Modigliani

This is a tough gig, you know.  It may look like fun to you.  Parties, press launches, world premieres, hobnobbing with artists and journalists …

Well, it is fun really.  So I’ll shut up on that one.

But then you have to write about it.  Be balanced AND opinionated.  Critical AND considerate.  Informative AND entertaining.  Ask questions without causing offence.  Ha, now there’s a wee coorin timrous beastie!

On Tuesday 31st August, I had the pleasure of an audience with Her Excellency, the 37th Governor of New South Wales, who with her delicious praise for Scotland, was truly spoiling us.

Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO is a most charming lady who could have been a muse for Modigliani with her sharp angular face and 1920’s bob.

Her Excellency Marie Bashir

She spoke eloquently and at length, at The Hub, in front of hundreds of academics, cultural commentators and Festival artists.  It was for the Edinburgh International Festival’s Explorations Series where everyone

“comes together offering a fascinating opportunity to exchange ideas and understanding on quests from the past and journeys into the future.”

Lachlan Macquarie by John Opie (1761-1807)

Lachlan Macquarie, was the subject, 5th Governor of New South Wales who, as a son of the Hebrides and the ‘Father of Australia‘ in the early 1800s, established a Native Institution on the outskirts of settled civilisation.

Macquarie was at the forefront of stealing children from their families and forcing them to be educated, churched and abused by the marauding European hordes.  All this was achieved after the aboriginal nations had been driven from their ancestral land and claimed for the Empire.

Well, that’s not strictly how Her Majesty put it.

In describing Macquarie, we heard phrases like political harmony, social stability, egalitarianism, emancipator, benevolence, tolerance for dissenters, nation builder …

I’m not trying to decry the honourable Macquarie or Her Supremacy for their great and munificent works and words.

But …

Nelson Mandela

I wonder if Mr Nelson Mandela would agree with this interpretation of history?  After all, both South Africa and Australia suffered industrialised genocide, slavery, rapes and land confiscation at the hands of white settlers bringing ‘civilisation’.

There may have been one or two individuals who tried to lessen the murderous devastation wreaked on indigenous populations.  But facts is facts.  Europeans culled the indigenous Australian population by 90%, brought lynchings, disease, a denial of human and political rights, confiscation of children and the hunting of human beings as sport.

When Her Excellency was asked by a member of the mainly Australian audience whether she could paint a less rosy picture of Macquarie, she answered thus:

European sport

“No human is perfect.  In many ways you could say Macquarie was narcissistic because so many roads, buildings, bridges and towns are named after him.  You could say he was also easily hurt and suffered a kind of depression when he was driven out of office.

The question of the treatment of aborigines is another issue.  But I would say he lost patience with them.  This was precipitated by their unacceptable behaviour due to the fact that they had misinterpreted his generosity.  He set them up in farms and schools, removed children from their parents and forced them to work.  He was a military man of his times.

But by and large he was full of compassion and courage.  In fact, when he was in Bombay, he instructed his soldiers to behave with respect towards the Indian population.”

Australians

This was a speech worthy of Hendrick Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, and the whole colonialist, patriarchal ‘land of the free’ class.

From North to South America, from Africa to Australasia and from Asia to the Caribbean and the South Pacific, the Europeans were called ‘Devils’ because they preached on a Sunday and nation-destroyed Monday till Saturday.

Her Excellency Marie Bashir did mention the national apology of 2006 when the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, apologised for stealing generations of children from their parents right up until 1969.  But they refused to offer compensation or an apology for the genocide.  As they say, talk is cheap.

Despite accounting for 2.5% of the population, indigenous juveniles constitute 59% of all in detention.  The most common offence by Indigenous prisoners is ‘acts intended to cause injury’ (32 per cent).  Life expectancy is 17 years less than whites.

Myall Creek Massacre 1841

This Edinburgh International Festival has been about Oceans Apart: the European explorers and brutal suppressions, the coloniser and the colonised and the impact each have had on each other.  As such, it has been a poignant reminder of the Freedom legacy that Enlightenment brought to those that conquered.

The current Western empire-building in Afghanistan and Iraq is no longer based on land, but resources.  These wars were promoted under the promise of bringing Freedom and Democracy to the downtrodden natives.

When they’ve finished totting up the death toll and adding up the bank balance, I wonder which side of Enlightenment the history books will fall.

It also made me sad that an ambitious person like Marie Bashir, with perhaps a good heart and great skills, would act as an apologist for one of the most brutal periods in history.  Macquarie may very well have been an honourable sort of fella.  Fair dinkum.  But the legacy?

As they say in South Africa, “When a white guy comes around promising freedom, you know somebody’s going to be dead by sundown.”

Check this video on the Indigenous Australian Genocide

© Fin Wycherley

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Comments
  1. James Christie Freelance Photographer says:

    Well written and informative. The Native American is worth mentioning in relation to being “civilized” by the “European White-man” too.

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