Australia is a country of jailers and jailhouse snitches. Or more specifically White Australia is.
It is hard to imagine another country whose population is so comfortable with the power relations between jailer and jailed, good guy and bad guy, or cop and robber, as a part of their national psyche. In America they sure do love police, power, and guns—but it seems to stem from a place of almost paralysing fear, and of extreme competition—rather than the complacency which permeates White Australia’s relationship to policing and control. At the same time, we return over and over again to a shared mythology of the larrikan, the battler, the bush ranger, the squatter—the aesthetics or idea of resistance seems to suﬃce. More than suﬃce, it also seems to scaﬀold a narrative identity that presupposes the erasure of Indigenous sovereignty, and bypasses direct engagement with this uncomfortable interruption to the dream of Australia. It is the pseudo-cultural underpinning of a national identity that appears to view terra nullius, not as a contrite back-dated doctrine of British legitimacy of possession, but as an operational tactic for the future of Australia. At the very least it is all too often invoked as such.
I just re-read an ABC fact check article responding to Scott Morrison’s comments claiming there was no slavery at the establishment of the NSW Penal colony. If not for the very real reverberations and reviving of inter-generational trauma it could generate, this article might be funny. Essentially the article employs a semantic interpretation in order to limit the PM’s comments to refer to the very moment of the establishment of the NSW colony. It goes on to use the language and processes of bureaucracy to acknowledge the proximity and adjacency of the practices employed during the establishment of the colony to slavery, then to decisively distance them from those particular labour relations. The article also includes sympathetic coverage of Scott’s reframing of his assertion as referring only to ‘lawful slavery’, and ‘hides’ this gesture of complicity underneath the veneer of the rational, fact-based, and unbiased language and framing of the article.
To presuppose that people sent to NSW leading up to, during, and after the oﬃcial founding of the colony were not slaves is to wilfully ignore the meaning of the word slavery. It also divorces the way convict populations treated Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people from the ways they were treated by the State. By denying or removing parts of the history of their motivation, the ground is laid to deny and/or forget the behaviours they then engaged in. These were people who faced a lack of work, severe overcrowding, and no government support in England. They faced transportation to NSW and a sentence of years of hard labour as punishment for stealing bread, livestock, fruit, or other items of low value; cutting down a tree they didn’t own, and similar such acts in the pursuit of survival. These convicts endured a horrific master/slave or jailer/jailed dynamic throughout their sentence. If they survived the transport ships they worked 10 hours non stop a day, survived oﬀ meager rations, and faced a selection of painful and often deadly diseases. The fact that they were allowed to give evidence in court to support the claim of their jailers does nothing to absolve the situation of it’s true descriptor. Nor does the fact that there was, for some, an end date to this experience. Notably, emancipated convicts were heavily incentivised to stay on in the colony, and were moved up the ladder to a position where they would hire their own convict labour. This dynamic, and the replication of it year after year, is integral to anything considered an Australian identity or value. Importantly this dynamic, or power relation, mutated into new forms that began to represent the complexity of the society that was being established, and their relation with the societies they were trying to destroy. To be blunt the compulsion to repeat trauma and behavioural patters of control and domination is a very potent unconscious force. When combined with the real material gains available to those who targeted this behaviour to line up with the aims of their colonial overlords — most specifically embodied in the theft of land, labour, and later culture from First Nations people — it’s not all that surprising we ended up as we did.
Police statistics are a deep dark hole to go down, but yield some interesting evidence. Looking through recent Vic Pol data sheets, I couldn’t find an clear numerical break up of victim based policing information; but back in 2013 information was organised into a category called ‘crime against a person’. This category of crimes, where a person was the victim of a criminal act, accounted for just under 1/7th of all crime in Victoria. Just over 41 percent of those were Family Violence incidents.
What do the police do? It’s a good question and one to spend some time with. Part of me wants to leave you to seek your own answer, the other part wants to point out they primarily seem to fill out paper work to legitimise theft, in order for insurance to be claimed.
Despite my assumption that most if not all people reading this are familiar with the racialised nature of policing in Australia, it is paramount to note that control of Indigenous populations is spear headed by criminal justice policing that sees them as the most incarcerated group in the world (notably while living in their ancestral homelands of 80,000 plus years). In the south of the US the criminal justice system is literally the evolution of slave patrols—a similar lineage of control also exists in Australian policing. Here in Australia, much of our current regime of policing, including the ‘soft’ or ‘benevolent’ policing of Services Australia and DHHS (particularly Child Protection Services), is directly born of mission management strategies, and attempts by the state to instigate and maintain a radicalised hierarchy. This is something we share with the US. Though unfortunately overlooked in much contemporary public discourse surrounding police and prison abolition, and police killings, First Nations people across Turtle Island face a very similar relationship to the armed forces of the settler states who occupy their land as First Nations people do here; one of violent control and oppression.
