Saturday, December 13, 2008

Book launch

On Thursday night my wife and I took the kids into the Northern Territory Library to see the book launch for Ted Egan's new book 'Due Inheritance'.
Mr Egan has long been an outspoken advocate and friend to indigenous people. The gentleman who introduced him at the book launch put his influence as the NT administrator into great perspective. We were reminded of just how important it was to have someone so outspoken and diplomatic as Ted Egan for our Administrator when very few people were willing to speak against the lack of compassion that filled the country at that time! Ted did and at various public events he brought us together as neighbors and friends when so many Australians were looking to condemn with labels like "Cue Jumpers, Itinerants, Longrassers" and so on.
When he was Administrator Ted Egan would get up on a stage and speak directly to the audience like he was talking to a bunch of old friends! He'd speak warmly about his Aboriginal mates, using language or sing songs about Darwin's Chinese founding families and characters like Granny Lum Loy! While Ted was administrator Darwin felt like an oasis from the cesspit of racism and fear that Australia seemed to be becoming during the 'Howard Years'!

Unfortunately the evening didn't turn out a great as I'd hoped it would be. Maybe I was expecting too much or maybe the events of the day had left my nerves in a frayed and agitated state. I just wanted to blurt out a few thoughts that have been burning in me since Thursday night.

On the way in to town at about 5:30pm we drove past a stretch of Bagot road that I often cycle home on at that time of day. Negotiating the usual aggressive traffic we passed some police cars with lights flashing on the other side of the road. They were blocking traffic from a cyclist and his bike which were lying beside the gutter! After both my wife and I acknowledged that something was wrong there was silence while the scene sunk in, we didn't speak for a few minutes... Then my wife became very agitated and exclaimed that it could have been me! ... (I thought to myself. Yes it could easily have been me! I've had several close calls along that road!)

We drove on and found a car park close to the Northern Territory Library. It was early so we had a wander around the library and listened to a choir that happened to be singing in there at the time. I was looking forward to hearing what Ted Egan had to say and to get a copy of the book he'd written. I was hoping his book would challenge ordinary Australians into thinking more carefully about the issues that face Aboriginal People in this country...

Ted Egan's book launch at NTL
It's all very convivial so long as you partake in the Grog culture

We were pretty thirsty but it looked like there would be refreshments and some nibblies for the big event. I went to the bar in the hope of getting a softdrink or some juice. I don't happen to drink alcohol and neither do my wife or kids... Unfortunately when I asked for a non alcoholic drink I was looked at with complete confusion... So I repeated myself. "Do you have anything to drink that does not contain alcohol?" The woman turned to her colleague and referred the question. The reply came... "Oh yehh... I think there's some soda water at the bottom of the Eskie..."

Grog culture
Water??? But can't I interest you in some lovely wine?

As a non drinker I do not begrudge other people having a drink, usually it doesn't bother me at all unless people's behavior is not suitable for the environment. So if I'm in a rowdy bar I expect to see somewhat excited and intoxicated people, or if I'm at a restaurant I might expect to see people drinking wine with their meal or at a concert there might be a bar set up and some people drinking. The usual thing... Even a bunch of people sitting around outside under a tree with a cask of wine isn't a particularly disturbing sight. However when I attend an event whether it is public or private, and there has been no provision for anyone but those who are drinking alcohol, that's a whole other thing! On Thursday night what could have been a pleasant time turned into something very unpleasant for me.
Now the whole room closed in around me! Reality came crashing down on my head! Here we were thinking we'd come to be amongst other people sensitive to the issues of Indigenous Australians. I was listening to a man propose all kinds of divisive approaches to dealing with alcohol consumption on Aboriginal communities yet there was precious little consideration for anyone who chose not to drink at the launch of this contentious new book! What if some of those people had actually attended the book launch? What choice would they have? What message would be sent about polite society when all that is offer is Grog?
It was like someone had written a bad script that didn't match the theme of the play! I looked around me and wondered if I was having some kind of bad dream. Maybe soon the white rabbit would come and lead me back to reality... NO! THIS IS REALITY!

Intellectuals...? @ NTL book launch
More conviviality...

