Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Robert Wolfgramm - what Fiji Day means to me

from w
In the Fiji Post I read this story by Robert Wolfgramm who speaks honestly of some of his experiences, particularly about racism.

What Fiji Day means to me10-Oct-2007

ONE winter’s day in 1976, I found myself in the Australian city of Wagga Wagga. No one calls it Wagga Wagga, they just say ‘Wagga’. I was a truck-driver at the time doing an interstate run that took in the large south-western New South Wales city that sits at the top of the region called ‘the Riverina’. t was my good fortune to be in the town the very day when a Fiji rugby team was touring and playing, I think, Country New South Wales.

The Fiji team comprised players such as Naituyaga, Veidreyaki, Cavuilati, Waisake, Tuisese, Ratudradra, Lobendahn, and others, but who exactly was on that Wagga field – I cannot remember. It wasn’t much of a day - certainly not one worth remembering in some ways. Overcast, wet and cold, and Fiji losing.

But as I stood cheering among the hundred or so that turned out to watch, I realised that whatever else I would become in life, I would be a pro-Fiji ethno-nationalist. Why? Because I felt every single one of the Australian racist taunts that were hurled at our brave men on the field that day.

It was a galvanising experience. One that shaped my outlook deeply and permanently.

Our team probably never heard the racist insults screamed whenever they had the ball in their possession or made forward moves on the field. I expect their minds were on the game. But I stood among the insult-hurlers feeling great pride in the Fiji team, and deep shame and anger at what some Australians are capable of – especially when it came to sport, their unofficial national religion.

Indeed, it took Australian sporting and government authorities another 20 years before sport racism became an issue for them. It took 20 long years after multiculturalism was official Australian policy for conservative sport authorities in that country to do something about the rampant racism that attended every international meeting with their opponents in just about every code of sport. Cricket and rugby were especially bad.

I gained first-hand experience of it that winter’s day in Wagga Wagga and while the Fiji team could return to the cocoon of their home turf here in Fiji and simply forget about any such experience, I couldn’t. I was stuck in Australia facing up to it day after day, year after year - in one form or other. Mine can’t have been a unique experience, but it was one that makes an ethno-nationalist out of the uncommitted. Fending or rather defending your homeland, your country of birth, your ancestral Fijians, your relatives, your people, to non-Fijians for 40 years made me hyper-sensitive to anti-Fiji and specifically anti-Fijian criticism.

It still does. When I hear people rejecting ethno-nationalism, criticising it, scared of it, I just wonder whether they have suffered for Fiji in the same way I have. Not that I would wish it on them – no, not at all. But I wish they would be more understanding of what it means to stick up for your country abroad for as long as I have.

Some will have been exposed to it abroad for some period of time (for sure); and some will even have surrendered to it. But I couldn’t and can’t.

I remember how in 1964, a Sydney school friend of mine came home to celebrate my birthday. He was genuinely shocked to find I was then living in a middle-class home – clean, tidy and with all the signs of having accommodated myself to civilisation. ‘Boy’, he said to me in the middle of the party, ‘your house is great – I thought you’d be living in grass dump!’ We laughed.

I laughed with him at the time, but was equally shocked at his ignorance. But I didn’t laugh much 10 years later, when strolling across Sydney’s Domain with my then young (white) Australian wife. A stranger ran up to us, and, taking exception at her being with me (a ‘boong’ as he put it), spat at her. The poor girl! She had already sustained a long battle with her own white Australian parents, who objected to our relationship and had banned her seeing me, had confiscated my letters to her, had cut their telephone line, had banned her sisters from visiting us, and had (naturally) refused to attend our wedding. ‘You should go back to Fiji and marry one of your own kind’, her father told me many times before we had a punch-up.

I didn’t start that fight, but the one time when I did was when I was confronted by a couple of young neo-Nazis in Bourke Street, Melbourne. It was back in the mid ’70s and I was street-preaching for my Christian faith. The Nazis always came along to listen and laugh at us street-preachers. They usually stood at attention in their Australian army overcoats hiding their Nazi uniforms underneath – this in itself must be a great insult and sacrilege to the Diggers who fought Nazism.

But what upset me on this particular occasion, were their taunts of ‘go home Nigger’ that greeted my testimony. It wasn’t that they were ridiculing my faith, but my race, my appearance, my people. I jumped off the trailer I was speaking from and we wrestled to the ground. It wasn’t a great advertisement for my faith, that’s for sure, but it felt good and right to stick up for my people.

So these are just some of the things that made an ethno-nationalist out of me. The thought that some 250,000 people then (400,00 people now) were worthy of racist ridicule just because of what they are, who they are, and who I am, by history, by culture, and by birth stirs my pride in Fiji. It invokes deep respect for my Fijian relatives and ancestral connections. It causes me to want for them the best kind of prosperity and national political profile we can give ourselves. As I see it, Fiji is a precious minority in the global scale of things. We have to protect and maintain ourselves against the tide of wishy-washy global sentiment that wants to erode ethnic distinctiveness and make us all into one big bland family of nothin g-in-particular.

If Fiji Day means anything to me, it doesn’t mean loss of pride in who we are, but it does mean hope for the end of racism in Fiji. As one who has experienced it for too long in another country, I would not wish racism on anyone here. Especially not those who through no fault of their own, have no other country other than this one.

I think of Fiji as an accepting, tolerant and understanding nation. We can all proudly be a part of its growing, maturing history. We can all be ethno-nationalists, but never racists. When I hear some of our citizens disparage ethno-nationalism, I just think back to that winter day in Wagga Wagga and smile. And dream about a Fiji team winning the Rugby World Cup. That’d show those appalling Wagga Wagga racists a thing or two.

More about Robert on his website.

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