July 13, 2020 06:42:34
This is not a story for me. This is not something that I can break down with facts.
This is not something that I can analyse, it isn’t about statistics or numbers.
This is my life.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains images of people who have died.
On May 25, an unarmed black man in America died under the knee of a white police officer.
There, captured on video, was every person enslaved. Every person in chains. Every person who lived under the whip. Every person lynched from a tree or ordered to the back of the bus.
In death, George Floyd gives his name to those nameless. In his cries, we hear the cries of hundreds of years and the unknown dead.
It gives rise to an anger that erupts, goes away and then comes back again, but never really leaves us.
It is thirty years since a royal commission into black deaths in custody in Australia and the numbers keep rising. And we fail to stop it.
It has taken the death of a black man in America to wake us up to what happens here.
Now we are joining our voices with the voices of black America.
When I was growing up, black America spoke to me when white Australia did not.
And black America taught me to dream.
Those who say Black Lives Matter is a movement we are importing from America know nothing of who we are.
I came out of the same black churches as Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King.
Ours was the little mission church where my uncle was the black pastor and these men were our patron saints.
“Sometimes we go through these dark periods. But surely as the night cometh, the day cometh as well. When the day cometh, the nightmare disappears,” Jesse Jackson told me.
From black America I learned how to speak back to whiteness. Black writers like James Baldwin told my story, and turned words into weapons.
He made us visible to a world that steals our innocence.
I didn’t get to discover the world through my eyes. I was the one discovered, I was the one captured in the white gaze.
I learned at school the hard lesson of life I lived in a world where white lives mattered and I was not white.
White was normal and I wasn’t normal.
The schoolyard, taunts, the laughing, the pointing, the mocking, the heads turning. These are the little things that stay with you.
Once our eyes are open to the world around us, we can never see the world in the same way again.
I was about 15 years old when we moved to Canberra, and my sister and I were now the only Aboriginal kids in the school.
For a moment I thought I belonged. I was wrong.
For generations we, the First Nations people, have spoken truth to white power.
Back in 1933, Joe Anderson ‘King Burraga’ was filmed standing on the banks of Salt Pan Creek near Sydney, a haven for Aboriginal people who were being rounded up by the Aborigines Protection Board and moved from their country.
Joe Anderson’s message was broadcast around the country by Cinesound news.
“One-hundred-and-fifty years ago the Aboriginals owned Australia and today he demands more than the white man’s charity. He wants the right to live.”
But today, still there are no treaties, no voice.
We cannot close the gap and our people too often remain out of sight and out of mind to most Australians.
Places like Western Australia’s Kimberley region have some of the highest youth suicide rates in the world.
Communities are stressed to breaking point.
Violence, drug and alcohol addiction, chronic illness are sad realities of lives under the weight of our history.
But powerlessness is not hopelessness and it is our people, Indigenous people, who step up when Australia looks away.
People like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar who comes from the Kimberley and has never stopped believing in the future.
“We learn to continue to believe in ourselves, in our strength, our resilience, our determination for change. And we can change,” she says.
“We can bring others along to assist us, to work with us around creating the reforms within the systems and structures that need to be informed by lived realities of people.
“But to also empower people to lead the change at the community level.”
It is our people who refuse to stop being who we are, despite all efforts to take everything from us.
We have all lost family members, those snatched from their loved ones, from their culture.
There is a photo passed down in my family rows of Aboriginal girls taken to a home to be trained to be servants, and to live under a sign that read “think white, act white, be white”.
They lost their names and were given a number. There in the middle is a small girl, number 658, my great aunt Eunice Grant.
Aunty Eunice was my grandfather’s sister.
Cecil Grant fought for this country in World War II but came back to a segregated land where he could not enter a pub with his white digger mates.
His grandfather, Wongamar, was born before white people came to this land.
Wongamar saw his country stolen, his people killed.
In return, he got a breastplate calling him a ‘King’.
From these people I get my history and my identity.
There is a place that I can hold myself against the world and no matter where I’ve been or what I’ve seen I will always have a home.
Out here amongst the trees, along the riverbanks, and the hills and the rocks, this is Wiradjuri country, a country of my family, my ancestors.
There is a deep story here, a deep time and I see myself everywhere. I see myself amongst the birds, the magpie that is my father’s totem and I hear myself in our language.
From my mother and father I get a story of strength and survival.
From dad, Stan senior his Wiradjuri name Yamarran Badhung I get our language and my pride.
From my mum Betty, I get love and poetry to remember those now gone.
We lived outside of town in funny little shacks
We know we were talked about and called those dirty blacks
We didn’t mind too much because we knew it wasn’t true
We might have been black but dirt we never knew.
She is fair-skinned enough to pass for white her mother was white and her father a Kamilaroi man.
Mum could have hidden her blackness but she would have never lived a lie.
Mum and dad live quietly now with their memories.
“We survived. And we are still surviving today so it’s just a matter of time. Things will get better in this country, I know they will,” my Dad says.
Their survival comes from a place of love.
A deep love of each other and our country, and how we love our country, even if we love it with a broken heart.
There is a phrase in our language Yindyamarra Winanghanha. It means to live with respect in a world worth living in. This is where our hope comes from.
And maybe in the cries of George Floyd those cries that are so real to us none of us can any longer look away.
Maybe anger has shaken our complacency, black and white are marching together and in that space that anger has made, maybe there’s enough room to dream.
“We will win this war. It is a war. It’s a cultural revolution,” Jesse Jackson told me.
“We’ll survive through it all. We will keep our hopes alive.
“We will not surrender our hope.”
Reporter: Stan Grant
Producer: Sharon O’Neill
Researcher: Naomi Selvaratnam
Digital producer: Laura Gartry
Video production: Harriet Tatham and Dayvis Heyne
Digital designer: Georgina Piper
Cinematography: Ryan Sheridan and Dan Miau
July 13, 2020 05:30:47