George Negus is one of Australia’s most loved broadcasters. Loved for what has been called his ‘warm, common touch’, as a journalist Negus has long been the champion of the underdog, and a voice of reason when it comes to tackling complex social issues. Negus is one of the featured speakers at Boomerang Festival. Seven caught up with George in the leadup to his festival appearance.
What do you think White Australians could learn from their Indigenous brothers and sisters?
In a few words – a hell of a lot; not just about this continent that we now share as a country, but also – dare I say it – about life itself! As a culture and as a people, our Indigenous brothers and sisters have been making sense out of the nonsense we blithely call life for tens and tens of thousands of years…
How has your connection with Indigenous Australia changed you?
How long have I got? Frankly, as the oldest race and culture on the planet, they put us into perspective. They are have lived history and are still living history. They force us to think what it might have been like living without the myriad of things – so-called ‘progress’ — that we historical blown-ins apparently can’t live without!
We’ve had those racist outbursts in football of late, one involving Eddie Macguire, who should have known better. Why do you think those values keep cropping up in a less racist Australia?
You mean ‘lack of values’? Eddie’s actually a decent sort of ‘blokey’ bloke white Australian who momentarily lost his decency because of what has been correctly termed ‘casual racism’ – casual, widespread, but still offensive stuff we’ve all probably been guilty of when we thought we were merely being light-hearted and funny. That’s an explanation, by the way – not an excuse!
Do you think that we as a nation are still racist?
Not as a nation – but there is certainly a hefty bloody chunk of the population who are either xenophobic, bigoted or outright racists against not just Indigenous Australians, but anyone who’s not a white Anglo-Saxon Australian. That sort of mindless, irrational prejudice is usually based on fear and ignorance – and you can’t legislate against either of those character flaws.
What are the things that you think would help Australia become a more integrated and culturally aware country?
The term more culturally awarerings true – but, to be honest, the word integrated doesn’t. What do we mean by more integrated? Do we mean more like us, as in non-Indigenous Australians? How do we integrate Indigenous Australians without them becoming less of ourselves? I don’t have a trite, simplistic answer to those sorts of imponderables. But, I believe that we do have to keep asking the loaded questions – no matter how tough they are. That said, despite the apparent desirability of getting rid of the racist elements in the Constitution, personally, politically and legally, I am not sure that and merely recognising – whatever that means? – our first Australian brothers and sisters constitutionally would do the trick. It could even isolate and separate ‘us and them’, as it were, even further. What about absolutely the same rights for all bloody Australians… ? That said, acknowledging in the Preamble to the Constitution that we invaded an inhabited country in 1788 and ‘nicked it’ to make it a British colony might be a start. That was our first unacceptable racist act. Saying ‘sorry’ was the beginning of a reconciliation process – not the end!
You and Ernie Dingo both have a bit of an Aussie iconic status. Is that a funny thing to live with? Does it ever become embarrassing or intrusive?
Sorry for answering some of your questions with a question! Old professional habits die hard, I guess. But, what does iconic status mean? Everybody knows who you are and – rightly or wrongly, for better or worse – has an opinion about you, maybe? I reckon my old mate Ernie would agree that if you’ve thrust yourself into Australians’ homes, indeed their lives, via bloody television as often as he and I have over the past few decades, you have to be pretty thin-skinned to find people’s interest in you either ‘embarrassing or intrusive’. But, true, it is a bit funny…
What should we be expecting from you at Boomerang?
To make an invited contribution to Boomerang… It’s is a hell of a good idea, not just a weekend of fun and music, but a terrific opportunity for what the academics might call ‘cross-cultural fertilisation’. Our recently lost friend, Australian of the Year, Indigenous mentor and the lead singer of the internationally famous Yothu Yindi Band called it ‘both-ways’ – Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians getting together to enjoy learning about each other. Ignorance is not bliss!
Catch George at Boomerang Festival in conversation with Indigenous chefs Mark Olive and Clayton Donovan and also Ernie Dingo for the NRL footy panel.
October 4–6, Bluesfest site.