Wading into the racist mire

During a week of the most heinous race-based madness that started with the thoughtless bleatings of a foolish 13-year-old and ended – if indeed it has ended – with the unthinkably careless on-air comments of Collingwood President Eddie McGuire, a traipse through the various social media platforms would never end well.

So it proved.

All along I’d avoided writing much about racism beyond a few from-the-hip Twitter laments on the unfathomably lazy state of the white Australian psyche, but if anything was going to tip me into the collective race-based blog-dom, it was this Facebook humdinger:

Eddie’s comment wasn’t racist. Apes aren’t black or white. He was having a go at his looks, not the colour of his skin. And he’s not the only footy player who could be likened to an ape – the clubs are full of them.

You see it’s not about Adam Goodes’ offence, or a spotlight beaming in on current and historical indigenous issues – health, mortality rates, employment, social dislocation for instance – or a broader blowtorch on a poor national track record on race relations.

No.

It’s about ape aesthetics.

If the issue was Russia, this bloke just showed us Argentina.

He wasn’t alone of course. There are thousands of similarly ham-fisted reflections everywhere. Plenty took an axe to the victim by transposing a duck where an ape once was and suggesting vitriolic water should fairly scoot over the former’s back. Others barked ‘media beat up’. Most responses contained that doozy of a catch-all about ‘political correctness gone mad’, a phrase akin to tossing clean clothes back in the Fisher & Paykel because you couldn’t be bothered hanging them on the line. So many avoided, or missed, or were entirely unaware of the central point that an ape symbolises a less evolved human, a grotesque colonialist white man gibe that has and always will remain loaded with racist intent.

Justifications. Rationalisations. Deflections. Everywhere.

And as the days ticked over, the guts of an issue – why racism is so poorly understood in Australia – was slowly shelved under the weight of side dishes.

Eddie’s grim face. A young girl and her telephoned contrition. Whether or not a club Presidency would or could be removed. An AFL mediation process. Whether Goodesy would or wouldn’t play. Whether Collingwood’s season was now derailed. And all to a soundtrack  of public wailing fed in no small part by the opinions of paid tabloid ideologues whose purpose, it seemed, was to satiate flabby, disconnected minds.

But the fact remains bare. We have a problem. It’s out there.

Some of the xenophobic filth belched from an otherwise perfectly normal-looking fence-leaner at my local ground a few weeks back nearly made my ears bleed. Thankfully a club official called him into line.

Perhaps this stuff leaches upwards.

I think of wince-inducing tirades heaped on St Kilda’s Raphael Clarke about being beneficiary of a race quota selection system when he was pinged for holding the ball early in the 2009 AFL Grand Final; of once-Demon Jeff Farmer’s likeness to a ‘fuckin’ chimpanzee’’ from the mouth of a badge-wearing MCC member; of North Melbourne’s Lindsay Thomas’s goal-kicking yips being the direct result of his ‘faulty abo genes’.

And then, in the lead up to this week, of Sudanese-born Majak Daw copping it not just once, but twice. And on consecutive weekends.

It is pure cowardice. It is juvenile. It is totally putrid.

But to condemn it cold is to overlook the fact that perhaps these utterances often stem from an emotion-charged subconscious fog. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I remain convinced that however fleeting, there’s almost always an overhanging shame left in their wake. Certainly, Eddie McGuire – a man whose heart is significantly better placed than his mouth would have us think – would be feeling it now. Surely, too, that young girl would feel the deepest regret post fact. No doubt most perpetrators would feel awfully small if their actions were replayed in the media ad finitum.

Perhaps it’s the lack of an initial firewall that irks most. We know what will cause the utmost offence. We cause it with ne-er a thought. If no natural inkling to simply not, then at least, surely, to refrain. Instead we aim for the point likely to provoke the most telling reaction and we shoot callously. Fearlessly, even.

And it’s not just sport. I think of my in-laws, rag-traders for the most part, and their experiences with ‘those’ cheating, shyster, untrustworthy, unscrupulous Jewish, Chinese and Indian businesspeople who consumed too much of their working lives. Of my own upbringing in Sydney and the general disquiet at the temerity of a Vietnamese population to descend upon the white middle-class sanctity of Chatswood. Of a family friend – a hugely successful IT executive, a smart, driven, educated woman – and her curled lip at immigrant cabbies and those disgraceful slanty-eyed drivers who simply can’t watch where they’re going. Of my youth and the invisible schoolyard line between the Aussies and the rest. Most grew out of that. Way too many don’t.

