There is only one thing worse than a wasted rugby league player, and that's a wasted rugby league player in your living room, on Australia Day. As you'd know Mitchell Pearce, the gaffe-prone halfback for the Sydney Roosters, has got himself ostensibly fired by being a misogynistic, homophobic, culturally insensitive, dog-fucking weirdo in a leaked YouTube video. But it wasn't just Pearce. To me, that sad little video was a vignette of Australian culture.
In one minute of vision, everyone in the room managed to tick off every category of excess and bigotry we're guilty of. It may be the most quintessential Australia Day celebration ever recorded. After getting traditionally fucked up the son of all-time great, Wayne Pearce, ended the night in a woman's flat, where he tried to kiss her and got denied. She claimed she was a lesbian, which led Pearce to claim he was gay, followed by his simulated buggery of the woman's pet dog. Because, duh, that's what gay people do. Oh, he also managed to piss all over himself and the couch.
It was a real number, but he wasn't done. When ordered to leave, Pearce refused, reasoning that he had an Aboriginal friend with him whose claim to the land entitled Pearce (by association) to grope, stumble, and urinate all over it. He was on a roll.
The final national embarrassment came from the woman, whose dog Pearce had just humped. She fired back in a thick-with-privilege eastern suburbs accent, "I don't care. This isn't Redfern. We're not claiming land rights here," when confronted with Pearce's aboriginality claim. The whole shit show couldn't have bookended the past year in Australia any better; a year in which one of Australia's greatest ever sportsmen, footballer Adam Goodes, was booed on almost every ground he played after taking a public stand against racism. Or a year in which men physically overpowered women to the tune of around 70 domestic violence homicides, and in some areas 200 to 450 calls were made to the domestic violence hotline every day.
For me personally, Pearce's shame was brought into sharp focus by what I'd seen earlier that day at Yabun—an Indigenous festival held in Victoria Park, just up the road from Redfern. The day celebrates the triumph of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' culture over colonialism and oppression, but not without a heavy police presence at the train station, scanning people for drugs or whatever. Aside from that the day was perfect.
Sunny skies gave families the chance to mill around under trees and take in the music, art, dance, market stalls, storytelling, and comedy. Grog was banned and those wily enough to sneak it in were shamed into absconding. When some kids were separated from their parents a live performance was stopped so the stage manager could make an announcement. "Eh what's this then? Blackfellas losing their children all over the place. Be careful there. The DOCs (Department Of Child Safety) will be after youse soon," chided the Indigenous MC on the day to a chorus of laughter that concealed real pain. But the festival was peaceful and kind. I felt happy there, or at least like I was celebrating as appropriately as I could.
When it wrapped I headed to Tamarama Beach, one of the most exclusive suburbs in Australia and Sydney Roosters heartland. I was there to go surfing but instead I stepped into the Australian Day nightmare that Pearce embodied so aptly. "Oi, that's my fucken goon bag," were the first words I heard from some teenager on the street. Next I saw a woman grabbing at her boyfriend's penis, apparently in an attempt to help him take a piss. Huge red, white, and blue flags hung from the balconies of beige beachside mansions, creating a weird juxtaposition against the ochre of the cliffs.
The inference was clear. We might be the lucky country, but we sure aren't high culture.
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