As part of The National 2021: New Australian Art exhibiting artist Alana Hunt will be Carriageworks inaugural Writer in Residence. Working progressively she will publish Conversations and Correspondence—six texts that take as their starting point the bodies of work All the violence within this and In the national interest both exhibited as part of The National.
For the fourth in the series, Impossibilities, Alana Hunt is in conversation with Jazz Money—an award-winning poet, filmmaker and educator of Wiradjuri heritage currently based on beautiful Gadigal land. She specialises in storytelling, community collaboration and digital production and her first collection of poetry how to make a basket will be published by UQP in 2021.
Alana Hunt: I’ve been looking at these very small-scale mines that line most of the roads where I live. Sometimes they could just be tests for what’s there under the ground, or sometimes they’re actually digging for gravel, which is then used to make the roads. So, they’re often really close to highways, or just off them.
Jazz Money: So, it’s a farm to table gravel experience, like they don’t ship it out very far?
AH: (laughing) Yeah. That’s a good analogy. Do you see them around New South Wales?
JM: I can’t think of that as a thing.
AH: I think in the half hour drive between where I live and the town of Kununurra, there could be at least 10.
JM: Wow, yeah. That’s not an image I’m familiar with at all. But that’s the thing with East Coast folk, right? They want their ugly stuff kept out of sight.
AH: And in that half hour drive, there’s not a lot of people actually living in that space—compared to somewhere like NSW. So, it’s generally considered a place where “ugly stuff” can be.
When I look at these gravel pits, they feel to me like cigarette burns piercing a tortured body, a tortured landscape, in the sense that they’re small but perpetual, and kind of, persistently painful—searing…
I think this analogy came to me from Kashmir, in particular a friend who had brought to my attention through his writing and art, the Indian state’s use of cigarettes to torture people.
JM: Where my parents live in Castlemaine, which is the old heart of the gold rush in Victoria, the land is still so scarred and traumatised by the gold rush. Everything was turned up. It’s so rare to see a tree in that area that’s older than a hundred years, because they ripped so much out of the ground. And then, once they pulled the gold out, they just left. So, there are holes everywhere, there’s really weird craters in the earth—it’s so pockmarked…It’s got the weirdest feeling. It’s still beautiful Country and strong Country, and every now and then you see a tree that’s the diameter of this room. And you can imagine what it must have been like 150 years ago, before they just marauded through and got rid of almost every tree. It’s a really strange area, and these images are reminding me of that.
And so, these colour images, have they been taken near where you live too?
AH: This is an hour from where I live. It’s in what was a privately-owned cattle station turned tourism park…
JM: Oh, so do people have to pay to enter?
AH: Yes, I think you’re actually meant to get a permit to enter—it’s mostly where white people go.
Although I’d been living in this region for almost ten years, I didn’t really have that social group who pulled me to this place. I went in 2019 for the first time. I knew I wanted to make a work like this, and as soon as I got there, I knew this was the place to do it.
All the violence within this tries to capture that sense of entitlement in which non-Indigenous people approach places like this. I’m not saying that this place is especially sacred, but coming more from the premise that all of this continent is special, and that the way people are behaving here is just an example of how we behave everywhere. And today, the only reason we can sit in places like this without fear is because of all the violence that has come before—the frontier wars and all of that—but this violence exists in an ongoing sense too.
Springs—right across the Kimberley—are places that white people gravitate towards. In the first conversation from this series, I said there’s not many Aboriginal people who go to these sorts of places, and my partner, Chris Griffiths, who is Miriwoong and Ngaliwurru, kind of interrupted me, and said, “There are never Aboriginal people at these springs.”
JM: So what’s going on with that? Where are the blackfellas hanging out in the heat?
AH: In saltwater fishing spots, where they get more fish and barramundi. And also, a lot of local blackfellas don’t always have access to vehicles that would get them places like this. And so, they might fish a lot closer to town. Or, a lot of them who do have vehicles tend to go to places—
JM: Are there spots where tourists don’t know about, that are kind of safer, or…
AH: There is that too. There is a spot that we go to which is behind my in-law’s block, about an hour or so drive. And that’s a freshwater permanent spring with turtles, so we fish for turtles there. And we’re pretty much the only people that go there. That’s my mother-in-law’s place, her mother’s place.
