“Existing as an Aboriginal person is a political statement. If you want to be Aboriginal and be Aboriginal in the way that you want to be cultured and have connection to your Country and maintain connection to your Aboriginality, then you’re forced to participate in native title … That doesn’t apply to anyone else in the country. They’re free to go and do those things and accumulate their own wealth and also claim wealth.”

The process of proving your existence, value and connection to land is an insurmountable burden in a context where the systems surrounding your personhood are designed to erase and silence your self-determination. This global campaign to ensure the survival of the W&J people is an immense feat for any person, let alone a woman in her early twenties taking on some of the most powerful financial institutions in the world.

  • What Happens When You Tell Somebody Else’s Story? by Alexis Wright in Meanjin 

     Aboriginal people have not been in charge of the stories other people tell about us. …When it comes to how our stories are being told, supposedly on our behalf, or for our interest or supposed good, it has never been a level playing field.

     …It seemed to me that the physical control and psychological invasion of Aboriginal people has continued as it began, from the racist stories told about Aboriginal people from the beginning of colonisation two centuries ago. It is this style of story that has continued to invade every sense of Aboriginal sovereignty and resistance.

…If you ever wanted to know why Australia is not capable of grappling with the truth of its history, it is because we have remained in this storytelling war with each other.

…Who wants to hear an emotional Aboriginal person who can’t speak the emotionally dead language of the expert academic, or professional bureaucrat—the doctors and other experts on Aboriginal people?

…It has been these battles with barriers, where we have tried to break through the impersonal narratives in order to breathe, to tell and have heard our own stories of what it really means to us, but sadly on too many occasions our own thinking was already compromised and contaminated. We have been exposed for too long to this colonial contact history and to other people’s ideas and attempts to change us. We have learnt how to use the white man’s impersonal language and it means nothing to anyone when we speak. It certainly has not changed much. We try not to become or appear too emotional lest we offend non-Aboriginal people who do not like to be confronted by emotional and angry Aboriginals. We speak in a polite language that has been invented for talking about Aboriginal people and how non-Aboriginal people want to hear us. Sadly too, some of us are immune to or unaware of our own loss, and rush to emulate the oppressor to oppress our own people, and censor our thinking and feelings in the act of compromise.

…why is it that there has never been the will in the country as a whole to listen to an Aboriginal-defined vision?

…the Australian media was the storytelling bard of Aboriginal stories for the nation. How else, in view of Aboriginal people not having any real form of self-governance or real governing ability to promote their own stories, were Australians in general to be informed about Aboriginal people? We could continue to demonstrate in the streets or by democratic means, using the power of our votes, or competitively voicing our opinion to change the way Aboriginal stories were told.

… Our stories have become confused and cluttered with what is truth and what is believed, of what can be told or what can be heard, and by whom. These stories, a whirl of historical and contemporary fragments of what has happened and what has never been resolved, are at risk of losing their strength in the telling. Our voice can be overwhelmed with the complex of historical intensities in the unique stories of each and every one of us. Our storytelling requires enormous energy, and increasingly requires even greater storytelling skills. It is difficult to get the story straight as a group, as a people, to form a vision. The story becomes one of compromises, and so complex in the nature of grievances that storytelling becomes impossible for the Aboriginal person who should be telling his or her own stories in depth and vision, and it is almost impossible to get the story straight, impossible to reach consensus about stories, and paradoxically, actually contributing to all of those outside processes that are at work to compromise the voice of our oral storytelling culture.

…Think of the bandwagon of academics writing and giving advice on Aboriginal issues, or the lawyers, anthropologists, historians, scientists, economists, accountants, doctors, health professionals, consultants and administrators who have been employed to give advice, persuade with their skills, knowledge, values and influence, and so have helped to reshape the Aboriginal story. But what is the Aboriginal story becoming, if other people are telling it for us? We are the matter of the law, for conflicts between them and us. The law courts and governments of Australia do not want you to turn up on your own behalf, they want to hear and argue the Aboriginal story from the professional point of view, and the government provides the money or professional support mechanism so that these arguments can take place in the language of the court.