The current acceptability of notions of Police and Prison Abolition within both mainstream media and social commentary is heartening. It also means I can tell you to google those terms and avoid having to try to explain them holistically myself. Importantly, both these terms mean exactly what they sound like they mean—the abolition of those institutions. So, imagining and working towards a world where police and prison don’t exist. But beyond the very real walls of prisons and very real weapons of oﬃcers of the law, the ideas of policing and punishment permeate almost all facets of our society. Settler-colonisation, colonisation, and white-supremacy are all social systems that rely on these urges — discipline and the desire for control — to produce and maintain subjugation and diﬀerence as organising principles.
‘Police carry the name, but don’t monopolize the practice. Rather, policing is structurally integral to all of our institutions, and is carried out both “benevolently” and violently.’
This is a quote from a really insightful and easy to follow article by Khadijah Kanji called The ‘benevolent’ policing of social work and mental health.
kill the cop that’s inside your head…
For those of us in Victoria, we are returning to a period of state enforced lockdown in response to the rapidly spreading ‘second-wave’ of COVID-19. A number of postcodes have already been put into lock down (given 4 reasons to leave the house).
The number of new infections each day makes clear the need for decisive action. As does the recent positive test of a returning traveler who picked up COVID-19 when passing through Melbourne and brought it back with them to the Northern Territory. This was the first new case in the NT since April 6. This person spent two weeks in quarantine in a CBD hotel, then a few days visiting family in a Melbourne suburb—there has so far been no suggestion they didn’t follow health protocols. I live a little outside one of the locked down postcodes at the time of writing, but can quite easily see the lockdown spreading in the coming days or weeks. In reflecting on time spent inside and at home, I am trying to make myself look at and think about the positives a bit more.
Like many people I’ve spoken to, I experienced a pretty severe lack of motivation that eﬀected most parts of my life. It is a strange counterpoint, to have a large increase in free time and little desire to do much to fill it. That was my experience at least, having quite a few things cancelled and postponed, and work pretty much stopped. In my mind having the drive to do this project, and pursue a few other things that have come up, is very much tied to housing security, financial security for the duration of the Job Keeper payments, along with the support of family and friends
—with the financial safety net implicit in those networks (in my situation).
During the times when I was feeling most restricted from living life the way I was used to—particularly in terms of reduced access to friends and family —I found a lot of comfort in small scale creative production. I was consuming news and entertainment media at a close to sickening level, and despite wanting to curtail the extent of this engagement, I didn’t want to completely cut oﬀ. I think I realised I was missing making things, and perhaps feeling a lot of frustration at the lack of control I experienced regarding interruptions to outcomes on larger scale creative projects. I had lots and lots coming in and basically nothing going out. During one of many nights spent at home with my partner Rebecca, we starting playing exquisite corpse. For those who might not be familiar with it, this is a drawing game played with 3 people (ideally, but you can adapt). You simply fold a piece of paper into three sections, with the idea being you draw the bottom, middle, or top of a figure, fold the paper over, and pass it on—each person draws one segment without seeing any of the others, then you unfold it together and hopefully laugh and marvel at your strange collective creation. It’s simple but it works. Additionally you usually put some kind of agreed upon mark that intrudes into the next section – say, two lines for a neck or waist, or maybe four lines for legs. Doing so gives you a set of basic rules to follow or break. Acting creatively within these simple and clearly defined parameters provided such great entertainment and creative autonomy in a time of restricted movement. More than that though, it brought joy, silliness, and brevity.
Perhaps the most disturbing and interesting thing about this selection of these two person Exquisite Corpses by myself and Rebecca McCauley, is the striking consistency of aligned or complimentary thinking—what a weird world we live in eh.
The joy of simple and humble drawing/sketching was quite infectious. Rebecca and I had, at a similar time, just began planning for a series of science classes we were going to run for a friends child over Zoom. We are not scientists, or teachers—but this was while the schools were closed, and parents are not necessarily school teachers either, so why not? We decided to focus on life in the ocean, and to look at creatures living close to where our new student lives, and in another part of the world with a very diﬀerent climate. As well as a chance to brush up on our marine biology skills, these classes were an opportunity to structure, plan, and realise a creative project with an outcome. Our student had a great time over the 4 classes we ran over a few weeks and we had a really great time. Highlights include drawing some of the favourite animals for each class. The last two images are screen grabs of a seal drawn and ‘animated’ through zoom by our student. 🙂
