Tuesday, 29 November 2011

#Occupy movement kapows comics

The Beginning of the American Fall
Stephanie McMillan

The Adventures of Unemployed Man
Erich Origen and Gan Golan
Little, Brown, October 2010. 80 pp.

Action Comics
Grant Morrison
Detective Comics

The worldwide Occupy protests have inspired a lot of music over the past few months. But it has also broken into artistic circles some might not know of. One such area is comics.

Stephanie McMillan, the creator of the Minimum Security comics, has created a seven-page comic of her experiences when the Stop The Machine and Occupy DC protests united on October 7.

Unlike the other comics (and her own work in MS), The Beginning of the American Fall deals with conflicts and difficulties of bringing the two protest groups together.

It also details the day-to-day organising challenges, such as decision-making, food and sanitation for the protest camp.

Other comic artists have been documenting the struggles of the Occupy movement. On November 16, ComicsAlliance.com featured a spread of comic artists showing interviews of people at the protests.

Last year, Erich Origen and Gan Golan launched their response to the financial crisis in the US with The Adventures of Unemployed Man. The comic is set in a world where everyone is a superhero, but the economy has doomed most to live in the tent city of Capetown.

Unemployed Man fights alongside fellow superheroes Wonder Mother, the student debt-ridden Master of Degrees and the “invisible” migrant worker Fantasma. Together they fight the League of Just Us and the forces of the Invisible Hand.

Although it was launched before the occupy movement took off, it quickly became popular. Unemployed Man and his fellow heroes were popular costumes at Ocuppy Portland in the US over Halloween.

The art and storytelling style of UM is similar to the classic works of Jack Kirby, who created Captain America, and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster who created Superman. This is an homage to the classic creations.

But the Occupy spirit has hit mainstream comics as well. On August 31, DC comics relaunched its entire line of titles. Many changes were made to iconic characters, and among them Superman got a facelift. His tights were replaced by jeans and he now fights injustice against the wishes of the authorities. This is both as Superman and in his alter ego as Clark Kent, crusading journalist.

Action Comics writer Grant Morrison told Wired on July 19: “ I’m looking back at the original Superman as a champion of the oppressed, and not necessarily a figure of law and order or patriotism.”

Wired also featured artwork by Anjin Anhut showing Batman as Bruce Wayne with a sign saying “Raise My Taxes”, evoking the call by milionaire Warren Buffet to do the same.

Multimedia producer Matthew Pizzolo has created a project called Occupy Comics to unite some of this work.

“I think Occupy Wall Street needs art more than it needs a list of demands,” Pizollo said on the website. "I think artists and writers of comic books have a unique ability to evoke broad ideas and ideals in captivating, dramatic ways.

“Comics is a small world compared to scale the protests have taken, but think globally act locally, right? A single piece of art can ultimately transcend everything else.”

Occupy Comics is new, but it is seeking to raise funds to support the movement and promote its ideas. Check it out at Occupy Comics.

Reprinted from Green Left Weekly.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Storm clouds over Litchfield

So last week, my birthday week, was a very busy one politically. Little old Darwin town experienced a temporary occupation by Obama and all his attendant security entourages, noisy-as-hell fighter jets and announcements that Darwin is going to be home to up to 2500 US marines as they defend US imperialism in the region and, I guess, practice killing people. There goes paradise... http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/49496

Then we launched the new concerned Australians book, Walk With Us. Ninety people  turned up to hear voices of Aboriginal people speaking out against the NT Intervention. Awesome!

Then finally we headed off to Batchelor, for some much-needed R&R...

Including gourmet goodies, of course.

We spent a day at Litchfield  National Park back in July, the dry season. It is so different now. It has gone from dusty dry scrub land to... well.... check it out:

I'm not sure my amateur photography adequately captures the dramatic storm clouds:

It turns out champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries go REALLY well together. How did it take me 33 years to discover this!? On the  other hand, champagne and a good night's sleep don't seem to go hand in hand?

Thanks to my awesome friend in Sydney for the gourmet treats that meant that, even when the monsoonal showers kept us inside, we were well-catered  for and happily indulged.

And then I went crazy with the camera.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Digital TV and Aboriginal Languages and Culture

Language and education specialists are concerned the federal government's national roll-out of digital television will have a detrimental effect on the preservation and transmission of Aboriginal languages and cultures.