…Once upon a time I believed that we had the right to tell our stories and articulate our vision for developing the health of our people, culture, land and economic power. I believed that our survival depended on strengthening the cornerstones of our humanity through our ideas of self-governance in the modern age, even with a reliance on government to overcome the long-term damage caused by dysfunctional and unworkable government policies. In reaching this vision I always thought it was about having hope, where our stories were the most valuable tool of the heart and mind for maintaining hope in the struggles that were taking place.

The publication of story after story blaming the victim for failing to demonstrate any responsibility for their struggling and poverty-stricken communities has had the intended effect. Even some of our people started to believe they could not handle self-determination, that they were violent and lazy, welfare dependent, did not care for their children and needed to be controlled. From the beginning of that highly orchestrated conservative theatre, the story war has run on. It is in the blood. Everyone has caught the disease in some measure. It is now accumulated history, just as what was learnt through the history wars, which were basically a pitiful argument pushed by conservative academics who felt disenfranchised and unheard, to question whether the killings of Aboriginal people during the early colonial settlement were acts of genocide, and whether such killings actually happened.

  • Hybrid by Robert Wood in the Mascara Literary Review

In thinking through identity though, in thinking through what I am, I am first led towards clichés. The phrase that seems to be deployed most often is ‘walking in two worlds’. In Australia this is used particularly often for Indigenous people, but one can discern it in post-colonial conversations as well…. In a more intellectual iteration, this might be ‘hybrid’. But hybrid unifies the duality of the two worlds phrase, it seeks to bring together the ‘double consciousness’ that half-halfs seem to have and so it is distinct. Hybridity too, in the literary theory of Homi Bhabha, seems to represent a process over time rather than a state of being. We are apparently creating a new mode of interaction that is neither here nor there. This may account for the either/or discussion that happens, whereby one says I am proud of my heritage or I am in conflict.

…Passing, of course, has a long and complicated global history including for African American communities, for Anglo-Indian people, for Indigenous Stolen Generations. Colouredness used to be a secret to keep hidden because there were material advantages to presenting as white. That has most certainly changed due in part to the end of White Australia, Civil Rights, Land Rights, as well as the material opportunities afforded to Othered subjects by a whole host of cultural, economic and political changes. Now there is cultural capital to be gained from identifying as a person of colour, even as we should think of it as a heuristic and imperfect category. In the Australian conversation, the myth we have of being white, of being a European or American society has been discredited, but it lingers in television, in corporate boardrooms, in advertising, in cricket, in mining. It is not only about placing people of colour in the conversation but about changing the frame of representation to begin with. We don’t need to assimilate to it; it needs to accommodate us.

…For years I have been reluctant to identify myself as a person of colour. This is because I want to be recognised on my own terms, as an individual rather than as a set of histories or a position in the world. I have, in other words, wanted to be white where my identity is all but invisible and I can proclaim my universality without consideration or conscience. But the body returns, heritage returns. There is opportunity to think through what it means to be neither/nor, either/or, two worlds, hybrid, homonymic, dialogic, multiple. And in a style that breaks down the assumption that people can only be one thing, that identity is fixed and personal rather than mutating and structural.

Poetry is about waiting, listening for these connective chords. It is about uncovering the vast networks of bloodlines linking the poet to his immediate world and the wider world out there, weaving threads between cultures and languages.

This little poetry stand aims to do just that, share a bit of what is found there, the connections we discover as we encounter the world anew each day. Mascara is interested in the way poems locate individuals, and how they connect cultures and languages. It welcomes poems from Australia, Asia and the rest of the world, poems from different ethnicities and cultures that offer new ways of seeing and being. The word “mascara” derives from mask, and it is about putting on a different mask each day, Yeatsian or not, and seeing with different eyes. It is interested in the way Australia looks out and upwards, to Asia, and way Asia and the other regions return the gaze. It hopes that the poems and essays on poetry and poetics will arrive to challenge the way we position ourselves, the news from the different quarters renewing the way we imagine ourselves and the world.


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