I wrote this post on Thursday last week. I was away from reception over the weekend and have come back to the news that residence of nine public housing tower blocks in North Melbourne and Flemington have been put into what has been termed ‘hard lockdown’ by the Victoria state government. This was done with no consultation and almost no warning and is being enforced by Victoria Police and lead by counter terrorism commander Mick Hermans. The law of the instrument—as in if you have a hammer, everything is a nail—comes to mind as a best case interpretation of the situation. Police are not an eﬀect health response, particularly to people who are already over policed. About 7 years ago a case against Victoria police was settled out of court – the case was a civil case alleging racial profiling by Victoria police against 6 young African- Australian men who experienced racial discrimination by VICPOL in Flemington and North Melbourne between 2005 – 2009. Four individual police oﬃcers, the police commissioner of the time, and the state of Victoria were to be help legally accountable had the case moved forward. The six men, fronted by claimant Daniel Haile-Michael, represented pro-bono by Arnold Bloch Leibler, and supported by the Flemington Kensington Legal Centre, opted to settle out of court on terms that included the first ever inquiry into racial bias in VICPOL and ongoing cross-cultural training. An analysis of data from VICPOL’s LEAP (Law Enforcement Assistance Program) database by Melbourne University professor Ian Gordan, found that African Men around Flemington and North Melbourne were approximately 2.5 times more likely to have their interaction recorded by police than the rest of the population; of those on the LEAP database, African men from that area committed significantly fewer crimes than men of any other ethnicity; and when dealing with African men, police were more likely to use terms like ‘gang’, ‘no reason’ and ‘move on’. Since then the relationship between the State and African-Australian men has continued to be put into the spotlight, with Vic Pol participating in the negative politicisation of Black populations in Melbourne—thinking most specifically about the ‘African Gangs’ fantasy pushed by media and politicians. There are currently hundreds and hundreds of police at these 9 towers, stopping people from leaving (even to get medicine or belongings from their cars), stopping mutual aid donations coming in, and even stopping language specific public health information form Greens politicians getting in. The last time there were this number of police at these housing blocks was a ‘riot’ of sorts that was initiated by Vic Pol in the aftermath of a protest against right wing provocateur Milo Yiannopolous. The ‘talks’ that Milo held were essentially live shock jock radio spots in which he berated feminism, political correctness, and Islam—a religion shared by many residents of the flats across from his event. The end result of this event was Vic Pol spending hours that evening chasing mostly residents around the base of their tower blocks, and maintaining a highly militarised, violent, and hyperactive presence at that location.
There is currently a change to how public housing waiting lists are managed and how people apply to get public housing—one result of this is there are no complete reports available on demand and waiting list sizes. As of April 2019 there were 84,000 people on the housing waiting lists, with public housing making up just 4 percent of total housing stock in the state of Victoria. It is very safe to assume that number is a lot higher now—at that time there were about 500 new requests a month. Part of Daniel Andrews election campaign was a promise to build 1000 new public housing units—a dodgy slight of hand that actually involves the demolishing of 2500 units and their replacement by private developments with limited social housing under its Public Housing Renewal Programme. This plan involves demolishing 11 public housing estates around inner Melbourne, and despite opposition from community and small political organisations, its has been underway for some time now. In Carlton we have recently seen the knocking down of public housing and rebuilding of public-private developments, which see a net loss of public housing availability and a gain in profit for the Victorian government, along with reduced responsibilities for DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services). Currently in Clifton Hill a whole suit of flats sits empty—its residents evicted and its doors nailed up, waiting to be demolished and rebuilt. All housing experts agree that this process is hugely flawed and will only exacerbate the extent of Melbourne’s housing crisis—already one of the worst in the developed world. Importantly you can’t undo public land sell oﬀs. Nevertheless, the Andrews government has pushed ahead with this privatisation and anti-public housing agenda, often using a chronic neglect on the part of its own DHHS for the upkeep and maintenance of these buildings as justification for their demolition. One of the public housing estates in line to be ‘renewed’ is the Debneys park precinct, which consists of 4 locked down towers in Flemington.
As for these current lockdowns. Paternalism is a favourite behavioural trait of the State apparatus the world over, and has certainly played a huge role in shaping the Australian government, both Federal and State. The insulting and demeaning idea that this lockdown is for the good of the residents is probably a partial motivation for its enactment. It seems from the numbers today that the government believes there is likely to be significant transmission within these premises, which leads to the interpretation that these people are being kept inside to ‘protect’ the rest of the population. Another side of that is protecting the appearance of political competency for the DHHS and the Andrews government. DHHS is the land holder, and is tasked with managing these towers. DHHS was also tasked with managing the Quarantine hotels in the CBD, along with Emergency Management Victoria, and the Department of Jobs, Precinct, and Regions; which resulted in obvious failures leading to a series of outbreaks that then began moving through the community. It is also of note that equivalently dense private tower blocks literally across the road from the Debneys park precinct are not in hard lockdown.
As it stands, people are still being denied access to much needed supplies and surrounded with an aggressive and punitive police presence.
Below are a list of demands from residents from the locked down towers that has been circulating online.
– We demand we aren’t stopped form leaving our homes for four reasons: work or education, exercise, medical care or caregiving, or shopping for supplies
– We demand the removal of all police oﬃcers from the buildings and a maximum 2 police oﬃcers present in our community
– We demand rent bringing 5 July be suspended until further notice and any residence who have automated pay be refunded immediately
– We demand testing station without police presence within walking distance of all locked down buildings
– We demand transparency and immediate transfer of funds to residence raised by other entities namely Victorian Trades Hall
Please contact the politicians listed below, as well as your local member to let them know that it is not ok. Please take the time to write a short email or have a short phone conversation—if you use a template it will be filtered out.
