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On That 'Welcome to Country'
It certainly wasn't a 'Union' game
The Welcome to Country performed prior to Wednesday night’s State of Origin game in South Australia wasn’t a Welcome to Country at all … it was a condescending, browbeating lecture.
And fans forced to sit through it should receive an apology.
Most Australians wearily accept the tedious and now ubiquitous Welcome to Country before every public event.
Being continually welcomed to our own country, as if we were renters rather than residents, is patronising and irrelevant.
But we put up with it because we’re polite and respectful.
And if it means that much to Indigenous people well then sure, take 60 seconds to remind us all that your ancestors were here before ours.
But the Welcome to Country before the rugby league game in Adelaide went well beyond the bounds of acceptability - was neither polite, nor respectful.
Uncle Karl Winda Telfer didn’t so much welcome the crowd as tell them how to vote at the upcoming referendum.
It immediately caused outrage, and little wonder.
“Greetings friends, where you sit and stand tonight is on sacred country, old country, the dreaming place of the red kangaroo …”
So far, so typical. I’ve often thought it odd how the same Australians who insist we are a secular country and that religion has no place in the public square now eagerly applaud Aboriginal spirituality.
And then came this …
“I am, and we are …”
Now when he said that I unconsciously finished his sentence in my own head. Cause I know how this goes …
“I am, you are, we are Australians!”
For a split second I thought, ‘Wow. Here’s a guy who is going to use Welcome to Country to break down walls rather than erect them.
Alas, I spoke too soon.
“I am and we are the first voice from the first people of the first day.”
Telfer referring to himself as the first VOICE was clever and none too subtle. With that one word he cleverly transitioned the Welcome to Country he had been invited to perform into a political speech that was not his place to give.
Oh, he insisted that he was all about uniting people, as those who insist on dividing us by race always do.
“Today we’re not about pushing a people apart, we are about the union … of us all.”
People clapped but reluctantly. It was a rugby league crowd after all, so they probably didn't know if they should cheer the word ‘union’.
Anyway, having gotten everyone to clap for unity, Telfer then explained that unity meant “doing the right right thing, yeah,” .
I wonder what that would be …
“In this great game, in this great country, we need to have the conversations leading up to the end of this year. And I think we’re mature enough to make the right call, yeah?”
Well if it’s about unity and equality a lot of people in the crowd likely think the right call is to vote ‘No’ at the upcoming referendum.
The right call would be to keep racism out of Australia's constitution and spare aboriginal people from entrenched left-wing condescension.
Whether we are, as Uncle Karl said, “mature enough” not to be guilted into a “Yes” vote by a man claiming to represent the first voice from the first people of the first day - that’s an audacious claim to moral authority if ever I have seen one - remains to be seen.
Welcome to Country was already overcooked before last night’s charade.
It's achieving nothing now, except a silent backlash.
The good will of Australian people is being strangled.
But last night’s Welcome to Country was poor timing, poor taste and poor form.
All Australians are equal, no matter how many Welcome to Country’s we are forced to endure and no matter how politicised they become.
Uncle Karl deserves the same level of representation as those Australians of British descent, those of Asian descent, those of Middle Eastern descent and everyone else in the country.
As Uncle Karl almost but didn’t quite say …
I am, you are, we are Australian.