Today, I’m presenting at the 2018 Woodford Folk Festival in a Speakers & Ideas program curated by Michael and Ludmila Doneman of Edgeware Creative Entrepreneurship. The following is the guts of my presentation which will be followed up by discussion and Q&A. Grateful to Michael and Ludmila for giving me a deadline to get Deadly Bloggers up and running.
Social media and digital platforms provide opportunities for marginalised voices, in ways that have not existed before. While not completely unproblematic – trolling, doxing, matters of privacy and data retention, etc. – social media enables previously un-listened-to voices platforms. Leesa’s presentation will signal boost some of the social media voices of 2018, and highlight the way in which Indigenous voices are an integral part of the ecosystem of narrative of this nation.
I “found” social media in 2007. I’d attended a “Web 2.0” workshop run by Eddie Harran at the Powerhouse, was blown away, went home and started a Twitter account, a blog, Flickr, Slideshare that night … and …. I was hooked. For me then and still now, the internet is not about technology – I’m not really blown away by cool tech – it’s all about communication. For me, the internet is about the possibilities of communication, in particular for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, other Indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups.
In analysing the way that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are portrayed in the media, Moreton-Robinson said:
“We have been portrayed … as negligent and abusive parents, extremely violent, sexually abusive, corrupt, alcoholic, substance abusers and bludgers on welfare, suffering from cultural dysfunction …”
This quote comes from her 2012 dissection of the role the media played in bringing about the Intervention. So representation isn’t just about how you look. Representation impacts. Representation matters. It’s essential that the representation of Indigenous people is owned and shaped by Indigenous people. This has never happened before, it’s not really happening now, but – I am the optimist – it can happen. For me, this is the power of online communication and one of the reasons I started Deadly Bloggers.
I started Deadly Bloggers, originally as a hashtag when I’d Tweet. As my Web 2.0 journey kept moving, I was excited to find other Indigenous people online. Over time, people found each other – it was very organic. Eventually, Deadly Bloggers became a list on my first personal blog, then I moved to a Blogger blog in 2012 and then its current home a year or so later. One of my main regrets is not being better at keeping records and statistics. I wish I had tracked the numbers of Indigenous bloggers over the years – who was posting, what they were posting about, how long people would post for – was it a quick ‘this pissed me off so I’m going to say it thing’ or was there a long-term documenting or journal style in the vein of traditional blogging. My gut says it’s a mix of both.
While the issues – racism, colonisation, representation etc – remain the same, the internet has changed so much since we started.
Social media versus blogging
With more platforms available, where easy-to-post and easy-to-share is the goal, blogging has taken a back step. Facebook, Instagram, Medium are wonderful – you get can get immediate engagement and traction, but they can also be threat – you don’t own those spaces. High profile activist voices are regularly censured as they become victims of group blocking using the “community standards” features.
The other platform of course is ‘mainstream media’.
We’ve seen in the past 24 months an increase in the participation of Indigenous people in mainstream media including ABC’s The Drum and Q&A, The Guardian, SBS-NITV (I’m not sure if we consider NITV mainstream media or not), the Monthly, the Saturday Paper, and more.
There are a couple of points to make here – an increase in the numbers is positive. We should have more voices speaking about the full range of issues that the country faces. However, and I’m prompted here by Associate Professor Sandra Phillips’ observation in response to an ABC package that pits one Aboriginal woman’s opinion against another, that we don’t want outlets simply to
“… [seek] to deploy the vivacity of Aboriginal women to polarise debate, stir emotion, fuel dissent, bring colour and life, and in the old vernacular “generate copy” …”
Yes, let’s increase the number and diversity, but it should be on Indigenous terms, not about just generating clicks and certainly not just about fostering outrage.
Now, before I talk next about social media voices more generally, I want to provide a disclaimer. I’m not a communications expert. I don’t have a comms or journalism degree. I don’t work professionally in that space. I’m a business owner and community volunteer. The list that follows will no doubt contain a number of holes and missing theoretical links. So I’ll beg forgiveness up front.
Celeste Liddle’s Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist
Celeste generally features at the top of the list. Her activist work in exposing racism and sexism, with a particular focus on systemic oppression is fantastic. Celeste was one of the very first Deadly Bloggers with her Black Feminist Ranter blog, but she quickly gained traction in writing for mainstream media and speaking events. If you’re looking to subscribe, her Facebook page is an essential *like*.
