Black affairs often feels despondent and confusing. With a toothless national body, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and a Prime Minister and Minister for Indigenous Affairs who are desperately out of touch with the white population—let alone the black one—it’s easy to feel like things are getting worse.
The government often signals that black people don’t matter, so it's not surprising that this is reflected in the media. But our stories get buried, and the ones that do break through rarely portray us in a way that respects our sovereignty and self-determination.
In saying that, there were a few key moments when black affairs held the attention of the mainstream media in 2017. Unsurprisingly, the stories that have garnered the most mainstream attention have been proxies for the “culture wars”—or have been packaged as such.
Take January 26, and how the nation observes the day: this has been increasingly challenged. The City of Darebin and City of Yarra both voted to not host official council celebrations or activities on the January 26 out of respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Youth station Triple J has also shifted the date for the Hottest 100.
WATCH: VICE visits the Sistagals of the Tiwi Islands
While Victoria continued treaty discussions and have formed a treaty commission with Jill Gallagher AO at the helm, Elijah Doughty’s killer was found not guilty of manslaughter. The verdict prompted protest and outrage around the country. As more black people died in custody this year, the Juvenile Justice Royal Commission handed down it’s recommendations—one being shutting down the notorious Don Dale Youth Detention Facility. Many around the country demanded that all youth prisons shut down.
With all these heavy moments it is easy to forget that, put simply, black people killed it this year.
This year we saw more representation of black talent on our screens, stages, and pages. The highly acclaimed Cleverman returned with an second season, while ABC also backed black talent such as Rowdie Walden’s Chemical Romance. Over on the Comedy Channel, it was announced Cope St Collective’s sketches will appear on a new sketch show, The Slot.
Leah Purcell took out Book of the Year at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards in May for The Drovers Wife, the first play to ever win the top prize. Purcell was named recipient of the 2017 Sydney UNESCO City of Film Award, and also took out the Helpmann Award for Best Play and Best New Australian Work.
Nakkiah Lui had a busy year with her play Black is the New White premiering at the Sydney Theatre Company, while making her directing debut with Octoroon at the Brisbane Theatre Company. Lui also had a show, Kiki and Kitty, up on ABC's iView.
We heard more black people on the podcast airwaves, with Amy McQuire and Martin Hodges tirelessly interrogating the justice system in Curtain, Allan Clarke’s Cold Justice, and Miranda Tapsell and Lui’s podcast Pretty for an Aboriginal. In the literary scene, Claire Coleman’s Terra Nullius debut novel made a huge splash receiving critical acclaim. Tony Birch released his collection of short stories Common People and received the Patrick White Prize, while Ali Cobby Eckerman took out the international Windham-Campbell Literature Prize for poetry.
Black women dominated the fine arts, with Yorta Yorta curator Kimberley Moulton representing the country at the Venice Biennale at Tracey Moffat’s exhibition while curating a black matriarchal-themed show in Adelaide. Black arts collective Real Blak Tingz Arika and Gabi also had an exhibition at Yirramboi Festival, with an exhibition that simultaneously paid tribute to black women and confronted settler privilege. And was, of course, criticised by Andrew Bolt.
Yaegl artist Hannah Bronte had an impressive year appearing in over 10 different exhibitions, and hosting three of her immersive hip hop shows, Fempress, across the country. Wemba Wemba curator and artist Paola Bella curated two different exhibitions exploring sovereignty and matriarchy at ACCA in Melbourne.
Black musicians continued to dominate, with A.B. Original taking out Best Urban Album and Best Independent Release at the ARIAs. Electric Fields, fronted by Zaachariaha Fielding have disrupted to the music scene and are dominating music festivals with their androgynous electro magic. Gunditjmara and Papua New Guinea talent Kaiit released her long awaited single Natural Woman and will be supporting The Internet next year on their Laneway sideshows.
Queer and trans black Australia truly had a moment in 2017. Tarsha Jago turned the lemon that was the marriage equality into lemonade founding the Blackfellas for Marriage Equality movement that mobilised young black people around the country. The Tiwi Island sistagirls raised money to attend Mardi Gras, increased visibility for sistagirls in the VICE documentary, as well as making and modelling traditionally printed clothing at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. This year also saw the first Miss First Nations—a black drag competition organised by Ben Graetz. Josie Baker is your Miss First Nations Ultimate Queen for 2017.
Black people responded to state violence in creative and powerful ways. Dylan Voller, the young blackfulla pictured in a spithood at Don Dale, bound to a chair as a child was released from prison and has been generating much support around country fighting for justice. Voller who, despite the violence experienced at the hands of the state, the continuing harassment of his family by elected politicians and the police, perseveres still. He is suing the Northern Territory government and is currently undertaking a journey around the country to mobilise other black people.
And he was inspired by another young black man, Clinton Pryor, who walked from Perth to Canberra. Along this huge walk he met with community members in different communities and took his demands to politicians in Canberra.
Politically, the Uluru Statement fell flat, with several delegates protesting during the dialogues and walking out of the meeting and the statement itself rejected by the Prime Minister. But representation in politics was bolstered with a few parliamentary firsts. In the Northcote by-election Gunai and Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe became the first Aboriginal woman elected into the Parliament of Victoria. Just weeks later, Cynthia Lui became the first Torres Strait Islander elected into Parliament. And the Anangu people voted to stop allowing people to climb Uluru, which will come into effect in 2019.
Resistance remained strong as Melbourne kicked off the year with an Invasion Day rally that turned out more people than ever before with reports of up to 50,000 people in attendance. The Wangan and Jagilngou mob continued to resist the Adani coal mine—with Murrawah Johnson taking out the Bob Brown Foundation's Young Environmentalist of the Year Award.
This year has been huge, and it is impossible to summarise an entire year neatly. We have met heartbreak, state violence, and a lack of political courage with powerful resistance and creativity. Who knows what 2018 will bring.
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