Hard News by Russell Brown


Draped in their flag

As agreed in yesterday's discussion thread, Australian Big Day Out promoter Ken West made a terrible blue when he told a journalist there would be a ban (it was never official) on bringing the Australian flag to the Sydney BDO, which takes place on the day before Australia Day.

John Howard, doubtless sensing opportunity, leapt in to decry the "stupid" and "offensive" call, sparking a political stampede in which an immigration minister declared that the government should ban the event if the promoters didn't back down. Wow. You will comply.

But it's worth looking at the context of West's remark. Last year's Sydney BDO was held on Australia Day, not long after the Cronulla race riots. Longtime punter Bernard Zuel describes the vibe in a Sydney Morning Herald column:

For a start, there was no escaping it. If you weren't facing a sweaty, frying-in-the-sun bloke - and it was almost always a man - waving a flag in front of or at you, the image of the flag was on bikinis, T-shirts, bandannas, bare backs and sunburnt faces.

Then there were the happy drunks grabbing a hand and wishing you "happy Australia Day mate" - something I have never heard anyone say in 39 years in Australia - and the slightly less happy drunks barking the declaration "I'm Australian, mate" or less eloquently than that, "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi oi oi".

Maybe it was my imagination, but there seemed an even stronger than usual response in the heat of the day to Australian acts on the main stages, from the retro rock of Wolfmother to the strine-rich hip-hop of Hilltop Hoods. They weren't just good bands on a bill with a swagger of international acts, they were "Our Bands".

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was not enough for many of the patriots to announce themselves, to enjoy their moment for themselves. Everyone else was required to participate, to affirm and in some instances, as one letter writer to the Herald reported, to kiss the flag.

There are now multiple accounts available of the enforced flag-kissing - and of beatings administered to those who failed to comply.

Here's another punter's story:

"People were wearing the Australian flag and were a bit racist. There was a group of Middle Eastern people sitting down and they went up to them and said `you're not Australians'.

"They were really, really drunk. There was this real yob mentality.

"I told them to bugger off and they started yelling at me, saying I wasn't Australian because I wasn't behaving like them.

"If you weren't with them, you were against them.

"When one of the singers said she didn't agree with John Howard's policies, she had beer cans thrown at her."

If I'd been a Kiwi wandering around the Sydney BDO minding my own business, would I have been obliged to kiss some bully's flag? Or would my white skin have saved me the grief?

Here's a little racist stupidity in response from the Australian blogosphere:

I have just about had enough of all this racial crap that has evolved sice 9/11.

Have you looked past your own backyard yet?? The BAD guys are winning!

I never had a problem with any race prior to 9/11. Now if I say no to a middle easterner, I get told it’s because he’s a middle easterrner. If I want my police force to wear the Australian Police uniform & not turbans & scarves, I am showing intollerance to another race. It went from Merry Christmas to Happy Holidays. These are just a few of the many changes. And now to say “don’t wave the Australian flag” the day before Australia Day, for fear it will incite others into violence???

Have they any idea how many people like myself who embraced multiculturalism, now cringe at every change to our Australia lifestyle?

The only people who are inciting racism are the ones who are changing every part of our Australian lifestyle. What they seem to forget is…. people are “meant” to move here because of what a great country it is. Not to make it greater in their image.

So Australians wave your flag…. if you dont like it, go home. It’s just that simple.

And more.

There are times when I am grateful for New Zealand's rather diffident take on nationalism and national days.

Anyway, as we agreed in yesterday's discussion, West blew it badly. The smarter move would have been to ban all flags and banners on safety grounds, rather than blurt what West did, but his concerns were not entirely without foundation.

I know a little of how promoters think, and when you're responsible for the safety of 50,000 intoxicated people on a confined site, the conduct described above is poison. (Bear in mind also, that the Australian Open was marred last week by nationalistic brawls between ethnic Serbs and Croats.) For West and his promotion partner Vivian Lees, this is an event on which they've based their lives: one which relies hugely on peaceful, boisterous, co-existence. They can hardly be blamed for getting the fear.

And if you think that simply removing drunken bullies is a painless solution, you may be a politicians. You have certainly never been a concert promoter.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of Hilary Clinton. Is she capable of working as US president? Easily. Is she electable? This intriguing Atlantic Monthly story, moved out from behind the magazine's paywall on occasion of her candidacy, suggests her ability to win friends and influence people should not be underestimated.

Meanwhile, the winger talking points on Barack Obama are distributed, in an array of flimsy smears based on his race, his name and the fact that he attended a Muslim school in Indonesia as a six year-old. The slime is being attributed by those peddling it to the Clinton campaign, but that seems highly unlikely. Even if Hilary were that evil, she's not that stupid. But it hardly bears thinking about how ugly the next US presidential campaign will become.

The Beast's quite scurrilous 50 Most Loathsome People in America, 2006 is a good read.

In the wake of the iPhone, there's a larger-scale demonstration of multi-touch sensing (from the TED conference) available on YouTube. There are obvious applications for data visualisation and music and graphic composition. It makes those Star Trek control consoles look a bit dull. Prediction: in the future people will wash their hands a lot more.

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