Friday, 30 November 2012

Remembering Incarcerated Indigenous Mothers and Children

By Ruth Skilbeck

At Christmas this year, as so many gather with their families to celebrate the year and lives together, spare a thought for all the Indigenous mothers locked up in prison and their children who are unable to celebrate. 

Ongoing research conducted in Australia, led by Professor Eileen Baldry professor of criminology at the Social Policy Research Centre at the University of New South Wales,  shows that once an indigenous person enters the juvenile justice system at an early age the statistics show a very high chance that they will continue to be imprisoned repeatedly throughout their entire lives; Indigenous people are routinely incarcerated for minor offences; and that Indigenous mothers with traumatic mental and cognitive health disorders including brain injuries caused by violence and domestic violence are disproportionately represented and their numbers are rising as the policy of penalization has strengthened in recent years. 

 Australian Research Council funded research, The Australian Prisons Project, led by Professor Baldry, shows that this policy is not working neither as a deterrent or as a solution to social problems of social disadvantage- nor to the mental health and cognitive health problems that are leading to increasing numbers of Indigenous mothers in prison: it causes mass recidivism, frequent returns to prison, and costs the State prohibitive amounts for each repetitively imprisoned Indigenous mother over their lifetime

The groundbreaking international Australian research shows that mass incarceration, the preferred ‘solution’ to crimes of poverty and social disadvantage over the past three decades in ‘post’ colonial countries, has not worked, early imprisonment of Indigenous girls and young women- in juvenile detention centres does not deter crime but leads to lifetime returns to prison, a social failure which is now conclusively proven to be a highly costly economic as well as social burden (Baldry 2012) to ‘decolonizing’ societies around the world.

New creative and humane solutions are needed to address the complex problems eventuating from the impacts of the 'Stolen Generations' policies as the old 'solution' of mass incarceration has been shown not to work. 

©Copyright Ruth Skilbeck  30 November 2012

Baldry, Eileen and Cunneen, Chris (2012) ‘Contemporary Penality in the Shadow of Colonial  

                            Patriarchy ‘ in Coventry, Garry & Shincore, Mandy (Eds.). (2012) Proceedings of the 5th

           Annual Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference July 7 and 8, 2007.  James Cook University, Cairns Campus. Townsville, Queensland: James Cook University. ISBN 978-0-9808572-4-5.

Baldry, Eileen, Dowse, Leanne, Clarence, Melissa (2012) “People with Mental and Cognitive Disabilities: Pathways into Prison.” Background Paper for Outlaws to Inclusion Conference, February 2012.

Yothu Yindi’s Powerful ‘Child and Mother’ Musical Advocacy

 By Ruth Skilbeck

Tonight’s induction of influential Aboriginal band Yothu Yindi into the ARIA (Australian Record Industry Awards) Hall of Fame, at the 2012 ARIA awards ceremony, at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, is a just and well deserved recognition not only of the band’s powerful emotive music that marries traditional Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal rock-dance sounds, but also of the wide-reaching social and cultural influence the band and its members have had, in Australia’s cultural life through their music and political advocacy since the 1980s.

In tonight’s award ceremony the band played a rousing version of their landmark song Treaty (1991) and were joined on stage  by singer-songwriter Paul Kelly (co-writer of Treaty) and Education minister Peter Garret, who before he became a politician had a career as frontman of band Midnight Oil.

The song was written by Paul Kelly and Yothu Yindi members, prompted by band leader Mandawuy Yunipingu and his older brother Galarrwuy’s desire to write a song to highlight lack of progress on the proposed treaty between Aboriginal peoples and the federal government, following Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke’s visit to the Northern Territory in 1988 as part of the Bicentennial celebrations for the Barunga festival where he was presented by a statement of political objectives by Galarrwuy Yunuuupingu. Hawke responded by promising that a treaty would be concluded with Aboriginal Australia by 1990.

In 1991 when no treaty had eventuated, the song Treaty with its sardonic lines “Well I heard it on the radio. And I saw it on the television” was Mandawuy Yunupingu’s response - which expressed Aboriginal feelings about the lack of action; this was a phrase that was later echoed by Aboriginal activist and academic Marcia Langton, in her book on Aboriginal media and cultural studies.

Twenty-one years later, the song’s call for Reconciliation is as relevant and as much needed as it was then.

