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Departure 12: BOAT-PEOPLE.ORG

Boat-people have been making public art online and in public spaces around the ideas of nation, borders, history and race since their first work – a projection onto the Sydney Opera House in October 2001.



26 Jan 2007 photos Karen Trist

The scene is set with an orchestral version of the national anthem and two charming ladies attired in day-suits. A whistle for 'skippy' and the journey of citizenship quizzing is under way. With complimentary lamingtons and yellow-cake, little flag-hugging koalas as prizes and references to Australian male politicians electoral problems, the quiz raises many questions of the white Australia policy and its residues - complete with optional white blindfolds for a view of history that stops seeing anything uncomfortable. A revised national anthem verse circulates the tram and brings passengers to rousing chorus as the W-11 rolls to journeys end:

Oz-failed-ya, and left us no voice,
Poor we, ruled by John-nee;
His mates well oiled with media spoils,
Wheat board war Hicks and sleaze;
Our Muslims bear the brunt of it,
So we will vote him there.
Bin wars to wage despite our rage-
Beer helps us not to care.
Our flag-filled brains eat race-bait spin
To make Australia scared.

Download the anthem – take home version
Download the quiz - take home version

Post to discussion


The journey began bang on the knocker at 6.53, departing Federation Square. Our host, Mick Douglas, introduced a performance by boat people, comprising a site specific Australian history quiz, and hosted by myself, Mrs B Wight, and Mrs B Wright. Mrs Wright and I then downed our cups of tea, emerged from our little hideaway, and announced ourselves proud representatives of the John Howard Ladies Auxiliary Fan Club (the Jo Ho La Fa Club for short). With our pink day suits, pearl jewellery, netted hats and white gloves, we won immediate applause. Explaining that Mr Howard cannot openly discuss his real agenda, as he has a few electoral problems, (understandable in a man of his age), we pledged to reveal this agenda in all its glorious xenophobic nationalism. Thus commenced the quiz.

I, Mrs Wight, conducted the quiz, while Mrs Wright conferred the prizes and handed round the lamingtons. Passengers were avid participants, vying keenly for the prizes, and revealing their own knowledges and senses of humour. Laughter was the highest common denominator of the journey; the sight and the sound of a packed tram united in hilarity was really something else... Even those passengers who at first seemed a little uneasy with the stance taken by the quiz and its delivery were overcome with humour before long. New passengers boarding the tram were greeted with 'Hello, Bea Wight, Bea Wright, of the John Howard Ladies Auxiliary Fan Club' and invited to take part.

Bea and Bea were a little unnerved by the constant bumps and swerves of the tram, and wondered why people didn't just drive Mercedes if they couldn't afford a Rolls? There were a couple of embarrassing moments when Mrs Wight landed in passengers' laps, and both of us lurched around in unladylike fashion. Thankfully, decorum was maintained, no-one got hurt and not a lamington was spilt.

We were also a little unnerved, but quite excited, to meet some foreigners on the tram! I undertook to speak to several foreigners, [all of whom were pale skinned and native English speakers], speaking very loudly and slowly, but I'm afraid their odd accents made communication impossible [Irish, Scottish, Canadian and Jordi]. We did try, however, and they seemed very nice.

In addition to the lovely koalas, stickers and lamingtons, we handed out some sweet little white blindfolds, made personally by myself in my origami class. Their use was demonstrated by Bea and I, who deplore the dreadful, politically correct, black armband view of history, and recommend instead the white blindfold view of history – simply place over the eyes whenever you see something disagreeable. One passenger shocked us with her detailed knowledge of local Aboriginal languages, almost forcing Bea to eat her hat, and so we showed her how to apply the white blindfold for future reference.

The tram agreed that Melbourne was, in fact, run by horses, and that the flag was, in fact, best used as a symbol of social cohesion, especially in Sydney's southern shires. Various young people boarded the tram already decorated in the flag, which we are now referring to as 'the Cronulla Cape', and one young man even gave us his flag-on-a-stick, which Mrs Wright then used to bestow blessings upon the passengers.

The quiz and the tram rattled along at an alarming pace, and before one could say 'Bob's your uncle' we were back at Federation Square. The new, improved National Anthem was then performed with great gusto. Many passengers chose to stand and make patriotic gestures while singing, and voices rang out loud and clear, such that passers-by stopped to listen. This was a wonderful moment of intentional social cohesion, with all voices raised as one, and everyone knew the words! As Bea and Bea farewelled all the lovely passengers, we felt sorrow at such sweet parting, but mostly heartfelt pride at having done such a very good deed indeed!

The John Howard Ladies Auxiliary Fan Club are:
Mrs B. Wight, wife of Ernest Leigh Wight (Zelda Grimshaw)
Mrs B. Wright, wife of Christian Wright (Liz Conor)
Mrs B. Rich, wife of Phil T. Rich (currently under investigation)
Mrs B. Adormat, wife of Stan Don Adormat (currently under sedation)

Tuesday February 06