Tuesday, 16 July 2019

History isnt just stories in a book. It happened to us all.

Today mum called me and told me we lost another cousin. The third Aboriginal family member in three mums. 

To me, Aboriginal history is more than stories to be debated. They are my life and that of my families.

Too often, history is depersonalised. It happened to someone else. It becomes a collective of people who are often nameless and faceless. I decided that I needed to share some of my stories and those of my family to make history real. With permission from my mum, here is a truncated version of our families story.

History isnt just stories in a book. It happened to us all. 

History Case Study

Edna, a Yorta Yorta woman, was born in New South Wales (NSW) on Cummeragunja Mission in 1930. Cummeragunja was an Aboriginal Mission on the banks of the Murray River, which is on the border between NSW and Victoria. During this time, a Board was appointed to oversee the implementation of the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW Government, 1909). The Act controlled all aspects of Aboriginal people’s life. For example, the Board on behalf of the State:
·     was required to give Aboriginal people permission to leave reserves or missions 
·     supplied rations (sugar, flour, tea, tobacco etc.)
·     controlled Aboriginal people’s money,
·     was the legal custodian of children and the government 
·     maintained ownership of all possessions and housing issued by the Government (NSW Government, 1909).
In 1939, when Edna was 9 with her family, she was one of the 200 people who participated in what is now known as the Cummeragunja-Walk-Off. People on the mission were unhappy with their treatment and crossed the Murray River into Victoria contravening the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW Government, 1909). The Walk-Off has been identified as the first Aboriginal mass strike. 
After the strike, Edna’s family settled in Echuca in Victoria. Victoria was a much more liberal state than NSW. At the age of 15, in 1945, with some of the other girls she grew up with, Edna went to work in a factory in Melbourne. In 1951, one of Edna sisters married someone who was culturally inappropriate to marry and was forced to leave the area and headed up the NSW coast fruit picking. By this stage, Missions were still in operation; however, the Act was not being fully enforced. The Act was not formally repealed until 1969.
Edna followed her sister up the NSW coast where she met a non-Aboriginal man named Walter while fruit picking, whom she later married in 1952. Walters was the 20
Walter and Edna settled down in The Entrance on the Central Coast where Walter had grown up. 
Edna stopped working once she had the children and Walter became the sole breadwinner. Edna didn’t have any money and possessions of value because her wages had been controlled by the State, and she had only received an allowance. Walter and Edna had their first child Rhonda in 1954, closely followed by their second Wayne and third Sharon in 1956 and 1959 respectively. The family lived in a two-bedroom rented house and barely scraped through. 
In 1960, Edna and Walter moved to Newcastle because Walter had a job there. By this time, several of Edna’s siblings had moved to Newcastle and were married with children. The extended family lived close together and grew up like siblings. 
To support the family when Edna’s daughter Rhonda was 14, she went and worked in a factory. Sharon, Edna’s other daughter, moved to Brisbane to marry a man and was pregnant at 16 in 1964. 
Rhonda married a non-Aboriginal man Mark in 1977. Two years later, Edna died unexpectedly of an aneurysm, her oldest daughter Rhonda was 24.
Wayne, Edna’s son, died of an undiagnosed heart condition in May 1981, just a few months after Rhonda gave birth to her first child Summer. Rhonda and Mark had 2 more children, Kyle (1984) and Clinton (1986). 
Summer was four when her Aunty Sharon died while pregnant with her fourth child. She had pneumonia and was a smoker causing her lungs to collapse. The baby was born premature but survived. All four of Sharon’s children came and lived with Rhonda and Mark while Sharon’s husband grieved. Even after returning to live with their father, they continued to live with Rhonda and Mark for periods, even in adulthood. Reference


NSW Government, 1909 Aborigines Protection Act. Last Viewed 16 July 20129. http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/num_act/apa1909n25262.pdf

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

If in reality all lives matter than the tooth fairy exists

I am going to tell you an absurd story. One I don’t like to remember. One I wish never happened to me. Something that I wish never would happen to anyone. It’s one of the reasons the #BlackLivesMatter movement has struck a chord with me as it has done with many other Aboriginal people.

When I was 19 I was dating a guy whose best mate didn’t like Aboriginal people. The mate was involved with kick boxing gym where he met people involved in a white supremacy group.  He regularly referred to me as the “black slut” or “black cunt” irrespective of whether I was in earshot or not. He would run down Aboriginal people in front of me without shame.

