February 18, 2015

Ten years of blogging!

Ten years of blogging? How did that happen! Well this is how... revealed in a long, extremely self-indulgent post that hopefully has enough reflection and self-awareness to not make you vomit into your hat.

Here's where it all began: http://munanga.blogspot.com.au/2005/02/oh-my-ive-got-blog.html

I started this blog in 2005 in pre-Facebook days when the main ways of keeping in touch with friends and family was phone, email or snail mail. The beginnings of this blog were very innocuous - a way for friends/family to read about what I was up to (I'm a crap emailer and letter writer). At the time I was a few months into my only major stint of living remotely, spending around three years in Ngukurr as a community-based linguist. It was a tough job and I was on a steep learning curve very much out of my cultural comfort zone. I soon found that blogging was a good way for me document and process the interesting and challenging experiences I was having. There were also a group of friends and colleagues doing the same thing and we formed a nice little blogroll together. That was when my blogging was most prolific and if you read over those old posts you'll see lots about the day-to-day life of being a remote linguist. For example, here's a short post on a nice exchange I had with a young neighbour (maidi sta bin buldan) and here's me getting a bit worn out and discussing some of the work issues I would face daily (reluctant).

A few years into my blogging, I unexpectedly found out that it had the potential to be a bit of a voice for advocacy. I had thought that it was only my friends and a few language nerds reading my musings, but then during my last year in Ngukurr we had the Intervention. I was already burning out and in hindsight, the extra trauma of the Intervention put the nail into the coffin and I moved back to town not long after. After attending the first major community meeting about the Intervention, I had a burning desire to get the story off my chest. I had no choice - my head and heart was racing and I needed to express it. That post was later picked up by a former Queensland senator (for the Democrats... yep... that's how long I've been blogging.. the Democrats were still a thing!) who used it as a source of info and anti-Intervention sentiment and suddenly I'd reached a whole new audience.

Then my blog got quiet. I was living back in Katherine, life was less tumultuous, and the Facebook era was in full swing. With Facebook, I had a much more immediate and interactive way to keep in touch with friends and family, so the blog was not quite as functional anymore. But it floated along with occasional posts and then kinda got a boost again in 2010 when I started my PhD and started spending a lot more time in Ngukurr again. I had exciting things to share again and things that required a bit more detail than a Facebook status update could give. For example. this was me after finding out that young people in Ngukurr say 'gijal' instead of 'gija' (crazy katz) and here's one of the cool things I learned about Marra while I was working with the old people.

Around the same time another significant thing was happening. A bunch of postgrad students started up a language blog, Fully (sic), on the Crikey news website and I jumped on board. This really helped get my blogging mojo back. Despite being a regular contributor to that blog, I kept up the blogging here too, to talk about things that were more personal or localised, like my traumatic wet season trip from Ngukurr to Katherine or about translating Facebook into Kriol. Meanwhile, on Fully (sic), my writing skills were developing and I started to gain confidence in my writing. I'd never thought of myself as a decent writer. I don't enjoy writing. I don't do a lot of it really. But now I was writing on this blog, on Crikey, and getting stuck back into academic writing and I was doing okay at it. What a revelation! The Crikey stuff was awesome and I wrote some things I'm very proud of, one of the first being my list of Top Ten Moments In The Sun for Indigenous languages. So many people read it and enjoyed it! Another piece I like was when I mansplained why the Australian Financial Review got it wrong by using the word 'blacks' in their headline and was totally chuffed when none other than First Dog On The Moon tweeted about what a good headline "Why Muriel Heslop is not as dumb as the Australian Financial Review" was. I was also very proud to actually be the first person to break the story that the NT Government had finally dropped the awful policy of teaching in English for the First Four Hours of each school day. That story was later reported on by quite a few other media outlets.

So it was about here that I started getting bolder with my blogging. I criticised a journalist from the Australian for adhering to a deficit discourse when it came to reporting on Indigenous education. As if that wasn't a big enough target, I later bagged out McDonald's and suggested that an advertising campaign they ran was kinda racist. I don't think I overstepped the mark with those pieces, but I really am not sure about whether the piece I wrote about Marion Scrymgour for New Matilda was a good idea. It was strongly worded, venting years of frustration I'd felt in the face of unsuccessful lobbying to get the First Four Hours of policy removed and the stubbornness of Scrymgour and others to stand by it. My article resulted an instant rebuttal that named me numerous times as being out of line. I still have no perspective on this - was I being bullied? Was I just naive in thinking that little old me could write whatever I like and no one would pay any attention but actually was way out of line? I still don't know. But as a minor compensation, I still enjoy the line that I was "a member of a sophisticated, well-organised, and influential lobby group". That really does make it clear as day how perceptions differ. At my end, all I do is send a few emails, chat to others and blather on about stuff on blogs. I had no idea that that could be construed as being sophisticated, organised and influential!