But it is complicated. Do you remember that article I wrote about the dam wall? That was how we first made contact. So, Kununurra was created in the ’60s. The colonists wanted to shift the economy from pastoralism to agriculture, so they made a dam and the township was birthed from there. There’s an incredible report that I wrote about in that article, it was produced by the Kimberley Land Council (KLC). It is a social and economic impact assessment of Stage 1 of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, and its impact on the local Aboriginal people.
In that report, there are quotes from the old people, who say very clearly that when the town of Kununurra was made, and a much bigger non-Indigenous population moved in, Miriwoong people lost control of their water places.
I feel like it’s something not spoken about a lot. And this is just my assumption, but I think part of it is that a lot of…like my partner for instance, is often just more interested in going to places where he can actually get fish, and a lot of springs are not fishing places. But I think it’s also coupled by access to the kind of vehicles that are required to get to these places. And that brings us to wealth inequity, and a culture of leisure. There’s normally a lot of white people there, which sort of makes blackfellas, like my partner, feel less comfortable, you know?
JM: Yeah. I also wonder, looking at these images and the very loud absence of black bodies, if there are conversations and understandings around who should be there anyway, right? Like women’s places, men’s places, sacred places, all those understandings of place that actually mean that the amount of people that might feel comfortable there is a lot smaller, from a community level. Because I mean, if you don’t have a responsibility to this place or a connection to this place you might be like, “Oh well. Why would I go to that Country”
AH: Exactly. And when I shot these, I was there with my partner and his Mum and my stepson. Although it’s relatively close to home, they’d never been there before. It’s not their Country. And my mother-in-law, well, she enjoyed the water and she enjoyed being there, but she went there with a real uncertainty. And she kept looking at me, and looking around saying, “This has got to be a Dreaming spot.” I think that sense of hesitation, or that self-awareness is what the majority of non-Indigenous people lack in their movement here.
And I guess through my work, I’m trying to highlight the behaviour of my culture, and make a lot of these less visible and violent things that we might not see in ourselves, to try and make that more legible to ourselves.
The WA government are trying to push changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act in WA at the moment, because the current legislation is crap. But the new legislation they’re proposing is also crap, and part of it will require that sites have to be registered and publicly accessible.
JM: What, why? What’s the logic, do you know?
AH: So then, I mean, anyone—
JM: Apart from violent, colonial extraction, settler logic.
AH: Their logic is that if they’re all registered, they can be better “managed”, at least more legible to the government system. But what so often happens is when sites are publicly known they are often desecrated.
Another thing I’ve been looking at through my work—especially through my residency with the KLC via the SPACED program—are Section 18C forms, which are what people currently fill out if they want to damage or destroy an Aboriginal site. So, there’s a PDF—
JM: To download in a printable form?
AH: Yeah. And it’s like—
JM: That you might use to register your intent?
AH: It is more than registering intent, it is to seek permission. I shared it with a friend, and he was like, “Fuck, this is simpler than an arts funding application.” And it is.
JM: But do you have to show that you’ve done any research?
AH: Part of that research involves looking up on the register of sites.
AH: But a lot of Indigenous people don’t want to register sites—
JM: Of course.
AH: I’ve been told the new Heritage Act is going to make it compulsory for Aboriginal people to register sites, so then companies can just sort of go through a search engine, and if there’s no site registered on the land then they can proceed.
JM: But it’s all sacred, it’s all-
JM: It’s all Country, right? So why? That doesn’t make sense to me, that if you were actually following that line of logic, everything would be registered. And so, I mean, is that a great way to take down big mining? Can we just register everything?
AH: We can try.