In 1987, the Broadcasting for Remote Aboriginal Communities Scheme (BRACS) was  established, to balance the introduction of mainstream TV channels (via satellite) into remote communites with some local control and  ability to broadcast local content. Typically  this saw communities having free-to-air access to between two and four mainstream channels, plus Aboriginal-content channels such as National Indigenous Television (NITV) and Indigenous Community Television (ICTV). A lot of ICTV's content is in Aboriginal languages, and is produced by Aboriginal people in their own communities.

Apart from NITV and ICTV, BRACS also  allowed individual communities to broadcast local content.

In her joint submission to the inquiry with Dr William Fogarty, Dr Inge Kral, a research fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic  Policy Research, emphasised the central role multidmedia technologies,  specifically video production, play in contemporary remote Aboriginal life. "Where young people have access to resources they are engaging in digital cultural heritage projects and creative cultural multimedia and music production for broadcasting, festivals and enterprise. Importantly, such activities commonly incorporate Indigenous languages", she said. "Here young adults are exhibiting pride in Indigenous language and culture and modelling of purpose for mother tongue and English language literacy for the next generation."

With almost total unemployment on communities, and limited formal education opportunites beyond school, boredom is a huge factor, particularly for young people. Increasingly, community media and resource centres are becoming places of informal learning, cultural expression and language maintenance. Kral pointed to the popularity of music recording software, which will often also inspire young musicians to film music clips, design CD covers and upload resources to the web.

The ability for such youth-initiated, local content to be broadcast to the community in turn fosters cultural pride and encourages further engagement and activity.

But the digital TV roll-out threatens this flowering informal Aboriginal media industry. The roll-out, according to Kral, will undermine communities' broadcasting ability, as direct satellite-to-home technology replaces the current communtiy-based transmitters. She  told the inquiry: "Remote communities will have 16 channels of mainstream, monolingual, monocultural English language TV and no Indigenous services. This will lead to an onslaught of Western English language images and cultural content.

"It will see an undermining of the motivation for Indigenous youth to participate in activities and training leading to a potential area of employment in the enterprise generation. It will also impact on Indigenous language and culture maintenance and it will hinder one important means by which community pride in Indigenous languages is generated."

The Indigenous Remote Communcations Association (IRCA), in an October submission to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, noted: "For many remote Indigenous people, convergence spells an increasing threat to their fragile linguistic and cultural world, with western media and values distracting young people from gaining cultural knowledge. They feel like a tsunami of mainstream media and communications is bearing down upon them via the internet, 16 channels of digital TV and new media platforms."

In September, communications minister Stephen Conroy announced SBS and NITV would enter discussions about a possible merger. If successful, this could ensure the continuation of NITV, and mean it was accessed by more people, as it is currently not a free-to-air service. But some argue NITV, while valuable,  cannot replace local community-produced content. According to IRCA, "NITV tends not be popular in most remote communities with the programming, typically in English with urban presenters, not regarded by remote viewers as reflective of their experience, views and cultural identity".

IRCA has also pointed out, in Joining the Dots: Dreaming a Digital Future for Remote Indigenous Media, that the benefits of direct-to-home TV technology assume a particular way of accessing media - a particular way of life - that doesn't necessarily apply to remote Aboriginal communities: typically, people move from house to house, watch television outside in large groups, use exention leads to take TVs to sorry camps away from the house.

Remote Aboriginal people  - particularly young people - are embracing new technologies at an impressive rate. Far from this signalling a threat to their language and culture, research is proving that new technologies are  being adapted and used to maintain, share, and develop cultural and linguistic heritage. For this to continue, it is vital that any technological upgrades do not come at the expense of local control of content, linguistic diversity and equal access to content production. Young Aboriginal people are showing that embracing the digital age is not at all at odds with celebrating and expressing one of the oldest continuous cultures on Earth. Can the digital TV roll-out improve their access to technology without sacrificing their control over it?