I wasn’t sure if I should write Luke Pearson or IndigenousX or Luke Pearson’s IndigenousX. Anyway, you can follow Luke or IndigenousX. Luke has done an amazing job to create a platform that is much broader than just blogging. The ro-cur account and the relationship he has developed with the Guardian means that IndigenousX is the embodiment of diversity. Each week a new voice is given a platform.
Associate Professor Chelsea Bond
Chelsea’s continued production of critical written pieces has been the true standout I think. In addition to her academic work, Chelsea’s pieces have been published in The Guardian, SBS, the Conversation, as well as the locally published and globally distributed Wild Black Women broadcast radio program and podcast with Angelina Hurley. You can hear them each week (or subscribe to the podcast) on 98.9FM.
Is a fantastic creator who works across political and social analysis as well as comedy. They’ve appeared on ABC’s Black Comedy, and their work is regularly published in the Guardian, Junkee, and others sites.
Karen is a freelance and emerging author. Her social media forte is Twitter and her activist work there is vital. In addition to her blog and novels Karen’s been published in Al Jazeera, IndigenousX, NITV, Meeanjin and the Guardian. Her Meanjin debacle: erasing Aboriginal words in order to highlight white women’s appropriation is a good read.
Colleen has been in communications and in community for decades. Her blog Proud Black Sista is currently documenting her experiences in the Australian health system as an Aboriginal mum with inoperable cancer.
Curtain The Podcast
Amy McQuire and Martin Hodgson’s investigative work exploring the injustices of the Australian justice system. Their investigation into the murder trial of Kevin ‘Curtain’ Henry from Rockhampton Queensland is incredible.
I can’t really talk about blogging without mentioning Anita. I would argue the most prolific Indigenous blogger in recent times. Hers is a practice about discipline. Her commitment to writing, Indigenous literature and the many varied community activities she supports is shown in her blog.
This list is definitely not exhaustive but simply a snapshot of online creativity that is happening around Australia right now.
Show me the money!
In 2013 I conducted a small survey of Deadly Bloggers. Now Associate Professor Sandra Phillips had asked me to speak for her undergraduates at the time about Indigenous writing online. And it was probably one of the first talks I’d been asked to give. So I created a small survey to find out the whys, and the challenges of our Deadly Blogging cohort.
One of the biggest challenges was time and resources. It takes time to create content. The Deadly Bloggers list contracts and expands as time and energy to create allows. Those who have been able to maintain their practice are generally those who have managed to find a way to build it into their professional lives – to generate an income and revenue stream. Deadly Bloggers has been on a self-imposed hiatus for over 12 months as I’ve not had the resources to keep it going.
It’s great to be asked to write, speak on panels, be interviewed on television and radio, but reality has to take precedence sometimes. I would advise all bloggers and social media personalities and commentators to be strategic about the opportunities you accept. Don’t try to accept them all. You will burn out.
Just as we hear the call to support journalism, we must continue to support our creators. So my call to action is to ask everyone to support Indigenous online creativity by subscribing and following, signal boosting, and if it’s in your power – creating revenue generating opportunities for creators.
A few of our creators have set up links, including –
- Colleen Lavelle’s Medical Fund GoFundMe
- Curtain, the Podcast Patreon
- IndigenousX Patreon
- Karen Wyld’s Patreon
In conclusion …
We’re restless …
Writing online is as important than ever. The world is changing again. Patriarchal Whiteness is not happy that it’s not completely the centre of the universe – structurally it still is of course, but perceptions and expectations are changing. And it’s annoyed so much that it buys itself places at universities (thanks UOW).
But mainstream media is being forced to listen. It’s not everything, but it is something, that more Indigenous voices are participating in mainstream programs like the Drum and Q&A. And only this week, the announcement it was announced that Brooke Boney an Indigenous journalist, was to be appointed to the Today show. This is not insignificant. These changes are essential, but we also must continue to support independent voices online.
It’s these independent voices, voices from the margins that will push ideas, creativity, and activism into the mainstream. It’s these voices that will shape the nation for the better.
Blogging, & other forms of online publication, allow writers to define themselves (and their Aboriginality). It can provide a space where First Nations Peoples can play, explore, create, debate, rant and vent, satirise, and philosophise the world in which we live.
Online publication, like other forms of publication, are defined by particular structures. Issues of access, ownership, permanence, and security all impact on the effectiveness of online publication for First Nations Peoples. But the potential to throw down or bypass the gatekeepers of traditional publication is too great to ignore.