I’ve been here in Australia for just a little over a month and all is going very well. Wanted to give an update on who I’ve been talking to, what I’ve been up to and a few of the things that I have organized.
At this point some of the most exciting things in the works are that I have a LOT of interviews recorded that I’m excited to be editing and making into podcasts! My goal is to start putting out the first episodes of Carceral Complex in the beginning of March, but it is quite the process so we’ll see if I can stay aligned with this goal. Also, Linah and I have our podcast starting called Condemned to the Labyrinth which is all about detention centres as an important aspect of the carceral system. I’m excited to say that I have the podcast art made up for both of these projects and have made a Carceral Complex Facebook page so please follow us there so you can start getting updates!
Other than the podcasting I’m also doing a bit more collaboration. I’ve been in contact with my friend Lachlan and we’re hoping to write a piece together in the next month or so. Lachlan is a wonderful writer and researcher with whom I was in the club Indigenous People’s Education and Culture Club (IPECC) while at Whitman College. We will be writing some sort of comparative (and probably somewhat historical) piece that has to do with indigenous people in Australia and in the United States. More to come on this later.
Other exciting news is that not only am I interviewing people I have now been interviewed a couple of times to talk about my project and other things prison related. I was on the Doin Time show Monday February 5th talking about my project. Also, my friend Ben has a podcast called “Bensplaining” which I did an episode for and we just chat for an hour or so about prisons, some of the work I’ve done, and related concepts! I’ll let you all know when he releases the one with us chatting but for now go take a listen to his podcast because it is pretty great!
In other news I’ve been doing a lot of reading and feel like I have resources coming out of my ears! Always good though to have too much to do.
To get to who I’ve talked to in the past few weeks and other exciting events:
Refugee Meet Up: I went to a meeting that was outside of the State Library of Victoria to talk about refugees and the current situation regarding refugees/asylum seekers in Australia. Though the meeting itself was hard to follow (it was a noisy area and people couldn’t hear each other as we tried to discuss) I did end up meeting/hearing some great people through this gathering. First are Syrian twins Maya and Sarah who are doing a podcast on Syn radio called Refugees On Air. This is a great show and I encourage everyone to take a listen! I also had the opportunity to hear from Abdi Aden who is a refugee and has written a book called “Shining: The Story of A Lucky Man” about his experiences. Take a look, an amazing person!
Poster Making Session: Leading up to the Invasion Day rally on Jan 26th there was a whole week of events that the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) put on in preparation and support. I went to this poster making session where many of the beautiful and poignant banners pictured in the rally were created. While I was there I met some great people but also best of all was there for a welcome by a Wurundjeri man who talked to us about the importance of what we were doing. He also shared with us his artwork and talked about some cultural artifacts he had brought along.
A Black GST: This was another one of the events hosted by WAR and included a panel of Clare Land, Robbie Thorpe, and Marji Thorpe. The panel was facilitated by Tony Birch. Black GST stands for: Genocide to be stopped, Sovereignty to be acknowledged, and Treaties to be made. From the event description, “Black GST was a collective who organised the protest of the 2006 Stolenwealth games. The national call out to blakfullas across the country to resist the celebration of the commonwealth was taken up by many at the time and now its time again to answer the call to this years 2018 Stolenwealth protest on Gold Coast.”
Huge protests took place in 2006 when Australia hosted the so-called “Commonwealth games”. These games take place every four years are a bit like the Olympics, but are exclusively for those countries which are a part of the commonwealth. This year, 2018, again these games are being hosted in Australia on the gold coast and there is another great movement taking place to protest. This talk was aimed at highlighting those who were present and fighting in 2006, and particularly those who established and maintained Camp Sovereignty. According Wikipedia: “On 12 March 2006 a camp [Camp Sovereignty] was established and a ceremonial fire was lit in Kings Domain a public park in Melbourne, Australia to symbolise the continuing presence of indigenous culture in Australia. Also it was to protest against Commonwealth Games or, as the protesters stated, the 'Stolenwealth Games'.” The camp continued until May 10, 2006. Clare, Marji, and Robbie talked about their roles in Camp Sovereignty and the political climate in 2006. One main note was that during the 2000s much of organizing felt like it was happening during a time of “contentedness” and it was difficult to mobilize people whereas over a decade later, today, they have hope that there will be massive protests and less difficulty in mobilization.