The Hon Daniel Andrews MP (03) 9651 5000
The Hon. Richard Wynne (03) 8683 0964
The Hon. Lisa Neville MP (03) 5250 1987
Donations are being requested through SE Mutal Aid
BSB 013125 Account No. 640384575
AMSSA Centre BSB 063132 Account No. 10771863
There has been a fundraiser through Trades Hall. I’d urge you not to use this one as there is a lack of clarity about how and when it will be distributed. I’m sure people remember the huge amount of money raised by the Salvation Army for Bush Fire victims that is still sitting in their coﬀers for use as they see fit. Furthermore Trades Hall have been staunch in their protection and accommodation of Victoria’s Police Union within their organisation—something which goes strongly against support in this, and most situations. Here is an open letter to Trades Hall urging them to speak out against the police presence and to disaﬃliate The Police Association Victoria (police union).
This upscale, modern hotel is a 3-minute walk from the closest tram stop, a 10-minute walk from Bell train station, and 11 km from the stalls and shops of the historic 1878 Queen Victoria Market.
The chic, contemporary rooms have flat-screen TVs and Wi-Fi access, plus microwaves, minibars and desks. Upgraded rooms and suites have additional kitchenettes, dining tables and sitting areas.
There’s an outdoor pool, a sauna and a fitness centre. Other amenities include a sleek restaurant, a casual poolside diner/bar and a relaxed cafe, plus a games room, a business centre and a BBQ area.
How many men are here, transferred from an off-shore-out-of-sight-out-of-mind ‘processing facility’ to this peri-urban hotel, seemingly frequented by conference attendees and people visiting family or friends in Melbourne’s north (I guess..)? To be quite honest, it looks like a place that is as well suited to a night, or a weekend on the gear as a conference. But I guess business is business…
The answer to the initial question is that there are 65 refugees illegally held by the Australian Government in indefinite detention in a commercial hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Preston. They are there on the orders of the Australian government, interpreting and interrupting both their legal right to seek asylum under international law (along with our implicit obligation to provide it), and the legislated medical directive to transfer these people to the Australian mainland for the express purpose of receiving medical treatment.
Since Paul Keating’s labour government of 1992 we (as a country, and as its eligible to vote citizens—and then the majority of the high court of Australia in Al-Kateb v Godwin) have enforced a policy of mandatory indefinite detention, enacted on the bodies of those seeking refuge.
In addition to the hyper vigilance with which we police their movement and their access to life, we have added hyper-visibility to the baggage we force them to carry. Jonnie Howard told a big lie. He made a public allegation that asylum-seekers (not yet allowed to wear the descriptor refugees) had thrown their children off the side of the boat they were traveling on, and he managed to get the obliging media to frame this as an attempt to gain safe passage to Australian citizenship. Since then the issue of refugees and asylum seekers — that is people who come to Australia either without a valid travel visa, or overstay one, in an attempt to flee their country of origin (for whatever reason) — has been a dirty rag, much like the idea of crime, with which a political party or operative can smear their opposition, marking them as ‘weak’. To be clear, in both cases this is a matter of calling for harsher and more punitive responses as a way to signify political strength, which has worked time and time again for both sides of Australia’s two party system.
Since then, there has been an inverse relationship between the visibility of distraught refugee bodies, and the ‘compassion’ extended to the people who inhabit those bodies in the form of potential policy changes enabling access to a ‘normal’ life in Australia. That being, one free from punitive visa and working regulations, with access to health care and human rights, and not within the confines of a prison.
At the same time as images of their trauma and suffering have come faster and more regularly to our screens, their actual bodies have become more and more removed from the Australian people. This has happened both through access and visitation restrictions, and through the establishment of a policy known as the ‘pacific solution’—a bipartisan leveraging of Australia’s economic and strategic position within the Pacific to outsource the incarceration of people seeking refuge here, to remote islands with little to no infrastructure. So, as much as we were consuming images of their suffering, we were becoming further removed from actually seeing them. The suffering and victimhood enacted on people we render as ‘other’ and outside is an ontological blow; the very meaning of being a refugee within an Australian context is to have the spectre of your body (that is both the image of it and the idea) projected throughout the media, political, and social landscape while you remain restricted from accessing these spaces, and largely restricted from accessing the land and life to which you fled.
Promoting extensive conferencing facilities, whether you’re holding a small intimate business meeting or you’re hosting a large scale conference, Mantra Bell City’s corporate event centre is a great choice. It’s the largest event facility in Melbourne’s northern suburbs and has everything you need to make your next event successful. With a variety of sleek and stylish conference and event spaces fitted with the latest in technology, Mantra Bell City can accommodate functions of between 2-500 guests in a variety of layouts. Conference venues are spread across 2300 sqm of indoor and outdoor space, allowing you to choose from a range of layouts including an indoor cocktail style event, to seminar or theatre style seating. From all-inclusive conference packages to packages tailored to suit your needs, conference organisers can rest assured their event will go off with a success.
This group of men, along with the 120 others in the same situation in the Kangaroo Point Central Hotel, in Queensland, were transferred to the Australian Mainland from Nauru and Manus as a result of the Medivac laws passed in early 2019. These are sick people, so sick that in each individual case two independent treating doctors have submitted that that person is unable to access the medical care they need in PNG or Nauru. Legislation to allow these medical transfers was passed in February 2019 and came into effect in March 2019, when people started being transferred to Australia. We are now in June 2020. Some of these men have been keep locked in a commercial hotel under 24 hour observation for over a year. They are watched and harassed by a very large number of Serco guards/staff on behalf of the Australia Federal Government. There is no outside space accessible to these men. They have still not been able to access the appropriate medical care. This seems partially due to the callousness of the Australian Border Force and their ministerial oversight, partially due to the parliamentary repealing of the legislation that brought them here, and partially due to the reality that the medical needs of these 185 men are complex and being put through a slow moving system not built for their needs.