This stuff remains real. It’s everywhere, everyday.

During the week, Collingwood player Harry O’Brien talked of the casualisation of racism. I agree with him, too. So many of us have spent so much time comforted by the giggles and sniggers of equally muddle-headed peers that they’ve forgotten how to think with any purity.

But we’re not racist, we’ll say. We’re just joking. It’s just sledging. What goes on the field stays there. Harden the f-ck up. It’s not what I say. It’s the way you interpret what I said. Just let it slide. This is a storm in a teacup. Surely there’s more important things to bang on about?

If we possessed even a vague ability for introspection, we’d quickly realise the issue isn’t about crafting a convenient reaction to racism.

Instead, we’d understand that the reaction – the hurt, the utter dismay, the deep-rooted familial grief, the exasperated rage – is fuelled by something that is always there, that our defensiveness about pricking it is hopelessly childish, and that now, finally, it’s probably about bloody time we quit being so petty when our collective whiteness is called to account.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A quality little bit of writing…

I do love a short story and had reason to revisit this one recently and dammit if I’m not gonna do my bit to have it more widely consumed. 

Author is Sunshine Coast surfer and writer Gary Young. First published in White Horses Magazine (Morrison Media) and ‘re-published’ here with permission.

 

Nemesis

By Gary Young

I can’t say I’ve ever been an angry surfer. I just can’t seem to find it in me to unload in the line up or persecute people whether they deserve it or not. That’s not to say I’ve never been angry while I’ve been surfing but I just don’t do the water slapping, board punching thing.

Everyone knows one though.

There’s always that guy with the scowl on his face that growls and mutters and curses as he stuffs another take off and howls accusations of drop ins at the guy 20 yards past the section he was never getting around.  I ain’t he, and to be honest it would take something pretty monumental to rile me in the water which is why I was so surprised at myself when I very nearly lost it.

It wasn’t big, it wasn’t even crowded. It was clean 2’ and sunny and the little bank in the right of the bay had groomed itself into a perfect ruler edged 60 yard long sand sculpture at just the right angle to the dominant swell. Every third wave would hold up and peel at just the right speed to fly along it. And every other surfer in the water was at the other end of the bay chasing shifty peaks. Me and that little bar had a perfect synchronicity going on; I didn’t even have to sit on my board, just one arm paddle back out in time to meet that third wave again and again, spin and go. Not too many turns, it was a bit quick, but lovely speed blurs and a warm fuzzy feeling, until two blokes on long boards started paddling towards me.

You can tell a novice before they’ve even caught a wave. That legs apart, chin on the deck paddle gives it away instantly, which went some way to allaying my fears of a premature end to my selfish wave hoggery. In fact what happened was, instead of paddling up and joining me where I could potentially paddle rings around them and still get the pick, they sat halfway down the bar.

And they started paddling for anything. Whether I was on it or not.

They never actually caught anything, they just paddled, a lot. 

They were a father and son combo and they had unwittingly changed the whole cadence of my slide.

Not being an angry surfer, I took all this in my stride. Occasionally I could go around the small section they’d pushed over and sometimes I could get around behind them. As I said they weren’t actually catching any. Until on the set of the day, at least a foot bigger than anything else that had come through that afternoon, with me absolutely fanging it down the line fins humming. The old fella starts paddling, and, yep he got it. To be fair, it got him. So I’m bearing down on him at Mach 6 and here he is hanging onto his rails bouncing down the face with that wide eyed open mouthed look of terror/excitement on his face and the string of expletives are bubbling up my throat on a tide of boiling rage, I’ve turned hard so as not to spear him and am now riding parallel with him straight at the beach fiery eyes burning down on him ready to explode…

He took one hand off his rail, reached across and grabbed the ankle of my front foot, he looked up at me and across his face was the biggest Cheshire cat smile I have ever seen. Without that grin diminishing one little bit he let out a huge ‘whoooooohoooooo’ and I swear to God I nearly died laughing. 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Well bugger me I never thought I’d be posting a Greer piece.

In a few months, when my latest effort has been published, I’ll have written 3 books in two years. Four in three if you count the unpublished novel that kickstarted the whole she-bang.

