Stories from the Graveyard Shift

One of the Redfern Tent Embassy’s most dedicated supporters, Tenaya Alattas reports on rude awakenings.


“Fuck off, ya white cunts! This is my land!” a man screams at my friend and I—both non-Indigenous supporters of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy (RATE). He’s riding a bike. It’s 5:05am and now, the disgruntled cyclist out of sight, we relax as we realise it’s not a tangible threat for us to respond to. In any case, this is not the nicest way to start the day.

As is the nature of any graveyard shift, I am weary, though there is more to this weariness than too much caffeine, too little sleep and the sting of sacred fire smoke in my eyes.

I am weary from witnessing the ways in which statistics translate into the every-day. How a decade less of life expectancy becomes real and familiar around the Embassy in the phrase: “Funeral to go to.”

In sixteen days’ time (at the time of writing this), RATE will celebrate its one year anniversary and yet, as a regular, I cannot remember the last time I have seen the Aboriginal flag flown at full-mast. It hangs at half-mast, if at all, in respectful mourning of those who have passed.

All those deaths in between the gap that are explained by other gaps: low educational attainment and high morbidity in a Western country with preventable diseases. Houses bathed in asbestos, cycles of homelessness and drug use. The two percent of our country that constitutes 26 percent of the Australian prison population. Broken families, stolen generation on-going.

My weariness grows as I string together more and more of the ways in which these statistics morph into the experience of trauma and resistance every day for the mob at Redfern.

There are some harder-to-explain statistics, though. Apparently, six out of ten Aussies have never met an Aboriginal. This becomes reality for us when a white, balding, middle-classed man from Albury is welcomed into RATE at 7:05am. He states his intention, “I just watched First Contact and want your advice on how to say hello to my neighbours.”

But in asking his ‘question,’ he takes up the mantle of quiet, patronising power over younger kids just waking up. Redfern—the Embassy—is not his neighbourhood in which to ask that question.

I can’t explain everything to you. But seeing patronising white people again and again, I do understand why we non-Indigenous supporters get called white cunts.