Indigenous Women’s Leadership

This past week, Australia celebrated NAIDOC Week (8-15 July), a time to recognise the leadership, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Originally standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC Week has historically reflected the ongoing resistance to genocide, assimilation and land dispossession, famously culminating in the annual Day of Mourning in 1938 (a protest against Australia Day on 26 January). The NAIDOC committee emerged in 1956, and has in recent decades coordinated local and national events and awards to promote Indigenous excellence. This year’s theme is Because of Her We Canpromoting the multiple leadership roles of Indigenous women for their families and communities, as they push for social justice and human rights at the local community and national levels.

I share with you two events I attended that highlight the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in academia, journalism, business, law and social policy. Continue reading Indigenous Women’s Leadership

Barangaroo and the Four Thousand Fish

Two people walk along the foreshore. In the background, other groups gather at the pier taking photos and looking around, while others are near a giant vessel. The sun shines brightly as it sets over the water

My Weekends With A Sociologist series is going to start coming to you more frequently and completely out of sequence. I will share with you my visual sociology adventures from different places, at different points in time, showing you what has captivated my sociological imagination most recently, through to what has lingered with me over time. The purpose of this series is to showcase what it is to see the world through a sociological lens. (For visually impaired readers, descriptions in the alt.) So let’s get started!

What better way to restart our journey, than with the enduring legacy of a strong Aboriginal woman, Barangaroo.

Beginning in the first week of January, Sydney annually hosts the Sydney Festival, with various sites around town housing performances, public art and sculptures, including many interactive installations. The best this year was the artwork, Four Thousand Fish, curated by Emily McDaniel, artist from the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri nation in Central New South Wales. The artwork blends sea song, visual story telling, sound, lighting, sculptures, landscape photography, music and of course, a beautiful nawi (bark canoe).

Held at the Cutaway in Barangaroo, every weekend this past January, the site was transformed into a public art sculpture that was set ablaze nightly at dusk. I attended an event hosted by the beloved street photographer, Legojacker (formerly from Melbourne, they had moved to Canberra in recent months).

Barangarro is named after the mighty Cammeraygal woman of the Eora nation, who defied colonialism in Gadigal, her homeland (also known as Sydney).

Continue reading Barangaroo and the Four Thousand Fish

Colonial Sugar

“Colonial Sugar,” Tracey Moffatt and Jasmine Togo-Brisby, exhibition at the City Gallery Wellington. From 1863 to 1904, the Queensland government in Australia enslaved at least 62,000 people from the Pacific to fuel production in its prosperous sugarcane plantations. Continue reading Colonial Sugar

Representating Colonisation at the Rocks Discovery Museum

This is the Rocks Discovery Museum. It’s interesting historically as the artefacts tell the story of Sydney prior to European invasion. But it’s more fascinating sociologically – in how this history is represented. The first room you see (“Warrane. Pre-1788”) uses words like “arrival” and “first contact” to describe the relationship between colonialists and traditional custodians of Sydney, the Gadigal people. The second room (“Colony. 1788-1830”) uses words like “settlement” and “colony” prominently… but not *colonialism.* The word “invasion” only appears on a side panel – this display is excellent, reflecting on British treatment of Aboriginal people as a “catastrophe.”

Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

How do White women perpetuate gender and racial inequality in film? A new adaption of the 1966 novel and 1971 film, “The Beguiled,” is hitting the silver screen. The original story opens with a limping, dirtied White man, John (also nicknamed “Mr B”), played with relish by Clint Eastwood. The audience knows the violence and lies he’s capable of, as we see flashbacks that contradict his charm. He is an Unionist soldier injured in battle towards the end of the American Civil War. He staggers his way to a secluded boarding school for girls and young women, where he is nursed back to health by the older women, a mixed group of begrudging and bemused ladies who are stifled by their secret desires. The 2017 version has already built up high praise, with director Sofia Coppola being awarded Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival. This is the first time the prestigious award has been given to a woman. Coppola explains why she chose to erase the character of Hallie, a slave woman who features prominently in the original. I emphasise Whiteness in her language below. Whiteness is a concept describing how White people don’t acknowledge how their race is central to their worldviews and contributes to racial oppression:

“I really thought it was interesting because it was a group of women all living together, all different ages with different stages of maturity, and how they interact. It’s a group of women kind of isolated in the world… I’m definitely attracted to stories about female characters, and characters that I can relate to. I’m interested in stories of groups of women together…  At the heart of the story, it’s really about the power dynamics between men and women that are universal, but that are sort of heightened in this kind of premise.”

Copolla makes two points in this interview:

  1. She loves women’s stories (read: White women’s stories).
  2. By saying she chooses stories that she relates to, and having omitted the only Black woman from her script, she is saying she only relates to White women.

This may seem “natural” to White people: why would a White woman relate to a Black woman character? This logic is how Whiteness works: by taking for granted the power dynamics of race. Continue reading Gender, Race, Power and The Beguiled

Million Dollar Mermaid

Million Dollar Mermaid: Annette Kellerman is a current exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Kellerman was an Anglo Australian woman who broke many records and was a superstar in her day. Born into a highly educated and musical family in Sydney, she was diagnosed with rickets as a girl. She took up swimming to strengthen her legs and showed such prowess that male athletes encouraged her to take up high diving in the early 1900s, which high class Anglo Australian women did not do at the time. Still a teenager and having swam across the mighty Yarra River in Melbourne, she went to London in 1905 and competed in men’s marathon swims in the Thames, Seine and Danube rivers. Continue reading Million Dollar Mermaid

Bangarra: Our Land People Stories

Drawing on the life and paintings of artist Nyapanyapa Yunupingu, Our Land People Stories explores genocide and reclaiming culture in the face of British invasion. This is Bangarra Dance Theatre’s wonderful exploration of Indigenous Australian dance and colonial violence – an ever-relevant fixture of our national history and present-day life.

People at the Canberra Theatre Centre.

Sociology of the National Arboretum

Playground at the National Arboretum Canberra

One of the themes of my visual sociology is the representation of science. Conservation is as much about social practices as it is about earth science, biology and other natural sciences. Today’s post is about the sociology of the National Arboretum, which sits on Ngunawal country. Ngunawal people are the traditional custodians of this part of Acton, west of the city in Canberra. Less than a seven minute drive central business district, this is one of the world’s largest arboretums for rare and endangered trees. I am no arborist. I cannot even claim to be a fan of gardening. I was interested in the Arboretum first in an attempt to capture a visual sociology of Canberra, and second to see how people interact with this place as a science centre. The focus of my post today is on the social dynamics of the Arboretum, especially on community aspects of conservation and the trees that drew the greatest interest amongst the crowds I saw: the Bonsai and Penjing Collection .
National Arboretum (18)

Continue reading Sociology of the National Arboretum

Wendy Saddington: Underground Icon

This exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery contains memorabilia collected by Canberra artist Peter Maloney of the Australian singer heralded as “The Face of 68” at the age of 18. She performed with many influential art rock groups in the 1970s. She eventually travelled to New York where she went on to join the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and adopted the name Gandharvika Devi Dasi and continued to perform under her Anglo name but shunned the music press. Continue reading Wendy Saddington: Underground Icon

“Secret histories” of Australia

Ongoing human rights crimes have been committed against Indigenous Australians, starting with their dispossession and decimation within the first few years of European colonialism. Featured here are six historical incidents. Continue reading “Secret histories” of Australia