The Australian government recently met with Julian Assange, if we were to free him, it would be an act that would revitalise our confused national identity.
Well, I’ll be damned, it’s about time.
According to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald, officials from Australia’s High Commission have just been spotted leaving the Ecuadorian embassy in London, accompanied by Julian Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson. Robinson confirmed that a meeting had taken place, but declined to say what it was about “given the delicate diplomatic situation.”
So, forgive me if I squee a bit. I am aware how subservient Australia has historically been to US interests, I am aware that those US interests entail the arrest of Assange and the destruction of WikiLeaks, and I am aware that things don’t often work out against the interests of the US. But there is a glimmer of hope now, coming from a direction we’ve never seen before. A certain southerly direction.
If the Australian government stepped in to protect one of its own journalists from being persecuted by the powerful empire that has dragged us into war after war, well, as an Australian it makes me tear up just thinking about it. It has been absolutely humiliating watching my beloved country being degraded and exploited by the sociopathic agendas of America’s ruling elites, up to and including the imprisonment and isolation of one of our own, all because he helped share authentic, truthful documents exposing the depraved behaviours of those same ruling elites. I have had very few reasons to feel anything remotely resembling patriotism lately.
If Australia brought Assange home, this would change.
We Australians do not have a very clear sense of ourselves; if we did we would never have stood for Assange’s persecution in the first place. We tend to form our national identity in terms of negatives, by the fact that we are not British and are not American, without any clear image of what we are. A bunch of white prisoners got thrown onto a gigantic island rich with ancient indigenous culture, we killed most of the continent’s inhabitants and degraded and exploited the survivors, and now we’re just kind of standing around drinking tea as the dust settles saying, “Hmm… well, we’re not stuck-up like the Brits, and we’re not entitled like the Yanks.”
That’s pretty much our entire nation right now. A beautiful continent where the Aboriginal Dreamtime has been paved over with suburbs and shopping centres. We are a warm and charitable people, we value family and community, but we’ve got no sense of who we are and what it means to be Australian.
We try sometimes; there are attempts to uplift Australian art and culture which we call Australiana. I remember going to “bush dances” as a kid where old-timey settler music was played and everyone pretended to have some kind of connection with it. We like meat pies. The footy’s great. But our sense of ourselves has never really taken root.
Which is ultimately why attempts to assert our sovereignty, to leave the British commonwealth and stop having that ugly old woman’s face on our money have fallen short. It is also why we had no problem subjugating ourselves as a functional vassal state of the US as it emerged as a dominant superpower following the world wars. If we’d had a clear image of ourselves, what we stand for, and what our best interests are, this never would have happened. But because of our background, we’ve been like the homeschooled teenager going to high school for the first time and instantly being absorbed into a bad crowd because she didn’t understand the social dynamics.
I went to a community theatre with my family the other day to see Spring Awakening, an English-language musical set in Germany. For no apparent reason, the actors on the stage spoke in American accents. They were Australians playing Germans, not Americans; there was no reason whatsoever for that to happen. But that sort of thing is so commonplace here the only person who pointed it out was my American husband. It seemed perfectly normal to me.
But it isn’t normal. It isn’t normal for a nation of people to be so neurotic and ashamed of their own nationality that they put on a foreign accent rather than their own for no reason. It isn’t normal that we have such a head-down, subservient society that most of our homegrown talent leaves Australia forever because we’ve got a weird slave-culture habit of cutting down the “tall poppies” whenever anyone is perceived to have risen above their station. It isn’t normal that we feel so ashamed of standing tall and shining brightly in the world.
Nowadays the closest non-Aboriginal thing you ever see to a display of Australian identity typically involves Southern Cross tattoos, thuggishness, Islamophobia, and a desire to continue the cruel warehousing of human beings on Manus Island. That is plainly gross, and the Aboriginal people now hold their culture secret and close to their chests for completely understandable reasons, so what else is there? What else could there be that could begin to unite us as a people so we can begin to develop a little collective pride and cease allowing ourselves to be used as a tool of sociopathic imperialists?
Well, there’s Julian Assange. He’s something positive that we can all fight for, a clear force of good in the world that we can unify around as we begin a slow, sloppy, completely necessary divorce from the cancer of empire.
Assange confuses Americans in the same way Mountain Dew confuses me. Americans don’t have any cultural hook-ups for the kind of creature he is. In the same way that Mountain Dew looks, tastes, smells and feels like poison to me, they can’t tell if he’s right wing or left, if he’s a hero or a villain, or what motivates him. They don’t trust him because they don’t know what they’re looking at. As someone who grew up around the same time, in the same area, and in similar social circles to him, it seems very obvious to me what he is. And what he is is very Australian.
Every country has its flavour. In my country, we grew up valuing innovation. Most people my age can reel off a list of Australian inventions, from the Hills Hoist to the postage stamp to the bionic ear to wifi. I did not even have to go and google that just now, that’s how much a part of our national conversation and our education is our pride in our use of insight for practical problem-solving.
There are some fundamental values that we grew up with as seventies children in Australia. There was the value of “do the right thing,” the value of “giving everyone a fair go”, and the value of “keeping the bastards honest.” These were key and oft-repeated phrases in my childhood during the seventies and eighties. Remember, we were small when there was a CIA/MI6 coup in our country and our parents were implored by the ousted Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to “maintain the rage” at the unforgivable attack on our democratic sovereignty. That’s in my living memory. When Julian and I were small, the anti-establishment sentiment was at its loudest.
We have an inbuilt distrust of authority and a deep hatred of empire which probably stems from our convict roots, and then from the ongoing waves of refugees who were running from famine, wars and despotism. Aside from the indigenous population, we are a country full of people who were forced by the empire to come here in one way or another. So we don’t like authority much and we instinctively cut people down before they get too powerful. This is why the unions are still strong and social programs are such a natural fit for us. We like things to be fair. We like everyone to have a say.
Julian Assange’s work is an embodiment of all those values. The initial innovative use of technology to create WikiLeaks, the belief in openness and transparency, the desire to democratize information for the good of the whole, and the joy in keeping the bastards honest — all of that is very Australian. Very child of a strong Mum and brought up in Melbourne. Very me. My seed took root in similar soil. He seems obvious to me.
His work is extraordinary. Never has a single innovation brought power to its knees in such a short amount of time. In an inverted totalitarian system where the ability to suck resources from the people is hidden under a veil of propaganda, the ability to rip through the veil of spin and government opacity is a powerful tool indeed. In just a little over a decade, he has managed to make himself the most wanted man alive by the most powerful people on earth.
And those in power don’t like him, and of course, they use their propaganda machine to obfuscate who he is and what he is doing, but his actions tell his story even through the fog of the spin machine. His relentless drive to publish the truth no matter which side of the aisle it’s about, whichever powerful faction it is going to piss off, and how that’s going to impact his own living situation says everything you need to know about Julian Assange. He keeps publishing even when it’s clear to his own personal detriment. He cares less about himself than he does about the truth getting out there. That tells me everything I need to know.
And every day of his detention proves his theory correct. He is keeping the bastards honest and because they aren’t honest, they don’t like it one bit.
Bringing Julian Assange home could be the first step to giving ourselves a bright, shining image of who we are and what we stand for. At the moment, Australia is anaesthetised to the eyeballs and in a state of total submission, the return of Julian might just be the little spark we need to get the old ticker pumping for itself again. Finally standing up for ourselves, for what’s right, and for the things that Julian stands for might just be the very thing we need as a nation to discover who we really are.
Bring him home. It’s time.