Charandev Singh: Charandev is an abolitionist and I have to say definitely one of the most high impact conversations that I have had to date here in Australia. Charandev has traveled to the U.S. in order to talk with different abolitionist organizations operating there plus has extensive experience in Australia as a human rights advocate, educator, and professional. I would like to write something very specific about what I learned with Charandev but I’ll just say I walked away with a list of something like 20 books, 5 films, and a lot of work and thinking to do. Please take a listen to the podcast that he did with Colour Yarns linked here and below!
Bunjilaka: As one of its permanent exhibits the Melbourne Museum includes the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre. Though it opened in 2000, there was major revamping that took place and it reopened in late 2013. Since then Bunjilaka has won the Award for Interior Design Impact and continues to be viewed by many people around the world. I had the opportunity to visit and learned a lot from my 3 hour walk through. Admittedly while I was there a group was being toured through and led by an aboriginal woman who was giving her perspective on the museum and explanation of historical events, artifacts, etc. I sort of jumped on to this tour and found it incredibly rewarding to hear what she had to say.
Out of the many things I want to talk a bit about cultural understandings of land. Many aboriginal groups had a policy of welcoming visitors to the land and they would share knowledge and gifts with these [ep[;e. But, like any host, they expected that at some point the visitors would leave, like a visiting guest to your house or like a temporary visa you might receive to another country. Colonizers though had other ideas and meant to stay permanently on the land. Therefore colonizers were first received well but cultural understandings of land were absolutely opposite—for Europeans the land could be owned whereas for aboriginal groups the land gave everything but could also take life, it could never be conceived as being “harnessed” or “owned”. Along these lines the only “treaty” that was ever signed in Australia was called the Batman Treaty. The Batman Treaty was aimed at acquiring the lands of Port Phillip near present day Melbourne. The treaty reminded me a lot of those which were supposedly legally agreed upon and signed in the U.S.—when you looked at what Batman offered for this land it was mere nuggets. “For 600,000 acres of Melbourne, including most of the land now within the suburban area, Batman paid 40 pairs of blankets, 42 tomahawks, 130 knives, 62 pairs of scissors, 40 looking glasses, 250 handkerchiefs, 18 shirts, 4 flannel jackets, 4 suits of clothes and 150 lb. of flour.” Amazing to think that anyone could see these objects being worth all of that land, but also just astounding to think that this was the one and only time that an attempt was even made to treaty with the first peoples of Australia. Anyways, just a little nugget that I was really struck by from my visit to Bunjilaka.
Clare is the author of the book “Decolonizing Solidarity” and is a prominent white ally to indigenous struggles and endeavors. She was also a part of the Police Stop Data expert working group. She referred me to a lot of excellent resources and groups and I am currently in the process of reading her book.
Claire has background as a social worker but for the past few years has been specifically looking at the rehabilitative role that ex prisoners/offenders can have as peer mentors during reintegration. Basically this means facilitating a relationshionship between ex offenders who have “made it” on the outside as mentors for men on the inside and during their transition into outside society. Claire actually won the Churchill fellowship and went to the UK, Ireland, Sweden and the U.S. to study this model. She is currently working on setting up a mentorship program here in Australia.
Old Castlemaine Gaol:
After visiting Claire who lives in Castlemaine, Peter (from 3CR) and I went to the Castlemaine Gaol. I thought I would mention this visit because many older prisons these days are being turned into tourist attractions of a sorts. For example, with this prison in particular we showed up and there was a “private party” being held in the old visitation room. When we walked into the main part of the prisons from which the wings extended off there was a stage set up for the various concerts that are put on in the prison. I’m not sure exactly how to feel about this use of old prisons but for me it doesn’t sit well. Especially as when we were exploring the wings 60% of the information for the self-guided tour was about the 10 men that were hung at the goal over the years. We entered into different cells, each one had a plaque about one of the men who had been hung. I was struck by how voyeuristic it all was and how they had worked so hard, it seemed, to made it seem almost like a glorified haunted house—the scary prison on the hill where men were hung, oh my!
