Features Australia

Where’s our Greta?

7 September 2019

9:00 AM

7 September 2019

9:00 AM

Why is Australia being left behind on climate change? I don’t mean left behind in the sense of not doing enough (although allegedly we’re not) to avoid the big emergency itself, when cool places like Tasmania will swelter and rich Americans will have to emigrate to Mars rather than New Zealand. I mean in not having our own equivalent of the junior Joan of Arc of climate activism, the St Trinian’s-esque schoolgirl and yachtie Greta Thunberg, to lead us into battle against climate irresponsibility. Why must we leave it to someone from another country to symbolise our fight against dirty black coal and its consequences for what, if we don’t turn on the aircon quick – no, sorry, that’s not an option – turn off the aircon, and the heating – will soon be a char-grilled planet? Surely there’s someone here who can take on the mantle of being our local Greta and keep the brand in-house, so to speak.

At first I thought of Jane Caro – her eloquence and commanding presence are what commends her, but no, with all due respect to Jane’s maturity of years it ought to be someone who represents youth, since youth we are told will be the big sufferers in a sun-braised world. Similarly disqualified by age, although she has shown remarkable concern for youth, especially un- or about-to-be-born youth, is motherly Gladys Berejiklian.

Then it hit me: Adut Akech Bior, the Sudanese-born fashion model. Not only does Adut have youth on her side, she has already, at only nineteen, learned to speak the language of activism. Her chosen field so far has been race but to switch from whinging about race to complaining about climate requires but a small adjustment of vocabulary. Instead of damning everyone else for being ‘racists’ you can say they’re ‘denialists’: indeed, in the eyes of the activist, the people who are the one are probably the other too. (This is clearly the view of the eminent statespersons of the South Pacific with regard to our own Prime Minister and his disinclination to obey their instructions and convert the Australian economy to wind power.)

Adut, it will remembered, blamed ‘racism’ for a mix-up over the publication of her photograph in the magazine Who, which instead published over her name the picture of a lady rival in the hierarchy of the catwalk. Leaving aside that most people in their right mind would prefer not to be portrayed at all in a publication as trashy as Who, Adut took this as a deliberate insult, and not just to herself but to everyone else in, or formerly in, South Sudan. ‘My entire race was disrespected,’ she told the ABC when it lent a predictably sympathetic ear. Did Adut think that if dealing with a model with a lighter skin the magazine would have been more careful to get the photograph right? Possibly. But what makes her true leadership material as Australia’s version of Greta is the sheer arrogance and pushy self-importance that led her to think about race in this context at all.

How many Aduts are suffering hunger and poverty and danger – even torture – in the hellhole that is South Sudan? And yet this, by comparison, enormously fortunate teenager, who has escaped all that to become an international success, instead of being grateful to the country that gave her freedom and the opportunity to become rich and famous – the country that enabled her to catapult herself from dreary old Melbourne Fashion Week to queen it over the catwalks and fashion shoots of Paris and London and be selected as one of the women on the cover of Vogue this month (in the edition that appears under the editorship of that distinguished journalist Princess Markle, a.k.a the Duchess of Sussex) – instead of that she whines about ‘racism’ just like any inept female politician blaming her failure on ‘misogyny’.

What would it take for Adut to stand up and say, ‘Thank you, Australia,’ or at least to give us the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge that not everything that goes wrong is contrived by racists for her personal annoyance.

Adut was apparently called Mary at school in Adelaide because her teachers couldn’t pronounce her name properly – this was racism too no doubt, just as it is to Tim Soutphommasane when his name doesn’t trip fluently off the tongue of airline staff bowing him into business class.

Yet there is another aspect to the matter Adut might ponder. Why should she have anything against racism anyway? Like it or not, race helped put her where she is. Her ebony skin and sculpted African physiognomy made her a model of choice at a time when the fashion and advertising industries were discovering ‘people of colour’. If she had indeed been Mary, let’s say a blonde Anglo-descended Mary, perhaps with freckles, would she have made it to the top? For every Adut there are hundreds of non-Somali girls who have never progressed farther in their careers than smiling out of a booklet of knitting patterns. One could understand those models manquées as they contemplate Adut’s stellar success in ‘racist’ Australia thinking, ‘If that’s racism in action, spare some for me.’

And disgraceful though it is, there are people around who prefer the Anglo look. Two years ago a woman complained to the department store David Jones that she could not ‘relate’ to the model on the cover of their summer catalogue. Guess who the model was? Yes, our dear Adut. This – one complaint, note, and then an avalanche of tweeted support for Adut when the store apologised to the woman who complained – was adduced by Adut as yet another manifestation of the racism she thinks has stalked her career.

Actually the Who mix-up seems not to have been racism at all, not the nasty sort anyway, just good old-fashioned incompetence. A public relations agency, now cringingly apologetic, had sent the magazine the wrong photo. True, if you’re obsessed with racism you’d find a way to classify this as the unconscious sort of racism so valued by anti-discrimination boards touting for custom. But you’ll never eliminate that until you eliminate human beings.

Which brings us back to the ‘climate emergency’. Yes, let’s appoint Adut our local Thunberg. Not only does she know how to attract attention but she has this advantage over the Swedish Greta: she would know whereof she speaks.

The parched and desolate landscapes of the South Sudan are just what the whole world will look like soon, according to climate catastrophists.  Why aren’t they rushing to sign her up?’

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