For just one hour I was caught in some kind of Hell where the intelligentsia of a tiny 'Australian colonial outpost' were pontificating in their gay intoxication, what is needed to rectify the condition of their woe begotten Indigenous brothers and sisters. The suffering of the disadvantaged, the besieged "First Australians" seemed like no more than a topic of conversation. In my agitated state the whole thing appeared as a farce!

As we left the launch I saw a fellow sitting awkwardly in a chair at the back of the room and holding a half bottle of red to his lips. An ANGEL I thought! I looked him in the eye and he stared dully at me. I felt for a moment that the truth of it all was sitting right there in front of me. For that moment I saw an honest man! Why not drink it from the bottle if that's what you want? The glasses are only there for effect.

As we drove home the police were still putting together the evidence of the crime scene, apparently the cyclist was the victim of a hit and run! Reported slopily and hidden in an article about Cadel Evans at the bottom ofpage six in this morning's NT news! I called the hospital this morning to find out if he was alright. Apparently he lived...


Kevin Murray said...

Thanks for this post. I would probably have been one of the crowd here, clutching a glass of red, making conversation. But it takes a comment like yours to wake us up from the stupor of these kind of events. I'm glad that you weren't the one knocked down on the road, but sorry for whoever it was.

David J said...

Hey Kevin,
Yeh I kind of cut loose with a bit too much criticism really. However it was a good example of the kind of pressure that the Dominant culture puts on Aboriginal people every day!

The Grog culture in this country is so pervasive that it is rarely questioned! Yet it is responsible for so many hospital admissions, family breakdowns, social disharmony and so on... and on... and on...
My argument however is not that people should not drink alcohol, but that there is a fundamental flaw in the rationale that says it's ok to offer only alcoholic drinks at a book launch.
By doing this the organizers have affectively discriminated against, Muslims or any other group who don't drink for religious reasons, pregnant women, all people under the age of 18, those who are on particular medications, sober alcoholics, people who are allergic to alcohol, those who have elected not to drink because they are driving and possibly a whole host more that I haven't thought of...
So although some might tout my reaction as that of a Wowser I would have to argue that to ignore the needs of such a broad selection of guests would appear to be a sociopathic mentality.
This is somewhat disturbing when launching a book that attempts to prescribe how best to deal with the enormously complex problems faced by Indigenous people in this country!
(Please forgive my rant)

Thanks for your honest reflections and for considering how a pleasant evening for some could be an exercise in alienation for others.

Joe said...

Quit being so negative. At least they had soda water. True, it was probably only there to mix with gin, but still...

Did you end up drinking it?

David J said...

Hey Joe... what do you know?
Yeh you're right I'm indulging in the graceless art of sooky sooky la-la!
I was going to delete this post because it was such a self righteous rant but then I wouldn't have heard from you.
I'm still waiting for the next installment from the Gospels...

Yes I drank their stinking sodawater! Actually that's a preferred drink of ours anyway but it's the principal of the thing damn it!
Maybe it was only really there as a mixer and that's why the woman was so pissed that I asked for it????

Joe said...

Sometimes you need a self-righteous rant to get through the day. I usually limit myself to one per year, though. Here's an old one from a few years back:

Anonymous said...

Great work! I really enjoyed this entry. It reminds me, a couple of years ago I was living in Boston and was reading The Boston Globe and I came across a little story and photos of a fund-raiser that The Big Brother and Big Sister was putting on. The dance was themed, "Rasta". The photos were of folks wearing pot leaf leis and those funny fake dread hair hats. I was like, "are you for real", and yes sadly it was for real. So I took action and contacted Big Brothers & Big Sisters as well as the Boston Globe for printing the story. So I dig what you're doing! Taking action and processing the world around you. P.S. I love the word Eskie for cooler. I miss Australian slang!!!
tak'er easy,

Theresa said...

I think this is a great post. It makes you wonder about the sincerity of the people who organised the event, doesn't it? I can completely see why you were annoyed. What a day--not just Grog culture, but the dangers of car culture were thrown in your face in the matter of just a few short hours. Yeesh.