There was a spot for people to take pictures as a “convict” and they had put the silhouette of a man on the gallows with the noose hanging down. There were quotes from the incarcerated men about how Castlemaine goal was “hell”. It all felt very sensationalistic. I guess for me the reality of prisons is that they are actually horrible places where terrible violence and pain was inflicted upon people. I tend to feel much more solemn about it all, kind of like I would be visiting the National Holocaust Memorial Museum. You would never see concerts or private parties taking place in Birkenau... and maybe this is a poor comparison but was that not a prison as well? I suppose for many people it has to do with deservingness and who it was that occupied the prison—genocide victims, innocent people, versus crime perpetrators, guilty people. But even so there is something sinister and unsettling to me to be able to make a prison a place of entertainment… no matter who occupied it.
Today many prisons and the way they are historically remembered/opened to the public seems to disregard and glorify the pain and death that took place there, capitalizing on people’s imaginations and what I would call “Hollywood” visions of what prisons were like. The information at the prison “museum” focus on the crimes, the hangings... maybe a variety of prison-made weapons sit in a case (I’m thinking of the prison exhibit at Fort Walla Walla Museum in the U.S.). It is all about the scary people who occupied these creepy spaces… For me, there is great disregard for the actual human beings that endured that environment. There is a lack of history being conveyed. Instead, these spaces reminds me of vacant human zoos—come in to gawk at the non-humans, the convicts, that were killed here, and perhaps haunt here. And yet old prisons often are treated this way being conveyed to the public—it is a titillating thrill zone for the imagination to run its course.
Anyways, lots of reflection on this. I would love to hear other viewpoints from people if you feel differently (or similarly) about prison museums and how they should be conveyed/used by the public after they are out of use.
Invasion day is on January 26th, this is what much of the previous weeks events were leading up to. On this day there was a massive rally and march that took place going from the steps of Parliament to Federation Square in Melbourne. There were, by estimates, around 60,000 people who showed up to the march. I went and held my “Communities not prisons” sign, chanting “Always was, always will be aboriginal land”. The rally was pretty exhausting as it was in the heat and by the end I had to sit down and recuperate for a good long while. Lots of reflections on how going to a rally is very much not about you, it is about lending your body, showing up. I sometimes forget in the lead up to a rally that it is actually quite physical in its demand. But it was an amazing feeling marching with so many people and I was able to record the speeches at the beginning and end of the rally which were aired on the Doin’ Time show if you’d like to take a listen!
Ivan from Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR):
I met up with and had a nice chat with Ivan who is a part of ANTaR Victoria. I was hoping to maybe do some volunteer work with the program but after talking with Ivan I’m think it isn’t the best match. Ivan is the only employee and works two days a week so there is very limited capacity and the funding has been majorly cut for the organization. Ivan is doing great work but has some very specific goals because he has such limited time and monetary resources. Either way though ANTaR is has some great projects in the works and I really appreciated learning more about the organization and hope that it can again expand in the future!
I again visited Nett and Andie in Violet town, with their daughter Indi, and we did some more interviews and activities:
Eric Brown at the Kaiela Gallery:
We met Eric at Kaiela Gallery and talked for a long time about the art there, how the gallery is set up, etc. Eric is very charismatic and eager to talk and share with those who come into the gallery. He has put so much into making a beautiful space there and is an artist himself as well. He works to mentor artists beginning their artistic journeys. The gallery itself really struck me because it felt like such an accessible space. Unlike many formal art galleries which are a bit sterile, very formal, and pricey this gallery has a wide variety of works, mediums, prices, etc. Artists paint, printmake, sew, carve, sculpt, make jewelry, weave… there are all sorts of items on display. It truly feels like a workshop and one in which you can see artists growing and coming into themselves as they expand their artistic endeavors and horizons. The walls are filled with art, and the displays hold many different works. One thing I found particularly interesting about our talk with Eric was that he said that typically the people who come in and work as artists are 30 and older. He says those looking for cultural connection through art tend to be older and there is often a straying away for aboriginal youth and then the rekindling of interest only when a person gets older to really know about their heritage and have a connection with culture. This was interesting to me especially in light of wanting to work with the Torch Project whose goal is to reconnect people to culture through art and it had me wondering the demographics of their clients and why there is such a gap in interest perhaps with youth and cultural activities.
Jamie and Kalem:
This was another one of the most interesting talks that I have had yet. We went to the Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative and talked with two men who work on the justice side of things. This is one that I am really excited to put out the podcast for especially because these two were so forthcoming and honest with us. They are both aboriginal men working in the youth justice sector trying to mediate between “mainstream” law and aboriginal culture. Stay tuned on this one!