In a broader and altogether more rational and reasonable sense; the ill physical and mental health of people illegally and indefinitely detained in off-shore and on-shore detention facilities and ‘alternative places of accomodation (detention)’ is rather obviously intertwined in that very state and nature of their indefinite detention. To be more explicit, these people are sick precisely because of the situation we have put them in. A situation that does not meet Australia’s own minimum standards of incarceration as observed in the prison system. This fact might go some way to explain the ominous and dystopian use of terms like ‘reception and processing’, ‘immigration housing’,’ and ‘transit accommodation’ in the names of many detention centres, and the absence of the word ‘prison’ in any.
In order to go for a walk the men detained in the Mantra hotel must submit a formal request. Should it be accepted, they will at some point be transferred under guard to Broadmeadows detention centre (Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation) which is run by the Australian Border Force in a former military base. Here they will be allowed to walk the perimeter of a multi stage barbed wire fence, set significantly back from the road, under the close watch of more Serco guards/staff. Many of the men suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. The litany of small to large acts of torture and dehumanisation enacted on these people by the Australian government is a large one, and any further attempt at engagement with it here is at this point beyond both my emotional and research capacities.
This blog post, like the others, has been written across time in a way that combined with the turbidity of our present moment, makes it hard to construct meaning that can be interpreted in a sequential and linear fashion.
At the time of writing this particular sentence there has been a multi-day blockade of the Kangaroo Point detention hotel by Meanjin based activists trying to halt the removal of people detained as refugees inside. The Australian government is attempting to move them to the more punitive environment of a custom built detention centre, and possibly manoeuvring towards ‘returning’ them to off shore processing centres (typing and saying that makes me think of livestock).
It is of note that neither in Mantra Bell City or Kangaroo Point Central Hotel is there the capacity to socially isolate, or even maintain physical distancing. This is on top of what is a very high turnover of staff, guards, and surprisingly enough other ‘guests’— including airline crews, within a sealed indoor environment with recycled air.
I write this at the start of Refugee Week 2020…
In December 2019 (just before Australia’s east coast set on fire, just before COVID hit the global population) the Medivac legislation was repealed. Jacqui Lambie cried, centred herself, and told the senate it was a ‘really hard decision’ as she joined One Nation Senators and the Liberal National Coalition Government in supporting the legislations repeal. Additionally, she parroted some lines about people dying at sea, and referenced ‘stopping boats’, before saying she had ‘worked to an outcome in which sick people aren’t dying waiting for treatment’—despite voting to re-institute that exact situation.
These men are locked in a prison of representation and re-presentation. Their visibility, along with their access to the world and the freedoms within it, are granted and restricted by largely unnamed overlords in the executive branch, and legitimised by the legislative power holders, emboldened by the reactive perpetual middle class of Australia.
As physical access to people held in refugee detention has been steadily withdrawn over the years, artists and collaborators have worked with detained people to produce media telling their stories and reaching out to the Australian and international community. Notable in these pursuits is Behrouz Boochani who authored a multi award winning book from within detention on Manus Island. This is a large and significant act of autonomy and self expression—two of the human faculties that the Australian government seeks to deny those detained as asylum seekers / refugees. A smaller, though perhaps not so much less significant behaviour that flaunts these attempted restrictions is the communication between detainees and the outside community. This is enabled through visits (via navigating the increasingly draconian and punitive bureaucracies of on-shore facilities), letters (observed and filtered), and perhaps most subversively, the use of social media via smart phones to communicate with a potentially unrestricted online audience.
It is notable that the capacity to visit and provide relief to detained people has been steadily reduced, and there is a concerted campaign to ban mobile phones in immigration detention (which has been both successful and successfully over-turned already, but which continues). Further to that, detainees who gain too much attention are clearly punished, with isolation and increased acts of control practiced upon them. Farhad Bandesh, a 38-year-old Kurdish man detained at the Mantra Hotel appeared on ABC’s Q&A COVID-19 special via video link to ask the panelists about the safety of his fellow detainees during the pandemic. In the following days, Farhad was taken by force to MITA detention centre where he remains. There have been similar attempts of punitive removals in Brisbane at the Kangaroo Point hotel, which has lead to a community blockade. Farhad Rahmati was handcuffed and transferred to Brisbane Immigration Transport Accomodation during this blockade due to being an outspoken instigator of detainee protests at the hotel. Neither of these two men were given any offical reason for their forced transfers.
