Michael McGirr, April 21-22 2012: Challenging the belief that Aboriginal stories are all sad, SMH Spectrum, p. 30
What a fantastic title for a review of Anita Heiss’ memoir, because there are a heck of a lot of depressing movies and books out there. The review started by pointing out the obvious strengths of Heiss’ career and contribution to Australian literature, but hit a sour note with a beguiling comment about the nasty Bolt business last year. I read the comment several times and quote below for your benefit:
“Bolt wrote things Heiss found hurtful and insulting, not least because, as she argues here, they were untrue”.
What is it about this seemly benign sentence that has left such a bitter taste in my mouth?
Bolt’s comments not only insulted Anita Heiss, they insulted the entire nation. There have been certain programs and entitlements put into place that go some small way to repairing the damage that has been done to generations of Indigenous men and women, elders, adults and children. Anita Heiss is Aboriginal, was, is and always will be. However, that is not the point. The claims that Bolt made were UNTRUE! By stating only that Anita was “hurt and insulted” by these comments, and using the qualifying statement that “she argues” that they are untrue undermines the dignity which Heiss maintained through the ordeal, and that Bolt publicly made untrue statements. Though she is Aboriginal, the “plum” positions she has held have been the result of hard work, persistence and the giving up of her own time as an unpaid volunteer. For more details and a typically eloquent explanation please read ANITA HEISS’ STATEMENT ON EATOCK VS HWT .
The review then goes on to further Bolt-like ignorance by questioning her relationship with her parents. Should Anita consider herself Austrian rather than Aboriginal because she was close with her father? What the reviewer seems to forget is that genetic background is but one aspect of an individual’s identity. Spoiler alert! She is also a woman, who grew from girl. She is entitled to have a close relationship with her father and still consider herself indigenous. Anita Heiss should write her next memoir entitled “Am I Female Enough for You?”, because while I am not indigenous myself, Anita Heiss is an inspiration to me as a woman.
As I read over the review again I wonder if the title is not ironic. I get the sense that Michael McGirr wants to be positive but the review is underwritten by a genuine lack of understanding of the historical and contemporary experiences of Aboriginal Australians. It is sad that McGirr likens consumerism to Catholicism. I can only shake my head. Let me explain: Harrods and Grace Bros. did not send sales assistants to Aboriginal communities in order to train the youth for servitude, etc, etc, etc. For further information on what shops did not do, but representatives of churches of all denominations did do read any number of sources, including The Bringing Them Home Report (1997) .
Anita made a comment on Facebook last year about a book that was poorly reviewed (please see previous post for more detailed discussion of review responsibilities). Sorry to say this review suffers from the same failings. While the review concludes thus:
“Her writing makes amiable and life-affirming company”
overall it just goes to show how little the majority of non-Indigenous Australians really understand about our own history, and why this is such an essential un-sad story for us all to read.