Coon, boong, scrub-ape…

…abo, darky, kaffir, nigger, spook, spear-chucker, jungle-bunny, chico, wog, raghead, slope… think of any racial slur you’ve heard, flung out of the angriest, nastiest mouth you can possibly imagine and I can promise you, I’ve more than likely heard it! Sometimes the nicest most unsuspecting faces had ways of saying these things in the worst kind of ways. Here’s a fact for you: before I die, I’ll hear them all again – both hurled at me and, then hurled at my sons – when some dumb, ignorant, nasty prick decides to connect the dots and come up with names to suit my son’s and their ‘not-so-obvious’ Aboriginality.

It’s a fact Jack… in the wake of the Adam Goodes ‘debate’ in this country, racism is alive and well in Australia. Nastiness will visit my son’s, the same way it visited my better half when she decided she put up with me for longer than most other people. The first time I heard someone call my partner a nigger-lover, I nearly lost it completely. I was the better man that day, he was drunk and acting a dick. I never wasted time on him again.

You see folks, I was brought up to understand my place on this so called “equal” playing field we all call Australia. It wasn’t all that long ago either. My mother was taught that lesson. Her mother was taught that lesson. HER mother was taught that lesson… do you really need me to tell you what white men then (with power) did to the black women they owned, to teach them these things?

My mother learnt her lessons so well, that by the time we were born and old enough to bring home, she grew paranoid that someone would take us – in the same way they had taken her: no permission, no apologies, no questions, no regrets. When that word STOLEN is used in context of those children removed from their parents (no so long ago), it wasn’t an exaggeration. My mother was stolen from her mother and her mother died, never to see her children again.

In those early years of our lives, my mother would hear a knock on the door and the first thing she would do was scoop my brother and I up and throw us over the back fence of our house, so no-one would find us. As I grew older, other’s reinforced these lessons as well. Coppers, teachers, shop-owners, other members of the public – places we couldn’t go – toilets we weren’t allowed to use.

My first three years at primary school – all those school mornings – started the exact same way; that bell would ring and every white kid lined up outside their classroom. Every black kid fell in on the quadrangle, arms length apart, feet together face up and ready for inspection. The priests and nun’s would walk down the rows and inspect us for our cleanliness. Hands, teeth, mouths (open), ears – sometimes a wooden blackboard ruler was used to hold bits up to get a closer look – sometimes they simply reinforced a point. This wasn’t in the 1950s people – nor was it America our South Africa – this was Australia, in the 1970s!

My life lesson’s in this ugliness has seen me sworn at, spat on, pissed on, dunked in the urinal, beaten up (by big kids and grown men), chased into hiding, having dogs set on me, threatened by police, thrown into paddy wagon’s, thrown out of shops and not allowed in areas where the other fine ‘whitelfolk’ could go. All this I learned well before I turned 13 years old. So when someone is silly enough to use that old “why don’t you just get over it” comment – perhaps now, you’ll see – I don’t think ANYONE can just get over these kinds of things. I’ve worked with enough young men and women over the years who weren’t black and had experienced some ugly things in their lives and I know for a fact that none of them will EVER get over the things they’ve experienced! Why would any bugger ever expect that of me?

In truth, I only ever had two places where I would consider that the playing field was ever close to being considered equal; a place called TS Morrow and then the Australian Defence Force. This was only the case because of two extraordinary things: one, extraordinary people – my white mates – who had my back and shut-down people I couldn’t deal with. Two: Their loyalty, it didn’t matter to any of the others I shared that time with, because I was one of them. If you picked on one – you picked on us all!

When I was at high school there was a few of us that bandied together to watch out for the wankers. 13, 14 and 15 was a shit time for me. I learnt some REAL ugly things about bullies and how shitty this got when they hated boongs. My mate Anthony​, was one of those kids that sorted out a couple of my bullies then – because he had my back. He and several others have been my friends and now family – ever since.

The ADF was the same. All of you who’ve served time with me in a uniform know what sort of family that was to us all – way back then. But perhaps the best example was when one of my WA intake members; Jason Ackland (a trained boxer), stepped past me a smacked one of the senior recruits in the mouth in the durrie pit. He’d flicked a butt at me and said to his mates, “the coon can pick that up!” and before I could turn around to sort it, Ackers had smacked him fair in the mouth and put his arse on the ground! Jason’s lost to us now, but none of our other intake members were in the pit when that happened and we told no-one. That bloke never got gobby again – even when we ran into each other once – on a run in Singapore. He simply walked away.

Now… I don’t need anyone’s pity, guilt, there there’s or she’ll be right mate – because you need to know and accept just one thing: NONE of it, was right mate!

I am one Aboriginal man in a country of many and still we’re lucky if we count for 3% of Australia’s population. I’ve shared a little of my small experience on this here bit of dirt We call Australia. Every single member of my Aboriginal family and I, still get called those names. I still get looked at by some men and women like I am the filthiest thing they have ever seen. I still can find a pub where some old racist prick won’t serve me behind the bar. This isn’t going to stop in this country in my time. However, I can tell you it’s a hell of a lot less. I walk around feeling mostly safe in my skin these days, but when I was a kid, there were times I wished I could peel it of and hang it up somewhere and swap it for a white one.