Due to the pandemic, all visits have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. The actions of protestors and community response outside these new detention facilities serves to provide support directly to those detained as well as further the campaign to have them freed. Unfortunately, the state of emergency enacted in Victoria, combined with Victoria Police’s notoriously heavy handed and politicised response (enabled and supported by both Labour and Liberal State governments), has resulted in about $43,000 in public health breach fines for protesters at one event outside the Mantra Hotel. The organiser of that event, and a key organiser involved in the Victorian campaign to end indefinite detention, Chris Breen, was arrested at his house the morning of the protest and has been charged with incitement and had his phone and computers seized. It is worth noting the protest consisted of people driving inside their own vehicles on the roads surrounding the hotel, with signage supporting the detained men.
In immigration detention in Australia, whether in APOA or ITA, there are people sleeping up to 6 or 7 a room, no masks, no hand sanitiser, and a high turn over of staff and guards who also don’t have masks. In the context of state and territory specific public health orders, and the requisite ‘state’s of emergency’ needed to enforce them, the non-enacting of bare minimum precautions (beyond the cessation of visitation rights) constitutes a rather blatant systemic failure in the Australian Government’s duty of care. Hopefully this can be the basis of yet another class action taken against the government and against the immigration department. At the time of writing we are 5 days beyond a recent Federal Court judgement that found ministers Peter Dutton, Alan Tudge, and Jason Wood to be in ongoing contempt of the law resulting from intentionally not complying with the law. This stems from a failure to make a decision on an individuals application for a particular type of visa (Safe Haven Enterprise -Class XE visa) lodged on the 19th of December 2016. The judgement gives these parties until 4pm on the 26th of June to come to a decision on the matter. Unfortunately, this is not a particularly new chapter in Australia’s history of quietly and vigorously defending against and avoiding the judiciaries attempts to hold our governments accountable to both their own and international law and obligations regarding the treatment of people seeking asylum.
I don’t know what more I can say about this and feel I need to try to wrap up this writing somehow. Why I am writing about it? Because it matters an awful lot, because the hidden has come briefly into view (if you know where to look), because for whatever complicated reasons people have seemingly increased their level of — and capacity for — engagement with the world they live in, and across a whole suite of issues people are seeming to become a little more actively aware of their own complicity and perhaps even open to their power to change.
Thanks to Katie Ryan for helping shape this piece.
Some links to refugee organisations. Useful if you are in a place to help, or make contact, and/or follow the progression of events at these APOA.
I’d like to imagine that for the many Quiet Australians this current moment is unprecedented.
Quiet Australians; an amorphous group that can be semi-covertly defined in relation to a nationalist urge or undercurrent and act as a referent to any particular grouping that helps illustrate your point and/ or is the desired recipient of your point.
They are now faced, possibly for the first time, with a more palpable sense of unease than the one provided by the mostly unnamed ontological threat of Indigenous Sovereignty.
Perhaps this could be a time of increased consciousness. Firstly, the destabilising effects of the virus, the very real confrontation of the unknown…
Conscious Brain: Will I be ok? Will my loved ones be ok? What about my investments?
Unconscious Brain: This won’t effect me, surely? If they come to the gate I’ll feed the first few, but there has to be a line..
And now, some months on, they are faced with the very real possibility that within their assumed fatherland, one of the primary pillars of (state) control might be on its way out. The police force, and one of its key operational drivers, White Supremacy, is being seriously confronted — collectively, concurrently, and rather comprehensively — by people the world over. One of the many reverberations of this movement is that here in our own country the campaigns lead by First Nations people against deaths in custody and against the deployment of our criminal justice system in the pursuit of their demise are building on significant gains made over the past few years. At the time of writing, the ‘Free Her’ fundraiser organised by Debbie Kilroy on behalf of Sisters Inside has raised just shy of
$40,000 AUD over the 1 Million Dollar mark. This is a fundraiser that has been running for around a year and a half, raising money to pay the fines of Aboriginal Women imprisoned in WA due to their inability to pay said fines. The financial success of this fundraiser is pitted against the unfulfilled promise of the Western Australian government to legislate in such a way that people with no criminal convictions will not be imprisoned for unpaid fines. This seems to be an effective analogy for the effort at large – the gains are significant, largely unprecedented, and very promising. In the meantime, however, the losses continue to be felt.
Thoughts and notes, to explore further or just sit with..
on the difference between saying and doing in politics, political process as Centrelink waiting line, police, police, police – a slow dawning that Small Business and Small Business Owners, ever the poster child for neo-liberalism and late-stage H U S T L E capitalism, are small to medium sized houses of cards (adorned with all the faces of every politician to have served in Australia, or at least enough to fill a few decks)
*in the states they would all be pictures of Trump, who’s
greatest service to his country may just be engendering the greatest of great forgettings.. how did we get here?
