Friday, April 25, 2008

Un-Australian Chinese

Amnesty International is not one of the many One China-Issue causes, a la Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong, and bears in cages. While most of the latter have a point*, AI is more big picture than barrow-pusher. Its rap sheet on China goes like this:

While some reforms have been made on the death penalty, China remains the world's top executioner. Human rights activists continue to be detained and harassed. Internet users are censored. Individuals are subjected to detention without trial. While new regulations may give foreign journalists more freedom to conduct interviews in China until October, control over the domestic media has tightened. [And then there’s Tibet . . . ]

- Claire Mallinson, national director, Amnesty International Australia

For all its carefully nuanced concerns about China, this is what happened to a small group of Amnesty International supporters/demonstrators at yesterday’s Canberra torch relay:

Away from the front line, smaller skirmishes had broken out all day. Tibetan independence supporter Marie Gunderson-Briggs found herself in the middle of one.

"We'd just joined up with a group of about 30 Amnesty demonstrators when we were surrounded," she said. "They were pushing in on us. They were 10 deep, squeezing us, yelling 'go home' and 'liars' and grabbing at our banners. It was incredibly intimidating."

Mrs Gunderson-Briggs recounted how her 13-year-old daughter Manon had broken down crying.

"When the riot police did arrive, they had to force their way through," she said. "If they hadn't come, I don't know what would have happened."

A story in today’s Oz corroborates the role of the police in extricating the Amnesty International group from the threatening situation.

The similarities with the Cronulla riot of late 2005 are inescapable – the police barely able to cope with a thuggish army of thousands, all as one high on an ethno-exclusivist patriotism. Needless to say, both occasions were deeply un-Australian.

It is now incumbent on Australian Chinese leaders to condemn what took place yesterday, and for Australian authorities to act decisively to prevent a re-occurrence.

*Falun Gong excepted – no government could ever stop a person meditating in private, and if one’s right to group/public meditation in China is really your main or only China issue, then you’re a moronic stooge.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lonely Planet guidebook fiction

I’ve long been suss about Lonely Planet guides anyway. An Aussie export powerhouse, centered on – and so co-opted by – the American market. Which puts it in an exclusive club of three – the other two of which are crocs (Dundee and Steve Irwin).

Worse though, is Lonely Planet’s odiferous boomer taint. Beginning from humble and youthful beginnings in the early 1970s, Lonely Planet began, or if not greatly popularised, the supposed distinction between “tourists” (bad) and “travellers” (good). I would have thought that any such distinction has just one acid test – tourists carry mass-market guidebooks. QED.

The boomer taint insidiously extends to Lonely Planet’s editorial, in the oddest places. Here’s a background small fact about the Tanami Track (from Lonely Planet Outback Australia 2002 by Rob Van Driesum and Denis O'Byrne p 179 (accessed through Google Books)):

“Up until the early 1970s there was a stock route that went from Refrigerator Bore [183 km NW of Yuendemu] . . . to Balgo and Halls Creek. This route was pioneered in the early 1960s and a series of wells dug along its length to supply the cattle. Once trucks took over from droving, the route was no longer used”.

Unless someone here is taking the piss, Lonely Planet actually wants us to know that a track that was “pioneered” (no less) in the early 1960s was obsolete within ten years. Apart from factual dubiousness of this quote (the last droving use of the Canning Stock Route, for example, was in 1958, about when road-trains for cattle took off), there is its barely hidden meta-narrative of all boomers (and of all Lonely Planet guides). That all time froze circa 1973, but in so freezing, a more innocent time of a decade earlier was somehow captured in the final result. “We want (back) our childhood (/got-there before-it-was ruined traveller-hood), and we want it now” – the boomers’ evergreen, pathetic anthem.

Roll up, roll up, welcome to the perma-nostalgic, pioneering 1960s. For boomers, it's the decade without a past, or end.

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