I don’t feel that way any more folks. I don’t feel this way because the good people like all of YOU, are out there, watching my back, watching my kids back, challenging people who say stupid things, showing others around you that there’s a better bloody way we can relate to each other and put this shite bloody behaviour back in the bloody dark ages where it belongs!

And this is why I identify with Adam Goodes. He knows how it feels to be treated in this way. I know how he feels too. If the worst you’ve ever had is you’ve been called a “effing white c…” then I’m sorry, that’s not really the ‘racism’ I’m talking about here. If you’ve been dusted up once or twice cos your mouth might have got you in trouble – then my answer remains the same. If you’ve been a victim of sustained ugliness (racism, bullying, stalking, rape, molestation, domestic violence etc) you’ve got a much better idea of what I’m touching on here.

I simply want the ugliness that resides here in Australia to stop. Stop hiding in the commentary about the man you don’t like at the moment. Stop hiding in the way you don’t like the way those people dress. Stop hiding in the fact that you don’t like the god they worship. Stop hiding in that uncomfortable moment you have when a man loves a man and woman loves a woman… now I know it never will – not completely, but is it really too much to ask for?

Stop. Please. Just tell me I’m not betting on a long shot here and lets just get the fuck on with it!

Belongum – Out!

Posted in Aboriginal, Adam Goodes, AFL, Australia, Blackfellas, Prejudice, racism, Sydney Swans, Whitefellas | Leave a comment

Nana Jones…

…was a community force to be reckoned with! There wasn’t much that escaped her eye in the wheat and sheep town of Northampton, Western Australia. Certainly, there weren’t many brave enough to suffer her ire, if they were silly enough to rile her. Having said that, anyone who asked for her help, got it! If you were new in town and your were suffering some sort of hardship – Nana Jones would find you. One day, a long time ago, find us she did.

When my mother and father arrived in the mid 60’s, Nana Jones knew about it. My father took up a teacher’s position at the local district school (primary and high school combined) and whilst that might have made Nana’s job just that little bit easier, it was the details that she knew about you, that really caught people by surprise.

I always felt like Nana Jones knew things about people. Important things. Nana Jones said most in some circumstances, when she said very little at all. She also listened to people and heard them! The business part of Northampton’s main street, wasn’t a long strip, but if you went down town with Nana Jones, you met everybody.

If you needed time, she gave it to you. If you needed something from the shop she’d buy it for you. If you needed fresh meat, it’d be there. If you didn’t have warm clothes – Nana would rock up at your place, with a bag of them! Through all of this – we’d tag along with her. She’d let our little hands help and we’d do the best we could to help her with her deliveries. That or we’d play with the other children when Nana had to yarn with those we were visiting.

Just before I was born, my mum and dad must have been one of those people that Nana Jones had visited. My mother was very, very lonely and a long way away from her traditional lands. Suffering from culture shock, she was reeling from trying to fit into a new world – one that came with her husband whom she loved – a white school teacher.

My mother had never lived on her own before this time. In fact, Mum had never lived in a house at all. Mum had been brought up – against her will – as a member of the stolen generation, in an orphanage and convent in the North West of WA. My mother had been a domestic for most of her childhood years. She knew plenty about keeping a house, but next to nothing about making a home.

Somehow, Nana Jones came to know this. My mother tells me stories about how Nana Jones came to find her and that my mother didn’t need to say a single thing: Nana Jones was an Aboriginal woman too, who’d had her own experiences and survived them. My mother told me that when she opened the door, Nana was standing there with basket of fresh eggs and some mandarins. She said “Hello Dear”, took one look at my mother and in doing so – something passed between them. My mother just crumpled into her arms and sobbing herself silly, Nana then took her inside.

My mother says she wouldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for Nana Jones. Nana Jones introduced her to other supportive women in the town. She helped her navigate her way past the town bitches and, if any of them attempted to bully my mother – Nana Jones would find out and sort it, more often than not – without saying a single word. Nana took my mother under her wing and brought her up. Imagine that, a grown up woman – having to learn how to be just that… grown up!

Not too much longer past this point, I arrived on the scene. My arrival in this world was a traumatic one – it nearly killed both my mother and myself, making us town celebrities for surviving and making our little family even more grateful for the support Nana Jones gave us. My mother’s recovery was an extremely slow one – given how close she’d came to losing her life. In my first year of life, My mother fed me and kept me – but Nana jones organised a bevy of babysitters to back her up. That’s the sort of woman Nana was – she got stuff done!

A year and 2 days later, my middle brother was born. Four year after that, our youngest brother arrived. In that time, we were raised by my mother, Nana Jones and what seemed like half of Northampton – such was the influence of Nana Jones. My father worked weekends and school holidays on Nana Jones’s farm sometimes, helping Pop Jones in a futile attempt to give back, just a small part of the immense kindness Nana Jones had brought to our family.