Books I've enjoyed this year

A non-exhaustive list, in no particular order

* * *

Borderliners, by Peter Hoeg
The Last of the Nomads, W.J. Peasley
Life of Pi, Yann Martel
An Intruder's Guide to East Arnhem Land, Andrew McMillan
Education for Critical Consciousness, Paulo Freire
Teaching to transgress, bell hooks
Too Many People? Ian Angus and Simon Butler
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
Grog War, Alexis Wright
Green Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson
Usage and Abusage, Eric Partridge
 Donald Thomson in Arnhem Land, Donald Thomson
Critique of Intelligent Design, John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark & Richard York

Saturday, 12 November 2011

No More! Enough is Enough!

Statement by Northern Territory Elders and Community Representatives
Melbourne 4 November, 2011

United First People’s Law men and women who are born leaders representing people of Prescribed Areas in the Northern Territory make this statement.

Once again, they have gathered to openly discuss the future of our generation who have been subjugated by the lies and innuendo of the Federal Government, set out in the Stronger Futures document (October 2011).

The Stronger Futures report has created a lot of anger and frustration due to the lack of process and the ignorant way in which the views of the people have been reported. we therefore reject this report.

We will not support an extension of the Intervention legislation. We did not ask for it. In fact we call for a genuine Apology from the Federal Government for the hurt, embarrassment, shame and stigma, and for the illegal removal of the Racial Discrimination Act. It is our intention to officially call upon Government for reparation.

The recent consultations report shows that Government has failed to take seriously our concerns and feelings. This report is simply a reflection of pre-determined policy decisions. This is shown clearly by the absence of any commitment to bilingual learning programmes as well as the proposal to introduce welfare cuts and fines to parent of non-attending school children. Once again a punitive policy that is neither in the best interests of the child or the family.

Blanket measures have been central to the Northern Territory Intervention and have been the source of much distress. Where there are problems, they must be addressed on a case by case basis and preferably with the assistance through the appropriate community channels.
Since August 2007 till 2011, more than 45,000 First Nations Peoples living in the Prescribed Areas were traumatised when a Bill was passed through both Houses of Parliament (The House of Representatives and the Senate).

This legislation suspended the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 to put in place the Northern Territory Emergency Response. The Australian Greens were the only party to oppose the legislation.

These actions have placed Australia in breach of its international treaty obligations to the First Nations Peoples. Respectful discussion and negotiation with community elders did not take place before the introduction of the Intervention.

Discussions on a diplomatic basis are essential. There are elders in every Aboriginal Nation invested by the authority of the majority. These are the people with whom Minister Macklin should be negotiating, rather than with the chosen few, as has been her habit.

There has NEVER been acquiescence in the taking of our lands by stealth. Aboriginal people are sovereign people of this Nation. The process that will lead to legal recognition of customary law should be immediately commenced.

We believe that there should be an honest and comprehensive treaty negotiation with the Australian Government and facilitated by the United Nations.

We have a right under international law to self determination and after almost five years of the oppression of the Intervention, we demand that Government hand back to us control over our communities and provide adequate Government, long-term funding to ensure the future of Homelands.
Communty Councils have suffered from years of underfunding. The same is happening today with the Shires that have been imposed on us. There is a lack of funding for our Core Service.There is no capacity for Aboriginal communities to engage in long-term services planning without the certainty of long-term funding.

We have had enough! We need our independence to live our lives and plan our futures without the constant oppression and threats which have become central to the relationship between Government and Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. We will not support policies that have not been negotiates with all elders of Prescribed communities and we will not support an extension of the Intervention, or an Interventionunder other names.

Since the Apology and since reconciliation, the level of incarceration of Aboriginal men has increased three-fold; our families are being punished for failure to attend a foreign school design; our capacity to govern our own lives has been totally disempowered; Aboriginal youth suicide rates in the Northern Territory are higher than anywhere else in Australia; and our people have been demonized, labelled and branded. This is not what an apology is and it is not reconciliation. These outcomes are the very opposite to their intent.

Australia is in breach of its international treaty obligations to the first nation’s people through it membership to the United Nations in the elimination of racial discrimination.