**Joan Baez’s cover of Bob Dylans’s ‘I Shall be released’ plays in my head; Rebecca and I have been listening to Any Day Now a lot, it was a very good find
At this point I wanted to include a video of an Instagram advertisement that came up on my feed in May. Unfortunately, I either didn’t take a screen grab or a screen recording of it, or I misplaced them. Either way, the advertisement and any trace of the product it advertised are now gone. It was called FACE FIT and had the sub heading of ‘simply put it in your mouth’. It was, I assume, somewhat of a scam. The product was basically a resistance band for inside your mouth, like a very large malleable mouth guard. Its intended purpose was to work your jaw muscles thereby helping you to attain a more chiseled and defined jaw line. The video included close up, selfie-looking shots of cookie cutter young white men and women (the type who feature heavily in IG advertisements) placing this thing in their mouths and biting down. They also demonstrated the repetitive open close movements used to engage the muscles, as well as sharing information points on the product. It was very weird and felt like an appropriate marker of both this time of heightened social media use, engagement, and presence — and of the associated attempts at capitalising on the massive boost in commerce and screen time. It is a shame I can only describe it for you.
To end this post I thought I’d share with you a small bit of writing. I think it sits somewhere between a poem and my notes (keeping in mind I know little about poetry).
All cricket nets now structures for private gyms
and hanging rings hung not for gymnasts (in the way we mean it)
but for analysts, receptionists, managers, consultants (or so I imagine)
All ovals now dotted with clusters of two adults
writhing close to rhythmically a few feet apart
dressed like some sort of elongated, emancipated seals
while shopping centre and workout music pumps from a
remote speaker beside them, and one instructional voice
competes with all the others;
great job, keep it up, just a few more, your doing amazing’
YouTube yoga in the park
One positive byproduct — no team or spectator
sports meaning no one needs to sit in the bleachers
means the people who need to live in the bleachers
can still live there.
I guess that’s worthy of a thank you, Yarra City Council*
Its a great time to wash your boat
Small teams of yellow fluorescent people meander down Southbank
along the river, and down the main roads, leisurely cruising the
sidewalk and dotting the council infrastructure with little halfhearted
sprays of cleaning solution
signing off their work with a quiet and quick rub here and there
The people who wear uniforms to exercise / living in Fitzroy North
The people who took a human like kickboxing doll to the park
to hit open palmed in the face
increasing precision with each blow / living in Brunswick East
The wind blowing unbearable on this beautiful, clear, still day
along the Yarra river corridor (nee Birrarung)
lined with overburden (waste rock) from a Tasmanian mine
the heavy metal smothering all that came down the river from
upstream already confused by this different route, the lack of banks
and nourishment (where did my swamp go?).
We were never meant to live this close to the water, and I don’t
and I can’t.
We all take some solace in knowing the people who can afford
the multimilliondollar waterfront penthouses have a panoramic view
forcing on them the aesthetic wonder of docklands, and the port of
and that no matter how clean their boat is, it will always be
too windy to enjoy a walk in their front yard promenade.
– yes, fuck you.
* They are now empty, fenced off and adorned with backdated signage making it clear no one is to live there. I was informed that Yarra are often proactive in a good way about managing homelessness in their local area, and that it is possible these people were no longer staying safe and hygienic…
** Letter from the author **
I was asked to write these posts quite a few weeks ago. At the time I was thinking about how quickly we forgot about the past summer bushfires, now I am thinking about how quickly COVID-19 is being moved aside or moved passed as the most urgent matter.
This seems to be a reflection on Australia’s cultural proximity to the USA, and more broadly on the *distance* between capital ‘W’ Western media and life outside of that web of relations. It is also a reflection, an insight — and I would say a rather potent indictment — of the hegemony and normalisation of the 24hr media landscape. News as content, content as drug. Voyeurism as experience… Beyond criticisms on the mediation of this moment, it is one of huge and I hope ongoing significance to all people. Black people in the US and all those who support their struggle are in the midst of an uprising against some of the foundational institutions of AmeriKKKa — and the potential of this moment to positively change peoples access to a happy, healthy and secure life is unprecedented.
The world moves fast, but our comprehension cannot necessarily keep up. Resisting the urge to react as a response is challenging, and there are obviously many situations in which an immediate response or reaction is a necessity. But immediate action (particularly in the form of amplification of compact messaging, and reductive appeals) cannot and should not take the place of ongoing reflection, consideration, and more sustained actions. It’s not necessarily my place to tell people how, or what to do or think, but given I have this platform, and a presumed audience reflective of Melbourne’s arts community, it feels important to offer something.
I will share something of what I was intending to share prior to the massive and unprecedented uprising in Turtle Island, and I will come back to the present in the near future.
The specific project we would like to invite you to contribute to is Live from the Field, a blog-style page to be updated frequently over a two week period, which will be published through the KINGS website and Instagram account. This project is designed as a way to track personal responses to the crisis in a responsive, subjective and critical way. Live From The Field is intended to provide an alternative take on the rolling media style updates regarding the pandemic. We feel that you could provide politically engaged critical feedback on the pandemic and its associated social and economic impacts. This could be in the form of a series of short critical texts or might draw from past works and ongoing concerns within your photographic practice.
My first thought for these blog pieces was to structure them in the same way I make notes for ideas and processes within my art practice, and to a degree, day to day life. These take the form of short, scattered, and abrupt musings, with both an over reliance on, and a misuse of capitalisation and grammar symbols.
