Challenging racism in Australia

April 17, 2011
The production of new Aboriginal rights magazine Tracker. Photo: Chris Graham

A new magazine focused on Aboriginal rights, Tracker, was launched in Sydney by the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) on April 4.

The monthly publication was co-founded and launched by former National Indigenous Times editor Chris Graham. It will feature analysis and investigation of land rights, Aboriginal issues and expose the challenges of institutional racism and discrimination across Australian society.

The first issue features articles and comment by former NIT reporter and Tracker editor Amy McQuire, former ABC journalist Jeff McMullen, Larissa Behrendt, John Altman, Gary Foley, NSWALC CEO Geoff Scott, as well as letters of congratulations from new NSW premier Barry O’Farrell and independent journalist John Pilger.

Chris Graham spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Jay Fletcher about Tracker and the need for a “genuinely independent, but well-resourced voice for Aboriginal people”.

* * *

Why was Tracker created; who helped make it happen?

The NSWALC needed to have a forum to tackle government and the media — government in the sense of underfunding and incompetence, and media in the sense of grossly misleading reporting.

And we also knew that the land council needed to start to advocate beyond its borders. Even though we are the peak body in NSW, we’re also the largest Aboriginal organisation in Australia.

It is one of only two Aboriginal organisations in Australia that have UN status, so we’re always over in the UN, New York or Geneva, advocating on issues much bigger than NSW.

We’ve spoken on the intervention, and NSWALC is consistently relied on by groups around the country for a voice internationally.

The first Tracker issues a call to revisit land rights as a pressing issue.

It is making the point that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard wanted to talk about constitution reform, but Aboriginal people want to talk about their rights, economic development, and being given back what was taken from them. They want to talk about treaty and the issues Australia doesn’t want to talk about.

Land rights are about culture and heritage and land that belong to Aboriginal people, but a large part of it too is economic development.

We created Tracker for economic development, to communicate with members, and to reach the goals of keeping media and government to account.

The other reason for Tracker is that the National Indigenous Times decided to take a different editorial tack — and in our view that left a gaping hole in rights-based journalism.

The NT intervention is into its fourth year and is expanding. More Aboriginal people are dying in custody, and racist points of view in Australia get the most media attention. How will Tracker counter the impacts of media concentration and bias?

Tracker is a rights-based magazine. It focuses on rights-based issues. Land rights is an obvious key focus. Our first major feature is about NSW and national land rights.

The other areas of course are human rights and legal rights — both of which are consistently ignored by the government — and political rights too. And the mainstream media completely ignores the right to fair coverage.

So Tracker is about promoting the rights and interests of Aboriginal people in NSW and beyond when those rights are consistently ignored. It unreservedly tells the views of Aboriginal people.

We’re calling it agenda journalism — we are openly admitting we have an agenda: the agenda is Aboriginal rights.

All media have an agenda, but the difference between us and The Australian is that we admit we have an agenda.

We’re also very focused on good quality, investigative journalism.

For example, the sub-feature in Tracker is a story about a death in custody in Canada. The story rings so many bells for people who followed the death of Mulrunji [Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004] and other deaths in custody in Australia. It’ll make you cry to read it.

They have video footage of police dragging the man out into an alleyway and leaving him exposed to the snow where he died.

They’ve been fighting to expose it for well over a decade, and still no police have faced charges.

It tells that a) police are the same the world over, and b) if you think it’s going to be a simple, easy fight, it’s not — it’s going to be a long, hard fight.

This is also what the NIT was about. Some will disagree, like The Australian and the ABC. But we exposed their dodgy reporting most of the time, so it’s no wonder they didn’t like us.

Mainstream journalism serves mainstream Australians. It’s notorious for not serving the interest of minority groups.

It’s why asylum seekers are targeted.

It’s why Aboriginal people have done so poorly. It’s why the NT intervention happened.

It’s why incarceration rates are going through the roof. In NSW, more than 80% of youth getting detained are Aboriginal. We jail black people at 5.5 times that of apartheid South Africa. And it’s just getting worse every day.

The reality is no reasonable summation of the Australian media’s history could come to the conclusion that Aboriginal people have been treated fairly.

If you want to assist Aboriginal people through the media, and that’s our goal, then we have to look at doing things differently. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome.

Other oppressed minorities, particularly the Muslim community in Australia, are rejected by large sections of Australian society for not following “our way of life” or “our values”. But the same nationalist agenda demonises and scapegoats Aboriginal people. How can solidarity and unity be built to challenge this overt racism?