I love the opening of Ambelin Kwaymullina’s book:
There’s no part of this place
That was not
by an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island nation
There are no trees
that were not
And for me, that’s just what sits in permanent opposition to all of these attempts by Australian law, and also anthropological processes of registering sites, which really try and demarcate some sense that Aboriginal land, or specifically the “sacredness” of it, as something that exists here but not here.
My images are trying to illustrate a cultural attitude, that really runs in opposition to these words from Ambelin.
I’ve had white people, unsettled by these images, say, as though it’s a game in which we are trying to outsmart each other, “Oh, how do you know that they’re not Aboriginal?” (The people in these pictures.) “You can’t judge just by the colour of someone’s skin”. And I get that, but I think these photos are of a certain cultural attitude.
JM: And I mean, I’ve done this. I’ve been to Kakadu without friends local to the area to guide us through the places we were allowed to be. So, we just did the thing that was on the tourist map, and those places were always really violated by the tourism. And part of me was hoping that these four spots that are all picked out on the map are like bait for tourists, which let other places not be harmed in this way.
There were some spots where it was really lovely to walk along, and see a creek, or a billabong, and think “Oh that’s beautiful. I don’t need to go in that water, but I’m happy it’s here.” And then there were other places where I’d walk along and be like, “I really shouldn’t be here, it’s time to go now.”
It’s just being aware of that stuff. It’s like being able to have an intuition… Is it an intuition? I don’t know. An awareness that triggers those responses, that maybe, I don’t know, whitefellas don’t have? Or maybe they do and they don’t know that the feeling is something they should listen to? Maybe it’s coded out of folk.
AH: I think this is where it gets really interesting. And complicated. Non-Indigenous artists often speak about how their relationship with place informs their work. Often people speak in very felt, bodily ways about this. I get really torn, because I feel really conflicted about how we can even begin to… I mean, I think place becomes a bit of a code word for avoiding a term like Country. Which white people can use to talk about the land we are on as though it’s not Aboriginal land. How do non-Indigenous people possibly have a relationship with this land, this Country, that we’re on that’s not inherently violent? But then another part of me wonders if I am getting too pessimistic? And should we actually rejoice in people who embrace this place?
JM: It’s something I think about a bit, because it seems to imply that there is a dichotomy, that there’s people and then there’s place… And not understanding that Country is both.
There’s this thing that I hear city folk saying a lot, and I’m constantly fascinated by it. And when I look at these pictures of yours, I hear these conversations. Settler folk from the city will say, “I was on Country,” and they go on to tell a story about being out bush, and then they’ll finish it up with, “Oh, and then I came back to Sydney.” Which is so bizarre, because all of this is Country, including the place where you’re living, which is the place you have a responsibility to. There is such a fundamental lack of understanding around what Country is, which is so apparent when people frame it as being “a place over there,” which is how I think a lot of people think. A lot of people in the city, which is where I live and I’ve lived for a long time, seem to always frame the place that’s out of sight, and the place that they don’t understand as being Aboriginal, and the place where they live is so unquestionably theirs, and they have an ownership that is all of 200 years old, or whatever, which then entitles them to erase the black bodies and black agency from that place.
And part of this whole thing that I find so interesting is how these narratives are deployed by these, I don’t know, well meaning, quote unquote, “Woke fellas,” who like… They want to get it? They say “I was on Country,” and I think, “Oh, I guess fucking good for you. But why? What are you trying to get at in this moment? Because I want you to hear the dissonance.” It’s that thing you were talking about. It’s like, I want to think that we can get to a place where things are better, but is it actually antithetical to live in a settler-colonial state that’s never signed a treaty, that is here illegally? Can we ever come to a place where the occupants of that system can act ethically?
AH: Yeah, that’s where I am too. And I don’t know what to do. What you say about people placing Country elsewhere, I get that a lot because of where I live. People are like, “Oh, you’re so lucky you live on Country.” And I’m like, “Sydney, Melbourne, Perth? It’s Country as well.” But that wasn’t something I guess I always knew… And so, I have to remind myself to respect people’s learning, right?
AH: I first sort of encountered it when I moved to Warmun in 2011, and—
JM: Was that the year of the big flooding?
