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This happened in Australia, and it is shocking.

Yatu
Yatu Hunt.

 

By YATU HUNT

This is a speech I delivered at the Seymour Centre for Reconciliation Week as part of the ‘I’m Not Racist…but’ forum, co hosted by the NSW Reconciliation Council & Sydney Ideas.

My name is Yatu. Or if you are my barista you probably know me as Audrey or Emma, because Yatu seems to morph into ‘latte’ by the time my coffee is ready. I am Aboriginal, British and Irish and have grown up in urban Sydney most of my life. I guess because I have dark hair, fair skin and a strange name, people love trying to guess where I’m from. Are you French? No…Turkish? No…and when I tell them I am Aboriginal, I am left with blank stares, puzzled looks or some jibe about how well Cathy ran at the Olympics way back when.

And sadly, rather than accept my identity, more often than not, people question it. Are you sure you’re Aboriginal? Because Yatu sounds awfully Japanese? Maybe you’re just a quarter, or a half…so practically not Aboriginal at all!

On the flip side, over the years, many people have felt they can say blatantly racist things to me because I don’t ‘look, think or sound’ like ‘them’. The ‘them’ that are on A Current Affair, appear in Government Reports or are stuck somewhere out in the far far away desert.

Because I don’t look like the stereotype or I guess what people would expect an Aborigine to look like, I have been privy to a whole bunch of conversations that I might not otherwise have been a part of. And the results are frightening.

When I was in Central Australia a few years ago, a woman from Port Macquarie who didn’t know my cultural background, leant over and in a very earnest advice giving voice said, ‘the full bloods are lovely, but it’s the half castes you have to look out for’. And it didn’t stop there. ‘Where are the Aboriginal people? They should be standing at the Rock (Uluru) saying welcome, can I show you around?’

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I should have said, ‘Well I was in Port Macquarie last month, where the bloody hell were you?’

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Where do these attitudes come from?

It makes me wonder where these attitudes come from. But then I think back to when I was at school when Aboriginal education consisted of colouring in pictures of men in loin cloths and then suddenly skipped to celebrating Aboriginal athletes at the Commonwealth Games. Where were the massacres, the attempted genocide, the rest of history? And more pressing for me at the time, where was I? A fair skinned Aboriginal kid growing up in an urban jungle?

Why wasn’t there any acknowledgement at all of contemporary identity, expression or belonging?

A teacher I had at the time, even told me I should think about hiding my identity because my life would be easier. Perhaps his life would be easier if he stopped saying racist things like that.

The other side of the coin are the group of people who romanticise Aboriginal culture. Not that it isn’t beautiful and romantic, but for a lot of Australians, their view of Aboriginal Australia is stagnant and stuck over 40,000 years ago, with no appreciation of what it’s like for the majority of Aboriginal people living in urban centres, expressing themselves through art, hip hop, graffiti, fashion and a plethora of other things.

But many, myself included, have at times felt ashamed that we don’t know more, or look more like what others expect us to. I am more comfortable in a shopping mall than a campsite, but that’s OK. To me anyway.

And that’s my main beef really. Why is it that our contemporary Australian culture, doesn’t appreciate contemporary Aboriginal culture? Despite most of us living in urban areas, why are images of the red desert constantly covering our magazines and TV screens? Even city slicker, NIDA trained Aboriginal actors always have to play the ‘Aboriginal’ character on TV. It always starts off well, but a few episodes in, their character suddenly starts using the word ‘mob’ alot and the story line always ends up finding a way to make a point of their ethnicity.

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Deborah Mailman is one of the most successful Actresses in Australia
Deborah Mailman is one of the most successful Actresses in Australia

I want to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples acknowledged on their own terms. The only time we seem to celebrate them in our society are when they are winning scholarships to exclusive private schools, becoming Indigenous cadets in the big banks or getting PhDs. Not when they are sharing story, caring for country or celebrating culture.

When I was eighteen, most of my friends were busting to get to Europe to see history and culture because Australia was ‘a young country’ devoid of all that stuff. But we are home to the world’s oldest surviving continuous culture in the entire world and you have to wonder how this isn’t the biggest source of national pride. It sure beats southern cross tattoos and commemorations of the first fleet.

So in Reconciliation Week, the theme of which is ‘Let’s Talk Recognition’, the recognition I care about isn’t just about the constitution. I haven’t read it and I bet neither have most Australians. It’s about being recognised for the rich, vibrant, evolving and ancient culture that we are.

Being Aboriginal is not all about being remote and romantic, or  all about being urban and broken. It’s not all about playing footy or running fast. Aboriginal icons are always held up as unusual, different and against the norm and with them, they carry the weight of their culture. But being Aboriginal is normal.

And no matter who you are, where you come from or how long you’ve been here, being able to own and celebrate our shared history and rich evolving identities, is what Reconciliation is truly about.

Yatu Widders Hunt is a communications consultant and eco style writer from Sydney. She now regularly blogs for Peppermint Magazine, US based conscious culture website EcoSalon and is a monthly guest on the ABC Radio Show, Speaking Out. Yatu is of Indigenous, British and Irish heritage and is passionate about social justice, environmental issues and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Follow her on Twitter here, and read her blog here.

 

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