As a feminist, it
is discouraging to find the things we worked on for so long have mostly
been unravelled. They seem to be simply disappearing overnight.
The people who were
the products of free education at university, who have been the beneficiaries
of some of the programs that were fought for, have nevertheless been silent
as these changes have been effected. Some have been not just complicit,
but have played an active role - such as our politicians.
I am completing a
study on universities at the moment, looking on the impact of the corporatisation
of universities, focussing particularly on my own discipline - law. It
is quite extraordinary, from a number of perspectives.
First we see problems
in terms of access - quasi-privatisation where significant fees are being
paid for so-called government funded places. Universities can also offer
up to 35% of places that are full-fee paying. You can be paying up to
$100,000.00 for an education. When you compare that with the free tertiary
education introduced by the Whitlam government just 30 years ago, it is
There is also the
impact on the way knowledge is being constructed and what sort of knowledge
can currently be produced within universities and purveyed to students.
not receiving adequate funds to do the job of being a university. They
are forced to sell things to make money. What can they commodify? Their
only product is education so they sell private places to domestic students
and overseas students, and sell courses offshore.
As a result, we see
the move away from the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, a concern
with objectivity, neutrality and so on, to whether the knowledge has 'use
value', that is, whether it can be commodified.
So, education, like
everything else in our society at the moment, is supposed to have 'use
value' within the market. Social justice is not seen to be valuable. Who
is going to sponsor it? A big corporation is not going to spend money
funding a Chair or donating money, as universities are forced to kow-tow
to big business to attract money. The sort of courses that are seen to
be valuable are courses like business and management.
The shift away from
social justice has meant that about 25 courses in my own university discipline
have gone. Feminist scholarship has gone; criminology courses such as
'Crime and Sex' and 'Aborigines and the Law', have all gone. The focus
now is all on courses such as 'How to Facilitate Business'.
This is what we find
all over Australia and, indeed, overseas to some extent, including the
UK and Canada, although I think the shifts there are not as dramatic as
in Australia. There still is the idea of the autonomy of the university
as a very significant force for the transmission of the culture of a society
and the protection of the notion of social goods.
Here we see our politicians
have been happy to jettison these very important public goods. It is having
an enormous impact on the character of our society. It is already having
an impact on what is taught in schools to young people where values are
shaped. They are being brought up to believe that all that is important
is the market and for them to be consumers - to buy things to assist the
economy and to work to produce things for consumption, instead of learning
to be citizens who are part of a polity and concerned about the good of
I think there has
been a dramatic shift in thinking about the notion of collective good.
Coming back to my point about the way social justice has disappeared,
some of the phrases that appear in the corporate documents on the web
are things like 'productive diversity' (a wonderful oxymoron). Everything
has to have a monetary value attached to it and if you are not prepared
to accept that, you are not fit to be working and should somehow disappear.
You are not a worthwhile member of society.
The market has become
what one commentator called 'the meta-narrative of our times'. It has
taken over everywhere, it infuses everything and impacts on everything
that we do. If something doesn't have 'use value' in the market, it is
of no use.
The pressures for
individuals to survive in the workplace has increased. Surveillance occurs
everywhere, including universities, where you are supposed to enter into
a contract with a supervisor that you are going to be 'productive'. The
idea that one has to produce measurable 'outcomes' or 'outputs' is something
that has infected the entire workplace - regardless of how ludicrous this
is when applied to work such as teaching or caring for others. It means
that if people don't satisfy the productivity requirements, they face
The system operates
to allow very little reflexivity about what is happening. Most people
are racing from job to job, struggling to survive, struggling to be 'productive'.
There is no time to think, or time to meet. There has been a contraction
of civil society - the places where you met to talk about issues that
were outside the market and outside government.
The Marxist idea
is that things have to go right down before they start to come up again.
Maybe things will have to become even more extreme so that there will
be some sort of revolution.
As it is, most people
have been extraordinarily complacent. There have been a few signs of life,
of course. I think it is interesting in New Zealand, for example, where
there was an extreme form of neo-liberalism, that there was a strong reaction
against it. There is also the anti-globalisation movement.