JM: Wow. That would have been really intense.
AH: Yeah, it was, it was. I’d been in Warmun for about eight months, and kind of just been thrown in here with a new job, after a flood had ravaged the community. And then I went to Perth with some Gija artists, and it was my first time back out of the region. I felt really weird because I’d never been to Perth before, and during those eight months in Warmun we were perpetually welcomed, basically to every new creek or place that we went. Every place involved a new welcoming with smoke or water. People would tell me, “You’re okay here now”. And so, when we went to Perth, I suddenly had this big feeling, of worry, that I hadn’t been welcomed here. It was the first solid—I mean I’d always been aware that this was Aboriginal land—but it was the first bodily feeling through which I realised I was actually walking on places that I don’t know, and that could be dangerous. I realised I didn’t know if this place was gender-restricted or harmful, you know?
JM: Yeah, yeah.
AH: And I wondered, what am I violating here?
JM: And also, when you’re not known to the land, you enter this kind of super-fractured relationality where Country can’t recognise you in return, even if you’re in a place where you may have access.
AH: I think that feeling that I had way back then is something that’s fermented, and is coming out in my work now. But there was an old man there in Perth too. I didn’t know him; he was from the desert. And I remember being on a bus with all the Aboriginal artists travelling to an event, and he was telling everyone, “Be careful, there are little people around here, and they’ll get you”. He totally had that sense that he was in another person’s Country, and had to look out for himself and other people. While for me, that feeling was something very new. And that’s connected to what you were saying about how city folk say they’ve been out on Country, while being blind to the fact they’re actually permanently on Country. Sometimes people look at these photos and think I am talking about tourists violating a particular place—without seeing that I am trying to talk about something much broader.
JM: I lived in the Blue Mountains for a little while. We were living right on the edge of the national park, and there’s very little acknowledgement of Aboriginal people. At best it’s usually one of those really weird shanty signs at the entrance that will say some gammin thing like, “Aborigines lived here for maybe upwards of a limited amount of time that we’re going to give them, like 4,000 years,” or whatever it is, whatever shit it is. “And they survived as hunter-gatherers,” and full stop. “And now we’ll tell you about who discovered the place,” those sorts of signs. And it’s an area that’s really controlled—people can go here and people can’t go here. That sort of national park.
It’s driven by this idea that you keep something safe by not allowing humans to go there. It feels like an obvious thing to say, but that understanding of place is, I think, really, really poisonous to society at large. A belief that there is no way that humans can live peacefully or live respectfully or live in relationship and responsibility to place. And the violence inherent in that against Indigenous people is really obvious, because you enter a place where people aren’t given access to their Country, and not respected for their knowledge of Country. But you also do this thing where you tell settlers that there is no way of understanding place, like, “You can’t be trusted with this at all.” And in a lot of ways they can’t, because that’s an evidence-based thing of like, 230-odd years of doing really bad stuff.
But if you don’t give people the tools to understand their responsibilities to the place where they live… I don’t know. Is that optimistic? To think that if you educated people, they would then treat places with the respect it deserves, or know that, “Oh, I don’t need to go to that waterhole. I know that it’s there, and I know that it’s not for me.” I don’t know, maybe that’s too at odds with the sort of exploration and extractive system that’s really coded into society.
AH: I feel like I want to hold onto optimism. I feel like it’s important. But I do get stuck in the impossibility of it, because the structures of settler colonialism are so heavy. I’m not sure how to move ethically or respectfully as a larger society. I read your piece on the family in Tasmania, a case study on the colony—
JM: Oh, yeh, that’s a true story. I saw this real estate listing last year for a property in Tassie that was for sale “for the first time” for $12 million! How can people not see the absurdity of this?
AH: It felt like quite an apt summary of what we’re trying to talk about. In that piece you talk about the stealing of land, and sketch out a narrative of how the selling of that stolen land is basically unethical, questioning how it’s legally possible to sell something stolen. But what you’re doing is pulling out the everyday of settler colonialism, whereby people take their ownership of property and houses, their basic ability to buy a house as—
JM: A right.
