Last Saturday, one’s beloved Guardian published an interview with the Australian novelist Kate Grenville in which this strange statement and quote appeared,
What about Lionel Rose, born two years before Grenville who became world bantam weight boxing champion in 1968, the same year he was named Australian of the Year? He beat Fighting Harada? That one rings no bells either?
Albert Namatjira? The world-renowned painter and subject of the Archibald Prize winner in 1956? Never seen any of his frequently reproduced paintings, even on postage stamps like the one above? Queen Elizabeth II was a fan. She awarded him a Coronation Medal in 1953. He was the first Aboriginal to be granted full Australian citizenship in 1957. Vile as the concept of
Oodgeroo Noonuccal MBE (formerly Kath Walker) the prize winning poet and leading civil rights campaigner? A poem from her 1964 collection We Are Going was on my school's syllabus - and I went to an ordinary girls’ school in surburban
Oodgeroo's son Bejam Kunmunara Jarlow Nunukel Kabool (formerly Dennis Walker) - founder of the Australian Black Panther movement and leading campaigner at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1970s? Not heard of him either?
What about Charles Perkins, the first Aboriginal permanent head of a government department – appointed in 1981? He got his Order of Australia in 1987.
And Neville Bonner? First Aboriginal to be elected to the Australian Parliament where he served as a senator from 1971 -1983. He was named Australian of the Year in 1979 and received his Order of Australia in 1984.
David Gulpilil? The actor who shot to world fame in Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout 1971. He may have led a troubled life but has been perfectly visible ever since his first film appearance. He was also the subject of an Archibald Prize winner (2004).
And then there is my personal hero Artie Beetson, rugby league legend of the 1960s and 70s. Artie was the first Aboriginal to captain the country in any sport, and he played for my local team, The Balmain Tigers.
So what’s going on here? All of these people were household names during my youth. Of course we could have a whole big conversation about how they faced incredible odds to reach the level of success in life that they attained and were often caught between a cultural rock and hard place, dealing with continuing prejudice from white society and resentment within their own communities but that’s not the issue. Grenville said that Aboriginal people had been invisible to her until 1988. I’m saying that can’t have been possible unless she was living in some Amish settlement without TV, radio or newspapers.
Is it possible that the considerable individual achievements of the people above-mentioned have been suppressed by the national consciousness? If so, to what purpose? Will someone please put this ex-pat out of her misery and let her know what gives here...