By John Tracey
Earlier this year I had the honour of initiating an indigenous issues discussion on the John Butler Trio fan website. Not long after I had the greater honor of being banned from the forum. Not long after that the indigenous forum was removed altogether. Ill tell you the gory details soon but first I’ll try and put a few things in perspective.
The didge has become a popular musical instrument in non-Aboriginal music lately. Xavier Rudd has become famous for it and John Butler also, though at least Butler tours with an Aboriginal didge player. Both of them have nothing to say about Aboriginal culture or political issues. I recently approached John Butler’s manager to support a concert on Palm Island but he refused because it was too political.
The appropriation of Aboriginal culture and its exploitation by white people is not a new issue. In all media, Aboriginal art and culture has been seen as good public image material and presented without connection to the history and politics of oppression. White Australia and music festivals around the world, have become obsessed with the didge and any other Aboriginal thing that does not threaten white illusions such as peaceful settlement or an equal society. The truth is that Aboriginal people still fight, often to the death, for land and culture. Many of the white didge disciples are the occupying force on Aboriginal land, repressing Aboriginal culture. This is exactly the same issue as the international boycott of Paul Simon for appropriating South African music when the Apartheid regime was still in place.
Anyway, John Butler sings of justice and likes to have Aboriginal associations to his music, so I thought this would be a good place to raise the profile of Aboriginal Australia and the responsibilities of non-Aboriginal Australia. Since the smashing of ATSIC Aboriginal voices have become weaker and weaker in the mainstream. There is an urgent need for white Australia, and the rest of the world to link up and resource black Australia to progress to the next stage, whatever that might be. In decades past Midnight Oil raised the profile of Aboriginal music and Aboriginal political demands. The Australian music scene has been given a model of how to support Aboriginal people.
With this in mind I posted some articles I was hoping the Aboriginal supporters would contribute to the discussion and the curious would ask what they can do to help. That’s not what happened.
Some of the JBT fans attacked immediately with hostile abuse and redneck stereotypes about Aboriginal people. One fan took it upon themselves to write obscenities on all sections of the indigenous forum.- not what I was expecting. This racist attack drew several angry comments from me, for which I was banned., However the racist posts, including the obscenities and personal attacks on me were kept on the site until I complained to JBT management to respect, and clean up the indigenous forum. Those who posted the racist attacks were not banned. The whole indigenous forum was removed because it had become too contraversial and threatened the illusion of love and peace that is so much a part of the JBT image.
This is a clear indication that while white pop stars may use Aboriginal symbols in their public image, or even sing about social justice, they are not providing any education or leadership to their fans on Aboriginal issues, nor are they confronting racism amongst their own fan base.
This is also a clear indication of how popular music, and its insistence on being non-political, is harboring the same racist sentiments that are spreading throughout the rest of white Australia. It has been nearly two decades since the Bicentenary Land rights protests.. Shortly after that the Mabo case. Since then understandings of the issues have dissipated from the mainstream and a whole generation of young adults has no education about the issues. Even the reconciliation Bridge walks were organised by and for white people and only articulated white understandings.
I can understand now, in the context of “non-political” how the NAZIs used the youth movement, including contemporary music, to instill a trusting ignorance in the population that did not question genocide.