Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Stolen Wages

Anatomy of an example of activism via social media 

Not a month goes by when I don't pause and reflect on what a game changer social media has been.

At the end of the day, out would come the tins of tobacco. The blocks of tobacco would be carved, and the shards turn to splinters when rubbed together between two work ready palms.  
The air would fill with the hollow pop of lips smacking on a pipe, and clouds of white smoke coating the deep, lush sounds of a radio playing softly in the night.

Yes, using social media takes confidence and skill. It is not as easy as some make it look, and you need to invest some time.

Take hunting for example.

You need to understand what you are trying to catch, how it moves, what it’s habits are, and is it a risk to you.

How to catch it – do you use a weapon or a lure?

Do you chase it, or make it come to you? Or do you build (an interest in a potentially sensitive and awkward conversation) a trap from river stones, that it (community awareness) simply swims into and waits until you pull it out to cook on those coals you have waiting on the riverbank?

And the beauty about social media is at times like this, I don’t need to repeat what I have already said before. And here’s one I prepared earlier about where my confidence comes from.

I have a list of social justice issues that I keep an eye on.

Take Stolen Wages as an example. 

I've blogged regularly on both my family’s experiences and updates on efforts to have recognition and compensation for the indelible stain and catastrophic impact on the Aboriginal people who lived, worked, and the many who died, building the pastoral industry in NSW, Queensland and WA.

How much do you think Australia wants to talk about this? How much do you think is even known?

Tuning into ABC Radio National a couple of weeks ago, I listened to an entire interview about the glory days when Australia rode on the sheep’s back, the families who owned the sheep stations were the equivalent of the Australian aristocracy, the country was one of the wealthiest in the world, and on and on the interview went, and had clearly benefitted from a lot of research - but there was not one mention of the Aboriginal workers.
 " We were like slaves. "  
– Aunty Mary Stanton (nee Lamb)

So I took to Twitter and tweeted links (see below) to the Bush Telegraph show, and was soon involved in a discussion with people who had shearers in their families. They had no knowledge that Aboriginal workers were not fully paid for their labour, despite putting in just as much work as the non Aboriginal men they worked beside in the sheds and yards.

You need to know that it was a respectful, productive discussion. I can’t fault someone for not learning these facts - and so many others about Australian history and Indigenous people’s treatment for over two hundred years – if such information was not included in the 12 years of schooling they received, and I am guessing their tertiary education as well.

It is not their fault they do not know. But I feel it incumbent on myself to share knowledge when I can get a person’s ear. Radio is very good for that.

So I was thrilled when ABC Radio National took note of the twitter discussion, which led to an invitation from Bush Telegraph to talk about my family’s experiences living and working on sheep stations from the 1940s in a live radio interview.

Initially I was reluctant and suggested there were people far better informed than I and I’d defer to them rather than take the fifteen minute spotlight.

The Stolen Wages campaign has been active for over fifteen years and backed up by ethical and extensive research.

Long story short…

Here is my interview – and in a proud moment for me, I was invited to talk about my family, and my grandfather’s photo made it onto the Radio National website. 

Bob Lamb, Shearer, c1960s
The Aboriginal station workers; the domestics, the shearers and the drovers, all made an incalculable and significant contribution to Australia's prosperity.

140 characters at a time, Siv Parker tells the story of her family, on a sheep station in Western NSW."

And the following week, members of the Stolen Wages campaign were also interviewed and an excellent feature posted to the ABC Radio National website is here:

 For almost a century, tens of thousands of Indigenous Australians were forced to work for pastoral stations, missions and government reserves for little more than pocket money. Some have called it legalised slavery and are now fighting to recoup stolen wages. Verica Jokic reports.

That’s activism – social media style.

You can either stand on the bank and try to catch a fish by throwing rocks at it, or you can make a trap – or better yet use the fish traps that have been in place for 50,000 years, and wait for the fish to come to you. 

And it’s less traumatic for the fish.