But these movements
are really minor when we consider the extent of the power that is exercised
by nation-states, by the multinationals and by the superpowers, in particular,
which continue to be concerned - or obsessed - with attracting business
and making profits.
The view is that
women have somehow made it because there are a few judges and a few managers,
a few women in universities and so on. This is a simplistic notion of
progressivism - that things are always getting better. This is the liberal
story. It is, of course, a myth.
I think those of
us who are committed have to keep on talking, even when we feel there
is no-one listening. We have to critique what is happening and somehow
resist being drawn into the vortex of the market that wants to drown us.
I'd like to acknowledge the ancestral spirits of the
Kulan Nation on whose land we meet today. I'd also like to thank the organisers
for inviting me along.
I thought I'd share my thoughts today on the theme by
recalling and reflecting on my own work experience vis a vis the dilemmas
and dimensions of "Being Had and Being Hard".
My insights come from my own experience of the past thirty
years of working in Aboriginal adult and community education. And whilst
the players may not be the same as the ones you deal with, hopefully,
the spirit and principles are, given the universality of the human condition.
For that is essentially what I am talking about when
sharing my own experience. The human condition. And, in doing so, looking
at both the macrocosm and the microcosm of life.
So, please bear with me for a few minutes as I share
some of my story which are integral to the question of "Being Had or Being
I was in the first wave of Aboriginal university graduates
in the late sixties, early seventies. The backdrop of the times was the
Referendum of 1967, when Aboriginal people were first counted in the census.
"The Times, They Were A Calling" (to paraphrase Bob Dylan's song) and
so armed with a degree and revolutionary zeal, I decided to "work for
my people" as was both the want and the obligation of the times. I was
idealistic. And there is nothing wrong with that, because as someone one
said: "ideals are like the stars and whilst we may not reach them, we
can charter our course by them".
One of my first jobs after graudation, was tutoring in
multi-cultural studies at the then Armidale College of Advanced Education,
in NSW. Multicultural studies courses were beginning to proliferate in
the seventies and invariably included a stream called Aboriginal studies.
This particular one in which I was involved was a compulsory
course for final year teacher trainees. As a compulsory course, it engendered
much resistance and resentment, at times. However, despite the latter
sentiments, I was determined to be "master of the situation", to coin
I cringe when I think of a young, white, male student
I helped to fail. For the final decision was left to me to pass or fail
this young man in his final year on the basis of an essay on Aboriginal
issues which my white colleagues thought was not written "academically"
enough. This pass or fail mark was the only thing that stood between him
and his graduation that year.
To my own shame, I concurred intellectually with my colleagues.
I say shame, for today I would not do the same. But back then, I was essentially
operating from only the head. And, today, in deciding whether to be had
or be hard, I would like to think that I have learnt some lessons along
the highway of life, and learnt from my mistakes. For, after all, as the
saying goes: "the only mistakes we make are the ones we don't learn from"
But in those days, I was aspiring to be an acceptable
Aborigine, and so I "passed the buck" and agreed with my white academic
colleagues. Which went against the grain, so to speak, for intuitively,
at the time, I felt it was the wrong decision for me to make.! And, as
an example, of better to be had than hard, that decision has weighed heavily
on my heart over the years..
Don't ask me to explain it, for I can't explain intuition..
It's something one detects rather than defines. Today, when making decisions
about whether to be had or hard, I trust my intuition. My gut feeling!
Besides, intuition in Indigenous societies, as in some
Eastern philosophies, always had pride of place. As much as the intellect
which is so respected and honoured in our society.
And whilst the idea of intuition is often pooh-pahed,
especially, in the type of institutions where I work, i.e. Universities,
I learnt from a place where it was honoured and that was Tauondi, the
former Aboriginal Community College in Port Adelaide.
In 1980, after returning from the United States where
I did postgraduate studies, I was offered a three month teaching assignment
which turned into sixteen years.