We as leaders of the Northern Territory acknowledge other peoples’ views. We acknowledge that some may agree and some may disagree with parts or all of the ‘intervention’; whatever the name the Government chooses to call it. The only right we now have left is to remain silent.We as Aboriginal people call on the international community to hold Australia to account for its continuing crimes against humanity for its treatments of its first nation’s people. Again, we say to our visits by the Minister’s department; this is not consultation. Proper consultation is about listening and inviting and including the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Consultation is about outcomes that are progressive and agreeable to all parties.
The future is based on our children having a quality education, but to date this continues to be a systemic failure. A quality education for our people needs to include:

  • Bilingualism in schools to be returned and strengthened to ensure our children learn their traditional languages, dialects and cultural knowledges.
  • Attendances need to be rewarded, rather than children and families being punished for non-attendance.
  • Aboriginal teachers in classrooms and school educational leadership roles are essential to building quality, localized schooling programs. This means also equal pay and entitlements, rewards and opportunities consistent with their important roles.

Curriculum needs to change and reflect traditional knowledges not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, but importantly for the broader Australian population who know very little about their own first peoples.
Aboriginal teachers need to be treated fairly and equally to their non-Aboriginal counterparts in delivering quality education to our children. This includes the opportunity to tell oral stories of Kinship, Creation Stories, and about important cultural knowledge and skills. Failure to accept these views and work seriously toward their inclusion will simply mean more of the same.

Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM
Japata Ryan
Harry Nelson
Djapirri Murunggirritj
Barbara Shaw
Yananymul Mununggurr

Saturday, 5 November 2011

New NT education policy still sidelines Indigenous language

[Reprinted from www.greenleft.org.au]

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Northern Territory government’s latest proposed approach to teaching Aboriginal students, like its previous policy, places a primacy on reading and writing in English. It allows for students’ first language to be used to help teachers explain new concepts, but critics fear it falls short of valuing Aboriginal languages.

The draft Literacy Framework for Students with English as an Additional Language was released on August 31. It slightly amends the controversial “First Four Hours” policy, introduced in January 2009, which expired earlier this year.

Many criticised the First Four Hours policy, saying it ended the NT’s “Two-Way Learning” policy, which used bilingual education approaches and recognised the central role of Aboriginal teachers and teacher assistants. Under the First Four Hours policy, the first four hours of the school day — the most productive learning time — were taught in English only.

The government came under much pressure over the policy. At a time when it claimed to be focused on improving school attendance in Aboriginal communities, critics said ending bilingual education discouraged students from taking part in the mainstream schooling system.

Case studies of four Warlpiri schools showed no improvement — and sometimes a drop in attendance rates — since the policy was introduced.

When the policy was announced in 2008, Yolngu educator Yalmay Yunupingu said: “The decision to make English the only important language in our schools will only make the situation worse for our young people as they struggle to be proud Yolngu in a world that is making them feel that their culture is bad, unimportant and irrelevant in the contemporary world.”

Article 14.1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, to which Australia is a signatory,says: “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”

The new draft policy was released in August. Many who saw the First Four Hours policy as an attack on Aboriginal identity and self-determination, and thought it contravened the UN declaration, eagerly awaited it.

The draft is based on a government-commissioned report by the Menzies School of Health Research, which reviewed the literature on “Early years English language acquisition and instructional approaches for Aboriginal students with home languages other than English”.

The draft acknowledges the linguistic diversity of Aboriginal students in the Northern Territoty. It says: “More than 100 Aboriginal languages and dialects are spoken in the Territory. About 30% of NT school students are English as Additional Language (EAL) learners with one or more Indigenous home languages.”

Yet the policy does not recognise that teaching and nurturing literacy in these languages is of inherent worth.

Australia is home to some of the world’s oldest living languages. But UNESCO says it also has the world’s highest rate of language extinction. Yet the draft policy says teaching in the first four hours should remain “predominantly in English”, with home language used to explain new concepts.

Meredith Davies from the Darwin Aboriginal Rights Coalition told said: “Through supporting bilingual education, government respects Aboriginal culture, signalling that it has an equally valid place within the education system. This new policy does not recognise the inherent value of Indigenous languages but rather sees that they may be a useful tool through which to achieve better English literacy outcomes.”

The Menzies review covered several approaches to teaching EAL students. These included “Bilingual 50:50 instruction”, which aims to have students read and speak in both languages, through to “Culturally responsive instruction with strong [EAL] support”, which teaches students to speak and read in English only, but leaves space for “cultural maintenance”.

