As cinemas, music venues, and theatres around Australia considered their futures with the harsh reality of social distancing measures in place, alongside the financial complexities come with those measures, a slice of free theatre came to Canberra during the Australian Parliaments last sitting week of June 2020. The Grim Reaper, replete with his skull-adorned scythe, stood with a dark frown across his face, amplifying the reality of doom across the grassy field in front of Parliament House. He was there to throw scorn at the Coalition for their eager abandonment of the Aussie car manufacturer, Holden.
Underneath the cowl, fresh from ranting about the scourge of crocodiles wreaking havoc across the plains of Queensland, was Member of Parliament, Bob Katter. The weathered man was there to make a statement, and boy did he make one grand show. Audiences lapped it up, with Twitter embracing his costume design and commitment to the bit, with Katter having announced his new career as an actor on the platform earlier in day by saying that:
If the AACTA’s were held tomorrow, there’s no doubt that Katter would earn himself a fair prize for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the Apocalypse – 2020 edition. It got the attention it deserved, with Katter delivering an impassioned speech about the history and importance of the much-lauded car in Australia, stating:
My father bought one of the first Holdens built in Queensland. Now the bunch of dummies that occupy the place behind me here, they stood aside and watched every single secondary industry [die]. … We’ve got to do some reaping now.
Weeks earlier, the first Indigenous member of parliament to take up the role of Minister for Indigenous Affairs, sat idly by on their hands while Rio Tinto blasted away the 46,000-year-old sacred site that had continued occupation and contained a 4,000-year-old genetic link to the direct ancestors of the Puutu Kunit Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners living today. Minister Ken Wyatt breathed a wealth of hot air that sounded awfully similar to the sound of someone releasing gas underwater – a mildly unpleasant sound that is muffled, exceptionally difficult to make out what its purpose is, and yet carries the echo of someone excusing themselves for failing to do their job.
Thanks to modern technology, we’re able to ascertain that Minister Wyatt said something along the lines of ‘yeah, we received a call at the 11th hour that asked us to do something, and we said some words to the lawyer over the phone, but to be honest, I thought they’d do something. They are lawyers after all. Look, anyhow, it doesn’t matter, it seems like it was a genuine mistake. I had a chat with Rio Tinto and they’re really sorry, in fact, they’re getting really hard done by here in the media because they’re actually really big advocates for protecting these old sites, or whatever.’
Again, it was a little muffled, as gas under water is wont to sound like.
Sure, the decision to turn big rocks into smaller rocks to get some other rocks has been on the table since 2013, and the government certainly could have done something since then, but that’d mean they’d have to do something.
I want to stress, I’m not conflating the death of Holden with the destruction of a 46,000-year-old site. Holden’s exist a plenty, and there’s definitely no lack of enthusiasts out there keeping the cars alive, saving them from a life of being rusty buckets in backyards of dreamers and hopers.
But, the sound of silence – it’s quieter than the underwater gas, folks – from the Australian government is deafening. These blokes have been in charge for almost a decade, with three different chaps taking the mantle of being the Prime Minister of Australia: the leader, the face of the country, the great White hope, the highest pinnacle of what it means to be an Australian.
With catch phrases that sound like carrions in search for another meal, the airwaves of Australia have long been full of support and vocal affirmation about the future of Australia. Each meticulously worded media announcement crafts a vision for a united, hopeful, positive Australia. An Australian Australia.
No cuts to the ABC. No cuts to SBS. Have a go, get a go. Sooner, cheaper, more affordable. It’s un-Australian, and it must stop.
All the while, red tape gets cut, with red flags get erected in farms around Australia. Jobs within Australia suddenly flood overseas to make submarines that’ll never float. Aussie sheep and cows are exported to be beaten to death and slaughtered with no awareness of their bleating cries, with the Australian government and the court system rubber stamping the approval to allow sheep to be boiled alive alongside their flock once again. The humble Ugg-boot is trademarked into international oblivion, turned into the laughing stock of the world, a failed fashion item for the rich and famous. And political leaders write letters of approval for paedophile priests.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a ruffle haired dictator vomits words about Tim Tams being cheaper now that some spurious free trade deal has been made between the mother land and the colonies, as if the American owned choccy biccy is the Australian flag.
