Killing Gurrumul, what Australia really fails to Recognise
When the manager of singer Gurrumul looked at Royal Darwin Hospital’s clinical notes on the acclaimed Indigenous artist his reaction was: “They’ve just put him in a corner to die.” (1)
By now everyone is or should be aware that RDH left Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu to die from a chronic illness he has suffered since childhood. He had vomited blood, had internal bleeding and required immediate surgery and yet he was forced to wait 8 hours before he was attended to in which time he could have quite easily died. There are allegations that he was either racially profiled or that the hospital is completely incompetent. “The racial profiling allegations were “completely ridiculous”, said hospital spokesman Professor Dinesh Arya.” So we will have to assume that the professor while dismissing the racial component is admitting to the complete incompetence because no hospital in Australia should be leaving any person vomiting blood to wait 8 hours to be cared for.
But there are signs Professor Dinesh Arya’s denials about racism being involved are also wrong, Gurrumul’s long time manager Mark Grosse sighted the notes made by hospital staff that essentially stated he was a “drinker” and well you do the math. Professor Arya claims he visited Gurrumul, although this is denied by his manager as Gurrumul does not remember the visit, nor do the ward’s staff and Gurrumul’s Specialist also sighted the suspect notes. Mr Grosse paraphrases those notes as “It clearly says to me that he is Aboriginal, as a result of heavy drinking his conditions has developed. He’s unlikely to survive, therefore not sure really if any action is needed, that’s the message essentially in his notes”.
When I posted the report on Twitter (@MartinGHodgson) many people exclaimed they were shocked that the hospital staff didn’t know who Gurrumul was. A fair point, how did they not Recognise a multi award winning artist, the 2009 Northern Territory Australian of the Year and one of the most famous Indigenous Australians in the land. The reason they did not Recognise even the most famous of Indigenous faces that nearly left Gurrumul to die is the very reason that Ms Dhu, Mr Ward, TJ Hickey, Mulrunji and many hundreds if not thousands of others around the country have died. Their humanity was not Recognised. Let me say that quite clearly again, the humanity of all Indigenous Australians is not Recognised. Even the most famous Indigenous people can be seen but their humanity totally denied.
I’ve argued this in the past, in relation to the NT Intervention, Black Deaths in Custody, The Stolen Generation, Justice for Bowraville, the systematic removal of Indigenous children from perfectly healthy family environments and on it goes. But here we have the most clear example, or at least the most glaringly obvious one that no matter how successful you may be as an Indigenous person the State still does not see your humanity. Let’s cut the shit for just one moment, because the truth is a bitter pill to swallow. Gurrumul is pretty bloody recognisable, he’s clearly blind, he’s face has been on television a million times and the hospital paper work said Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. Yet we are told, with a straight face by Professor Arya that all is ok. The truth he could have stated, that would have been despicable but at least accurate is that despite an A&E filled with university educated people, a clearly recognisable man and with his fucking name on a piece of paper for god sake, that these employees of the State saw a drank black first and that’s it.
Not a man in need, not a patient to care for, not a human being suffering and not Gurrumul. So what hope has any Indigenous Man, Woman or Child have of being RECOGNISED in any way, when the humanity of all Indigenous People is not seen. Forget Closing the Gap, forget reducing incarceration rates or improving health outcomes, forget equal life expectancy and absolutely forget any true Recognition in the Constitution. Because Indigenous Australians may no longer be counted in the flora and fauna, but Human… that’s still yet to come.
Perhaps when you accept meeting at the table, as equals, with a Treaty presented for you to accept and not an offer to simply Recognise, like the way you “tolerate” but don’t embrace, then humanity will be acknowledged and finally Gurrumul and every other Indigenous Australian will not be left to die, because their value as a human beings will begin to be equal to yours and every other Non-Indigenous person in this country.