IT seems the older, richer and more privileged he becomes, the more Stan Grant likes to brandish his affliction. And despite decorating his weekend columns for the ABC with mostly European desk calendar quotations, the Q+A host may now be the only commentator left in Australia who makes gratuitous and disparaging references to people’s colour (“whites”). On Easter Day, he published a sad homily that name-checked Jurgen Moltmann, St John of the Cross, Miguel De Unamuno, Elie Wiesel and James Cone. Insofar as anything approximating a thesis is discernible, it appears to be that Aborigines – Grant prefers the Canadian term, “First Nations” – are the only Australians who have ever suffered. The phrase “my people” appears five times. It means Aborigines – exclusively. He doesn’t regard those whose forebears came from other places or those whose tribulations were worse than any endured by the living indigenous – or native-born octogenarians who have been here longer than he has – as members of the “my people” aristocracy. He concludes with the phony mystical blasphemy that the political Voice is actually God’s.
While it is true that Aborigines have endured afflictions, it is equally true to say they have caused them. “We didn’t need white people to bring us God,” Grant argues – erroneously using the upper case to conflate a pagan entity with the God he worships as a Christian. “We call God Baiame – the creator spirit. Baiame gives us our law. Our land.” According to early anthropologists who made a close study of his regime, Baiame approved of sickening violence against women, other “nations,” the disabled and the old. This was Grant’s whites-free Eden for millennia but its god wasn’t the one Carmelite John of the Cross endured those dark nights to love. In the late eighteenth century, then, Aborigines did in fact need white people to bring them the G. There is no shame in having been enlightened by outsiders. The white tribes of Europe were too.
Today’s big story at The Australian – one shocked observer calls it the “ultimate sin” – is that there were “white hands on black art” in “APY Lands” paintings slated for the NGA’s winter exhibition. If “studio assistants” stood over Aboriginal artists in South Australia to “juice up” their imagery, that would be tawdry. If, however, they were working for a master on the same grand pieces, that would be something the famous men of the Renaissance did as a matter of course. If the argument is that the works are somehow sacred, somebody should explain why selling them to rich collectors isn’t simony. In any case, I can think of more awful sins dragging Aborigines down, a grubbier example of informational omission (good morning, Prime Minister) and a more disturbingly racist attempt to desecrate a hallowed canvas than a demarcation dispute scandalising the ‘authentic’ art racket. Like all other sub-groups of humanity, Aborigines are uniquely themselves and just like everyone else. They are not born with with esoteric powers, hurts and intuitions. They are not other than us. Maybe the paintings are better for the duality in their creation.