Grafton: a city with two tales
THE Grafton community is in shock, left heartbroken after news that Friday's terrorist attack in New Zealand was perpetrated by a man who grew up here.
So it's understandable we want to try to distance ourselves from what is now one of the worst mass killings in modern history.
We feel for our city, we feel for the local family caught up in this, and we feel for the people of New Zealand.
What is apparent though is a lack of acknowledgement of the people who were specifically targeted in this murderous rampage. Muslims. People, including children as young as two, who were killed because of their faith and their race.
And don't for one minute think it's not about race, it's a package deal for white supremacists, and the 28-year-old who grew up here is one of those.
So why do Clarence Valley spokespeople gloss over such details like they are trivial facts in this horrendous story?
If a Middle Eastern gunman of Muslim faith walked into a Catholic church in Australia and open fired on white Christian families there would be no such leniencies extended to the perpetrator or his ilk in the conversations that follow.
But here we are in protection mode. This isn't our Grafton. This isn't our Australia. This isn't us. Which is correct if we judge the perpetrator only on his actions on Friday.
But we have to come to terms with the fact these things don't happen overnight. There is an innate beginning to a journey that takes you to a place where you are capable of planning an attack of this level of calculation and carnage, write an extensive manifesto to showcase the act, film it and broadcast it live, and, after being captured, smirk to the media as you face the first of the many legal consequences of your actions.
So if it's not us, who is it? Pakistan, Finland, any other country? Is it the internet or social media? Computer games? Is it the moment he left Grafton? The moment he was 'radicalised'?
Ultimate responsibility lies with our society and the attitudes we foster. The conversations we have and behaviours we encourage and allow.
Everything contributes to this. What we hear from governments, what we hear from the media, what we hear from our family and friends. What we are exposed to growing up, what we talk about when we are old, the messages we share in pubs and on social media.
So in the Clarence, our Muslim-free narrative is very telling. So, too, the idealistic version we create of ourselves.
Please stop telling me how wonderful this place is. I already know it is; as long as you look like me, you go OK.
But describing the Clarence Valley and Grafton as a diverse and multicultural region that prides itself on being inclusive, while it makes a great sound bite or quote in a news story there is plenty to fault in these broad overviews with little evidence to back them up.
About 80per cent of Grafton is made up of white people and more than 70per cent identify as Christian (national averages are 65per cent and 52per cent respectively). Our demographic is made up of Australians, English, Irish, Scottish and Germans predominantly. Our indigenous population falls under the Australian component and makes up 7.4per cent of that, representing the major group as far as our cultural diversity goes. It is more than double the state average at 2.9per cent. Our representation of other people of colour is negligible by comparison.*
So to call us a culturally diverse place is a stretch. Inclusiveness is easy when we all look the same and have the same beliefs.
Our indigenous locals may have a different take on what that looks like.
When it comes to sport and the arts, sure we champion inclusiveness with First Nations people, but when we are really tested, like we were with the Coutts Crossing name debate, we demonstrate a low tolerance. Same with national issues like changing the date of Australia Day.
When our Citizen of the Year expressed her support of that in her acceptance speech she received random boos from an audience that also included members of our indigenous community.
Every October when we are - to quote someone well known for her lack of regard for other races - "swamped with Asians", our lack of tolerance for the influx of visitors eager to photograph our beautiful trees is demonstrated with the barrage of abuse they receive from passing motorists.
But it's not about race, they're just idiots standing in the way, right? Like the booing of Adam Goodes wasn't because he was an Aborigine, he was just a bad sport.
What if the Muslim community came en masse to Grafton to mourn their slain? What if they came to a town where they don't exist?
It's impossible to have all those other conversations about our wonderful town without having this one.
As difficult as it is, not mentioning the war as we wait for things to blow over isn't an option. It's no longer Grafton's story to tell, or its agenda to set. The city will forever wear a horrific international act of terrorism as part of its story and in its history books.
Interest will follow us for a long time as the world learns who the perpetrator was, what kind of place he grew up in and how he ended up committing an act of hatred so obscene it stopped the world.
Like all the official spokespeople out there, I too love the Clarence Valley, but I'm not blindsided by that affection so much I believe we are incapable of being a breeding ground for racism. We aren't the only Australian town to have this potential, but we are the town caught up in this mess.
Please don't run away from this so fast we fail to learn anything by it. Call out racism. Call out bigotry. Then call it out again, and again.
*2016 ABS Census
- Harmony Day is on Thursday, March 21, from 6-8pm, South Grafton Ex-Services Club. This year's theme is 'Overcoming Barriers Migrants Face in the Clarence Valley'. Everyone is welcome.