The Menzies report said effective bilingual approaches require support from the community, leadership from the school and Indigenous teachers, competent staff (including first-language speakers) and appropriate resources.

Failing these conditions, the report said EAL strategies were “the best approach to achieve improvement in student educational and language outcomes”.

The government’s draft policy most closely resembles such EAL strategies. This is despite evidence that bilingual education has strong support in communities, that there are many qualified and skilled Indigenous teachers working in the NT, and that some schools have teacher-linguists and language resource production centres.

The draft policy acknowledges “some communities will identify a desire to have their children learn to read and write in their home language as well as … English”. The education department will support communities by allowing them to use school facilities after hours “for cultural and language activities”.

The draft policy does not address how this option will work in practice. It is not clear whether teachers will have to work overtime or if extra funds will be allocated.

The draft proposes a further option for schools that want to teach Indigenous children’s first language in school hours. Directors of School Performance will consider “arrangements in schools where communities want their children … to read and write in their home language”.

The draft policy says such arrangements may be approved if the school can prove it has community support, competent staff and suitable curriculum resources.

There is no requirement that the government help communities meet these criteria.

Yingiya Guyula is a Liya-dhalinymirr man from north-east Arnhem land who was taught in the bilingual system. He is now a senior Yolngu Studies lecturer at Charles Darwin University. He said learning to read and write in one’s own language — not just maintaining the ability to speak it — was vital for his people to keep their strength and identity, while they negotiate their way through the non-Aboriginal world at the same time.

“Bilingual education did work. It did work,” he said. “I am one of the students who learned Yolngu Matha and Balanda Matha [English] in school. And now, I am here, working in the university, teaching language and culture. I sometimes help [my non-Yolngu colleagues] with grammar.

“Bilingual education never got in the way of a mainstream education. It fitted very, very well. It fitted perfectly. A lot of us are now teaching, and I am able to write, and I do lots of transcriptions, translations, for the stories that our old people have recorded.

“If I had never learnt Yolngu Matha, through bilingual education, back in the late ’60s and ’70s, I would have never got this far.”

[A version of this article first appeared in Tracker magazine.]

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Darwin Roller Derby

On Saturday I went to the first ever roller derby bout in the NT - a grudge match between the Darwin Roller and Malice Springs.

The stadium was packed out for the bout, 1400 people inside and 200 turned away at the door. I was lucky to find a scalper a couple of days before. (Not really a scalper, just someone who had bought too many tickets)

The bout was opened by Aunt Millie singing Arafura Pearl, which was a nice touch I thought.

The ony thing I knew about roller derby was from the movie Stick It, which I'd originally assumed from the cover was about polo. I'd only half-watched the movie and been distracted by the romantic subplot and missed out on the actual rules.

Fortunately these guys were there to explain it to us.

Two teams of five roll around the rink. The first four of each team are the blockers. Behind are the jammers. The jammers try to push to the front of the pack and the blockers try to stop them. If a jammer succeeds the bout then becomes a jam. The jammer can now score a point for every blocker they overtake. The jam ends after two minutes or when the jammer indicates by putting her hands on her hips (usually they indicates by chopping their hands to their hips as if indicating they want their legs cut off here, but you get the idea).

Blockers aren't allowed to use their arms or hands, nor are they allowed to trip anyone over. There's a sin bin for such things. Blockers mostly use their hips and can push jammers out of the ring. Jammers can come back in but only behind the blocker who pushed them off.

Otherwise they go to the sin bin:

Bruising and rink rash often occur as does some serious knee-wrenching. The crowd loves it.

The game isn't just about violence though. A lot of the appeal of the game is in its pagentry. Roller girls have a punk aesthetic. They choose a nickname they dress like punk or goths as part of their uniform.

Here's the Malice Springs team:

Fifth from the right is "Ruff Trot". Here's the DRG:

The costumes are amazing. Look, even the refs get into it:

This is another one of the officials:

Fans too:

I'll show some actual game shots now:

The bout was exciting. DRG dominated early, particularly because of their blockers. In the second half, Brutally Blond from Malice Springs led a pretty valiant effort to narrow the gap, but in the end:

Darwin won convincingly.

It was a fantastic night and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes fun.


The half-time show was unicycyle polo: