As an Australian Aboriginal, descendant of the Stolen Generations, my whole life has come with an awareness that ‘my ancestors oppressed my ancestors’. More than that, barely 10% of the Old People from my Indigenous heritage are estimated to have survived colonisation my European forefathers. Reconciling this knowledge for a child is at the least an experience of turmoil; living with it as an adult it can be no less traumatic.
My family line was assimilated into Australian society in 1921, a century ago. But, unlike most with ties to the Stolen Generations our family connections were not broken with our kin. My skin is light due to my Scottish and Dutch ancestry, but I was raised alongside an extremely large Indigenous family. Providing me with the knowledge that I am of the Munggurra Clan of the Alawa Nation and the Garawa Clan of the Marla Nation. My Connections to Country were established young and nurtured my whole life.
Growing up in a society filled with many forms of racism; veiled, confrontational, violent, and systematic, some have blamed me of being part of the problem when they accuse me of “seeing racism everywhere”. Australians often refuse to accept racism has been expressed by them. But, as someone who has actively acknowledged my links to Alawa and Marla has forced me to endure an immense amount of racism in various forms. Leading me to frequently see and experience racism. So I ask how can I be part of the problem for calling out acts of racial discrimination, technically a hate crime. When the individual conducting this behaviour is not condemned and are allowed to continue on their way leaving a wake of destruction.
Racism has been targeted at both my Indigenous and my European heritage. An incident that has always stuck with me was during a high school class in Darwin when a fellow student overheard my claim to my Scottish and Aboriginal ancestry. His response was to tell me I could not assert my Scottish heritage so strongly if I was going to imply it was as ‘good’ as my Aboriginal heritage. “My biological Father and my Great Great Grandfather were both Scottish, so why not?” I asked. He scoffed at me and said “you’re not a real Aboriginal, you’re white so you can’t be black.”
My teenage self was at a loss of how to explain to him that I was a Traditional Owner of two Countries in Arnhem Land, nor that my Aunties and Uncles, who are what he called real Aboriginals, would refute his opinion. Adulthood has taught me the words I need to defend these statements. Denying Aboriginality based upon skin colour stems from the White Australia Policy, legislation that enabled acts of genocide such as outright murder through to the Stolen Generations. Today, I tell people their opinions stem from the White Australia Policy and then ask them what is says about their values.
Another incident that rocked me occurred when I was about 8-years-old, I claimed my Aboriginality in front of a woman I didn’t know, she looked me up and down then loudly exclaimed that I would be pregnant by the time I was 16. Later that evening I asked family members what she meant by that and thankfully my young mind was shielded from the ugly truth of what racial vilification was.
Adulthood has removed the protections I was afforded in my youth, these days I do in ways “see racism everywhere” as the accusation often levelled at me suggested. But if your fellow Aussies didn’t know the names of your nationality would you in a way feel shunned? What if you were the first person in your direct family line to be born with the rights of citizenship after thousands of generations can be traced upon these shores? Would your experiences of being denied guide your perspective of the world around you? How would you feel if you were constantly faced with people who do not know of, or worse deny, the Stolen Generations ever happened? That an act of genocide in your family is a myth you perpetrate upon the world. Would the fact that your Grandmother was essentially a slave and people like Prime Ministers, past and present, deny they were such because the phrase in Australia was Blackbirding. For those who are unaware, Blackbirding began more than a decade after England had outlawed slavery, so Aussies couldn’t exactly use the same word to describe their ‘cheap workforce’. But still Australian’s either do not know or deny the true relationship the ‘Lucky Country’ has with slavery.
Over the years I have questioned if Australians views would be guided by the knowledge of my family history. Genocidal acts where members of my family were poisoned, or outright hunted from horseback and shot, to then have skulls removed from lifeless bodies and shipped to England. Australia’s denial of these acts of genocide cause mental harm to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; would it shock many to learn that an act of genocide, as determined by the UN, includes causing mental harm to a race? But Australians reject these crimes occur in today’s society, in the same manner they deny racism exists heavily within our country. Many would be surprised to know that the denial of racism is in fact an act of racism, but this is similarly something they often refuse. Whilst Aussies actively refute racially driven tendencies many are oblivious to the fact that individuals belonging to a race are the exclusive authority in determining what is considered racism to their nationalities. It’s about this point in the conversation that I suggest Australian’s take a back-seat and listen when they are discussing racism with those from other cultures; our views differ greatly when compared with the white experience of the world.
Advocating has seen me join a grassroots team of individuals whose network spreads across our amazing planet, we promote the rights and voices of Indigenous People worldwide. The perspectives I once held were dramatically altered due to my interactions with this group. Opening myself up to the decolonisation education not just from Australia but from an international perspective is an enlightening experience. Similarities are seen in many aspects between the Indigenous people around the world, from spiritual and religious values, to bloodline connections and unfortunately many of the same issues too.
Colonialism has seen the rights of First Nations Peoples undermined around the world. Australia faces a carbon copy of numerous divides including racial ones. Sadly we are not alone, but the Lucky Country has been able to widely deny its existence, until now.