Our family moved to Woodridge in 1974. I was four-years-old. It was normal not to have shoes, it was normal to be given breakfast sometimes, and the cultural mix was always considered normal. There wasn't a sense of “us and them” - we were all poor, we were all in it together.
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I went through Woodridge High at a time when there were about 50 Aboriginal kids in the whole school, which was considered a large number. But there were also a large number of Vietnamese kids who lived there, and there were Maltese, Greeks and Italians. The cultural make-up of Logan has shifted and we have seen a lot of Pacific Islanders in the last two decades.
Logan is a place where you come to first when you arrive in the country, and then go somewhere else. And there is a tension in Logan which is created when every group that comes to Australia wants to position itself. They're trying to say “How do we fit into this country? How do we belong to Australia?”, and there are always these tensions of belonging and asserting cultural identity.
It can sometimes be a very positive thing – I've seen a lot of theatre and dance projects happen, especially in Logan. I think Woodridge High, Kingston High and Mabel Park High have all been really focused on positive, constructive ways of developing cultural identity.
But you can't help but see some of that stuff, and a sense of confidence, get stripped away – particularly when they pick up signals from a whole range of dog-whistles.
Like Andrew Laming – I saw his tweet and thought “Really? Really? Is this what it's about, when our politicians start to talk like this? Shouldn't we be saying “How do we understand it, how do we solve it, how do we find constructive ways to tell these stories to assert cultural identity and give confidence to a community?”
Other people would look down on Logan, but I never felt that was an issue for me. I never felt that being an Aboriginal boy from Logan was going to stop me from doing anything. Same for my sister, brothers, cousins – we all felt that was not a reason for us not to achieve, travel, see the world, assert ourselves in a constructive way. And it is heartbreaking to see destructive behaviours manifesting in a place I love so much.
I never grew up with a chip on my shoulder thinking “I'm poor and that's what I always have to be”. You work hard and you can get ahead. No matter how desperate the situation looks, no matter how dark the hole you're looking up from, in this country there is positivity and we have to engage in that.
I think there are a number of contributing factors to the chip on the shoulder. One is a sense of dis-ease, people not feeling comfortable, feeling that other people are looking down at them. Then there is need to have a place where they can constructively assert their identity.
Sometimes a place like Logan is forgotten because people think the issues are too hard to solve. There are really beautiful, generous people working in Logan to make a difference. Those people made a difference in my life. The local school, the local theatre group, the local council, the library, the art gallery - there are lots of things there to give you spaces to go, and it's a shame people can't take advantage of the positive, constructive things that are there. For example, the Logan PCYC is the heart of street dancing, because it's given space to an art form that others might disregard.
There are always going to be social issues like drugs, alcohol and violence. You don't have to live in Woodridge to experience those things, but we need to change the way people cope and the way people talk about it, and stop the stigma– especially for young people.
If you treat people like criminals, they sometimes become criminals
A company called Street Art, based in Brisbane, came out to Woodridge High when I was in Year 11. They did a performance piece about a post-apocalyptic world, and I was mesmerised by it. Artists are always there trying to find constructive ways for young people to find an outlet. And when you invest in young people, give them a positive place to be and a story to tell, you get examples like me.
It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you treat people like criminals, they sometimes become criminals. If you treat people like they're lesser than you, they will somehow become lesser than you.
Let's find ways of being supportive and open. I pledge that I and the Queensland Theatre Company are going to do something. I don't know what it is yet, but it's important that I don't forget where I came from and what I can do to help.
Bille Brown died on Sunday, a great loss to Queensland and the theatrical world. We're helping organise the memorial, and so the last few days have been full of thoughts about him. We think, here is a young man from the bush, from Biloela, who, given the right circumstances and support, went on to have an international career.
Every young person deserves that opportunity.
-Wesley Enoch is the Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company. He is of Murri descent.