By Jennifer Michel
Whilst researching a book I stumbled across information about an event called preventing the punitive expedition into Arnhem Land in 1933. The accounting by Paddy Gibson described how the Australian Unemployed Workers Union was the backbone and fundamental movement that saved the people of Arnhem Land from the last officially sanctioned act of genocide. Paddy tells of how every day Australians were pushed to the outskirts of towns, forced to live in squalor alongside the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Making friends with each other these individuals realised there were very little differences between them, besides the cultural beliefs. Being members of the Unemployed Workers Union they worked together and fought to prevent the massacre that was planned by both the NT Administration and a department within Canberra responsible to the Federal Government. They fought because they realised many Australians were being forced to endure the same conditions that lead their forefathers to become convicts upon a ship bound for the ‘new land’. Their message was simple we are not different and deserve equal rights.
Almost 100 years later not much has changed for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations, and equality is an aspect many Australians still do not see. Within the colonial world these lands have become families struggle to support themselves, medications have been shown to be widely inaccessible for many, further education is entirely out of reach for a large percentage. For individuals like myself, learning the cultural values of my Aboriginal forefathers is impossible. Unless I am willing to sleep with 20 others in a three-bedroom house and give up the ability to access fresh running water, electricity and fresh foods for my young family.
How many of us grew up on stories about England as it was 200 years ago? Take a look around at the truth of our society we find that Australia is not all that far from those conditions, we simply got trickier at hiding them. We call ourselves the ‘Lucky Country’. I would argue it is only lucky for some.
Meet the Australian Dream as I understand it: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Share in the Lucky Country as it means to me: Don’t find yourself in circumstances you
didn’t expect, you get punished for them.
Australia has proudly boasted of not having a social class system within the shores of this country, but let’s be honest with ourselves for once, since colonisation there has always been a system of social class seen. Historically it was settlers, then convicts, followed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island clans who were considered the lowest of the low. Today, those of us who have Indigenous roots have repetitively seen the Aussies who are allocated to the lowest ranks of the Australian Social Class; people we call family. Some of us, also like myself, have grown up in single income/parenting families, and/or life on a pension.
Being forced to live on the Carers Pension when my child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder is difficult, to say the least. After working for years to better my circumstances creating opportunities for a career within the Human Resources Industry; I am in a worse situation than my parents ever were on one income. The most recent inquiry into the disability industry has shown many Australians have gone without to see their children can have something as simple as fresh fruit and vegetables, let alone a piece of chocolate once in a while. We have families unable to afford the medications they require or the therapies needed to improve both mental and physical disability.
COVID-19 has revealed deep cracks within our society and its ability to provide for all in an equal manner. Many Australians today who have found work are still struggling to make ends meet. We often hear of the underemployment rate but it is not explained in full detail every time. The word literally means people have jobs that do not provide the hours for them to earn enough to support their lives. Government programs have offered pathways to retain employment, such as JobKeeper. We have seen many divides formed within our society over the handling of this program, and personally I feel these would have been spotted by other governments of the past, but we never really will know what could have been.
Newer programs initiated by the Morrison Government are designed to move individuals not living in regions to locations where the jobs are. Many opinions I have read on social media suggest this program does not consider a wide array of aspects when it comes to uprooting even a single individual for employment. As a child, my father’s career was as a mechanic, we moved many times which resulted in a life of lost opportunities as much as it provided for others. Depending on the location we lived in we were considered to be wealthy – places like Katherine and Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory.
Australia’s Social Class is something I have witnessed and experienced my whole life, often I have looked at those on TV, politicians such as Scott Morrison whom proudly boasts of his 5x grandfather being a convict subjected to horrific hardships. My eyes turn towards my clans living in Ngkurr and Borrollola in the Northern Territory and do not see the same Lucky Country our Prime Minister spoke about on Christmas Day in 2020. Neither do I see the ‘one’ the anthem change suggested on New Years 20/21. I see the Prime Minister’s images from his plush home, projecting the wealth his family has gained over 5 generations, showing off his family and wishing us good tidings from a religious belief I do not share. Whilst I likewise see 20 people living in a three bedroom home where children have contracted Acute Rheumatic Fever due to over population. These two images clash in my mind, is this what a first world country is? One unable to provide the treatments nor enact simple preventative measures to save children from life threatening illnesses. Conditions the World Health Organisation have eradicated in third world countries such as Trachoma. How can we claim to be the Lucky Country when one section of it lives with the financial ability to do anything they can dream of and the other cannot even feed themselves? Again, I suggest we cannot claim either title, because we are not as lucky as we let on, and neither do we behave in a manner
that would see us come first.
In February 2021 the United Nations came together for a five-year review of the Human Rights of all member nations. During the convention more than thirty countries turned to this first world country who claim to be lucky and accused us of breaching the international laws we agreed to uphold on this subject, Australia breaches human rights, frequently. We are one of the few first world countries not to have created and enacted a Federal Human Rights Act after agreeing to do so when we signed the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Australia too signed the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, only to turn around and refuse to enact the legal framework to abide by the minimum standards towards the rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations of Australia.
Australia’s Social Class is heavily centred around the values this country was founded upon, including the White Australia Policy. Legislation that prevented the immigration of any individual outside of the regions of Europe with a predominantly white population. We see aspects of this policy in place today; we only need to look at the way our politicians vote towards the treatment of refugees to know this is true. There are ways segregation is still in place within Australia, too. I remember being a young woman in a nightclub and looking around to see all the multicultural aspects of the country mingling between their own groups and never straying to others. This is also true of the number of Aussies who integrate with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, how many have lived with us instead of just buying something from a white owned retailer. We suggest there is no Social Class, but we should be admitting we failed at that as much as we have failed at human rights in general; anyone else hear the call for women’s rights to be improved just then? Oh gosh, I must be hearing things again. Oooh, I’m sure heard it again…
My mind always boggles at the privilege our nation displays to the world. Because, until our first world country behaves like the Lucky Country, there is no basis for the titles we apply ourselves. These titles mean privilege, look around Australia do we fit the bill?
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