The mainstream media is good at being a mirror of Australian society — so the overt racism you see in the mainstream media shouldn’t surprise anyone, because Australia is an overtly racist country — so we reflect our redneck tendencies very well in the media.

And it does not do any good. In fact it does a lot of harm. It harms people every day. Refugees have been harmed irreparably.

But no one has been harmed more and over a longer period of time than Aboriginal people. They are the great victims of media distortion and government malaise.

There’s a lot for the Muslim community to learn from the Aboriginal community about the way racism operates.

The Muslim community is the latest target. Lebanese, Sudanese, Greek migrants, Italians — apparently we have to hate somebody. And throughout all of that there have always been black fellas, who are perennially demonised.

I think it comes from a deep-seated insecurity and knowledge at some level that if we didn’t massacre Aboriginal people, we certainly benefited from it. The same goes for racism in general.

So I would suggest the Aboriginal community has a lot to offer about fighting overt and covert racism. I think there is a lot of sympathy for the way Muslims are treated, but not surprise.

We are a racist nation, there’s no two ways about it. Racism is born of ignorance and ignorance is overcome by education. But Australia’s media preserves ignorance, and it’s very hard to overcome that.

That’s why we need a new form of media, and it’s very hard to break through with wealthy and highly concentrated media ownership. And that’s why Tracker, the Koori Mail, Indigenous media generally, and Green Left Weekly are so important.

Re-educating a nation is not a bad goal, though I think we have our work cut out for us.

That’s the vision of the board [of NSWALC]. They’re aware of their capacity to reach into the homes of ordinary Australians, through the media, and that’s what they hope to achieve.

Our goal is that people should be able to pick up any edition of Tracker at any level in the Australian community and be able to understand the issues.


