The July Monthly is a must read for anyone engaged with or interested in the relationship between Indigenous citizens and the Australian nation state. There are at least twelve articles, comments, notes, or reviews canvassing a broad array of contemporary issues from a largely Indigenous perspective.
The lead essay by Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Rom Watangu: The Law of the Land is at once a paean to the cultural wealth and knowledge bestowed on him by his forefathers, an incisive analysis of the history of misunderstanding between owners and interlopers, and a call for a new understanding. It is also infused with Yunupingu’s sombre recognition that it is time for others to take on his life’s work of mediating and promulgating his culture. It is a powerful statement which will resonate for a long time to come.
Rachel Perkins, in a very moving essay, explores the work of Central Australian Arrente women – her family and relations - to reclaim their songs, their cultural identities, their very identities. It mirrors Yunupingu’s comments about the importance of song cycles: ‘it relates to the past, to the present, and to the future’.
The horrifying reality of violence against Indigenous women is laid out by Marcia Langton in a rhetorically and analytically powerful expose of the injustice of the legal system‘s dealings with two cases involving the excruciating deaths of two women.
In shorter pieces, Wesley Enoch makes a cogent, but emotionally restrained case for greater transparency and public discussion around arts funding, including Indigenous arts funding. Bruce Pascoe describes the invisibility of Indigenous histories in the operations of the Tasmanian tourism industry. Luke Davies reviews Ivan Sen’s Goldstone, and the ABC’s Cleverman; and Anwen Crawford in a review titled ‘Smart black man with a plan’ interviews Shepparton rapper, writer, performer and record label owner Adam Briggs. Plus First Dog on the Moon reprises a biting comparison of two Indigenous whistle blowers, and Russell Marks in a celebration of 50 years of the ABC’s Play School recounts a deliciously funny anecdote about Christine Anu, a nursery rhyme, and Piers Akerman’s extraordinary response.
I have left Megan Davis’s commentary entitled “Seeking a Settlement’ till last. She makes a highly persuasive case (contra Prime Minister Turnbull) that recognition and a treaty need to be seen as complementary and indeed synergistic in their effects. In contrast to her scintillating essay ‘Listening but not hearing: when process trumps substance’ in Griffith Review 51 this year, ‘Seeking a Settlement’ is more overtly passionate, perhaps less patient with our broader political system and its incapacity to address and deal with issues which are real, legitimate and indeed have been put on the nation’s table by the nation’s leaders.
My own reaction to reading this edition of The Monthly was a contradictory mix of pessimism and optimism. Pessimism that as a nation we are unable to deal with the hard issues which go hand in hand with our colonial history and its insidious and long-lasting consequences. Optimism that we have Indigenous voices across the whole span of our public and cultural life standing up for a better future. In effect, these voices are like a reverberating echo off a mountain top, mirroring the words of one of the Arrente women in Perkin’s essay: ‘Now no one can tell us we are not from here’.
The issue for mainstream Australia is what will our response be?
The Monthly, and its authors, deserve our congratulations.