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Thursday 9 July 2015

Frankie Boyle and the Aborigines

If you enjoy laughing and have ever watched the British (knowing laugh) nihilistic comedian Frankie Boyle I very much doubt that you have never laughed at his jokes.

The joke about the Queen's vagina being haunted? If you heard it I would bet that something akin to laughter ensued.

Yet that and other comedic transgressions has resulted in transgressive Frankie being banished by the evil English establishment.

Except it hasn't.

Oh no. We have the BBC commissioning a show headed by Boyle after the Scottish referendum and then another commission for online after the UK General Election. Some banishment. The Boyle election show was on the BBC iplayer homepage for weeks.

In his election show Boyle had two female comedians to bounce off and a 'Grime' commentator - aka a black British bloke. All of whom polished his mantle.

Now I can think of a number of bitchy conservatives who could have been a perfect foil to Boyle. Were they even considered? It would have made for great TV.

But why I am even asking this? Multi millionaire Boyle needs his 'safe space', bless. He has no history of stepping outside of his comfort zone but let's try. Here we go Frankie. Here's me puncturing your safe space.

The treatment of Australia and Australians by Boyle and his 'Grime' commentator Akala was colonialist and racist.

Boyle cherry picked a brief extract from Australian morning TV to showcase how Australians are all stupid fucking colonials and so so racist. This was as bad as the treatment of the 'colonials' by the Brits going way back has ever been. Barry Humphries, Private Eye and Humphries' Barry McKenzie character were satirising this Brit attitude in the 1970s (the 70s FFS).

We recently had the Gallipoli hundredth anniversary. Gallipoli in the Australian imagination is all about how the Brits have traditionally treated Aussies as subaltern. This stuff has form.

After his cherrypick, Boyle, backed by Akala, then underlined by calling Australia, quote, "the most racist country in the world".

Worse than Mali? Worse than Russia? Worse than India? Worse than Brazil?

Akala cited the utter revelation, to much of the audience I would assume, that Australian Aborigines 'used to be ruled by the Flora and Fauna Act'. This is actually a myth (the Act is) but the bigger point is that nearly fifty years ago Australians voted to end that mythical status, change the  Constitution and grant Aborigines citizenship by 91% in favour. Right now Australians are 85% in favour of proposals to change the Constitution to recognise Aboriginal people.

Why does Akala mention the (non existent) Flora and Fauna Act? To back Boyle's claim that Australia remains "the most racist country in the world".

Boyle's claim, with Akala's backing, does two things: it denies that white Australia has moved one centimeter on from the 1960s; it denies that Aboriginal and progressive activism has had any impact.

Obviously both are wrong. Clearly they are wrong. But both Akala and Boyle have an investment in denying the reality in Australia: their British audience will love to hear Australia called "the most racist country in the world" - and Akala and Boyle know it.

In order to make that claim both have to behave exactly like colonialists. Racist, British colonialists. And they have to fail to listen to Aboriginal people.

I wrote about this a few years back. Listening involves understanding that Aboriginal people have different opinions on how to advance the interests of their communities. (Of course they effing do.) There are some who want sovereignty to be central. (If Akala knew anything he would mention the absence of treaties.) Then there are others working with capitalism to create Aboriginal owned business and create jobs. And then there's the mass in between, trying to get on.

Outside of this we have white people like leftie icon John Pilger and environmentalists like newly minted BBC star Professor Tim Flannery who also have opinions. And don't they ever have opinions - and the whites always know better than the bad blackfellas.

Who is going to get the attention of the likes of Boyle/Akala (and countless other Brits)? Short answer: the white people. They'll know and trust someone like Pilger (Akala's comment is a 'tell' here) and have never heard of the likes of Professor Marcia Langton.

Langton has slammed Flannery and the "racist assumption in the green movement about Aboriginal people being the enemies of the wilderness." She is a leading light in the national debate around Aboriginal advancement and particularly the role of mining and is one of the most well known Aboriginal people in Australia. Yet when Pilger covered the area of Australia she has focused on in a film he flat out ignored her because she was an inconvenient black woman. What would you call that?

It is not going to even vaguely occur to Boyle/Akala what they're doing, namely that Aboriginal people in their world view may as well be regarded as 'flora and fauna' - invisible, lacking any agency. They're just going to be led by presumptions and ignorance and what white leftie icons say, for that is what it is.