On my 20th birthday I was spending time with my boyfriend when he received a call from his mate asking to be picked up from his girlfriend’s place. Once he found out my boyfriend was with me he kicked off the abuse. I could hear what he was saying and it was the same stuff I had heard for months. I had had enough. What occurred next is something I am not proud of. I ended up engaging in an argument over the phone with my boyfriend’s mate and made a disparaging comment about his girlfriend.

My boyfriend told me later that I shouldn’t make trouble due to the type of people the girlfriends family were. When he picked his mate up later that day mates father in law was cleaning an illegal semi-automatic weapon.

At that time, I worked for a fashion retailer. A few days after the phone incident I was at work when man approached me and asked me if I was “Summer”. He told me that if I ever said anything about his daughter again he would kill me. I was shocked, numb and confused. After my shift I rang my boyfriend and parents. No one knew what to do.

This was not my first experience of racism but has certainly been one of the most significant and prolonged experiences. I had been called “Abo”, had people run down Aboriginal people for being lazy, drunks when they found out I am Aboriginal, all the typical stereotypical nonsense but nothing like this. 

This threat of violence started because I am Aboriginal.  

Racism may not always lead to violence but racial violence is always preceded by racism. This is true for both the public and police. While we have societies which condones or refuses to call out racism we are going to have discrimination and racially motivated violence. We are going to have inequality and once inequality exists it is likely to assist in maintaining inequality. 

The #AllLivesMatter movement doesn't understand the very nature of the inequality #BlackLivesMatter seeks to address. While I agree all lives matter, we need to focus on the inequality between black and white if we are ever to have a reality where all lives matter. The only way to do that is to focus on the issue of inequality. Focusing on all lives shifts the focus away from the inequality. We need #BlackLivesMatter to call out the racism. #BlackLivesMatter allows the pervasive nature of racism to be acknowledged and the affect it has. I want a world where I am not accustomed to racism. I want a world where all lives really do matter.

Monday, 4 July 2016

NAIDOC and the Australian contradiction; assimilation.

NAIDOC week is something that I have mixed feelings about. When I was growing up, NAIDOC was something very few people had heard of. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures were not celebrated by Australians. Now it seems that every council, school and community group proudly do something for NAIDOC week. During NAIDOC week, I like seeing our flag above councils. It makes me proud to see Elders across the Australia doing Welcome to Country. It is fanatics to see our kids during this week proudly say “I am Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander”.  But what about the other 51 weeks of the year?

We have what seems to be a contradiction in Australia. Many Australians like to be proud of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures during NAIDOC week but behave differently the remaining 51 weeks of the year.

All too often during the other rest of the year, I hear about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures are to blame for our disadvantage. Mainstream media allude to it all the time. Politicians tell our people that our kids must go to school rather than engage in Cultural business. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures are seen as less than that of Australian Culture. What is expected of us is that we will get an education, get a job, pay taxes, own a home, be just like all other Australians and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture during NAIDOC week.

Now here is the contradiction of NAOIDC week and assimilation. What is often said is, if you aren’t engaging in a visible ceremony, are educated, speak English, are in the middle or upper socio-economic brackets and drink lattes than you aren’t “really” Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Yes, it is said. I know because I have experienced these types of comments all my life.  So once we exercise our rights to all Australian society has to offer, we are no longer consider by many to be Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Assimilation by stealth masked by NAOIDC celebrations.

This is because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture by many Australians is consider static. That is that is to say that it is only real Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Culture if it is exactly the same as it was before invasion. These are the very same people who celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures during NAODIC week but for the rest of the year are pushing for assimilation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people would agree with other Australians that we have we fundamental right to education, work and other aspects of Australian society. What we do not agree with is that those rights trump our right to our Culture. That we have to trade one in to receive the other.

To me what this contradiction shows is the lack of understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures and the ability of many of us to walk in two worlds. It also shows a lack of understanding that over time all Cultures evolve. Australian society today is not the same as it was when Australia was just a colony.

How do we as a nation reconcile these conflicting attitudes?

I don’t want to discourage people for engaging in NAIDOC events, I just want people to maintain a respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Cultures all year every year.

I want NAOIDC to be a time where we challenge the notion that we can not be both Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and enjoy the benefits of Australian society.

We are a collective of living breathing dynamic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultures worthy of respect all year round.