Not long after that episode came another very difficult piece that I wrote after watching a controversial AFL grand final. The match had ended abruptly when the all-Indigenous team from Ngukurr were called off the field by their coaches before the final siren in protest of the umpiring and conduct of the mostly or all non-Indigenous Katherine-based team. It was a traumatic event to witness and the aftermath was also shocking, where so few of my Katherine-based friends were sympathetic to the Ngukurr team's behaviour (the Ngukurr coaches were also sent to the AFL tribunal over it). I composed a lengthy piece to provide a viewpoint that differed from the majority but got caned for it. The negative comments came think and fast (as well as plenty of positive ones) and a random angry phone call from a player on the Katherine-based team made it all become too real. I took the post down.

Since then I've had a lot more anxiety about blogging and tried to return to nicer and safer posts and topics. I wrote lighter stuff on Fully (sic) that I'm proud of like advocating that 'totes' should be spelled 'toats' and a look at the multilingual AFL commentary gimmick of a few years back. But the compulsion to raise issues and criticise seems to be ingrained. I've always been this way I think. In Year 12, I got a letter to the editor published in the Courier Mail complaining that Channel 10 had edited the lesbian kiss out of a rerun of a Roseanne episode. Ha! My sister reminded me of a late drunken night in the Valley in my early 20s when I was annoyed that the ATM was out of action due to scheduled servicing right when I needed cash to get my drunken arse home. I marched right over to a payphone and rang the bank to complain. What a brat. And don't worry, if you find it annoying that I'm constantly getting worked up about issues (which always inevitably pass... I know I don't always need to bother), I find myself annoying most of the time too. I apologise. I do try to keep it light sometimes.

But I just can't help myself. This time last year I was on a mini rampage when Indigenous education was reviewed in the NT by a clueless numbskull. I vented directly to him at a public meeting and then vented on my blog. The piece, Northern Territory's Draft Indigenous Education review (Part 1) is now my 2nd most read article on here. (Still working on that part two though!). Days later I blogged again about how appalled I was with the very kind appraisal of a notorious NT historical figure in an exhibition at the NT Library (Whitewashed: The Northern Territory Library's disturbing commemoration of the life of Paul Foelsche). This issue was actually picked up by local ABC so I must have been on to something.

Last week, I had an interview for a fancy job at a very nice university and they asked what publications I'm most proud of. As I bumbled through my answer ("I don't actually like this piece... Well, I mean I like it, but it was just difficult to write and it was a full on experience to go through..."), I talked about the time I took on the multi-million dollar marketing campaign of the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (first on the present blog, then on Fully (sic)). I complained that they were using a false statistic in their marketing and pandering to a negative portrayal of remote Aboriginal kids. The boss of this influential charity took issue with what I'd written and I took issue back. It was a very stressful week. My bark is a lot bigger than my bite. I'm typically a pushover and not very assertive in real life, so episodes like this make me very anxious. It's probably my lack of interpersonal assertiveness that makes me a good candidate for being quite vehement (at times) on the internet. I know at least one fellow PhD student who knew my blogging before they knew me remarked that the real life me was not what they'd expected at all. Ha!

And that's the story of my ten years of blogging. Again, apologies for the long self-indulgent post. But it has actually been quite a significant part of my life, so why not reflect on it properly? My blogging has helped to clarify my thoughts about many issues and events. It's made what I do and what I care about more widely known and understood. I like to think I've helped to promote Aboriginal languages and made them better understood, as well as those who speak them (or have been denied that opportunity via history). And for me personally, it's really helped me develop as a writer. I've gone from an incredibly reluctant writer who thought nothing of my writing abilities, to now being a confident writer who believes that writing can do pretty cool things when you do it well or get it right. This blog has documented many parts of my professional and personal life over the past ten years and I've really enjoyed sharing it with whoever happens across it. Thanks for reading.

If anyone has actually read this far, I'd love to hear your open thoughts if you have any to share: on my blogging in general, or any specific posts, on the issue of balancing the sharing of online opinions/views with maintaining real-life relationships, or on being a 'keyboard warrior' and advocating and raising issues online in media like blogs - is it worthwhile? how hard do you push? The past ten years of blogging have been quite a rollercoaster and I'm still figuring it out.