Burraburrabanha wiray murungidyal: A wound that cannot heal

Even if the act of healing is painful, it is better than suffering in silence among the flames.

Art by Yasodara Puhule

CW: Honi wishes to advise to readers, particularly those belonging to the Indigenous community, that the following piece contains a reference to colonial violence and intergenerational trauma.

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.

When I was a baby, my grandfather held me in his arms. He was the son of a man born onto the frontier of a newly-federated Australia. A frontier marked with violence, disease and death. He had experienced more of the darkness of Australia than I will ever know. Aborigines rounded up and shot, babies buried into the sand and decapitated, women raped, men killed as they hid in the forks of trees, waterholes poisoned, flour laced with arsenic. From me to my grandfather to his father: that’s how close it is.

My family is like so many other Aboriginal families. What has happened to us has happened to us all. We have felt the brutality of Australia. We have had our land — our inheritance — stolen. Our language was banned. Our children have been taken away. We have been herded onto missions. We have been forced onto the margins of society. We have lived in tin humpies and tents. We have been powerless before the state. Welfare officers and police have invaded our lives at will. We have been told to become like white people, yet when white people loved us and even had children with us, they too were punished.

It would be so easy to surrender to this oppression. The weight of history in Australia suffocates us. Our history leaves its mark on our bodies and our souls. I have seen people crushed by whiteness. I have seen people deny who they are — lie to their own children — to escape the fate of blackness. They prefer to disappear into a world that has never wanted them anyway.

I’m sure I am not alone amongst Indigenous people who wrestle every day with swirling emotions. Among them has been anger. I am angry: I know that. It flares suddenly and with the slightest provocation; it takes my breath away sometimes. The choking asphyxiating anger at the suffering and injustice my people have endured. I know where that comes from. I have seen it in my mother and she inherited it from her father. It comes from the weight of history. This anger is not good for me. It is not good for my mental health. I have laid awake at night panicking about nothing in particular. It is not good for my physical health either. I have been short of breath and dizzy.

I am afraid too. I have known this fear all my life. When I was young it used to make me feel sick, physically ill in the pit of my stomach. I can see that in my mother as well. I see it as she tenses up just at the sight of a police car. She has done nothing wrong. But when she is pulled over for something as routine as a random breath test, her heart begins to race and she fumbles her keys. She could never explain this fear in any rational way. She is fair-skinned, enough to pass for white — her mother was white and her father a Wailwan man. But I was always aware that we were marked by something more than skin colour. We are marked by history. It is a living history. We touch it and we wear it. It is written in the scars on the bodies of men like my grandfather. It is echoed in the stories of women like my mother. It is carried deep within us, mental wounds that cannot heal. It is so close we can taste it.

But it is nothing compared to what too many other Indigenous people go through day after day. Those languishing in cells. Those who take their own lives. Those who are caught in endless cycles of poverty. Confined to social housing or town camps, living hand-to-mouth. This isn’t the Dreamtime. This is mangy dogs and broken glass.

Writing this is not good for me. I feel my pulse racing now. I feel the tension building in my head. The veins constricting. Why do we do it? Why do we have to explain ourselves, why do we have to relive pain? Why?

Because, even if the act of healing is painful, it is better than suffering in silence among the flames. These things are not easy things to grapple with, and they should not be easy.

I wonder what it would be like to not know apocalypse. To not know what it is to come from  people who face an existential threat. Who have clung desperately to their very place on this earth.

Sometimes, I wonder what it must be like to be white.

But then I would not be my mother’s son.