2017 MLA Ad for Lamb Doesn’t Cut The Mustard

Indigenous readers, please be aware that this article refers to an indigenous person who is deceased.

An article in newmatilda.com by Chris Graham, Australia Day Lamb Ads: Vastly Improved, But A Pig In Lipstick Is Still A Pig,  highlights what is wrong with the latest Meat and Livestock Australia ad for lamb, which has been released recently to encourage lamb sales for Australia Day celebrations and commiserations on January 26. The ad shows the diversity of Australia’s ethnic origins, shows people of various ages, even refers in passing to the LGBTIQA community, but both MLA and Graham avoid the representation of people with disability.

Here  is the recent MLA lamb ad.

Graham makes an incisive statement about how the ad avoids dealing with the significance of Australia Day by focusing on Australia’s aspirational values, rather than showing actual national values of racism and exclusion. At no point in the ad is “Australia Day” ever mentioned. Read the full article here.

For example, it said nothing about what the date of Australia Day actually represents. That is, the theft, dispossession and slaughter of another people. I’m sorry folks, but in the world of ‘choosing things to gloss over’, Australia’s treatment of its First Peoples really shouldn’t be on the list. It’s basically the Australian equivalent of Holocaust denial.- Chris Graham

Disability accessibility to Australia’s beaches for barbeques and parties is woeful so there is realism in the ad at least, but their exclusion from the ad has greater significance: the lack of social inclusion of people with disabilities, and more significantly the health gap between First Peoples and other Australians, where  rates of ill-health and disability are substantially higher than other Australians.. The colonisation of Australia brought with it, not only genocide but a variety of practices, attitudes and institutions that have seriously harmed the physical and mental well-being of First Peoples who have rates of ill-health and disability substantially higher than other Australians, as well as higher rates of economic and educational disadvantage.

I have been very fortunate to have had indigenous friends and acquaintances come in and out of my life. The one person who had the greatest impact on me was Joy Janaka Wiradjuri Williams.  I too was studying English Literature at the University of Wollongong and during 1990/91 we would often meet up at the SRC office where we took our own mugs to get a free cuppa and we would talk. Her firsthand accounts of being part of the Stolen Generation, and the impact of it on her life  – her anger and grief, the effects on her health and wellbeing – shocked and moved me, and I felt ashamed. Joy knew I wasn’t to blame but she did remind me that I was part of the solution.  My two fondest memories of Joy was the pride and joy she expressed whenever she used her name, Janaka Wiradjuri, and when she published her book of poems, Blackberry’s Child.

Like so many people I was friendly with at Uni, I lost touch with her when I graduated and only last year discovered what she had achieved and tried to do before she passed away.

A decade ago  I lived in a small town near Nowra, NSW. My house was quite close to the former Bomaderry Children’s Home, which had been built on the original site of the United Aborigines Mission Home, the birthplace of the Stolen Generations in NSW, built in 1908.  I used to walk past there all the time, waving or chatting to the caretaker, Sonny Timbery. He told me about the Memorial Garden and the history of the site. It reinforced for me the idea that the current generations of Australians had to take the responsibility of bringing about reconciliation and to correct the injustices experienced by First Peoples, otherwise we are condoning both past, present and future inequalities.

The current MLA lamb ad’s refusal to present the reality of what Australia Day means is a literal “whitewash” not only of history but of the ongoing issues that still affect First Peoples: here we are in 2017 and there is still the need to #CloseTheGap and indigenous campaigns to #ChangeThe Date are slowly finding support with other Australians, who are acknowledging that instead of celebration, national recognition  and mourning of the historical and ongoing impact of colonisation  is necessary.