Formed in 1986 and still going strong, the band comprises Aboriginal members from the Yolngnu homelands in Arnheim Land in the Northern Territory, and balanda non-Aboriginal members; and their music combines influences of Aboriginal and western musical cultures.  The founding members include leader, Mandawuy Yunupingu on vocals and guitar; Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu on keyboards, guitar and percussion; Witiyana Markia on manikay, traditiuonal vocals, Cal Williams on lead guitar; and Studat Kellaway on bass guitar.

The name of the band Yothu Yindi means ‘child and mother’, in Yolngu language of the Northern Territory homelands where some of the band members come from, and signifies the importance given to the relation between mother and child in the music and outlook of the band who represented the struggles of Indigenous peoples against colonial assimilation, and provided a powerful emotional voice, and some deadly dance tracks, in political protest songs. The subliminal reference in their name is to healing the pain of the Stolen Generations where for over 60 years- from 1906-1967 – it was official policy, part of the 'white Australia' policy, following Federation to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from their mothers, and place them in mission homes, in state homes, or into adoption, in a self-justifying policy that promoted the view that Aboriginal peoples were a ‘dying race’. History and the resilience of Aboriginals peoples has proven otherwise; and the new movements for Reconciliation is proof of the progress that is being made.

The band helped to found the Yothu Yind Foundation in 1990 to promote Yolngu cultural development, and from 1999 have produced the annual Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures. From May 2007 this has included running the Dilthan Yolngunha, or Healing Place. 

“I’m dreaming of a brighter day, When the waters will be one” Yothu Yindi, Treaty

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Queensland says 'Sorry' for history of forced adoptions

Australia's history of forced adoptions has been the subject of recent and ongoing university research, which has led to community acknowledgements, and state government recognitions and as a consequence, has been in the news this week as yesterday, the Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman made an official apology to all those in Queensland who were affected by this policy implemented between the 1950s and 1970s which caused  lifelong pain and suffering to unmarried mothers, and their children who were taken from them.

This follows the official apologies of five other states in Australia and is a very significant step towards healing - through recognition, of the pain and suffering that this policy caused.

What has not been mentioned in the media coverage is the enormous and ongoing impacts of the 'Stolen Generations' policy of removal of children who were not "100% Aboriginal" from their mothers,  many of whom were raped by white men under a brutal policy of assimilation in which it was said that the Aboriginal peoples were a 'dying race' and would be gone in three generations, in 1906 which heralded the beginning of Federation and the start of the White Australia policy which only officially ended in 1967 when an Australian wide referendum resulted in Aboriginal peoples being allowed to vote, for all this time Aboriginal peoples were classified as 'fauna'.

We are still waiting for Reconciliation- and the proper recognition of Aboriginal people - in the Australian constitution.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Presenting at Beyond Historicism: Resituating Samuel Beckett conference

More conferencing....Presenting my research paper on critical matrixical feminist methodology applied to reading Beckett,  at the Beyond Historicism: Resituating Samuel Beckett conference, hosted by Global Irish Studies Centre UNSW and Macquarie University, at the University of New South Wales  7-8 December 2012.

Playing Beyond Historicism and Trauma: A Matrixical Feminist Reading of Beckett’s ‘Art of Fugue’.

By Ruth Skilbeck

As an arts journalist who has often sought to come to a deeper meaning of a text through interviewing its creator, and through reading the text in the context of the author’s life and times, it would be disingenuous to pretend that I can approach the dual proposition of the critical concept of Beyond Historicism and the texts of Samuel Beckett, with an entirely virgin gaze. But I have an open mind to the project of going beyond historicism, as I am not enamored of what I see as New Historicism’s heavily biased male perspective that led to an over determined focus on concepts of, male-defined, power tending to concentrate on, for example, punitive gazes of surveillance and panopticon. Instead I bring to this project of re-reading Beckett, ‘beyond historicism’, a critical perspective that I will term matrixical feminism.  My reading of a selection of Beckett’s prose works, focuses on the musicality and play, and ‘notional worlds’ of exiled writer Beckett’s performative texts, and on what he does with language that goes beyond verbal language to the “pre semiotic chora” (Kristeva) the felt yet ‘grown beyond’ body of the mother, where the mother is also the internalized yet absent, and ‘left behind’ mothertongue that resonates, fugally, in his texts. In this paper I read Beckett through literary trauma theory impacted by colonialism and exile, fugal critical analysis, and referring to Badiou, but return to a literary critical matrixical feminist reading that draws on post-Freudian feminist psychoanalytic theory and goes beyond historicism.

