Mathew Mackie

The aboriginal man harassed in Darwin is the norm, not an outlier

longgras

Over the weekend, a Facebook post went viral, shocked at the obvious racism of Darwin streets. Having lived there, I know the victim, and I know the behaviour.

 

 

Over the weekend, a Facebook post went viral, decrying the overt racism of one Northern Territory kebab shop, as the illustrated the treatment of an aboriginal man who went hungry, empathy built by three white tourists who were shocked by the obviousness of it.

Rage and outrage aside, you should know that it is not an outlier, it’s the norm.

I’m a year removed from living in Darwin, a place probably best defined by the oft-repeated marketing phrase that pitched it, in that you never never know if you never never go.

As a matter of fact, I know the man in the image, most locals do. Similarly, I’ve bought him food under the megawatt indifference of those behind the counter. Many of us have. But we shouldn’t mobilise against the shop, as its a microcosm of the Territory writ large.

The split between black and white Australia may be subtler elsewhere, but in Darwin, it is blunt. As an example, the parks around my old address were populated by the indigenous homeless. Locally known as ‘long-grassers’, they would be invariably accompanied by a police siren and rounded up on a rolling basis; they won’t be served in the local shops, so they ask us. Expulsion for helping them is common. Racism in Darwin is a multi-shaded beast. I’ve seen shopkeepers of Chinese, Indian and Anglo heritage deny service. It’s their shop, sure, but it speaks of a larger culture: Anyone but them.

In hospital, they’re invariably kept under security watch, as those arrested for minor crimes (such as intoxication) are dropped off at the emergency department, in order to ensure that “no mistakes” happen in custody, a point illustrated by a security guard in the employ of hospital, as we watched two drunken, injured figures shuttled out of a paddy wagon. In Darwin, the custodians of this land are something to deny, or pretend not to see. The gentleman in the kebab shop freely wanders Mitchell Street an approaches those in line. He, like many like him, are seen as an annoyance, a danger, hence the deployment of security guards mentioned.

The difference between the two parties is obvious. The place is a maze of head-high chainlink fences, a step down the street is chorused by the barks of dogs you can’t see. The advice you get from your neighbours is cautionary. Everyone has a tale of being robbed, and everyone’s gate remains locked as a result. It colours your experience. In fact, one of the first afternoons I spent there was filled with a walk which turned in a sprint when an aboriginal man shared the path with me. It was stupid, but my mind spooled with the worst cases of scenarios. Even after I got familiar with the aboriginal family down the street, I’m unsure if any meaningful ground was made. I didn’t understand them any more than before, but I started to recognise the angry faces of the locals that registered the sight of a black family flooding out of a white car. It was, as the Facebook post echoed, an angry quiet presence, to keep us safe.

I bought him chips, because I wasn’t quite sure what else to do. Conversely, I felt that I also did it, not because it was the right thing to do, but to be seen as doing something. But I really didn’t. He clearly survived the night, but I didn’t bother to check if he had anywhere to sleep, or if he was otherwise ok. The dialogue between the two doesn’t exist, and is therefore subject to repeat. That viral Facebook post merely indicated behaviour most Darwinites accept. While we might share, and angrily shrug in confusion, you should know that this is the standard, and situations like this quietly repeat on Saturday nights and midweek mornings alike.

 

 


Also published on Medium.

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