opinion

Unpopular opinion: The Australia Day lamb ad romanticises genocide.

When I first watched the latest Australia Day Lamb ad, I was overwhelmed by a sense of discomfort.

Created by advertising agency ‘The Monkeys’ for Meat and Livestock Australia, the two minute thirty second ad is unequivocally the most political in the campaign’s history.

It begins with a beach-side barbecue attended by Indigenous Australians. “First here…” one man says. “Beautiful spot like this? It’ll be packed before you know it,” replies the other.

And so it begins.

The Europeans triumphantly arrive, the French waving and offering cheese, and the British introducing themselves as the “First Fleet” before being corrected “…not quite.”

Image via Meat and Livestock.

Then there are the Germans, the Chinese, Italians, Greeks and Serbians.

The music starts "What is love..." and it's just a true blue Aussie barbecue. There's Adam Gilchrist, Cathy Freeman, the 'float people' and the 'boat people'. Malaysian-born Australian artist, author and chef Poh Ling Yeow's observation "Aren't we all boat people?" is undoubtedly the highlight.

As the camera pans across the diverse face of Australia the song continues "Baby don't hurt me...don't hurt me, no more."

I'm not sure if it was intended to be ironic, but it strikes me as sickeningly so.

As I eagerly watched the response, I was surprised that it was met with almost universal acclaim. People loved it.

Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and I discuss the 2017 lamb ad on this week's episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below.

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Despite it's subject matter, the commercial received very few complaints.

Just last year, the Australia Day lamb ad was one of the most complained about of the year, with newsreader Lee Lin Chin commencing 'Operation Boomerang' - a mission to rescue Australians from all over the world to ensure they'll be eating lamb on Australia Day. It included a soldier setting fire to a vegan's dinner table.

In 2017, we cannot poke fun at vegans, but re-imagining the theft, slaughter, rape and attempted genocide of Australia's First People, now perhaps the most disenfranchised population on planet earth?

Well, that's fair game.

I understand the argument that this is an idealised version of Australian history. Perhaps the viewer is meant to imagine an end board reading "...if only". But alas, there isn't one.

Where is the '...if only'? Image via Meat and Livestock.

To reiterate, because there are still people in this country who deny what happened to our Indigenous population, there was no peaceful settlement.

On the 26th of January 1788, The First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, sailed into Botany Bay. They declared that the land they had ‘discovered’ belonged to no one.

In turn, they dispossessed all Indigenous Australians. Their disregard, exhibited so clearly in this historical moment, for the Indigenous population that had lived on this land for at least 40, 000 years, paved the way for the unimaginable atrocities that were to come.

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The British didn't bring 'cheese' or 'chips and dip'. They brought small pox, which killed between 50-90% of Sydney’s Aboriginal population.

Their arrival was the catalyst for a war that lasted for over a century. Indigenous Australians were massacred by the British.

Any reputable historian who has studied the case of Torres Strait Islanders, considers it an unequivocal case of genocide. Most who have studied Aboriginal history agree that the culture, at large, were the victims of genocide.

Image via Meat and Livestock.

But, some argue, the ad makes no mention of Australia Day. However, as Chris Graham argues for New Matilda "Not mentioning the words ‘Australia Day’ doesn’t make it not an ad about Australia Day."

Perhaps if we lived in a country that universally acknowledged the suffering inflicted upon our first people at the hands of our ancestors, and recognised them as such in the Australian Constitution, then the commercial wouldn't seem so insensitive.

Perhaps if Indigenous people in the Northern Territory didn't have the highest suicide rates on planet earth.

Perhaps if we didn't jail them at world record rates. Even higher, as Graham points out, than the rate of jailing black men during the Apartheid in South Africa.

Perhaps if almost all (96 per cent) of children locked up in the Northern Territory weren't Indigenous.

Perhaps if their life expectancy wasn't ten years shorter than that of their white brothers and sisters.

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Perhaps then, I could have a laugh.

"The lesson I learned was that we didn't matter. In fact we didn't even exist," Stan Grant has said. Image via SBS.

But in a political climate where we have high profile journalists recurrently denying an invasion is part of our history, or scoffing at the historically confirmed Stolen Generation, this ad is nothing short of irresponsible.

Replace the Indigenous men and women enjoying a barbecue, with German Jews sharing a meal in a village in 1939. Imagine that then the Nazis arrive, in their funny outfits, claiming that this village is now theirs. Imagine that then the Stasi came, bringing with them a new wave of oppression.

Imagine watching that as a Jewish person who had their family murdered, their culture battered and their suffering denied. Imagine having your experience written out in a bid to sell lamb on the very day the mass slaughter of your people began.

Because make no mistake, this is precisely what the ad does.

We can dream of peace. Of a country where we don't "hurt" our Indigenous people anymore.

But it cannot happen without the social and political acknowledgement of the real Australian story, and currently we're not even close.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

You can buy any books mentioned on our podcasts from iBooks at apple.co/mamamia, where you can also subscribe to all our other shows in one place.

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