Tamar Hopkins works on the police accountability project and is part of the the Police Stop Data Working Group and is also a lawyer. Tamar and I had a really interesting conversation about law and policing in Victoria and Australia. One thing that I learned is that because there is no data that has been collected about race and police stops it has been very hard to write/prove anything about discriminatory policing practices here in Oz. Hopkins also won a fellowship from the Reichstein foundation and did a tour of different part of the U.S. looking at police accountability practices. Our talk ranged widely and this is another one I’m really excited to bring to the podcast!
Dhumbudo Munga, Talking Knowledge:
This was one of the opening exhibits of the Torch Project which is the organization that I had hoping to intern with here in Australia. Unfortunately they were too busy at at capacity to be able to take me on, but I had the opportunity to be at their art opening and see the amazing work of different aboriginal artists who have been previously incarcerated. Wonderful experience, there are so many talented people in this world! See more here about the exhibition.
Okay, I think that is much of what I’ve gotten up to in the last while. I took the last week mostly off visiting the Great Ocean Road and hiking at Wilsons prom here in Australia. It was great to get out and see some of the natural beautiful landscapes of Australia, and honestly this too felt like a part of the learning experience while being here in Australia.
There will be more to come soon about my project, and perhaps next time I write there may be a podcast to accompany as well!
The project is off to a good start—I’ve already met with 12 people and had numerous conversations more with all sorts of great people about what I’m doing here in Australia. This blog is going to be a brief update about who I’ve met with so far (in order) so you all can look forward to either forthcoming podcasts or more formal blog posts where I write more in depth on specific topics.
Sumarlinah: The first person I met up with here in Australia is Sumarlinah who is very invested in the realm of refugee rights, visitation, and activism. They are a part of WACA and have been doing detention centre visitation for many years now. We are going to be making a mini-series of podcasts together specifically focusing on detention centres here in Australia. I’m very excited to work with Linah on this project!
Salli: Salli is also a prominent person in the field of refugee rights and activism. Also a member of WACA, Salli is involved in rallies and direct action. A few months ago she was banned from doing detention centre visitation (boo!). Salli was the first person that I talked to months ago (via phone) who wanted to help me in my project endeavor here in Australia. She has been instrumental to connecting me with some of the people you see on this list who I have talked to.
Jenell: Jenell and I had a chat about their work in the detention centre and asylum seeker space. They are a member of RISE (Refugees Survivors and Ex-Detainees) and have visited Manus Island. Jenell also talked to me about how over the last few years things have gone from bad to worse and that the situation for people in immigration detention is reaching a dire point (this has been reinforced by my other conversations too). Stay tuned for more about this in an upcoming blog post.
My last weekend was spent in Violet Town, Australia which is about two hours north of Melbourne. I was invited out by Annette and her partner, Andie. Annette is a social worker with an incredible background in so many areas—just a few to mention though is as a community leader, youth organizer, foster parent, and artist. I was struck over and over again by the immense passion that Andie and Annette have for building community—they truly lead through example. Nett and Andie were incredibly generous and hosted me for the weekend while also setting up different people for me to talk to. The following conversations were all in Violet Town and made possible by Nett:
Chris: Uncle Chris is an aboriginal man who spent many years traveling to every prison in Victoria and delivering a specialized three day program aimed to reconnect incarcerated indigenous people with their culture. Though the program ended many years ago, we also conversed about his current work as an Aboriginal Community Support Worker who now is working to close the health gap for aboriginal people and communities.
Jacqui: Jacqui is a historian of Australian Cultural History, which, of course, includes the history of aboriginal/Torres straight islander people. She was able to give me a great sense of important historical pieces of the puzzle that were part of settler-colonization of Australia. I learned about the White Australia policy, the Stolen Generation, and the Intervention. Also, like the vast amount of U.S. native American tribes, I was struck by the fact that there is no broad brush stroke necessarily for “indigenous people” in Australia as there are hundreds of different mobs, groups, etc. which makes the government policies that are often “one-size-fits-all” even less applicable.
John: John is someone who has lived experience in an aboriginal community (though not aboriginal himself). He lived and worked in Alice Springs and has seen first hand the effects of the Intervention, which he believes was a positive policy. John was the caretaker for three aboriginal men with Intellectual Disabilities. He shared some of his insights into becoming a part of an aboriginal community and learning about some aspects of the culture.