Thanks glw for publishing this article. The more diversity and the more alternatives available to the mainstream news the better. The ideological content of mainstream media, like the Australian and the SMH, seems to be shifting further and further toward the right in this country. Congratulations to everyone involved in the production, publication and promotion of Tracker. It's publication is both timely and desperately necessary.
Why did the reporter feel the need to transform a worthy story on the Aboriginal struggle for rights and economic justice, into an Islamic victimhood story? There are unaddressed injustices in our own backyard, its time we to the fight against our own "apartheid", but for some reason the Middle East and Islam seems to always have a way of distracting our attention. Most people are aware that Islam is not a "race", but a religion, a way of life, and a set of laws to obey outside (and above) those set by civil society. The debate on Islam needs to be framed within that context. Many reasonable, tolerant people object to specific points of Islamic doctrine: its condemnation of homosexuality, its unequal treatment of women, its lack of tolerance for other beliefs and "apostates". Then there are those of us who simply have no time for ANY organized religion intruding into the world outside its places of worship. It goes without saying that we shouldn't discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, but does this also apply to their beliefs? Or should we also feel obliged to defend neo-Nazis, cultists, Scientologists, Charismatic Christians, Satanists, Hansonites, white supremacists and others that may feel discriminated against due to a perceived misunderstanding of their beliefs? I apologize for also getting distracted. Please try to write a story without an Islamic sub-text for a change, there seem a rarity in the GLW these days.
My research has led me to non indigenous people working within the CDEP and claiming black jobs and money to improve the quality of life for indigenous peoples is being exploited by the whites
You've singled out three things that so-called tolerate people oppose about Islam, but those same three could be applied to most major religions (including and particularly Christianity). But this is not to say that all religious people choose to emphasise these points. Some sections do - but most others make a point of acting otherwise. What you've done, in effect, is caricatured Islam and removed all of the variation and levels of belief that exist in it (and that's putting aside your comparisons to various extreme groups). This is precisely why drawing the racist links in society is important. Because Aboriginal people are so often caricatured in the same way, to the same damaging and oppressing effect. And it's exactly why asking stand-out Aboriginal rights advocates what can be done about it is so important and vital.
A topic worth further exploration and with potential for further division within this loose collective... In Western Australia in particular, some Aboriginal communities are doing quite well from mining royalties, and this is inspiring others to seek similar economic benefits from the exploitation of their land. This will inevitably bring them into conflict with those who above all wish to protect the environment. The Kimberley LNG project is a case in point but I have seen proposals for far more environmentally damaging projects. There are wealthy and high profile mining identities, such as Andrew Forrest, who also claim to champion the welfare of indigenous Australians. The dilemma for "Green-Leftists" is: should land rights imply the right to strip mine the land for the financial benefit of the few (though these would include the traditional owners), or should it be preserved so that wealthy white tourists can visit it in a pristine state (or at least could if they chose to)? Hmmm...
If you think I am making generalizations (or "caricatures") please feel free to offer counter-examples. I'm not sure how far you've researched Islam yourself, but I know of NO variant that accepts women as equals, or that tolerates homosexuality, or apostates (broadly including anyone who believes anything post-Muhammad). These go against "core" beliefs and are not optional. There IS a difference in the degree to which these beliefs are enforced, i.e. whether deviants are "gently encouraged" to return to the way of righteousness and avoid going to hell, or whether harsh punishment is meted out. But there's no question that these are among the worst crimes, as they committed against God. I agree that this applies also to other religions - to varying degrees. Christianity's underlying theme of forgiveness though, tends to leave any harsher punishments to the afterlife (at least in more recent history). Islam, on the other hand, commands its adherents to implement these laws (Sharia) on earth. There's no reason I can see for anyone claiming to be a progressive leftists to defend any of them. But while the likes of Fred Nile are (perhaps rightly) ridiculed, we wouldn't dream of giving his Islamic equivalents the same treatment. Why is that? And what connection does this have to the situation of indigenous Australians? They are a people who have been genuine victims of a colonization they were unequipped to deal with. Perhaps this is because they lacked the aggressive expansionist drive to conquer found elsewhere in the world. Their numbers and influence have been in decline ever since European settlement, while they have not been fairly compensated with the benefits such "civilization" claimed to offer. Is this any comparison with a religion whose adherents are approaching one third of the world's population? Choose your underdogs carefully...
Your point seems to be that Muslims deserve to be vilified and oppressed because... they do it to other Muslims. Great. What a masterpiece of logic.
I can't really believe that you've researched Islam very much, let alone talked to many Muslims about their beliefs. If you had, you'd have realised by now that its untenable to describe all Muslims as homophobic, sexist etc (in the same way, perhaps, it's untenable to describe all people who comment on GLW articles as consistently anti-racist). Of course, there are Muslims who have backward views. Same goes with Christians, Buddhists and Atheists, Australians, Uruguayans etc ... any group of people. I've met practising Muslims in Indonesia who also regards themselves as socialists. (And I've met Christians in Latin America who also consider themselves socialists). And there are countless examples of Muslim groups and Muslim activists who campaign against homophobia and for women's rights. A quick google search would demonstrate that. (One example ... see Australian group Muslims against Homophobia Your generalisations imply that Muslims are more backward and less civilised than other groups. Aboriginal people have been subjected to a similar kind of slander on their culture for centuries. Even if you can't see the link there, that's why Chris Graham said in his interview: "There’s a lot for the Muslim community to learn from the Aboriginal community about the way racism operates. "The Muslim community is the latest target. Lebanese, Sudanese, Greek migrants, Italians — apparently we have to hate somebody. And throughout all of that there have always been black fellas, who are perennially demonised."