For my entire journey, writing has only ever been a full-time occupation for a short few months. And that wasn’t by choice. Not by a long shot. It was simply a result of there being a shortage of supplementary paid work for me to do. Thankfully I have a wife who works. Thankfully too I eventually fluked a bit of fill in radio broadcasting and the odd freelance gig here and there. Without them I’d be stuffed. It never ceases to amaze me how many people automatically grant writers a status far loftier than our bank accounts will ever show. There’s an instant respect borne of people amazed you can do something that they never could. Writing requires patience and effort. Lots of both, in fact. But it just don’t pay.

It is here that I hand over to Germaine Greer to explain the rest.

From today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

(Full link below)

Writers ponder whether it’s worth putting pen to paper

by Germaine Greer

AN AUSTRALIAN publisher told me recently that in four years there had been ”great changes in the publishing environment”. As far as I was concerned she was the publishing environment; she, not some vague external agency, was the one offering me $10,000 for a full-length book. When you consider that the headmistress of an Australian girls’ school can expect to earn rather more than a half a million dollars a year plus perks, $10,000 for six years’ work – that is, 1/300th of that rate – seems a differential too far.

Australia’s is a boom economy; in theory there is money sloshing everywhere. There is certainly enough money to keep a large number of publishing houses in business, with all their employees earning a far better hourly rate than the writers who supply them with their product. The writers are supposed to be paid an advance against royalties. The contract will usually specify that this is paid in three tranches, one on signature, another on submission and/or acceptance of the ”manuscript”, and the last on publication.

In one of my recent encounters with an Australian publisher, the tranche payable on publication was not paid, so the publisher was technically in breach of contract. No statement of account was sent to my agents for four years – again a breach of contract. When a statement did appear the part of the advance that was not earned out had been subtracted from the full advance, so it was never paid. That is not how the system is meant to work.

What should happen is that as long as the advance has not been covered, the yearly statement simply shows a minus. Obviously, if the publisher does not keep the book in print, so there is no possibility of the author’s earning royalties, it would be unjust and unfair to penalise the author. The advance system exists precisely because it is not the writer’s job to sell the book but the publisher’s; if the publisher fails to sell sufficient copies, the publisher must bear the loss. The fact the price of milk has fallen below the level at which he can make a profit does not give a dairy farmer the right to starve his cows.

The same publisher then issued my book as part of a collection, in a paperback version that certainly looked and felt cheap, but was priced at $30. This publication was never discussed, no terms were ever agreed, and no royalty whatsoever would appear to be payable. This is not just no way to treat an author; it’s no way to run a business.

Australian publishers are not doing their job, which is to manage the market. Their most obvious failure is in organising the merchandising of electronic texts. Online publishing is the most exciting development since the invention of printing. Properly orchestrated, it would make possible the publication of all kinds of books in all kinds of formats at reduced cost and hence with higher profit margins.

Australians have always paid over the odds for books and they have bought as many books per capita as any other English-speaking nation, so it is not readers’ fault Australian writers cannot make a living. And it’s not the writers’ fault, either. Even the best Australian writers find that, given the escalating cost of living typical of a mining boom, they cannot keep up their mortgage payments unless they work their ticket around the literary festivals, teaching creative writing or even how to be a professional author.

Each of the 40 or so people who come to the ”masterclass” will pay something like $120 for a half-day, of which the writer’s share is the smallest. Good writers should be writing, getting better at what they’re good at. When they’re not producing at their best level, everyone is poorer.

Because writers are by far the cheapest labour in the system, they are left with the task of selling their books on behalf of booksellers who command a far higher share of the book price.

Writers are vulnerable to such exploitation because they care about their books and want to do their best for them. Their position at the bottom of the pecking order has knock-on effects. Having been shown to be fool enough to work for years for nothing, the writer has no way of compelling respect from editors who can demand more than $60 an hour.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/writers-wonder-if-its-worth-putting-pen-to-paper-20121226-2bvk3.html#ixzz2GlcgIqsE

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Feedback Fuel

Us writerly types often live pretty much exclusively in the dark. People never really tell you to your face that they DON’T like what you do. You’re pretty much constantly trying to convince yourself that what you do is okay. It’s nice when colleagues and peers give you the thumbs up, of course. And the fact that a large publisher keeps paying you to link words for them is naturally pretty helpful. But nothing is more gratifying and encouraging than when knowledgable strangers give you a pat on the back.

This year both of my books have received little slices of critical praise. I emphasise the ‘little’. But us scribblers don’t need much critical fuel.

Last weekend the Courier Mail published it’s Best Ten Book for Blokes. I snagged a credible fourth.