AH: A right. Something given, something with such a seemingly natural sense of entitlement.
JM: I’m so fascinated by that logical fallacy of, “It’s my right to own land, and it’s my right to sell that land,” if you live with that belief as really inherent to your societal values, how is it that you could abide by land being stolen so recently, and not be outraged by that?
AH: Yeah. But that concept of something being recent is really subjective; your recent is not my Dad’s recent. Your recent to my Dad is the distant past that he doesn’t have to think about so much now, because things have apparently moved on from there.
JM: Yeah, “the get over it” stuff.
AH: My Dad wouldn’t say it so brutally but—
JM: But that’s the government attitude, right?
AH: Yeah. Which is why, when you were talking about those national park signs—of the three sentences that state Aboriginal people once “wandered” here, compared to the three paragraphs detailing the lives of the explorers who “discovered” it— we don’t have government energy going towards amending any of this.
JM: Because it doesn’t suit.
I guess land ownership is a microcosm, an example, of the thing that the Australian colony is. And of course it makes sense that any challenge to a piece of land can only be understood as a challenge to the settler state, and the government recognising that challenge would be too big a reckoning.
It feels pertinent having this sort of conversation against the backdrop of that occupation really hitting the news cycle, due to what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah, with a lot of violence and what feels like the most awareness of that situation that I can ever remember happening in my adult life. I mean, the state of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land has been a state of violence for the last 73 years. This is something that has been going on for a long time but is so outrageously under-reported by so many news sites because the subject is simply too antithetical to colonialism more broadly. I know people like to say that we’re living in a post-colonial society, but I just don’t think that’s correct.
AH: Yeah, me neither.
JM: And so, it would be too uncomfortable for all these colonial states to talk about the situation in Palestine without recognising their own illegitimacy. But without systemic change and broader political recognition, what is the point of democracy? I just keep coming back to this, right?
It’s a trap. It’s like a sugar trap where you think you’ve been given a thing that you need, or you’ve been told that you’ve been given the thing that you need, and that allows you certain rights. But when the person who has given you those rights is so invested in you not having actual agency… It’s a lie.
AH: A few days ago, I saw a Palestinian poster from the ’70s, and it’s just really stuck with me. It didn’t shock me, it just made me sad because of how long this has been going on, and how much cultural energy has gone into narrating, advocating, supporting Palestine—and yet, what we see now in Sheikh Jarrah continues.
And for these reasons exactly, that’s why I’m extending these conversations out to friends in Kashmir as well, because what we are talking about here is connected to what is happening there. Obviously different contexts, but there’s a lot of resonances and potential strength too.
When you asked is having faith in education too hopeful, I think it’s all we have. One component is curriculum in schools, but it’s also about something broader—fostering a really big shake up of things so apparently solid as world views, our very ways of thinking. It’s not just about understanding history, but reckoning with the forms of extraction and notions of ownership—everything that forms the foundation of the majority of people’s mindsets in Australia, and those who dominate much of the world.
JM: I agree. I do think that education is realistically the only tool, and the ethics of that is a really interesting space. But we have to be optimistic, otherwise it’s too fucking depressing.
I used to run a kindergarten program for little kids, that was like a de-colonial sovereignty class for settler kids living in Melbourne. It was so fun. But it was this really interesting thing, these were all kids of a certain class more or less, sort of inner-city, left-leaning parents who were settlers and not necessarily white. We didn’t have any Indigenous kids in the class, which wasn’t necessarily deliberate, but more reflective of these being the sorts of conversations the Indigenous four-year-olds don’t need to be having. This was a class to say, “Hey everyone, you live on Aboriginal land.” And they’d be like, “Okay.” And then when you explain the idea that land is stolen to a four-year-old they’re just like, “Oh, that’s bad.” Because even by that age you have a moral compass and a version of understanding what is right and wrong, and that’s clearly wrong. And when you establish that at a young age, it’s really simple. Because I think a lot of kids at that point, they haven’t been as coded within the racism of the state yet.
I don’t think that this class of a couple dozen kids was particularly radical, but I think those sorts of actions are increasingly happening, and it has to start at that early education, early childhood place. Because when you tell an 18-year-old who’s just started uni about Aboriginal Australia they often say, “Oh, well, fuck off, that doesn’t even matter, that’s old news, get over it.” And you’ve gotten them too late. Not always, but I think it’s that foundational stuff that builds respect, and builds an ethical framework. I think there’s a conundrum there, but one that can be resolved, because it has to be.
AH: Yeah. When I was installing my work here at Carriageworks, thinking a lot about this conversational component and what the work means, I decided to read this book by Patti Smith—Year of the Monkey—just to take my mind off so much of what I was working with.
There’s this anarchist academic I really love—James C. Scott, who advocates for always reading outside your “discipline”. So here I was delving into Patti, one of my creative idols, wanting to be taken to a different world. But the underpinning current of the book is her desire to visit Ayers Rock, which she calls “Ayers Rock” and this current of “dreaming”, you know?
JM: Oh, wow.
AH: You can imagine her style, it’s written in this very fluid way between dreams and wakefulness. Part of that comes from this Western concept of dreams, of being awake and asleep. But then she also kind of goes into this Indigenous “dreaming” thing a little bit with her aspiration to get to Ayers Rock. Once or twice I think she used the term Uluru, but it was mostly Ayers Rock. And I was like, “Fuck, I can’t escape this thing, it’s everywhere.” No doubt, I find Patti Smith such a big source of inspiration, but then I see her enacting things that in this case made me feel really uncomfortable.
JM: I’ve spent a bit of time in the USA and have Native American friends. We were at a festival in Oregon one week, and I spoke about how weird it was that there had been no acknowledgement of whose land it is. But my Native friends were really shocked that an acknowledgement would be something of a norm in Australia. The Pacific Northwest is a very different context but it is fascinating to me how different and similar these conversations often seem. And these ideas around occupation are inescapable, right, in these settler-colonial states.
AH: I’ve found too, people from outside Australia, have conversely been confronted by the superficiality of acknowledgements of Country that they’ve seen play out at official events. Commenting that, “Australia’s really good at pretending that they’re embracing Aboriginal people or culture.” Which is in many ways true, but I also think it’s a practice that they are not so familiar with.
JM: I was at an event recently where a local Liberal MP had been asked to speak. At the start, a local Elder got up and did a welcome, and the MP got up and was like, “Oh, thanks so much for that welcome. They really encourage us to give welcomes, but I would rather not because I don’t really feel comfortable doing it.” And I was like, “Oh, you’ve totally misunderstood what a welcome is versus an acknowledgement of Country”, which is troubling. And then to also, in the same breath be like, “I don’t like doing it. I’m encouraged to, but it’s not compulsory.” Basically, he was saying, “It’s a token that I don’t care for.” And this was at a bullshit harmony event, and everyone just nodded along with “the good white guy.” It’s so complex.
AH: I often feel nervous when I do acknowledgements, because I want to make it not tokenistic, and I don’t think that’s easily done. But it’s actually probably good that it’s not easily done—we all need to find our own way, right?
I was reading the summary of your book that will soon be released, how to make a basket and it spoke of protest and love and relationships and how these things run through your work. I’m interested to hear from you about that relationship between the difficult stuff and the joyful. What is the potential?
JM: There is an academic from Turtle Island, North America called Daniel Heath Justice. And he said this line in an essay that I really like, “So often we think of the definition of the Native experience as being defined by violence and being defined by deficit. And when we allow ourselves to be defined by those things, we disallow spaces for joy and love and beauty and independence.” I’m paraphrasing, but it’s something I think about a lot. It is really hard living in a colony like Australia. But there’s so much more to existence than constantly being oppressed by the settler state. And I think the most radical act of protest that Indigenous people often do is existing with a joy that is undiminished by the colony. Loving and being loved. Having lives that are full of love and humour and joy, which all of our lives are. And to allow the colony to take those things away would be to give the colony the ultimate power, right?