Essentially it is a semiprivate lexicon based largely on the organisation of meaning around unwritten feelings, states of mind, habitual processes, and reoccurring ideas. I gave it a go and realised slower than I should have that it was more than a little obstructive to the intended goal of communication. Instead I will have a go at expanding on and reiterating the ideas I notated in a more traditional and verbose style of writing. I generally have a very short attention span, so I may give up on this at various points…
Below are a few thoughts and ideas for my contribution to Live from the Field organised into groupings and reflecting my experience of March, April, and early May 2020.
I have a bad back; multiple herniated disks, a ‘free fragment’ disk, and congenital stenosis of the lumbar spine. This came to prominence in 2009 and has remained a problem for me since. Thankfully, I have lived most of that time with little or no pain and minimum restrictions on movement and lifestyle. However, when it gets bad it can get quite bad. Over this recent summer and new year’s my back flared up significantly and consequently my pain increased and my movement reduced. My regular physiotherapist of the past few years is on maternity leave and I had quite a difficult time finding an appropriate practitioner to help me with this round of rehab. I was starting to make real progress when the clinics, gyms, and pools started closing. This significantly compounded my anxiety about recovery and about the general state of the world.
Prior to the announcement of a State of Emergency in Victoria, and the enforcement of the associated ‘lockdown’, I was in an in-between place regarding employment. I am a sole-trader who works as a photographer in a few different capacities. I have also begun to turn over some money through artistic practice. During the last few years my main source of income has been sub-contracting for a booking agency; shooting the final (public facing) stages of outdoor advertising campaigns. That means basically driving around and photographing audiences passing by advertising on bus shelters, roadside billboards, inside shopping centres and train stations. This has been ongoing and mostly reliable work. However, the volume of work has been steadily declining and at the start of this year it became clear I wouldn’t be able to rely on it long term.
My partner and regular artistic collaborator Rebecca McCauley and I have/had been working towards a large project that was going to be shown as part of Next Wave 2020. The festival was launched on a Thursday and by Sunday it had become clear it wouldn’t be going ahead in its intended form. This was obviously hard for everyone involved, and mirrors the interruptions to life, work, art, health etc. experienced the world over. At the time I really didn’t care that much, it felt like a drop in the ocean. Not the biggest problem, and not a direct threat to my health or those around me.
The political dimension of the COVID-19 crisis is huge, amorphous, and hard to recall. Even focusing in on Victoria, an analysis of flows of power, support, and state/federal responses requires much more knowledge and capacity than I have. I am happy to share my observations, with the caveat that they are both personal and partial. It is important to note that the way this has played out in Australia is such that the lockdown, economic downturn and governmental response has had, and likely will continue to have a more significant effect on the population that the virus itself. I do not mean that in a careless or callous way, but the loss of life, and other health effects of this crisis are not going to necessarily be the primary drivers of suffering throughout this period, at least not in a direct sense.
We imagined that in line with the concerns of your ongoing practice you might want to address the political, social and environmental impacts of the pandemic. This could include the response of our current liberal government, use of surveillance technology, increased police powers and the many changes to unemployment payments and conditions. The blog is aimed at providing a sense of support and community, while also helping to cut through the overload of information and statistics available about the progression of the pandemic. As we are all experiencing the effects of the pandemic in an immediate and personal fashion, an autobiographical approach has seemed appropriate, however, the tone and content of each participant takes is totally up to them.
Despite my initial anxiety and concern, I have actually fared very well physically during these past few months. Having little creative drive, basically no social interaction and almost no work meant that I had lots of time to undertake exercise, stretching routines, and general rehab. Given that this was a requirement in order to limit my pain and increase my mobility, it actually became quite easy to dedicate the necessary time and effort to it. So, like many other inner city, upper middle class, yo-pros, my life became structured around physical exertion. As my mobility increased, I had to undertake longer and longer walks, and eventually bike rides. I quite quickly became fed up with my surroundings —and legitimately concerned about the spread of a potential outbreak due to the proximity between, and density of runners and walkers throughout the inner north of Melbourne. I started driving a little out of the city and taking regular long walks in semi-forested areas with a good friend. We spent a lot of time picking mushrooms on these walks, which served as such a sweet respite from the problems of the world delivered direct via media saturation on small computers you sit down at, and even smaller ones you hold onto.
I have acted as a photographer documenting many different creative activities, and pre-COVID I was hoping to move into more regular work shooting theatre, live art, and performances. Obviously this move had to have the brakes slammed on it. One benefit I derived from my subcontracted ‘advertising’ work was the painfully slow invoice and payment cycle. I would often wait 6 weeks from working to getting paid —it used to be quite annoying. As lock down set in, however, this meant that I was able to weather the original period of no work and no government support with some financial certainty. Interestingly, my art practice became my primary income earner for the first time ever during this period. It was great to have things to work towards (even if I didn’t actually want to do them at that point) and to have organisations making funds available to artists.
By the time this post goes up online, I would have been nearing the end of a residency in Bodø, inside the arctic circle in Norway. This has a weird feeling associated with it, filtered through a lack of urgency or immediacy —a kind of diffuse, almost unfelt disappointment. What strikes me most about these unrealised artistic endeavours now, is the sheer amount of effort and time that would have been dedicated to making them happen. It feels very hard trying to imagine going through those motions.