Vera: Vera is a white woman who was the partner of an aboriginal man, Bob Maza, in the ’60s when interracial relationships were illegal. Both Vera and her partner Bob were activists for aboriginal rights and went on to have four children together. Vera then talks about raising her children and about how they have gone on to become indigenous leaders.
Joe: Joe was the general manager of Koori Employment Enterprises and also later for the Aboriginal Corporation. He is currently working as the Equity and Participation manager for GV Health in Shepparton. Our talk ranged widely but we touched on what Joe has seen in his work with aboriginal people and their communities and the specific challenges that first nations people face.
That concludes my wonderful weekend of being in Violet Town. I then returned to Melbourne for a few key talks with incredibly inspirational people here:
Peter & Marisa: These two are good friends who have run the Doin’ Time show on the independent community radio station 3CR for many, many years together. In our talk I came to understand the wide range of people the pair has talked to as well as the vast amount of issues and topics they have addressed over the years. I highly encourage everyone to go and listen to a few of their podcasted radio shows which I’m including below in the resources section!
Rob Hulls: Rob Hulls many years ago went north to do aboriginal legal aid in Queensland. From there he was elected to the local council. The rest is history as he served many years in all levels of government (local, state, and federal). He has an impressive record having helped establish the Charter of Human Rights and also establish the Koori courts (courts specifically for indigenous people in a justice process). Then a few years ago, in 2012, Rob helped to found the RMIT University Centre for Innovative Justice where he works currently. The Centre does really great work: “The Centre for Innovative Justice researches, translates, advocates and applies innovative/alternative ways to improve the justice system, locally, nationally and internationally, with a particular focus on appropriate/non-adversarial dispute resolution, therapeutic jurisprudence and restorative justice.” Take a moment to check out their website (see resources section).
These are the conversations that I have had so far and I’m looking forward to many more. Obviously there is so much more to be said about all of these but hopefully many of these topics will all be fleshed out further in the podcast and future blog posts. I will work hard to address many of the topics that have been touched on by the amazing people I’ve already had a chance to talk to!
I would also like to include every week a bit of a resource list for everyone so that you can at least see some of the things that are influencing me and my thinking while I’m here in Australia.
Detention Centres/Asylum Seekers/Refugees:
• An article about the most recent changes (on top of many already made) for visitation in detention centres.
• Podcast: The Messenger. This is about Abdul Aziz Mohammed who is a refugee in the detention centre on Manus Island (though Manus Island detention centre "shut down" a couple of months ago).
• An article by Salli on activism for asylum seekers/refugees, “Please Fight Strong”
• “Shockingly, around 90% of Indigenous people incarcerated in the Northern Territory have hearing loss, which may have influenced their trajectory or compromised their communications with the justice system.” Read more here.
• Black Lives Matter in Australia: ‘Incarceration is a way to destroy a community'
• Does Australia have a racism problem?
• 3CR Doin' Time show
• Centre for Innovative Justice
• Podcast: Talking Innovative Justice
This is meant to be a brief update to just let everyone know that I am alive and well in Australia!
I took off on January 1st from New York's JFK airport and had a 14.5 hour long flight to Shanghai. Then a 4 hour layover and finally an 11 hour flight to Melbourne. That was the longest plane trip I have ever taken in my life!
So far I am just settling in here—I've only been here two days. The first day featured a great array of challenges: changing money to AUD, trying to buy adaptors for Australian outlets, calling my bank so they wouldn't shut down my debit card, getting a transit card, and lots of other wonderful (okay, not really) tasks that one must do in order to get by. Luckily I haven't had too much jet lag and am already deeply enjoying the beautiful summer weather here!
As far as the project there isn't too much to report. I'm meeting my first person tomorrow for an informal interview—they're in the asylum seeker/refugee arena and I'll probably be learning a lot about detention centers and immigration from them. I've also been in contact with many of the people I've networked with here in Melbourne to let them know I've arrived. Finally, on a cultural note, I didn't realize that most Australians take holidays until well into the middle of January. So, unfortunately, there are a lot of people out and gone so in some ways I feel like the project is at a standstill... But, not to despair at the very beginning. I am optimistic to see where this all will go—after all it is quite the adventure and adventures never go quite as you plan them.
More to come soon, photos too!