I remember sitting on the hot, pressed steel, plough seat, as the tractor bounced it off as many rocks it could find, trying to turn the stubbled paddock over. I remember the pigs in Nana’s pig pen and the belting the big old sow got, when she was cheeky enough to take a nip at Nana’s thigh. In all the time I remember Nana – that pig was the only thing that had ever gotten one up on her and it sure didn’t last long.

I remember the creek, it’s drying creek bed and the hidey holes that frogs sought out when the water racked off and the summer took over. I remember the galvanised steel water tank that was our pool and the slippery sludge we’d slap into each other faces, when we clambered into it.

Mostly though – I remember the mandarin tree.

It was the biggest treat I knew then. It guaranteed an abundance of juicy sweetness, the likes I’ve never found again since. As far back as I can remember, it overflowed with fruit; twinkling a bright, shiny orange, that belied their wrinkled skin and dimpled appearance! It told lies about the land that surrounded it too. Like many farming properties then, it was often hot, dusty and the glare bounced of the  bleached stubble baking in the paddock. But that mandarin tree – well… if it was suffering – it sure didn’t show it.

That was, until Nana Jones got sick. Then she got REAL sick and although she fought it off and won the odd battle here and there – Nana Jones didn’t win the war. Breast cancer took her away from us all and I reckon that little town of Northampton must have sighed it’s saddest sigh on that day. We certainly did. Every now and then – I still do.

And that mandarin tree stopped being sweet, itt stopped being plentiful, it soon got sick and it too, died. I’ve never given it much thought you know. That perhaps those two had been connected together in some way, under the ground, their forces combining in ways we could never tell.

Until today, when I bought a bag of mandarins and when I opened it up – BAM! – that memory hit me:

Nana Jones…

Belongum – Outthem

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There’s something to be said…

.. about the ability to turn your own hands to making something. Anything! Even more so, if that making has meaning. It might not have actual practical use in today’s modern world on some levels – but your involvement in the making of it, reminds you of some of those things that make up who you actually are.

(Filmcip courtesy of FTI WA and Youtube)

Living in Western Australia’s capital city, sometimes removes you from those things that connect you to the place where your family and stories come from. It’s not an unusual story – it’s one that we’re experiencing all over the world. Today the nature of global upheaval is such that we’re experiencing a level of displaced peoples and refugees – the likes of which we’ve never seen before. People are being forcibly removed from those important places and expeirences that informed them of who they actually were / are as a peoples – who they belonged too, where they came from and all of the who-was-who /what-was-what business a person needs to know – just to feel like they belong.

For me – when I was a boy – the ‘simple’ act of being taught how to make a fishing spear by my big brothers, my uncles and my grandfather, was an amazing experience. To be taught this in a place where you could actually use this immediately to spear a fresh feed of fish, made it all the more richer – but it was the story telling that happened as you did it – as you took part in the whole experience that made it the ultimate of experiences for me. Lighting a fire out bush (or at home for that matter – because I do) and the smell of smoke – takes me right back to that day. It puts me right there – rolling the spear wood in the fire – treading on it and bending it to get the kinks out, the smell of the burnt bark, the feel of the heat trapped under the bark and deep in the wood as you handle the spear.

Today, a very long time after I was taught those things as a young boy, I find myself teaching my boys. We live in a city suburb, far removed from the place where I was first taught these things – so the context is somewhat removed I know – but the expereince is an important one. I need to teach my boys these things, they need to know how to light a fire safely, need to know that a big fire isn’t a smart fire and that fire is a tool – not a toy. They need to know how to go and select the right spear wood and feel the young tree in their hand. They need to thank the country they take this wood from and be mindful of taking only what they need, not what they want.

They need to learn how to be safe and responsible with a sharp tool. They need to know how it sits in the hand and feel the heft of it, adjusting the way it sits and is gripped, so that they can use it safely and not chop their toes off! They need to understand the continuity of such an experience: right from the getting ready to leave part, to the cooking of the fish you speared – right there on the beach. So sure – I’m not going to be able to give my boys this full experience here in Perth (they’ll have to bring their fish home to cook it) – but with my help, they’ll eperience the essence of the this little lesson in their life and they’ll learn to adapt it –  like I have – when they pass on this experience to their children or their children’s children.

In a world that is changing so rapidly, where every day, hundreds of thousands (millions) of people are being uprooted and bumped aside from those places that were once their homes, people are forgetting – on a daily basis – the importance of making with meaning and how it connects you to a place. This is a world problem the likes we’ve never experienced before and I’m wondering how long it is, before we begin to see the long term effect of such things – as our young people forget where they come from and – as a result – struggle to determine where it is, they want to go…

Belongum – Out

Posted in Aboriginal, Australia, Blokes, culture, Family, home, Indigenous, life, Lucky, racism, Western Australia, yarn | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments