“Pain has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.
It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain.”
– Emily Dickinson
“When I was five years old, I used to get bashed up a lot because I was darker than anybody else, yeah, I used to come home with blood all over me.”
Aunty Carol Cooper responds to my opening question with a sense of resignation and hesitancy. “When did you realise society was not accepting of Aboriginality?” I had asked. It’s one every Australian has an answer to- regardless of heritage, one that will never be left unanswered. Anti-Aboriginal action and rhetoric is as universal an experience to an Australian as a sausage snag or burnt feet on a tar road. It’s ingrained into our souls, stories and well beings; such memories are passed down not only through aural means but through blood. This irreversible, hereditary contusion is one Australia must not only answer to but resolve. Trauma, like a malady, embeds itself into mob and overstays its welcome.
I grew up in a town akin to Aunty Carol’s native Katoomba. One that habitually sustained small town simplicities, white faces waltz around and the elderly congregate to farmhouse-chic cafes whilst teenagers whirl through consumerist havens as if they are bordellos. I was ordered to keep inside the house when I lived in the Rough Parts. Belligerent, skeletal suburbia that simply meant a high Indigenous population and over-policing. I remember the screams that ten year old me had been trained to block out and walking around the neighbourhood, seeing those of my colour sneering at Indigenous kids walking past.
In a way, I guess I felt complacent by my very nature.
White people would tell me that I did not act Aboriginal, that I was different. Eloquent. I was supposed to laugh at jokes made at my people’s expense just by the basis of my skin pigmentation. But this was nothing like assault, I would repeat to myself. I was a product of assimilation. My blue eyes watered down my history, I never lived on dry country, accepted insults or enforced liquor laws. A genetic malaise that I just can’t seem to shake.
Some malaises, however, are conspicuous, coupled with an inability to cover up or obfuscate. For my Aunty, however, this malaise was to others a skin condition. One that needed to be treated by brute force. Australia: not unlike many of its other colonised, sovereign-based countries, continues to hold imperialistic ideals that make up many of the systemic issues that remain untreated today.
Those not of colour- specifically White Australians, have historically held an indignant attitude to not solely the identification of these issues- but the specifying of how these issues have been normalised and cultivated in our past and present. The sanctioned and rose-tinted bokeh effect that has been substantiated in our national narrative of history, up until as little as ten years ago. Warrigal Creek, Appin, Waterloo Creek, Pinjarra and Myall Creek. Massacres that the majority of the Australian population consider with almost no regard. A national “cult of forgetfulness”, as described by anthropologist William Stanner. A cult that has attempted to obscure the brutish, ethnic cleansing of a group that has existed on the continent of Australia for over 60000 years. One that is not just an insignificant birthmark on Sovereign Australia’s initial days, but the continued practice of modern-day eugenics that is still facing traumatic repercussions fifty years after its official ending. Prejudice and discrimination are complex and tightly interwoven between other minority groups and the discussion of such will be paradoxically contradictory and conflicting but also coalesce and unite those alike through our individual lived experiences.
Reconciliation is a beautiful thing, not only for the Indigenous population of Australia, but for its other inhabitants. To ignore or try to reverse the traumatic malignancy of racism that is not solely an Australian issue, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. The past two years have been an extraordinarily significant time for public awareness of societal injustice. No longer are we living in a world where acts of violence and prejudice are concentrated in a small bubble, no longer do we have to accept one’s fate of being silenced when the only people to hold its assailants accountable are the assailants themselves, but a hyper-awareness that came with self-isolation and aloneness, sitting with one’s ideals, morals and virtues alongside the ever-growing and almost prodigious level of visibility of the 21st century. To be apolitical in a world where politics grasps the very nature of a person’s being, from the moment they are born to the moment they die, is to be complacent with your own privilege.
To survive as a marginalised member of society, one needs to learn a balancing act of constant vigilance, to hold an awareness of those around you and their intentions. Balancing the pain and sorrow is cardinal. For in the good always exists a silver lining or an end, and in the silver lining always exists a forthcoming good. That is a pure reflection of life, universal to all. The traumatic past is the truth, but our survival is also the truth. Truth-telling is key to amity, to treaty, to sovereignty.
For reconciliation is much more than an apology, it’s the rekindling of land ownership, environmental sustainability and climate awareness of Australia’s beautiful and diverse landscape, its creatures that inhabit it and Australia’s multi-culturistic image that has been founded upon in more recent years. Somehow, we are still hosts to indignance with its own singular native population.
Malpractice, negligence runs pervasive.
To progress it is vital to understand that we are not numbers, anecdotes and news stories to scroll past your social media feed, we are not brownie points, or sympathy takers. Some of us are broken, are in the process of being broken, or are attempting to salvage what has been destroyed. We have been both metaphorically and physically hauled away from our organic and nurtured environment, our practices and customs. Our landscape demolished and our significance nulled for the enjoyment and occupation of another. We, alike the traditionalist greats, have magnificent land, culture, arts and wonders of our own world. Not only are we fighting a battle with those who had attempted to terrorise us and nullify it, starting as early as a label of “nobody’s land”, we are grappling with the terrors of identity, unlearning toxic standards, behaviours and practices instilled into ourselves before conception and beyond. To dust off the powdery, colonial mildew and to not only cure and rehabilitate Australia to its rightful owners but to coalesce its inhabitants, both native and settler, to a recognition of societal injustice and the systemic change that is to come with such. New laws, regulations, social attitudes and harmonies that will come to define Australia. Australia is healing, and its native population is the pioneers to such recovery. One can choose to join or choose not to.
The world will catch up. For what you reap is what you sow.
This piece was an entry in the 2022 Honi Soit Writing Competition.