Dr Ruth Skilbeck is a Lecture in the Journalism and Media Research Centre and staff member of the Global Irish Studies Centre at The University of New South Wales.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Presentation at Interventions: Reflections, Critiques, Practices - Australian Women's and Gender Studies Biennial Conference 20

On Friday I gave my research paper at the Australian Women's and Gender Studies Biennial Conference 2102. The conference theme,  Interventions: Reflections, Critiques, Practices, inspired a paper on the women's at movement and its most recent manifestations in the mother's art movement; in the event the paper deviated into giving an account of how in the process of researching the women's art movement and contemporary women artists, moving into researching the mother in art, that I moved from art journalism and writing about other women artists to writing about my own experiences and hidden histories in my family background, the cultural history of colonialism in Australia, which has become my main research focus.

Ruth Skilbeck (University of New South Wales)
From WAM to MAM: Feminist Mothers’ Creative and Political Interventions in Contemporary Art and Arts Journalism
The 1970s Women’s Art Movement became a key driver of social and cultural change as women mobilised internationally demanding the right to participate in cultural life and in the art world, not, as in the disciplinary patriarchal traditions of art history, in supporting roles: objects of desire, models and wives; but as subjects, and artists in their own right. However, in the bid for equality many second wave feminists denounced motherhood as collusion with the patriarchy, evidence of ‘sleeping with the enemy’; they renounced motherhood on political grounds. This paper reflectively explores the proposition that women who created lasting social and political change by seeking to do motherhood differently made more radical and complex interventions—as feminist artists and writers and mothers. Over the past five years, there have been numerous survey exhibitions that reflect on the impacts of 1970s women’s art movement and feminism on contemporary art movements and art practice by women now; alongside and intersecting with ‘queer studies’ a new inclusive international ‘Mother Art Movement’ has emerged in third wave feminism. In this historical and present-day context, the author reflects on her experience of media intervention—as feminist, mother, and arts journalist- by starting up an international arts writing media business, Art Features International, a platform from which she continues to interview and publish media stories, and scholarly articles, on prominent international contemporary artists, including Mary Kelly ‘founding mother’ of the 1970s international women’s art movement, Tracey Emin, and ‘Aboriginal urban’ Australian women artists, Tracey Moffat, Fiona Foley, and Bianca Beetson. This paper reflects on the author’s practice as a feminist arts journalist and scholar, and discusses key issues of interventions by ‘feminist-and-mother’ artists and arts writers in Australia, and internationally.
Dr Ruth Skilbeck is a widely published arts journalist, media producer and arts journalism scholar. She is a Lecturer on the MA in Journalism and Communication at the Journalism and Media Research Centre, in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, at the University of New South Wales.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Save Art in Education’s Week of 'ArtRage' Action

 By Ruth Skilbeck

No good at Art and slippery at Maths: NSW Liberal gov “loses" $1 bill

In September the Barry O’Farrell Liberal Government of NSW announced cuts of $1.7 million to public education, specifically targeting Fine Art courses in TAFE technical and further education colleges, which if carried out will result in widespread job losses and threatened closures of art schools across the state in regional and rural areas. The economic rationale given for the cuts by the NSW government was supposedly that the NSW economy is in the red. However it has recently been revealed- after the cuts were announced- that mistakes were made in the accounting figures and that the NSW economy is really $1 billion in the black.

Rather surprisingly there have been no retractions announced, or proposals for how this extra $1 billion is going to be spent.

All of this adds up to a picture of gross inefficiency, non-transparency and bungling –or even worse- on the part of the incumbent NSW Liberal Government. For a start how could they manage to “lose” I billion in their sums- where was that 1 billion going to go to when it went missing- and at the same time the government announces that to “pay for this” Art and public education is being axed and artists and art teachers are to lose their jobs and students across the state?

These questions need to be asked publicly, loudly.
The government has to be accountable.


An estimated 4,000 people turned out on Sunday at a day of family action at Tumbalong Park in Sydney’s Darling Harbour, to protest Education cuts and show support for the activism against the NSW Liberal government’s increasingly unpopular anti public Education and Art education measures.