Invisible: Two examples

Two examples of how this Aboriginal invisibility works for white people like Boyle - and, yes, also western black people like Akala.

First interview with the Native Women
at Port Jackson New South Wales’,
from the journal of William Bradley
Example one. Picture this. The BBC spends millions on a drama about the actual invasion of Australia in 1788. On the show there are absolutely no Aboriginal people or indication that the drama is happening in the land of the Eora. Not one black face. None. No shell middens. No burnt trees. And no one notices.

This is what happened with the blockbuster BBC series 'Banished'. Its writer, leftie icon Jimmy McGovern, was majorly called out by various Aboriginal writers, and many white Australians too, about how come no Aboriginal people appeared.

McGovern was interviewed by the ABC (Australia's public broadcaster) to launch 'Banished' in Australia and he said that it is the job of the ABC - not the BBC - to give an indigenous perspective on 1788. Excuse me but isn't the indigenous perspective part and parcel of the British experience of the invasion of Australia? Why should the BBC sell its viewers short or treat them like they're idiots or, worse, bigots?

As Ian Henderson, Director of the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King's College puts it:
"The explicit dilemmas we see Banished’s Governor Phillip confronting in fact all come back to the fundamental paradox of his orders: be nice to the natives while occupying their land. Not to let us see this is to deny viewers the wider intelligence the best television drama of today never forgets."
co-producer Sita Williams, who claimed it wasn’t supposed to be historically accurate.
“This is our 1788," she says, "... it isn't an historical drama, this is a drama inspired by the arrival of the first fleet in 1788."
- See more at:
co-producer Sita Williams, who claimed it wasn’t supposed to be historically accurate.
“This is our 1788," she says, "... it isn't an historical drama, this is a drama inspired by the arrival of the first fleet in 1788."
- See more at:
BBC co-producer Sita Williams claimed 'Banished' wasn’t supposed to be historically accurate, saying, and I am not making this up "this is our 1788."

Worse, McGovern said that his dramatic inspiration for the series lay in the idea that "on one side lies the ocean and on the other side lies the bush" which created "the most amazing prison". As Alecia Simmonds explains:
"This is nothing less than a fantasy of terra nullius [the imperialist legal fiction that Australia was "nobody's land"]. He is imagining an exclusively British settlement surrounded by wild nature depopulated of the Indigenous inhabitants. These ideas are echoed in McGovern's defense that it's "a story about British people in the British penal colony in New South Wales"."

What comes across loud and clear in these arguments is that they think it is neither the responsibility of McGovern or the BBC to actually represent that they are invading the land of another people. That the sole experience which, McGovern seems to be saying, they are capable of representing is the British one. Like these people had landed on a deserted island!

It wasn't Australians who invaded it was the British. For them to suggest that the BBC should not present drama about our imperial history which gives us the truth is outrageous. It is insulting.

Further, to point at the responsibility of the ABC rather than the BBC to represent first contact - which McGovern repeatedly, pleadingly claims in that ABC interview; like, poor thing, he had no choice - is wrong for the reasons stated but also flat out ignorant of what work the ABC has done! Sixteen years ago the ABC produced a fantastic series on the land war. Six years ago the other Australian public broadcaster, SBS, produced 'First Australians', which included 1788. Years before that there was 'Barbecuarea', a brilliant satire about first contact.

McGovern's chutzpah is breathtaking, yet unsurprising, because absolutely no British observer of 'Banished' noticed the absence of Aborigines. Check the reviews.

Well, except me. That's little old me (and the odd academic). I could have written and 'raised awareness' but, erm, aren't people like Boyle and Akala claiming to already be so very, very aware? And so very, very righteous? Is not that their schtick? Why did they not raise a fuss?

Example two. Picture this. A leftie icon runs for office and it is uncovered that they once claimed to be Aboriginal. It is then revealed that they aren't Aboriginal, that the institution they worked for got kudos from that stupid claim but the politician carries on saying she is Aboriginal because she has "high cheek bones". She refuses, numerous times, to talk to any Aboriginal people, shunning even those from her own political party, and those Aboriginal people asking the leftie icon questions are systematically trashed and excluded and denounced by the politician and her fans.

