made something up. Something like this:

I am a cutting edge thought leader and shaper living in one of the most culturally intriguing parts of Australia’s most cosmopolitan city. I believe ideas are the key to unlocking the potential all of us have in continuing the cultural conversation and defining the paradigms of our age.

On the day, I put the question out as to whether those of us too uncool for entry could at least read the ideas from the comfort of our lounge rooms. I was told that the TED organisers were not allowing tweeting from inside the room from audience members. This astonished me, considering that the whole philosophy of TED is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Ideas worth spreading, but not as individual people.  It seems from this policy that the way they practice their “Ideas Worth Spreading” idea is through their website. And to the cool people in the room.

Flash forward to 2013 and TED in Sydney has graduated to the Sydney Opera House – a much more expensive venue to hire. There was also, this time around, a ticket cost – $120 – for those who got in. I don’t know if they still had the Thought Club Doormen this time around. You would have thought so, however – TED seemed to be the hottest ticket in town for people interested in Thoughts. If you’re on the outside, you can watch the live stream at home or the videos afterwards.  But not reading tweets.

The cult of TED has been interesting to follow – and I think summarised pretty well in this Twitter conversation between the President of the NSW Independent Education Union, Dick Shearman, radio and newspaper veteran Mike Carlton and I:

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 12.28.09 PM

The adherents of TED do sound a bit like evangelical Christians after emerging from a particularly inspiring church service – high on the propagation of simple, effectively communicated ideas.  You also don’t hear many dissenting voices TED being broadcast – restricting the tweets would certainly do that. It is also a bit Hillsong in that they do like to have the flashy, highly attractive venue and control over the material presented.

This is not to say TED is a bad thing, or that all of the presenters and their ideas aren’t excellent – I was pleased, for example, that Lisa Murray, the City of Sydney Historian, was appreciated for her work during yesterday’s event.  Her work, and that of other presenters, needs celebration and profile.  I do wonder, however, whether people who saw her talk would have gone to the other talks that she would deliver around the City as a part of her role, or just went because it was TED – and therefore cool.

I would be interested, too, whether the organisers of TED would ever contemplate a TEDxPenrith, where ideas could be propagated by a range of people to an audience keen to engage with ideas. This is because there are people who live in the region interested in ideas about society, the planet, education, history and the rest. The cynic in me guesses that it will never happen – TED seem to want the big flashy settings for the videos to get the clicks from their audience. You would wonder too if they would attract some of the Thought Leaders of our Age to make the trip out west.