It is really awesome that this magazine was created. It will most certainly help in the rights of many. Thank you for taking this giant leap and putting yourselves out there!
Great to hear about "Tracker"! All Power to It's Contributors! Surely it's passed time that Aboriginal and Alternative REALPolitik Journo's, and those who want to get-the-guff on what's REALLY happening, here and elsewhere, were able to access the reportage etc., via dedicated cable, and free-to-air TV networks? Sure, it comes down to the unholy dollar. But were an "Alternative Consortium" consisting of Aboriginal media, GLW, Indy Media, etc etc, to combine and lobby for both private wealth and government funding, the Rightminded public reader/listener/viewer should be able to access the REALNews Australia-wide, just like Poxtel (TYPO!), or Austar on either cable TV or free-to-air TV. Even on your MOBILE! "Tracker Teevee"! mmmMMMmmm!
Further to my comments about an "Alternative Media consortium", giving Aborigines and Alternative REALPolitik Voices affordable and funded access to the technology and bucks for their own independent cable and free-to-air television networks, it not only should be, but I believe it IS their Right to have access to sophisticated technology and transmission of their views and, OH NO! $%^& THE FACTS. As televisual media is as popular as it is today, 21C, any denials by the 'authorities' against funding such alternative media, is blatant bigotry, and against Aborigines, blatant racism, and cannot be spun-away by Zionist-lawyers-and-landgrabbing-cabals-incorporated. If they try, as they will, and succeed in silencing the minorities affected by their tyranny, then a nationwide ORGANIZED "PROTEST" has to happen! And today, global as even the minorities are becoming, why can we/they not ORGANIZE a worldwide PROTEST, merely for all of the 'major minorities', to get televisual media networks, free of the BLAH of mainstream CRAPitalism, delusion, and, in the end, destruction? Because, it seems to me, and probably to many many others worldwide, that the anti-Justice mainstream powers-that-should-not-be, get us in the neck through their Zionist media. Media, media, media! "Group-up" Alternative-Media-Dudes!
I know freedom of Speech should be ones right but how far is too far when it appears bordering on racism check out Ban the Burqua on Facebook.. Thoroughly disgusting and makes me cringe.
your own comment is a generalisation. not everyone commenting on a particular race, culture or religion is claiming it applies to all. to deny there are no particular attitudes or actions a particular 'group' can be associated with is no more constructive than playing the race card, in fact the polar opposite. after living here (sydney) for 24 years and an immigrant myself, I would expect only the particularly naive would argue things have remained the same, and more importantly to my comment that certain sub-cultures (for want of a better word) add to the detriment of my own freedoms and those around me. perhaps I am jaded by those very media outlets perpetuating this very topic (racism), or perhaps not and am instead being truthful of my views based on experience. the muslim community is no more the target than any other group including individuals with no respect or consideration for others. it just so happens the muslim community is expanding rapidly and therefore conflicts with how things were before become more evident, while at the same time more supported by those they might identify with.
"I know freedom of Speech should be ones right but how far is too far when it appears bordering on racism..." Obviously, it's NEVER too far. That's the point of free speech. Free speech, by definition, includes racist speech. If people say racist things that you think are untrue then you simply show them evidence that they are wrong. "...check out Ban the Burqua on Facebook.. Thoroughly disgusting and makes me cringe." Why would there be racism on a page calling for a ban on the Burqa? All feminists (by definition) call for a ban on the Burqa. Afghanistan opinion polls all show most of the men believe the Burqa is something that must be forced on women by men. Not that it's possible for any sane woman to want to wear a Burqa. This is why you must never try to ban "racist" speech, instead you end up trying to ban feminism aimed at protecting minority women with no racial angle whatsoever.
Muslims against homophobia is a group with two members as far as I can tell. That's not to say that there aren't Muslims who are tolerant of homosexuality. Naturally many are even gay themselves, and there are of course many that believe in equal rights for women (most of them no doubt are women). But Islam, the religion, preaches otherwise - Homosexuality is a sin against God, women are inferior, apostates deserve death. Why would anyone think that opposing these views is "racist"? And why does GLW spend so much column space these days promoting these views? The answer is pretty obvious from the rather lame "Zionist" slurs on this (and most other pages. The moral contortions required to go on hating the USA with a black, liberal President with fairly un-imperialistic leanings, has led you into an unholy alliance with an ideology diametrically opposed to your own. And what is the only thing both have in common? Hatred of Jews.
A great article. Although in your examples of targeted minorities, you didn't mention one of the most abused groups of all: the Chinese, especially during the latter stages of the gold rush. Many of them fled the gold fields and were offered sanctuary by aboriginal groups, hence the examples of mixed race.
