ScoMo And Harry On The Harbour Bridge Won't Be A Good Look For Australia
Today, a photo will be beamed around the world that will define who we are in 2018 -- but it won’t be a good look for Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prince Harry will climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge together. At the top, that picture will be one of the most globally viewed Australian images this year.
Two white men -- one a symbol of a colonial era -- will smile for the cameras as two flags fly behind them: the Australian flag and the NSW flag. As far as we know, no representation of indigenous Australians will be in the photo shoot at all.
Welcome to Australia in 2018: white, male, colonial.
Now, the reason they’re climbing the bridge is highly commendable. Let this not detract from that. They’re ascending to plant the flag of the Invictus Games before the wonderful event starts in Sydney this weekend.
Prince Harry has created something hugely meaningful for injured veterans and their families. The athletes who accompany him on the bridge climb have every right to beam proudly into that camera.
But make no mistake: this’ll be the picture of the royal visit and it’ll focus mainly on those who fit in the frame at the top. New regulations mean that Harry and Meghan cannot cuddle a koala, as previous royals have. The bridge will replace the koala as our national icon. The minute the royal tour was announced, that bridge climb became the headline.
The fact that they’re planting a new flag on the bridge is significant. The Aboriginal flag is currently flown atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge a paltry 18 days a year. To people like Aboriginal woman Cheree Toka, this is a slap in the face.
For two years, Cheree has been campaigning tirelessly to have the Aboriginal flag flown permanently on the Harbour Bridge. Her Change.org petition calling for this now has more than 92,000 supporters.
Directing her signers to pressure the NSW Premier earlier this year forced Gladys Berejiklian out on this.
She said, “I think the status quo serves us well. We believe in meaningful initiatives to support quality of life and quality of outcome for Aboriginal communities.”
In the context of this, and today's bridge climb, Cheree feels let down, arguing that indigenous history is being “whitewashed” by the Premier.
“As a woman of Aboriginal descent, I really feel that our politicians never cease to drain out the true ancestral history of this land. Does our coloured past leave a stain on our white future?” she told ten daily.
“A flag atop the bridge may not bridge the gap instantly, but every step taken to acknowledge this land’s true history will make a culture that feels outcast from society feel that they’ve rightfully earned their seat at the table to share the respect they were wrongfully denied.”
It’s telling that Berejiklian is willing to risk her Premiership on a deeply unpopular gambling ad on the Opera House, but not on a highly meaningful and symbolic flag on the bridge.
When the gambling lobby can win in a matter of days, with a handful of phone calls from a few gruff men in suits and one shock jock, it reveals where the Premier’s priorities sit.
Meanwhile, an Aboriginal woman has to beg and plead and persuade and campaign for two years, and get 92,000 to back her and call the Premier and still she’s ignored (the Premier has ignored repeated requests from Cheree to at least meet her).
NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Sarah Mitchell told ten daily, “I appreciate the significance of the Aboriginal Flag to the whole community and acknowledge the determination and drive of Ms Toka. The Aboriginal flag replaces the NSW state flag on the Harbour Bridge for 18 days each year, including for NAIDOC Week, signifying the importance of our Aboriginal community in NSW.”
Eighteen days is pathetic. Would any New South Welshman or woman really complain if the NSW flag was replaced indefinitely with the Aboriginal flag?
As a group, I’d argue that NSW dwellers are far less stigmatised and in need of recognition than our first nation's people. I’d also argue -- strongly --- that Sarah Mitchell should be advocating for this too as NSW Aboriginal Minister. A third flagpole could also be a solution.
Cheree’s lobbying led NSW leader Luke Foley to make this Labor’s election promise, announcing it in a photo shoot alongside Cheree. But the Premier’s favourite shock jock, Alan Jones, wasn’t happy, berating Foley in his usual hectoring tone in February, calling it “the most divisive thing I’ve heard from a political leader...You’ve lost the electorate and you’ve lost me.” How hysterical that statement looks; doubly so with hindsight.
Former Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell has even tweeted calling it a “reasonable and sensible idea.”
Even though she’s afraid of heights, Cheree crowdfunded from her petition signers who chipped in for a GoFundMe so she could climb the Harbour Bridge to promote her campaign just before Australia Day. But the Bridge Climb team strictly forbade her from taking up the Aboriginal flag due to their unwaverable policy.
As the brilliant Invictus flag is raised on our national icon today, the world’s eyes will be on our bridge.
If it’s serious about Indigenous recognition, the government should invite Cheree up alongside Prince Harry and the athletes. But this time, draped in the red, yellow and black that always has, always will define our nation -- long before a monarch did.