Amrita Hepi is a professional dancer and dancer maker whose work spans performance art, writing, radio and teaching. The Bundulung and Ngapuhi woman was recently invited to speak at Barangaroo Reserve’s Wulugul pop-up event, on the subject ‘Australia – I love you, but…’ in time for Survival Day.
Her creative speech is addressed to Australia as if it were a disappointing lover. It’s both a love letter to the land that nourished her and a heartbroken break-up letter to Australia, over its treatment of First Nations peoples and refugees fleeing their homelands. She shares it with NITV.
Australia – I love you, but…
You’re a harsh beast, a bloody spectacle of a beauty and when you turn it on everyone feels it.
Your heat pulses with its own circadian theme song and you know those spaces we go to? Where it feels like it’s the first time again. Where you make me feel like I'm finding you. Those total moments of alone - lost almost.
You’re remote like that - an Island in fact.
How you change but still have the ability to feel like a small town. Your twang that drives me up the wall but endears me to you - the azzaaaa's, ayyyyyess's. The fact that you made a huge banana and gold hot pants iconic. You’re a riot.
How when I’m looking at who and what inhabits your space, the people and the wildlife are vibrant, there’s a sense of toughness and danger but ultimately intrigue to those who circle you. You’re best when wet. For all the heat, you know how to cool down and have a good time with your generous coastlines. When I was walking home from the beach, you made me feel free in my cossie. That sun that beats down with a weight on my shoulders. And we laughed about the fact that your sun may be giving me cancer, but the devil may care.
The ridges of your broad deserts, the ripples of that Darling Harbour, the bays and enclaves that seem to get better and better as we get deeper - spanning East to West. And when I leave you I think about that space. That huge open space, and that sense of abandonment that you have always nourished me with.
But here's the thing babe. Just because you’re hot - like literally one of the hottest - it doesn't excuse the fact you have an attitude problem, you’re a bad friend, a shitty lover, and a terrible parent. A racist, a sexist, rapist and every other ‘ist’ that isn't fair.
I get embarrassed when I’m away from you - what will people think of you? Will they know your violent history towards me, or just your lack of history.
And look I get it, you’re really insecure about your identity - we've made countless artworks about it, but c'mon babe.
I'm ashamed at how little responsibility you take for your actions. But then you think you can cover it up with an egalitarian "she'll be right". Why ‘she’ - and how do you get right?
I despise how little you think of people who are different to you. I despise the censorship that has gone into hiding your misdemeanours. How you've chosen to educate yourself and yours, but cut out my mother’s tongue and then when she tried to speak, you said you couldn't understand. And then the former Labour MP Gary Johns (your mate) expressed his utmost concern - calling my Indigenous sisters, for want of a better - actually no, these were your direct words – “cash cows”. We are not sucking at your teat. I am not taking back anything other than what was mine, and could be ours - if you could learn not to snatch.
I’m ashamed of what you've done and how you aren't prepared to make it right. And instead you've made it white. At how you've built yourself over me in every speakable way: as a woman, as a woman of colour, as queer, as Other. Mardi Gras is not enough babe, we want equality and recognition of love. At how you’ve disadvantaged my ancestors and my predecessors - and I'm the one left having to explain and educate and advocate - but I see you. And I see that you’re clever love, you’re green. It’s not an excuse - but we both have patience.
And your concern, your deep disingenuous concern. Those of us with a moral conscience see through it and are appalled.
Last year I had real concern sweep me, followed by shame and depression as I took on your failings. When I heard of the way you treat those who've come across the seas - more to the point those who come by boat. How an 11-year-old from Iran whose religion was deemed as unclean, who was so deeply distressed that going to the bathroom (that was 50 metres from her bed) was too much. Who was so deeply suffering that after being assessed and moved to another asylum, this 11-year-old then tried, tried, tried and failed to hang herself with a bed sheet. Her parents ran into her cell and witnessed her strangling. They took her down.
She is then taken to the hospital with her mother accompanied by not one but three ACM guards - just in case the prisoner tried to escape. They’re refused visitation from their lawyer, seen only by a doctor. The prisoner who had tried, and failed to kill herself. This girl who is 11. How do you treat your children? How do you treat others’ children?
How scared are you of compromising your precious sovereignty?
And before you give me that old excuse of your ancestors and that "baby that’s just the Western world, the patriarchy, the way it is," know that this reality can and must be changed.
You are responsible. Babe c'mon, why are you spinning me this story?
But look. We haven't spoken open this openly and I know we have had counsel, counsellors, a parliament mediate this - but for real, you hurt those that have come before me, you f**king traumatised those who I came from and I stand before you through all of it still loving you. I carry it all in my blood because we have a history, my Uncles and Aunties. You remember Mabo, and Gary and Bobby Sykes. They fought you tooth and nail - but it was for us. For me, but for us. I can feel you shuffling and unsure about things, so I’m asking for space and respect and a cultivation of trust. Let me show you what I do know. Because I’m really starting to believe you’re not gammon when you say you’re interested in listening to me.
The sad thing is you have a history of oppressing the things that make you vibrant. The great thing is that you don't have to anymore (you never had to!) And I believe you can change. I need you to change. I demand this.
Because Australia, you've broken my heart and break my heart. Because all I have ever asked is for you to just love me.
Love me blak, love me back and near and far. And stick up for me as much I do you.
Sort your sh*t out mate, I know you’re worth the trouble. We’ll get through this together.
Me and you ====