While it’s easy to applaud the reality that Vegemite is now Australian owned once again, it’s likely only because no other country wanted the bloody thing. And yeah, Chris Hemsworth is living in Bondi once again, bringing his celeb pals to Australia to chum it up with quokkas, but he’s still just another buff God from another planet, working with the wizards of Oz to create digital tales for American overlords.
Back at home, Education Minister Dan Tehan, previously of the Social Services field, announced that hey, if you want to study the Arts at uni, then cough up more, we need people who are gonna go into a real job and all that. It sounded a little similar to the sound of the Honourable Ken Wyatt. I think they better do something about the air in Canberra, it’s getting a little thick.
Y’see, Tehan and co. are the guiding forces behind leading Australia into a safer, better future after the enemy that walks amongst us – Covid-19 – has devasted the economy and the workforce. And they need folks who are going to be assured a job in the future. This mentality comes with the way the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts has decided that American TV is better than Aussie TV, as witnessed by the way he stuck up the middle finger at the Aussie arts industry by saying ‘on your bike Fred, no job keeper or job seeker for you!, and while you’re bumming off your parents, we’re gonna cut the need to have quotas for Australian content on your tellie’.
Amusingly, I write this piece on the same day that news about Australia having sustained a continued cyber-attack is unleashed onto the media. Jeeze, seems to be something about media announcements on a Friday coming out that spell doom and gloom for the Australian public, all the while pollies have fled Canberra and the amount of employed journalists rapidly dwindles to nothing.
When I say amusingly, it’s not fucking funny at all.
On the 19th of October 2018, the Bureau of Communications and Arts Research stated that:
…cultural and creative activity contributed $111.7 billion to Australia’s economy in 2016-17.
For those playing at home, that’s 6.4% of the GDP.
In contrast, the Australian automotive sector was still going to contribute $37.1 billion to the economy after the cessation of manufacturing in October 2017. But, with thousands of employees from Holden out of work, the Australian government did nothing to support them, essentially shoving them in the direction of Centrelink, and most likely chucking a robodebt bill at them down the line.
Furthermore, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported in 2019 that there was an “Indigenous Tourism Surge”, with about 45 million visitors spending the tune of $7 billion in Indigenous regions.
And yeah, look, for the sake of clarity, it’s necessary to note that the mining industry reported a “record” $250 billion in exports in 2018. As Minister for Blasting Shit to Oblivion Matt Canavan stated, that’s a quarter of a trillion dollars, which is the equivalent of saying that I’m a close relative of Kimberly Peirce, director of Boys Don’t Cry. Sure, I might be, but also, it’s pretty fucking distant that that might be the case.
So, with the arts being considered a dead industry by the government, one that was left devastated most of the industry out of work thanks to Covid-19 (all the while folks tuned into Netflix and Instagram live concerts for tuppence), it makes sense that Tehan would say, yeah, nah, go get a haircut and get a real job. After all, the arts has become a bit of a political battleground around the world, with those who enjoy some “light-hearted” blackface comedy getting upset that they can’t watch their favourite Chris Lilley minstrel show blaming left-leaning folks for being snowflakes and too precious.
‘Get over it. It’s just a joke. Have a laugh. Live a little. Love yourself.’
Earlier in 2020, prior to the collapse of Western civilisation and in what is colloquially called ‘better times’, Western Australia was witness to an event for the ages. One that will live on in infamy, exalted and bronzed in the minds of those who witnessed its kilometre-long extravagance:
The Highway to Hell.
For the uninitiated, in a humble day in March, prior to lockdown and isolation, the stretch of Canning Highway that reached from Canning Bridge to Fremantle Harbour became one long, massive concert venue, with more than 150,000 people turning out to celebrate the legend, the myth, the icon that was Bon Scott. Trucks drove down the highway, blasting AC/DC tunes at crowds that lapped up the ear drum destroying guitar riffs and the booming bass of the drums.
It was a pretty great way to celebrate the end of hope in 2020, and maybe even the end of the arts in Australia as a whole.
Looking back on the event – one that I simply must admit, I did not attend, as Mavis Staples was playing at the Perth Festival that night and really, when Mavis Staples is in town, you don’t skip out, although I do regret not being part of the accadacca festivities – I can’t help but wonder if the same kind of event will take place 40 years after the death of Kevin Parker or Luke Steele. Would these music icons get the same kind of accolades and adoration as Bon Scott?
Arguably, would any modern Aussie icon get the same treatment?
For that matter, what the fuck is an Aussie icon anymore?*
With no Holden’s, mines constructed on 46,000 year old Indigenous land sites, ships full of melted sheep, foreign owned chocolate biscuits and Chinese owned farms and dairies, copyrighted Ugg boots (even Microsoft Word tells me that I have to capitalise the word ‘Ugg’ because it’s a company, and companies deserve respect), and a government telling its people that there’s fuck all point in engaging with the arts, all the while champions of slavery and racism decry the lack of Chris Lilley on our screens as they write from their rusted laptops in a room full of golliwogs*, I can’t help but ask, what the fuck are we fighting for?
Usually I’d end a piece like this saying ‘write to your local member’ or ‘sign a petition’ or ‘buy Australian content’ or ‘watch Australian movies’, but y’know what, when the right hand bloke to the PM and fellow raging Pentecostal Christian is the chump in charge of the Division of Tangney, the place where Highway to Hell took place, one of the greatest modern art events in history, does absolutely fuck all to support the arts, and when Tony Abbott, cause celebre for the Australian spirit (apparently), abandons Holden, and when Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous leader to be the Member for Indigenous Affairs, puts the priorities of a mining company above an Indigenous site that’s older than the fucking pyramids, and that existed while woolly mammoths were around, and then you’ve got a Prime Minister who chummed it up on holiday in Hawaii while Australia burnt to the ground, successfully answering his own question of ‘where the bloody hell are ya?’, and when I’m sitting here fucking agreeing with Bob ‘homosexuality is a fashion statement’ Katter about the governments inaction on car manufacturing in Australia, well, all I can do is throw up my hands and ask the question:
What’s the fucking point.
We’ve got an election in two years, and with whatever kind of new world order Morrison wants to rebuild during this upcoming recession (spoiler alert: season 2021 of Australia fucking sucks by the way), we’ll have to wonder whether there’ll be an Australia to stand up for then. Will we have been sold out and abandoned for America and China to reconstruct what it means to be an Australian? I know that we’ve got our own issues to deal with, with a wealth of rent to pay back to First Nations people and systemic racism and inequality to address, but we can do that while strengthening who we are as Australians, while honouring, celebrating, elevating, and applauding what makes Australian culture, well, Australian culture.
It is Holden utes. It is Ugg boots. It is Indigenous culture that spans tens of thousands of years. It is celebrating Uluru and not climbing on it. It is the humble steak pie. It is Hugo Weaving and Aaron Pedersen and Miranda Tapsell and Ben Mendelsohn and Mia Wasikowska. It is AC/DC and Tame Impala. Wasn’t it John Williamson who asked, is it standing by your mate when you’re in a fight? Or just Vegemite?
Well, where’s the fight gone out of Australia now? Where’s the fight for the Aussie spirit and Aussie culture?
For now, hold your yellow-topped jar of Vegemite tight, go watch Sweet Country, and sing yourself I Still Call Australia Home quietly as you fall asleep in a XXXX fuelled stupor… wait, you’re telling me that’s owned by Japan now?
 Heck, the upcoming Dirt Music – an Aussie story written by the most Aussie of writers, Tim fuckin’ Winton – is lead by two Brits. Even our stories on film can’t be portrayed by Australian actors. And when they are – in the case of Breath – it’s by a bloke who has been making a career for himself overseas and came back for a free ride funded by the government.
 And while racism is well and truly imbedded in Australian culture, we’ve got to reject the racists right now.