Tauondi was set up in 1973 for Aboriginal people who
were behind the eight ball for multitudinous reasons, e.g. racial, cultural,
educational, etc. Its founding philosophy was based on holistic education,
i.e. mental, spiritual and physical. And, let me tell you, that in the
early seventies, words like holistic and spiritual and intuition were
considered mightily suspect!!
However, the holistic philosophy of the place helped
me, as I grappled with the dilemmas and decisions of whether "To Be Had
or To Be Hard". It spoke to my own condition through the honouring of
the Ghandian ideal of Head, Heart and Hands.
I was soon to learn that its Holistic Approach was as
much about Physician, Heal Thyself, as I was forced to look within as
well as without To look at myself and not just outside to the "other"
for whom I was supposedly supplying the answers as I climbed the ladder
of success. (Today, I see success as "knowing oneself" and not necessarily
about the degrees and titles, car, suburb, etc.).
Tauondi taught me to look within and in doing so, I seemingly
returned to the holistic thinking of my ancestors. Hence, I was not just
confronted with the issues of the exterior but those of the interior.
That is, of myself. For Tauondi (which is the local Kaurna word for "breakthrough")
was about both structure and spirit. It's philosophy was an inclusive
one which implicitly implied that "there is no such thing as a no-hoper".
Tauondi taught me much as I grappled with the externals
of existence, e.g. the bureaucratic structure of Aboriginal affairs and
the socio-economic condition of the people we dealt with. As I said, I
worked there sixteen years, the last seven as Principal.
My daily dealings with people in need were ones that
spoke to me of a connectedness which contained not only weariness but
also joyfulness. The College accommodated that weariness and joyfulness
within the full gamut of emotions of the human condition. There was humour,
happiness, sadness, joy.
Without having spent time at Tauondi, I would never have
reached the realisation that "To Be Had or To Be Hard" is somewhat akin
to the Chinese word for crisis, that is, it is a two sided coin representing
both Danger and Opportunity. And, in discerning Danger or Opportunity;
whether to be had or hard, Tauondi, taught me an holistic approach of
interiority as well as exteriority .
That interiority which demanded discernment, especially
about major decisions, I saw my choice being informed by discernment as
opposed to merely judgement. The difference for me in the two is that
one is about surface and immediacy and the other is about depth and profundity.
One is about error and one is about Truth,
for as Goethe, the German writer and philosophers, aptly puts it: It is
much easier to recognise error than to find Truth.
"For error lies on the surfaceand
may be overcome;
But Truth lies in the depth, And to search for
it is not given to everyone." Goethe.(1749-1832) German Poet and
Along the way, I've-discovered my own culture from within
and within it, my ancestral ways of thinking which meant I needed to come
back and look within the spirit of the person - which is something I recall
my parents and grandparents did.- and not just judge by appearance.
The latter isn't always easy, for appearance is so honoured
in our type of society - so reflected in the body consciousness and image
that this, essentially, materialistic and individualistic society applauds.
That is, applauds for some.
In others, it wounds. The others, meaning the excluded.
The others who are often very neatly packaged through labelling which
employs deficit language in doing so.
So I became aware of the debilitating aspects of deficit
language. I remain aware of it to this day, given
that Aboriginal people are always seen as the "problem", the "other".
And, in this sense, when I view others as a problem or
the other, then I am more likely "to be hard" rather than "to be had".
And when I operate solely on my own power driven ego, which is eager to
control and has all the answers to the situation, then I determine who
are the winners and who are the losers.
And the danger in definitions is that we
can all be diminished without even realising it. But
if one is diminished we all are diminished. And therein arises the disconnectedness.
For as, Kirkegaard, the famous philosopher, said:
"once you label me, you limit me".
Through crisis times at Tauondi, I came to see the connectedness
of ourselves and others to the human condition. Indeed, an ex-Jesuit priest
with whom I worked with there, for ten years, once said that Aborigines
had taught him about "connectedness".
And, in this sense, had much to teach non-Aboriginal