Prove your humanity


Between the horrific burning of the Australian bush land, the murder of mother Hannah Clarke and three kids by their father and spouse, and Christchurch copy-cat shootings, the start of the new decade has been met with what seems like a revolving door of crises. But in crisis is opportunity, one of which has been grasped by the authors at the Perth Festival of Literature and Ideas (Un)quiet Australian’s panel.

Questions around personal experience and opinion about challenging power are what guides the discussion between broadcaster and author, Benjamin Law, and the authors. Grass-roots activists Thomas Mayor (Finding the Heart of the Nation) and Bella Burgemeister (Bella’s Challenge), along with journalists Jess Hill (See What You Made Me Do) and Jeff Sparrow (Trigger Warnings: Political Correctness and the Rise of the Right) are all working in different ways to disrupt power.

Jess Hill, an investigative journalist, begins the festival explaining “the core mistake at the centre of culture”. She observes that:“We lionise ‘power over’ and not balance. And we see that ‘power over’ problem recurring over all the issues that are basically disintegrating our society… All of the different issues we are dealing with are absolutely interlinked.”

When asked about the recent mass shooting in Hanau and its relation to the Christchurch massacre, Sparrow comments that the reluctance of “many well-meaning journalists” not investigating into fascist-ideas could be detrimental to dismantling copy-cat killers. “There is a necessity of understanding these ideas precisely because if we don’t’ understand them, we won’t be able to stop them from happening again.” Sparrow notes that “it’s much easier to say, these people are crazy, or these people are motivated by unthinkable desires, than it is to say, this is a political program and a political strategy”.

14-year-old climate activist Burgemeister issues similar concerns over a lack of worry from West Australian’s over the bushfires in Australia as the brunt of it was occurring in the Eastern states. “I think that was why people were thinking, we might be okay here because we’ve never had something at this scale”, Burgermeister comments.

Law questions why there wasn’t a use of Indigenous land management techniques to prevent such burning. Reflecting on the catastrophe that the bushfires have caused for Australians and wildlife, Mayor replies that “ultimately, it’s the decision makers that are fathering us, and we cannot be quiet anymore.”

He says that “[Indigenous Australian’s] have suffered from genocide, and disempowerment, and dispossession,… the leaders in this country don’t represent us, we don’t elect them.

Mayor, who has spent the past three years travelling around Australia lobbying for the constitutional recognition of First Nations people, is hopeful that “when our backs are against the wall, we can fight back.”

In a panel filled with people from disparate fields, ethnicities, ages and genders, another commonality is present. A group of Australians’ who are unwilling to be unquiet.

Perth Festival of Literature and Ideas was on 22nd & 23rd February.