Brown Study

Brown study

11 July 2020

9:00 AM

11 July 2020

9:00 AM

Since my column confessing to a lifetime of white supremacy and worshipping at the altar of colonialism, many readers have pleaded with me to press on and start a campaign of eradication, reform and reparation. So, I have decided to embark on a national movement of renewal to rid ourselves of our sad and discreditable past, lay out a kinder and more inclusive charter for the future and compensate those who have suffered from our cruel hearts and evil deeds.

In preparation for this new age of Aquarius, I have been rummaging through the attic of our old house in Moonee Ponds to make sure I have cleansed it of all the vestiges of my shame. This expurgation has in one sense made things worse, as it has brought back so many shameful memories and relics of the past. But it has also been liberating to confront my demons and rip them out before embarking on this new crusade.

First candidate for the purgative bonfire I am going to hold, which will rival the great German bonfires of the 1930s, is the racist book I was given when I performed on the pianoforte at the Christmas break-up of Miss Arundel Shugg’s music school in 1954. Called The Doings of Dookie it is the demeaning story of an Indian boy complete with turban and highly polished face that gave him the appearance of the village idiot, a symbol of colonial oppression if ever there were one. Next, I found the Little Black Sambo money box where I kept our humble offerings for the Presbyterian mission fields in the New Hebrides in the hope that we could lift the natives out of the heathen slough into which they had tragically been born. And then, hidden under a pile of Al Jolson records, was my prized possession, the framed print of General Gordon on the steps of the fort at Khartoum, as he fell to the advancing hordes of the Mahdi or, as the London Times put it, ‘that solitary figure holding aloft the flag of England in the face of the dark hordes of Islam’. I could go on, but it stirs too much sadness and outrage to think that I was a party to such imperialist and racial superiority, a feeling I had not had since I was so revolted by those photographs of Justin Trudeau in blackface.


But as I stacked up these boyhood baubles to be consumed by the fire, it occurred to me that this cleansing experience was giving me a new resolve to look at the world around me and to play my small part in rooting out the vestiges of racism, oppression and latent colonialism wherever I found them. And it is particularly poignant, and more in sadness than in anger that I find from my research that an early candidate for rectification and re-education will have to be the Melbourne Age. It is hard for me to say this, as the Age has been our moral guide and compass for so long and the champion of every reform up to and including the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

But you need only go to the masthead of the Age to see how false its past life has been, just like mine. First, in these days when right-thinking citizens are steadily throwing off their imperial and monarchical baggage in favour of the new dawn of the coming Republic, it is sad to see the masthead of the Age consisting of the royal coat of arms, complete with lion and unicorn and the pompous imperial motto, Dieu et mon droit. Moreover, this blood-stained standard fluttered for centuries over subservient colonies on which the sun never set and at the height of England’s reign as a wilful nation that practiced that great evil, slavery. And yet here is the Age parading it in 2020 like a Confederate flag at a Nascar rally. Even the unicorn is shamefully ensnared with a chain of bondage around its neck, symbolic of the serfdom in which animals and humans were held, then and now. This might be alright for the Age but, for some of us, Unicorn Lives Matter.

And how prophetic it was that this standard has flown over the Age since 1854, marking the discovery of gold in the colony,  the destruction of the environment, the dispossession of our darker brothers and the launching of the capitalist lust for money. No doubt they trade on that as the year when the poor deserving Chinese began to slave away on the goldfields.

And how distressing it is to find the links between the Age and slavery itself. Recent research by Dr Georgina Arnott shows that when slavery was abolished, compensation was paid, not to the slaves of course, but to their former owners and their fortune was then passed on to their sons. One became the editor of the Age in 1872, another an Age journalist. With that background, what brazen effrontery it is to fly the royal crest on their publication with all of the historic baggage that it carries? They may as well put up a statue of Cecil Rhodes.

I therefore call on the Age as a reformer myself to turn away from its past and join the march towards equality, black rights, and an end to imperialism. I say to the Age: ‘I came out. I put a racist and imperial past behind me and so can the Age and Nine Media. You will find it refreshingly liberating.’

And I say to its Chairman, Peter Costello, ‘Mr. Costello, your company has done well this week in the best Liberal party tradition by cancelling Pauline Hanson from Channel 9 and silencing her for expressing her own opinions with which the company disagrees. And Netflix was courageous enough to cancel Chris Lilley for being funny. Finish the work. Tear down that masthead or resign! And get the chain off the neck of that poor unicorn.’

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