And earlier in the year the Sydney Morning Herald saw fit to include my 2011 effort, ‘House of the Rising Suns’, among it’s selection of best new sportswriting.

Been a good year all things considered. 

Thank y’all for your ongoing support.

Have a great Christmas.

Matt

Image

 

Image

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Another little slice of fiction…

Another story-of-the-sea published recently in the truly magnificent White Horses magazine.

Image

Go to the White Horses website for a look. Well worth it, I assure you.

The Rock

Sea breathes in.

Sea breathes out.

Prick’s perched up there like a billygoat on The Rock and making like the director of a show, one of the grandest magnitude, one where the ocean’s the fuckin’ stage and we’re but players fighting it out for a cash-in-hand extra’s slot. He barks his charges in with a machine gun staccato.

Yup. Yup. Nup. Nup. Yup.

Like black or red on the fuckin’ pokies.

The bloke out front levers himself to the spot. He’s a most unsurferly wisp, this fella. Sunken smoker’s chest. Cheap smudgy tatt on his pale left shoulder. He get’s a yup. Doesn’t fuck about. Plunges boardlong into the keyhole’s boiling mush.

Sea breathes in.

Sea breathes out.

And Wispy’s exhaled out the rear, back arched, chook arms chuggin’.

Bird’s up next, the languid one who you see down here. Turns heads with her Diaz legs and that blue and white striped mal. Can surf, this one. Nimble. Graceful. Lean. Her old man’s here a bit, too. Clingin’ to that saggin’ ex-clubbie frame, the old fella. Cranky lookin’ point-hog, all sunspots and seen-it-all machismo. That snarl’s foolin’ no one. He knows what they’re thinkin’, these blokes who ogle his baby. He was one of ‘em back in the day. It’s killin’ him.

She leaps, his girl.

Sea breathes in.

Sea breathes out.

Feet skyward, she hardly seems to stroke before she’s sucked around the corner and gone, hair still dry as bone.

My turn now. Billygoat’s all earnest instructiveness.

Hold on. Wait. Hold on.

Then he baulks, sits bolt upright.

YUP. GO. GO. GO!

So I dive into the brine.

Sea breathes in.

Sea holds it fuckin’ breath.

World pauses.

I battle for the corner, but I’m retarded by a numbskull current that can’t get its shit together.

By the time I’m around, it’s a steamin’ gurglin’ wall of fuckin’ white.

*

I bail.

What else?

I’m clamberin’ downwards lookin’ for safe depth but there’s no grip in this kind of airy green stew. Bubbles of nothin’. Just like the chocolate. Board gets caught and tugs at me like a shopping centre mum would a wayward toddler. No fuckin’ idea where I’m goin’. Hug my arms to my head. Save the noggin. Guessed it wrong. Shoulda thought of my ribs. Like a fuckin’ gunshot, the pain. How the ages shaped that rock. How they moulded it and cajoled it. How tides sharpened it just so. And how the water carries the thud as I introduce myself to its evolution. I clutch for the hurt and as I do drag my elbow on stone. Skin rips. Salt bites at a new wound.

Sea breathes out.

Dumps me on barnacles and whatever other godforsaken fuckin’ gremlins grow on that stone. Board’s in two bits, both bobbing, the smaller piece still attached to my ankle.

There’s a fuckin’ rockhopper standin’ there. Frozen solid, he is. Bucket and rod and just gawkin’ like American Gothic oceanside. Useless, he is. I know the feeling. There’s blood from a wound in my side just like the fuckin’ Romans gave to Jesus. The one that didn’t even bleed. The one that told him the time was nigh. The death prod. They teach you all that fable crap at school. They don’t teach you to jump The Rock. Note to fuckin’ educators everywhere – get your shit in order.

Sea breathes in.

I rise with it and cling to the cunjie like bloated tick. I’m too fucked to go any further, too scared to let go.

After a bit I shimmy my way around and cop the cut feet and the grazed gut just to get free. Safe, I reel in my board’s lower half. Some kid hands me its torso. Blood’s down my shins, dripping off my fingertips. Elbow’s aflame. Rashy’s been got at by Freddie Krueger.

“Fuck,” the kid says, eyes fixed on the red rivulets spreading across my feet. It’s all he can manage.

And up against a clear sky sits The Rock, a fuckin’ great proud slab of conqueror.

Billygoat’s bailed now, too. Well he fuckin’ might.

Car park can’t come soon enough.

I ignore the stares and just keep on trudgin’.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment