On the 30th of November, Stan Grant, a proud Wiradjuri man and stand out journalist and author, gave a talk at the Greek Club in West End. It was an intimate affair with 200 or so guests gathered in the upstairs room to hear the wisdom garnered from the life of international travel and reportage and his own experience of being an Indigenous Australian. The event was organised by Avid Reader and co-hosted by Darren Godwell, CEO of The Stronger Smarter Institute – an organisation dedicated to improving the education outcomes of Indigenous people across Australia.
Grant’s journey as an author began with the controversy surrounding Adam Goodes. Goodes is a first-class Aussie Rules Football player, Brownlow medalist, and Indigenous man of Adyamathanha and Narungga heritage. He has been very public about his strong stance on labeling European settlement for what it is; a violent occupation and subjugation of a multitude sovereign nations and peoples. Goodes was firm in reacting against a number racial slights that he suffered at the hands of football fans, which, in 2015, wrapped him up in a knot of media talking points.
For the better part of a year Goodes was booed in football stadiums across Australia, until during one match against the Carlton Blues, he celebrated a goal by performing an Aboriginal ceremonial war dance that involved throwing a spear towards a section of the crowd that was booing him. It was a moment that caught the attention of Australia and caused such a backlash by some parts of the Australian population that Goodes retired from football life for a fortnight before his fans drew him back to the field and he finished his career in flying colours.
For Grant, it was a moment that revealed to him the deep fractures of racism that still divide the country. In a speech he gave in Sydney in October of 2015 he said, “I can’t speak for what lay in the hearts of the people that booed Adam Goodes. But I can tell you what I heard in those boos… We heard the howl of the Australian Dream, and it said to us [Indigenous Australians] again: you’re not welcome.” This spurred Grant to write his first novel “Talking to my Country”, a memoir and meditation that serves to re-appropriate and empower a history that Australia has in the past tried very hard to brush under the carpet. It reads through a frontier history that is filled with extreme racism and casual accounts of utter barbarity against Indigenous people, laced with stories from Grants own childhood and experience as a black man living in white Australia. It is both sad and beautiful and a profoundly important read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the impact of colonisation on Indigenous Australia.
Grant’s talk at the Greek Club was based upon “The Australian Dream: Blood, History, and Becoming” published in the Quarterly Essay, a piece that reflects on the contemporary identity of Indigenous Australians while writing them back into the economic and multicultural history of Australia. It tells a story of the amazing success of Indigenous people despite all the odds against them, but acknowledging that this trajectory towards prosperity has come during a time when shocking revelations, such as the horrible mistreatment of the young inmates at Don Dale Detention Centre, are revealing the underbelly of the Australian dream. He spoke of how 20% of the Indigenous population is living in a poverty so acute that it is causing the flourishing of Indigenous Australian people to be misrepresented. What we need, he argues, is to stop seeing Indigenous Australians as a socio-economically homogeneous group and attempt to target more effectively those who truly need it.
What is so enjoyable about Grant’s work is that he always draws everything back to a positive message, weaving a story of a peoples ability to simultaneously pay homage to and transcend beyond their histories. Telling of the importantance to remember that four times more Indigenous people graduate university then go to prison. This was all interlaced with small, personal stories that reveal the depths of Grant’s ability to both understand the complexities and find the positives in our multi-cultural nation.
Grant is a calm and steady speaker and skillful communicator who effortlessly uses engaging rhetoric to paint broad-stroke, contextual pictures of Australia. From these pictures he moves effortlessly through meditative elucidations on identity-politics, and heart-felt personal reflections on his own identity and place in the world.
Recently AllGrid Energy organised an event in Sydney, the focus of which was visionary leadership, particularly Indigenous leadership. In his key note address, AllGrid CEO, Ray Pratt had this to say:
“Despite the process of colonisation, Indigenous people, we’re still here and we’re still strong, and we are resilient. The wisdom of sustainability and stewardship of the earth is still held in our cultural memory and in our communities.”
We will become a richer democracy and a more inclusive society as we make the space for more of these conversations.
Hear Pratt’s keynote address here.