GenOne: Everyone’s a winner, baby
When the good ship Generation One stormed home to victory on Sydney Harbour in the Australia Day Ferrython it was a quietly dignified affair.
A bunch of Aboriginal boys to my left banged on the hull and cheered uncontrollably, I gave the black power salute while wearing a T-shirt on my head and to my right the former Upper House President Meredith Burgmann gave the second place-getters the finger.
And just to add to the solemn gravitas the whole boat was fitted out to look like a giant purple whale.
The atmosphere was inclusive but irreverent, warm but cheeky and – as soon as sport became involved – strictly business.
The whole thing was emblematic of what Australia Day can be when you take away the airhorns, flag-capes and endless chanting of “Oi! Oi! Oi!”
Indeed there was scarcely a flag to be seen but I felt more Australian on that boat than peas in fried rice.
The GenOne boat, the Sydney ferry formerly known as Alexander, was of course named for Andrew Forrest’s audacious bid to end Indigenous disadvantage in a single generation.
From what this sunstroked reporter can gather, the beauty of the concept is fivefold.
Firstly, it is positive and forward-looking. It sets to one side our troubled past and instead simply seeks to fix the problem now – an unquestionably righteous goal no matter what colour your armband.
The second and somewhat ingenious part of Twiggy’s idea is that, with its focus on employment and the socially and economically uplifting role that a steady job can have, Generation One appeals directly to the Protestant work ethic that middle Australia values so much. It is effectively selling to WASPs their own philosophy. Again, how could they argue against it?
The third and most ambitious element is that it sets a deadline – one generation – to wipe out Indigenous disadvantage. It is almost certain that such a gargantuan task will take far longer than that but the ambitiousness of the target gives a sense of urgency and energy to a problem politicians usually try to manage rather than solve.
The fourth is that it is deliberately inclusive. The language is not one of Aboriginal rights but one of disparity, disunity. It speaks not about favouring one group over another – nor even about advancing Indigenous Australians in isolation – but about closing the gap between white and black Australia, bringing the two groups together.
At the same time it subtly reminds those who may wish to believe the problem isn’t theirs that it is in fact their comparative advantage in life that is the problem. It is not just that Aborigines are so poorly off, but that we are so much better off by comparison.
And the fifth pillar is that it is about Indigenous Australians doing it for themselves, improving not just their living standards but their self-respect through work and education. Being given opportunities and then left to prove themselves. There can be no accusations of passive handouts or paternalism; this is, above anything else, a question of pride.
So when the boat chugged home under the Harbour Bridge and left not just the other ferries in its wake but also cheering cruise ships, $300-an-hour water taxis and the aquatic playthings of the wealthy, there was a surprisingly genuine feeling of excitement. Amid all the laid-back silliness and fun there was a powerful thrill.
And why not? On a level playing field, before tens of thousands of people on our national day, a group of Indigenous Australians had proven they could cut it with the best of them. Not because they were Indigenous, nor despite it, but because they were given a fair go.
And in a way it kind of evened the scoreboard a little bit. A bunch of boats had sailed into Sydney Harbour on January 26 and this time the blackfellas won.
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