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Racism, Gurrumul and #TheDrum

Yesterday I posted the article below about a racist incident that saw Indigenous musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu refused service by a Taxi driver. As the article pointed out and as the witnesses there attested to, this was racism no if’s or but’s about it. Cab had been called, others were waiting outside with the Cab and all was fine until the Taxi Driver spotted Gurrumul and sped off refusing the fare. End Story…

… Or so I thought. After reading a variety of newspaper articles that detailed the facts I was waiting for my first taste of media “opinion” on the issue when I noticed it would be discussed on ABC’s The Drum, a show I watch regularly anyway. If it had have been on ACA, Today Tonight or a Morning Show I wouldn’t have bothered, the comments would have been as predictable as they would have been wrong. But from the National Broadcaster we are entitled to expect a little different. But I had mistakenly assumed this would be an informative discussion, the host of the show John Barron then finished his introduction of the story with this, “In a way you can see two sides to this”. You can?

The Host then detailed a possible scenario, which has no basis in what we know about the incident from the witnesses there about how the Taxi driver could possibly be forgiven for making the conclusion that Gurrumul had possibly been turfed out of the pub yadda yadda yadda. Now I am not suggesting John Barron is racist or anything of the sort, from his journalism I take him to be a very decent man. But there are in some cases simple rights and wrongs. And after more than 200 years if we are still excusing or finding reasons to excuse the perpetrators of racism against Aboriginal people then something is clearly wrong.

So let’s be real for a few moments, if there is one group in Australia you can still get away with wholesale racism against it is Indigenous Australians. From the daily verbal abuse all Indigenous people have experienced to the Racial Discrimination ACT being suspended for the implementation of the NT Intervention denying it exists simply means you are blissfully ignorant, seriously sheltered or dabble in a little yourself. As both Jane Caro and Johnathan Green pointed out as guests of The Drum, both stories they have heard and from surveys and data widely available these incidents are both common and racially based. It was only a week ago that a twitter follower of mine and her young family had experienced racism from a Taxi driver.

But all of this simply highlights a broader point, if we are to “Close The Gap” then racism is one key area that must be addressed with as much vigour as Health and Education. That one of Australia’s most famous Indigenous people, blind, soft-spoken and whose music brings audiences to tears can be the subject of such public racism then this is but an indicator of how bad and entrenched this is in society and many of the policies we still see implemented to this day. That in such a glaring example of racism it could be suggested that two sides exist is but an example of how even the best journalists on the most respected network still have a lot to learn.

Perhaps the conversation would have been better served on The Drum if the panelists were not all middle-aged and white. But then again being middle-aged and white should not prevent you from seeing the blindingly obvious. So when you question why many Aboriginal people live with such despair, life expectancy at third world levels, suicide at epidemic proportions, incarceration rates at obscene levels, drug and alcohol abuse rife… ask yourself this. Why am I questioning the pain of a fellow human being, when a crucial factor in their suffering is so obvious. So obvious, so damaging, so ingrained… but even in 2012 a victim of such abuse is told perhaps there is two sides to the story, perhaps it is not real.

Or perhaps it is so real that the gap cannot be closed until it is addressed with absolute truth. That it is challenged at an individual level by all on a daily basis and at a national level with a new beginning. And perhaps by not giving it an excuse that there are two sides to this story. There aren’t, racism in Australia directed in a variety of ways at Indigenous people is real. And it has damaging, far-reaching consequences that see the gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians unacceptably wide to the point of a grave injustice that can no longer and should never have been tolerated. That is the only side to this story!


Racism in Australia: Taxi driver refuses singer

Multi-award winning blind Indigenous artist Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu has been refused a cab on the basis of the colour of his skin, according to his managers.

Gurrumul was leaving The Palais in St Kilda on Tuesday night after performing with Missy Higgins when the incident occurred.

When the taxi driver saw them, he said, ‘Oh no, don’t worry about it mate,’ and just drove off. 

He was making his way out of the venue after the concert with his partner, Bronwyn, and the help of security staff while his co-manager, Mark Grose, went to hail him a cab.

Musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.Musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu.

Grose said he hailed a cab out the front of the Palais and asked Gurrumul’s co-manager and double-bass player, Michael Hohnen, to wait with the cab outside until Gurrumul exited the building.

“When the taxi driver saw them, he said, ‘Oh no, don’t worry about it mate,’ and just drove off,” says Hohnen. Hohnen says that the cab had not been told of their intended destination and therefore would not have refused the fare on that basis.

“I was half way between the building and the cab just imploring the cab driver to wait a second,” says Hohnen, who is reluctant to describe the taxi driver, other than to say he looked about 45 years old.

“I think that just sort of draws negative elements into the whole story,” he says. “All I know is that he saw Gurrumul and Bronwyn come outthe door and said, ‘Nup, I’m not taking them.'”

Grose told ABC radio this morning that the driver was subcontinental in appearance.

Hohnen angrily yelled after the cab as it drove off, but did not tell Gurrumul that he thought the driver’s reaction had been motivated by racism.

“I said it just drove off. He and Bronwyn were laughing at me because he never hears me yell.”

It was a bitter end to what had been a great night, Hohnen said.

“Missy Higgins had tweeted that the song she’d performed with Gurrumul was a career highlight, and we were all on a high and then we come out and this happens.”

He says it’s not the first time it’s happened. “We work with a lot of Aboriginal artists and you see it happening all the time.”

An incensed Grose called the ABC this morning to report the incident, which is earning Gurrumul sympathy and support on Twitter and Facebook.

Gurrumul himself is yet to comment. “He would have heard about it by now, I’m sure,” says Hohnen. “He doesn’t really express a lot, he’ll process it for a while I’d say. He’ll probably watch how everyone else reacts before he makes up his mind.”

The Victorian Taxi Directorate is investigating the claims, but spokesman Steve Bright says it will be “very difficult” to track down the driver without a taxi number or license plate.

“Otherwise it’s just one of 6000 taxis on the street,” he said.

If caught, the driver could be charged $305 for a first offence, said Mr Bright.

“Depending on the seriousness, the accreditation may be reviewed, he may get a warning, he may get his accreditation suspended, or even cancelled entirely.”

Mr Bright said the directorate gets about 300 to 400 fare refusal complaints a year, but that “zero” complaints in the past year have been made on the basis of race.

Anyone with any information on the incident is encourage to call the VDT complaints line on 1800 638 802.


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