That was the election of American Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Absolutely no American leftie or liberal called 'the mother of Occupy Wall Street' out for her treatment of Aboriginal Americans. What those people did was accuse the Aboriginal Americans of being in the pay of her opponents and no platformed not just her accusers but any Aboriginal American. And rather than, election now over, talk to Aborigines Warren has carried on playing the victim.

This comment by a presenter for the liberal cable news station MSNBC, Melissa Harriss-Perry (who is black), is a typical example of how liberal and left America behaved:
"If candidate Warren grew up thinking she is Native American by heritage, who are we to say she is not?"

Because you do not get to decide, Melissa, sovereign nations aka tribes do! They make the rules, not you and certainly not Senator Warren.

The invisible Aborigine

Aboriginal people are always absent, always invisible. This is basic. It should be obvious to anyone thinking themselves a liberal or a leftie but it plainly is not.

Neither Boyle or Akala knows that either of those examples even happened because their 'alternative' information sources failed to report it happened. In the case of icon Warren's election that media chose to throw Aboriginal people under the bus.

When Boyle gets his laugh by saying that Australia remains "the most racist country in the world" it is not only a colonialist statement but it is also throwing Aboriginal people under the bus.

Why? Because it flat out ignores the achievements that Aboriginal Australia and its allies have made and is utterly and deliberately oblivious of what going on now. And it panders to the - how to call it? - fucked, ignorant and patronising attitude that Brits often have to white Australians.

Rant over, what to do about it

This makes me so angry I could rant on but instead I am thinking about what Brits can do, because this Brit ignorance Boyle and his mate demonstrate is so commonplace. The answer to ignorance is education, so, for a start, perhaps the BBC could show, alongside Danish history epics, the awesome drama about today's urban Aboriginal lives that is 'Redfern Now' and it could show the gobsmacking 'First Footprints', about how Aboriginal people transformed their continent's environment over tens of thousands of years, how they build monuments still there in the bush that are way older than the Pyramids, how they created the first representation of the human face. I cried watching First Footprints I am unashamed to say.

The BBC should show, at minimum, First Footprints! I want to know why it cannot and I also want to know why Australians do not appear to be lobbying for it to be shown.

And to help make that happen then, if you're reading this Frankie/Akala (or Jimmy McGovern), maybe you could utilise your clout to get these Aboriginal shows shown by th effin beeb?

(Forces commercial are scrubbing those shows from the interwebs but, heck, I found something left to embed after the break.)



  1. There is a certain irony that McGovern worked as a consultant on Redfern Now, making the complete omission of indigenous people from Banished all the more shocking.

  2. Sir, no particular axe to grind on this particular topic, I don't want to act like I'm arguing with you for the sake of it or trolling your post, but, you are misquoting Frankie Boyle and Akala somewhat. Boyle said Australia was "ONE OF the most racist countries in the world".

    When Frankie Boyle said that aboriginal people were 'treated as fauna and flora', Akala responded by citing a year, nearly fifty years ago, in which the legislation which they are alluding to was apparently rescinded.

    There is a difference in the context of what they are saying here, although certainly the drift of what they are saying is similar. But their words give no indication of agreeing that no progress whatsoever has been made since the 1960s. However I can see why you would find it galling that they have simply included a short clip of a news presenter being racist to highlight their point.

    As a UK resident I hadn't heard of Banished by the way, but yes a lack of Aboriginal characters does also sound galling.

    Final point, I have heard little about Marcia Langton before reading your article. But whilst potentially Pilger may disagree with her work and activism for some reason, unless she has been refused interviews in documentaries like Utopia it is difficult to surmise that she has been ignored as you put it?

  3. Thank you for your comment.

    Langton is well known as a leading figure around the potential for Aboriginal communities working with mining companies. The producers of Utopia would have known this as she was in the headlines whilst the doco was being made.

    They ignored her because she doesn't fit with the relentlessly negative narrative. That narrative is one very familiar to Australians, Pilger is not exposing anything for them. They are working on solutions. In the film Pilger's solutions are fantastical and, crucially, do not come from any consultation with Aborigines. He is just another 'white saviour.

    But foreigners, like Akala and Boyle, will be riled up by saviour leftie Pilger and want to know 'what is being done?' They won't learn from Pilger because he gives no voice to those actually doing something.