This is my personal perspective. Other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people may feel differently. To the suggestion of using PR consultants to reposition ourselves in the Australian national psyche, I say “why not?”

It is not us that need a makeover but our image so, as long as we get to call the shots, there’s no real reason to be threatened by or frightened by the idea. I’d call it “bush cunning” to use all available resources.

It should go without saying that we are people and not the latest brand of breakfast cereal or light beer. And we’re not helpless or hopeless victims either. So we’d need a thoughtful, sensitive approach. Rather than sitting around lamenting the fact that things aren’t good, we should “suck it up” as they say, get smart, and find ways to inspire Australians to care more about us (and other groups within Australian society who generally get a raw deal).

Money is always an obstacle but if it wasn’t…

Rather than some well-meaning “bleeding heart” marketing firm who’d tell us what we want to hear, we’d need a pragmatic firm who knew their business backwards and would tell us the sometimes-brutal truth. We’d need to truly understand the attitudes we’re really dealing with. Use research, focus testing, whatever’s necessary to move beyond the horror stories to really break attitudes down.

While not glossing over realities, we should generally apply a light touch and, on occasions, humour. There’s no need to be heavyhanded about things and there are plenty of studies to show that people switch off when they see misery on the telly. I think we should allow audiences to join the dots for themselves, encourage them to extend themselves. At the end of an ad, I’d ask TV viewers a question like “What’d be the Aussie thing to do?”

We don’t need to be “cheesey” but we do need to make people feel good about doing the right thing as Australians. We need to instill a good dose of goose bumps, we need to make people feel stirringly Australian.

I’d like a campaign to focus on the courage (guts), decency (fairness), ingenuity (smarts), humour and irreverence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. It is no coincidence that these are the attributes that non-Indigenous Australians generally associate with being an “Aussie”. We’re different but the same.

Creating such empathy, an ability to relate, would be a great beginning. Most Australians are not stupid and I think we need to have some trust that this will start many people on a path. Encourage them, the next time they are presented with an opportunity, to do the right (and sometimes quite different) thing.

In order to do this, I’d draw upon a variety of great historic and contemporary partnerships between black and white Australians. Some would be well-known, others would be “everyday”. For example:

  • Lady Jessie Street walking alongside Faith Bandler and other FCAATSI mob in the call for a referendum
  • Vincent Lingiari declaring “we’re all mates now” after Gough Whitlam poured sand through his hand to signify the return of Gurindji land in 1975
  • The Wilcannia Mob learning rhyming and hiphop from whitefella Morganics and then going onto record the Triple J hit “Down River”.
  • Sydney swans team-mates Michael O’Loughlin and Big Bazza (Barry) Hall.
  • Manduway Yunupingu and the boss of Alcan
  • 2004 Australian Idol Casey Donovan and runner-up Anthony Callea
  • A crowded carload of Aboriginal people coming upon some “grey nomad” tourists stranded with a flat tyre on a bush track and giving them a lift into town.

I’d involve some persuasive, charismatic, admired messengers. Who truly “speaks to” who? There’d have to be some obvious candidates: sportspeople, musicians, entertainers, all-round good blokes and good sorts. I’d chuck a few surprise packages in there too, for example a pastoralist, a miner, an old white fulla or old duck, a few groovy young things, a conservative or distinctly “right” politician, a suited businessman or businesswoman. Again, some would be well known, some would be “everyday”.

I’d hammer home examples of how every single person can make a difference, that big things truly can grow from little things. We’d need the biggest mob of Indigenous Australians, too, to sign up for the task, to be prepared to say “ask me every stupid question you’ve ever wanted to ask about us and I’ll try hard not to take offence lightly”. At the end of the day, we’ve got to be able to have a robust national discussion, not tippy-toe around very real issues and attitudes. There’s too much at stake.

Peter Fray

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