Stop The Forced Closures: A Wire From Berlin


In the 60s I used to sell the Herald in the Old Broady Hotel after school, and spent the money I got from tips on lemon squash and steamed dim sims with soya sauce. I've eaten a lot of dim sims since then, but they never seem to taste as good.

One afternoon my mate Drew came up to me, he was into the same lark – in fact he got me into it – and he says:
 “Lionel Rose is in the ladies lounge… go and have a look if you don't believe me. But it's too late to sell him a paper.”

He held up the 20 cents he got and skipped off to the bar to buy a packet of chips.

The only thing I knew about Aboriginal people at the time was that the jokes the older kids used to tell in the playground were banned. Our teacher made a rule about it and promised to send anyone who told those jokes to the headmaster, which basically meant the strap.

I wasn't scared of old Gerry with his red face and bad temper. He belted me more times than anyone else. But I knew by the time I got through primary school that the jokes were off limits. And I did have a crush on Miss Stinton, and preferred to take her side on the issue than end up being in her bad books.

But it wasn't till I clapped eyes on Mr Rose that I started to think about things for myself.

He was obviously not a big bloke but I reckoned he could still beat 10 bags of crap out of anyone in the bar, only they wouldn't let him in there to test my theory, which, now I come to think about it, probably explains the pissed off look he had on his face.

He was fit and strong and to me one of the finest looking people I'd ever seen, in fact, everything a pint-sized ginger headed dreamer wanted to be. Australia's first world boxing champion too… but he still couldn't buy himself a beer at the bar of some run-down old pub in the back of nowhere.

The other thing that played on my mind was how people could fry themselves in oil in the backyard every summer trying to work up the deepest darkest tan, and then turn around and make jokes about people like Lionel Rose because of the colour of his skin.

I still don't get it… Jesus I wished my skin was so brown and I had just a scrap of his courage, I probably would've had better luck with Miss Stinton.

There's been a lot of water under the bridge since then, or at least the ones I didn't burn, but if you had of told me at the time that in the next century I'd be living in what was then part of the Soviet bloc – East Berlin – with a German wife and three kids, I probably would have told you to piss off.

But anyway here I am.

Berlin is a great place and reminds me of Melbourne in the 60s and 70s, not just the fact that every fourth person you see has a fag hanging out of their mouths, or that the streets aren't clogged up with pointless four-wheel-drives, or the shops are shut on Sundays… but there's no obsession here with owning property, the state has a responsibility to set limits on the cost of rent and to provide housing for people on the economic fringes.

Consequently there isn't the obscene levels of poorly-housed people and homelessness we have in Melbourne today, nor the relentless hype you get about prices and bubbles in the media, nor the reliance on the building industry as an economic driver.

They actually make things in Germany. Education is free and kids aren't forced to buy in before devoting themselves to a life of hard labour and debt, with no time to think beyond the sphere of their own struggles.

The history though is obviously different.

Hitler, his accomplices and the complicit German people created hell on earth for a while and got hell back in spades for their trouble. But those who survived and learned from the catastrophe managed to raise a few things from the ashes, the most precious of which to my mind is their Verfassung: their constitution.

The new Germany has a constitution that enshrines the rights, the freedom and the dignity of its people and it's cornerstone of life in one of the most fiercely democratic, egalitarian and successful of world states.

As far as I can see in Australia, we have a constitution firmly bound in it's colonial roots that enshrines the rights of mining companies, retains clearly and unapologetically the stamp of racism and preserves the principal of exploitation above the rights, the freedom and the dignity of its people.

It seems odd to me now, from this distance, that we except without too much questioning that our Prime Minister is half British and publicly, in word and deed, harks back to the days of yore and behaves more like the governors of old than the head of a forward looking and independent state… but I suppose the country's set up that way.

We tried to make a home in Australia, gave it 10 bitter-sweet years, but my wife got home sick and couldn't take the daily horrors that manifest themselves in the politics of immigration and the brutal treatment of refugees, and the Aboriginal people. And and she didn't want the kids to grow up in that kind of environment. Jesus knows I didn't want to go, but what could I say… don't worry love, she'll be right?

Aboriginal people are, except in few remote places in the north, refugees themselves, having been forced from their country into ghettos and camps around cities and towns from the time that Europeans arrived, and to this very day.

Governor Abbott and his accomplices in the west are intensifying the war against them, evoking the skewed eugenic logic of his colonial fore-fathers in an attempt steal back the little that more enlightened governments had conceded.

This, I hope, is not the will of the Australian people and it seems to me, like the rest of my countrymen and women that I have a choice: to get off my arse and do something, or else remain complicit with the perpetuation of these crimes.

And so to the streets we go.

Our figure head of state, the Queen was here a few days ago and the Berlin Solidarity – #sosblakaustralia got her attention and the attention of the local media with a well placed demo, a great bit of work, now she can't say she wasn't told.

Honestly, if that woman had a heart she'd make old Philip send back the badge that Abbot gave him with a note saying: 'Get off the blackfellas’ back and let them have some peace: yours sincerely HRH.'

Saturday we headed to the Lustgarten which is in the middle of the tourist hub and set up camp on the grass, the tent, the flags and placards were a great sight and we spoke to people from all over the world, gave them  leaflets and got them to sign petitions … this thing is global.

Don't get the idea that I had anything to do with the ground work in making this happen. I didn't. I'm like you, but It's easy to get in behind and support the efforts of the truly wonderful people who organize these protests: just get into facebook, click the right buttons, spread the message, get the updates… and get into the fighting spirit of Lionel Rose and the proud fighting spirit of our First People.

In short, get out on the street and stake a true claim to belong to this great country.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.