Tag Archives: Brisbane

Surviving the heat while the world’s watching

A Writer on how the story often gets told regardless.

THE world will be watching Brisbane, Queensland, for the upcoming G20 economic summit in the city. For a few weeks, if they’re savvy, international media (and social media) will be capturing stories straight from the heart of the Australian state named for Queen Victoria.

The last time this heightened media attention occurred was the focus on Russia’s gay and lesbian rights track record in the lead-up to February’s Sochi 2014 winter Olympics opening ceremony.

“Once the disenfranchised have a name, they can never remain a blind spot, even for an entire nation.”

At that time, equality advocates in Australia really had nothing to crow about.

When the same inquiring analysis cast its eye over Australia’s human rights standards at the Sydney summer Olympics in 2000, we were found wanting, and I don’t believe we’ve ever really recovered.

International press attention found the majority of Australians ignorant when it came to knowledge of Aboriginal culture and politics, and with Aboriginal athletes and performers taking centre stage at the world’s largest sports carnival, there really was no excuse for us to have so little idea about even the basics.

Fourteen years ago, I doubt most Australians could name the traditional Aboriginal nation in which they resided. I thought I did, until I realised I was living right at the junction of at least six of them.


I learned this not from my formal education, but from maps exhibited at Australia’s interpretive show for the world about the history of this land, once considered a ‘new’ world by European explorers, but in reality an island continent inhabited by the oldest established culture on earth.

These days, the names of Aboriginal nations are commonplace. The issue doesn’t stop there, of course, but once the disenfranchised have a name, they can never remain a blind spot, even for an entire nation.

In time, I believe an observable change in Aboriginal equality will stem from the year of the Sydney Olympics, because after the world witnessed the human face of our country, Australians had no more excuses for ignorance.

During the penultimate moments of the Olympic flame lighting, a technical glitch caused the rising movement of the cauldron structure to malfunction. It was supposed to rise around Kuku Yalanji and Birri Gubba woman of Far North Queensland, and international athlete, Cathy Freeman.

The four-minute pause allowed the world to take a longer-than-planned look at a living, breathing, self-defining Aboriginal Australian woman. Australians were in the box seat for the viewing – we probably needed to witness it more than anyone – and with the technical fault’s tinge of embarrassment, the reality of Cathy Freeman can never be extricated from the moment.

BANNED BANNER One of many which will not be seen by international delegates at the G20 in Brisbane.
BANNED BANNER One of many which will not be seen by international delegates at the G20 in Brisbane.

Australians should consider ourselves lucky we got off very lightly compared to other Olympic human rights controversies, and we should not point the finger so quickly at others. If we do, we’re forgetting the sting of the Olympic human rights flame as it shone the light on us.

It will be interesting to see if the cream of international political conservatism is allowed to learn anything while they’re staying in Turrbal country in the place known as Meanjin since long before it was renamed Brisbane by European settlers.

Early signs from the G20 are not promising, after billboards promoting action on climate change were banned by the Brisbane Airport Corporation, and Aboriginal offices have been forcibly closed by Brisbane City Council without adequate explanation.

We can only hope for a technical glitch to get the real story to the world.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.


A Tempest brings a sea-change

SEA CHANGE Miranda and the Tempest, by John William Waterhouse.
SEA CHANGE ‘Miranda and the Tempest’, by John William Waterhouse.

A Writer encounters a new state.

IN 2012, my husband Richard and I decided to move from our home in the Blue Mountains of NSW, to a subtropical island off the coast of Brisbane in Queensland, a day’s drive to the north.

This rather major decision came about organically. We had an argument – one of those all-day, episodic ones where you get thinking time between confrontations. It wasn’t about what he said or what I said, in the end. It was about what we were doing in the Mountains, how we were managing our finances, who was happy in their job (or not), and where we were going.

We kissed and made-up, and decided to move. Just like that.

We told our family and closest friends, which made it real. Almost frighteningly real. They all kindly put up objections and perceived barriers, which only showed the love they have for us, and brought pangs of doubt.

But we still went through with it.

William Shakespeare invented the term ‘Sea-change’, not the Real Estate Institute of Australia. In what is believed to have been his last epic play, The Tempest, ironically set on an island, he wrote a song of comfort for the sprite Ariel to sing to Ferdinand, whose father has drowned …

“Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,

Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange,
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell,
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong, bell.”

The song speaks of something good, something new and unusual emerging from something that has been lost.

Our Blue Mountains house, where we’d renovated a stunning old garden, took less than 24 hours to sell once the ‘for sale’ sign went up, which was a sign indeed.

Synonymous with somewhere

Not long before we moved I noticed someone found their way to my blog via googling ‘Michael Burge Blue Mountains’.

Turns out my online profile has me digitally-linked to the place in which I lived, on and off (mainly on), since 1979.

For some reason that made me reluctant to move – I had become part of the fabric of the place, in a sense. Will I ever be as synonymous with another place in this lifetime?

Many Mountains people say: “You never leave the Mountains, you always end up returning”, and in my case, that happened five times in 33 years. It’s almost scary how often I slunk back up the hill, tail between my legs, and found solace in that unique part of the world, stuck on a gigantic rock surrounded by endless bushland.

I learnt, loved, lived, and lost here. I would still like my ashes scattered in the Jamison Valley when I am dead. Perhaps that may never change.

MAGIC MORETON A bay full of stories.
MAGIC MORETON A bay full of stories.

What country, friends, is this?

Richard grew up in south-east Queensland, including time in Kenmore, Brisbane, so he knows this country.

From he and his family I’ve picked up a bit of a Brisbane north-south divide (in Sydney it’s east-west), with the Brisbane River being the borderline.

We’re technically living the south side, but, being on an island, I claim to have moved offshore altogether.

Before moving, I felt Queensland had to prove its mettle a bit more before I professed to be a resident. We needed to get to know one another first. Based on early signs (like Campbell Newman’s move to rescind part of the civil unions legislation, and his decision to cut the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards) I felt Queensland and I were going to have a few issues.

In the lead-up to the 2013 federal election, we were faced with having to vote for someone in our new electorate, the division of Bowman, which is also known as Redland City. I decided to interview all the local candidates for a political website – No Fibs – so I could understand more about this region though its politics. What I found was eye-opening.

I didn’t understand why those on north of the Brisbane River look down on those in the south, until we went to an exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane about our new home, Moreton Bay.

There within the records and artefacts were the stories of the men and women, Aboriginal and European, who carved out an existence on the archipelago off the seaboard of Greater Brisbane – the convicts, lepers, outcasts and misfits of a penal colony, and the Quandamooka people who came before all of us.

I got goosebumps learning about the courageous ones who reached out to people in need across these islands, and this misfit felt a sense of place, after being here only just over a year.

There’s a whole lot more to Australia than the little patch of land clustered around Port Jackson, which some people have convinced themselves is worth an average of a million dollars for a tiny patch. Islands are places of mythology, and there’s plenty of local myths about Coochiemudlo and its neighbours. Many of us like to keep it that way, because it means our reality ranks amongst Australia’s best kept secrets.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.