It is common practise for national and international conferences (whether corporate or government) to include a Welcome to Country by representatives of the local indigenous mob, so one would expect that an important meeting like APEC would include such a welcome. But no! Despite all the posturing by the Howard government over intervention into indigenous affairs no acknowledgement was made of the original owners of the land on which they met.
The chairman of the Metropolitan Land Council, Rob Welsh, told the Sydney Morning Herald that his organisation, which represents indigenous people in the central Sydney area, had not been asked to perform a single welcome to country, smoking ceremony or cultural performance during the week-long schedule of events.
“Normally we do welcomes for the Federal Government when they come to town. We’ve welcomed the Dalai Lama and the Queen here, but when 21 leaders come to the country, we’re not being asked to be involved. Maybe it’s in case we get up and say the wrong thing.”
The two Aboriginal performances that were part of the APEC program featured dancers from Arnhem land at the national Maritime Museum and Bangarra (a contemporary dance company) at the Opera House bash.
This spray by Hamish McDonald in the Sydney Morning herald summed up Howard’s attitude.
Howard still singing the wrong song
PARDON ME for choking over the sheer effrontery of John Howard in one particular bit of his $330 million spend on the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation extravaganza.
Tonight he will be the genial host for other leaders and 750 handpicked guests for a 45-minute cultural miscellany of the Australian performing arts.
It will take its title from the contemporary classic song My Island Home, which will end the show, sung by Christine Anu leading the massed cast after a swirl of eerie didgeridoo music.
According to spokeswoman Anne Fulwood, the concert and accompanying fireworks are “a celebration of a confident nation rejoicing and proud of a wealth of talented performers that call the earth’s largest island ‘home’ “.
Actually, the song My Island Home is a tribute to indigenous Australia, composed by the Whitefella songwriter Neil Murray shortly after staying with Aboriginal singer George Rrurrambu, of the Warumpi Band, at his home on Elcho Island, off Arnhem Land.
Christine Anu, born of Torres Strait Islander parents living in a crowded household in Cairns, made the definitive recording in 1995, winning the Song of the Year award.
To anyone who really listens, the song is meant to express to the rest of us Australians the pride and joy of the people in our maritime borders to the north. It is a song connecting us to the peoples of the close region around us.
Howard’s appropriation of this song reflects the crassness that has characterised his government’s dealings with the Pacific over the past decade and which continues through the APEC summit.