"Why would anyone think that opposing these views is "racist"?", you ask. In the abstract, its not racist to oppose such behaviour, of course. Obviously, GLW disapproves of such behaviour. However, everything you said fails to take into consideration a little thing called context. In Australia in 2011, there exists a context where the population is told by the media and politicians, in more or less subtle ways, that Muslims (a minority that makes up about 2% of the population) are evil terrorists who hate "our way of life". They, along with other minorities, are used as distractions or scapegoats for the real problems in society, and their "terrorist" image is used to justify wars and attacks on civil rights. In this context, abstractly criticising Islamic homophobia and misogyny - while there are very immediate and much more threatening examples of homophobia and misogyny that are endemic in our supposedly "free, progressive" society - is highly likely to be motivated by some kind of prejudice. You display said prejudice in your sweeping statements about Islam. You acknowledge that there are Muslims who are tolerant, yet you associate the whole religious tradition with intolerance, as if you can separate the religion from the people who practice it, not to mention completely ignoring Islam's history. Your whole post suggests you see the world purely in terms of abstract "values", which is why you cant understand GLW's position. Politics doesnt revolve around what "values" people supposedly have, it revolves around what they actually do. GLW likes to make its political judgements based on the actual political situation, not simply ideology or vague, sweeping impressions of entire groups of people. Your analysis of Obama, your islamophobia and the fact that you think criticism of Zionism is "lame", expose your highly impressionistic, ignorant, naive and "lame" understanding of the world and your disregard actual facts. Not surprising for someone more interested in abstract "values" rather than political context. PS, im sure GLW's numerous contributors with Jewish backgrounds would be fascinated to learn about its "hatred" towards them. Please feel free to let them know about it.
It is fake feminism: The state has no right to determine what a woman wears: It's sexist and racist:
Banning it would be counter product and violate human rights. However we should still be making every effort to educate and encourage women not to wear it. The wearing of the burqa has implications for both Muslim and non-Muslim women. It marks the former as chaste and obedient believers, their bodies for their husband only. Others may be presumed non-believers and available for the taking. As Sheik al-Hilali said: "If I came across a rape crime – kidnap and violation of honour – I would discipline the man and order that the woman be arrested and jailed for life.' Why would you do this, Rafihi? He says because if she had not left the meat uncovered, the cat wouldn't have snatched it... If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem." While the harassment of uncovered women is obviously more common in countries with an Islamic majority, there have been recent reports even in parts of London of non-Muslim women of Asian descent being harassed by strangers for not wearing a burqa (along with the appearance of stickers declaring areas a "gay-free zone"). It is not simply a matter of leaving people to do as they please within their own community, religious chauvinism and intolerance can effect us all. While those wearing a veil may feel "liberated" from harassment it is not the same type of liberation as genuine equality for women which implies not being viewed merely as a sex object . Unfortunately the burqa is absolutely about treating women as sex objects - albeit segregating the untouchable and chaste, from the wonton sluts.
"You acknowledge that there are Muslims who are tolerant, yet you associate the whole religious tradition with intolerance, as if you can separate the religion from the people who practice it, not to mention completely ignoring Islam's history." The history of Islam is one aggressive proselytizing from its earliest days and this is entrenched in its texts. "Qur'an (9:29) - "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." Qur'an (9:5) "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them..." Qur'an (2:193) - "And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion be only for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers." Bukhari (59:643) - "Testify that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah, or else I will chop off your neck!" Of course there are many who call themselves Muslims who don't believe in taking things to these extremes, or even believe any of it. Some have been influenced by secular elements and merely "identify" rather than believe, others raise questions about the validity of certain practices in a modern day context. But the Qur'an is meant to be taken literally and unquestioningly, and would be "reformers" can and do find themselves accused of apostasy if they speak out. Apostates incidentally are to be treated even more harshly: Bukhari (52:260) - "...The Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.' " "Your whole post suggests you see the world purely in terms of abstract "values", which is why you cant understand GLW's position. Politics doesnt revolve around what "values" people supposedly have, it revolves around what they actually do. GLW likes to make its political judgements based on the actual political situation, not simply ideology or vague, sweeping impressions of entire groups of people. " Ideologies and values are the driving force of politics. The ideological goal of Islam is to impose Sharia law across the earth (that's a set of laws derived from values and practices of desert tribes of 7th Century Arabia, that Islam declares to be the unquestionable law of God). A minority of Muslims take it so seriously as to martyr themselves in its cause, but the great majority tacitly support this objective. The majority of active conflicts in the world are on the frontiers of Islam - Chechnya, Darfur, Eritrea, Kashgar, Aceh, Kashmir, Nigeria, the Phillipines, to name a few. Then there is the sectarian violence that is becoming more frequent in the Islamic heartland, and of course the terrorist attacks in the West. This is an underlying ideological conflict on a global scale not seen since the Cold War, events like 9/11 are the mere tip of the iceberg. Its worth making the effort of understanding the ideological context - the "values" - that are driving it, and its internal divisions. As a place to start, here is a concise historical background which makes interesting reading:
Should just be the same for all, give us free hold or pay over due rent and let us do what we want like any other person, is that to.fair for your liking, please reserch to avoid looking like a tool, each community is like a nation to themselfs, I dont care what the person does next door, they can do what.they feel they need because like you I dont understand their circumstance. We want free hold and we want to decide our own future, instead of the government wasting money on programs they could of payed compensation to all Aboriginal people for the dispossesion of their land but the so called smart white people are going to waste billions more, they dont make white people look to smart or civil for that.matter
I was just looking for this info for some time. After 6 hours of continuous Googleing, at last I got it in your website. I wonder what's the Google's issue that doesn't rank this type of informative websites closer to the top. Normally the top web sites are full of garbage.

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