JM: There is defiance in that… It becomes radical, it becomes a radical sort of love and a radical sort of joy to live with those things under a state of oppression. And I think when you have those things, then you have the power to fight with—
AH: More vigour.
JM: More vigour, and more ability, and you become refreshed, and there is a bigger picture. Like that thing we were talking about before—it does get really dark if you ponder on it for too long, and it can feel really hopeless. And I think Blak communities are not defined by hopelessness, they’re defined by so much more. And I want to always be making space for that, and constantly checking myself, because it can become really despairing, and I don’t want to let the colony have that too.
AH: In my work, I tend to think more about the non-Indigenous audience of my work than I really do think about Indigenous audiences of this work. I feel like a lot of what I’m saying is stuff that many Indigenous people already know and feel, whereas I feel a need to make it legible to non-Indigenous people who don’t know or feel it. But sometimes non-Indigenous people can feel like it can be too confronting and difficult, so they pull away. But I feel like we need to move into that space to be able to move away from it as well. Otherwise it will just keep fermenting under the surface. I often feel a hesitation around that idea of national harmony and reconciliation. But I do hear Indigenous people speaking in really positive and powerful ways about how the country can come together in beautiful ways through a true kind of reckoning with what’s happened and is happening.
JM: And I completely agree with that, I don’t think it can be swept under the rug either. Like we can’t just move forward laughing and smiling. We need our warriors strong. Really, without a really robust Treaty, the country’s kind of doomed.
AH: When I first put the pictures of All the violence within this on my social media a few years ago, I included a quote from Evelyn Araluen, which basically said:
Do you know what lores I have had to learn while you play in everything they protect?
Quite a few non-Indigenous people commented along the lines of, “What are you saying? Should we all just leave this country? I was born here; I’ve got nowhere to go”. Although practically I know that it’s an impossibility, I also think it’s something worth imagining and sitting with. To really think about why it could be a necessity, even if it is an impossibility. I’m just thinking out loud with you, but I think there is some value in us going to these uncomfortable places that may unsettle so much of the things that we take to be foundational. But I think there is a value in that which could enrich our lives, (if that’s the right way to put it).’
JM: I’ve tried to write stories about this in the past—imagining an extraction of non-Indigenous folk from the continent. And I don’t like where it goes.
When you follow that line of logic to the finish point, I start thinking, “Okay, well if I don’t like this and I don’t like how it began, so how far back can I follow this … what if the settlers all left?” I mean aside from being fucking impossible, I have settler ancestors as well as Indigenous ancestors, so I would cease to exist. Do I ship off a leg back to Ireland? And so many people I love are settlers, and the ones that I love are so often grappling with these things too. There is also the folk who are living in Australia due to displacement from their own homelands, often because of wars that this government is implicated in. We need this place to be a safe home for all the people who are here. It’s not that there is a solution to these problems, but being aware of them is so critical to collective action. And when you start thinking of one element of these things, you start seeing that inter-relation and intersectionality of the broader systemic issues. I mean, I get really frustrated with eco-activists who aren’t advocating for Indigenous rights, for example. I think it’s those tiers of deeper engagement and collective action where we find the ability to solve so many of these issues simultaneously.
I’ve written a piece about this that’s set in the future looking back at solving the problems of our society. When I initially sat down to write a piece about my version of a utopia, at first all I could think about was how much work it would take to get there. But I can also imagine a place of being older and looking back, and being like, “Oh, I remember the bad old days of capitalism, housing insecurity, homophobia, racism, the climate crisis, etc…” And being able to consider the ways that some of these problems have shared solutions, and they are within our grasp, does give me some hope.
AH: And now, my son is growing up with far more positive and strong visibility of Indigenous people—much more than his father or his grandparents ever had when they were young.
JM: And we’re like the fastest-growing population on the continent—which is so deadly. Another generation of warriors who might not have to fight the same fight, but move onto the next one. And it might not have to be so hard. It’s that future, those young ones, that make this current fight worth it, that make the whole thing hopeful.