Australia has a problem with truth-telling

November 17, 2023
Lachlan Macquarie's words which Stephen Langford pasted on to his statue. Photo: @wagepeace/X

Michelle Berkon, a member of Jews Against the Occupation, gave the following speech before yet another hearing, on November 16, in Stephen Langford’s long-running trial for alleged “intentional or reckless damage”. The charges came after he pasted a copy of Lachlan Macquarie’s words on his statue. The magistrate dismissed six charges, but Langford was convicted for graffiti and given a 12-month good behaviour bond.

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When protestors undertook direct actions to highlight a looming environmental catastrophe, Australian states criminalised protest. One state even sent counter-terrorism investigators to a climate protester’s house.

When editor, publisher and activist Julian Assange drew the ire of the United States for publishing a series of leaks from a US army intelligence analyst that exposed its war crimes and duplicity, Australia stayed mute until mounting popular pressure forced its hand.

When military lawyer David McBride leaked classified information about alleged war crimes to journalists, he was arrested for not placing sworn loyalty to the Australian Defence Force above the public’s right to know what is being done in our name.

What is being done in our name — and with our money?

In the current phase of Israel’s genocidal war on Palestinians, our media, even the ABC and SBS, obsequiously parrot Israeli propaganda about particular Hamas atrocities and Israel’s right to defend itself.

They do not seek independently verified evidence, nor a basis in international law. They do not offer a forensic examination freely available on credible international news media, of what both Hamas and the Israeli Defense Force did and did not do.

Now, here is Stephen Langford, charged with the heinous crime of exposing a heinous crime.

In colonial settler projects the world over, language and law are the tools of white supremacism, glorifying the colonial entity, erasing Indigenous ownership of coveted land and property, and criminalising resistance.

The inscription on Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s statue in Hyde Park is a perfect example.

This man arrived on these shores with child slaves — two young boys purchased in India. He authored the Appin Massacre, the murder of 14 Dharawal and Gundungurra men, women and children.

He strung up on trees the corpses of two of these men, Cannabaygal and Dunnell; and had the skull of one sent to Scotland as a trophy.

This man is described as “a perfect gentleman, a Christian and supreme legislator of the human heart”.

In a direct challenge to this obfuscation, Langford affixed to the statue Macquarie’s own words:

“… the officers Commanding the Military Parties have been authorised to fire on them to compel them to surrender; hanging up on Trees the Bodies of such Natives as may be killed on such occasions, in order to strike the greater terror into the Survivors”.

In a country genuinely engaged in decolonisation, countering colonial narratives would be undertaken by the state.

But Nathan Moran, a Goori man, then CEO of Sydney’s Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, got it right in June 2020, when he lamented: “Our country is just not mature enough to commence decolonisation and wants to continue with [its] glorification”.

Now there’s some truth-telling.

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