Greetings Fellow Inhabitants
With unintended irony and also distress, I write during Reconciliation Week in Australia (27th May – 3rd June) as the USA tears itself apart. By the time you receive this week’s diary Reconciliation Week will have passed however, it is appropriate that Gallery One acknowledges this national celebration of Australia’s First People.
So, pull your beanies down, gather round the campfire folks, skewer your marshmellows onto gum-sticks or maybe bake some of Leanne’s lip-smacking, chin-dribbling damper in the coals (see the video Week 2) and prepare for a minor story.
La Perouse Public School
I grew up in 4 of Australia’s states and between the ages of 7-10yrs lived in Sydney and attended La Perouse Public School. Not a rich or privileged school by any means despite its historic location close to Botany Bay, it was, and still is, adjacent to the aboriginal settlement known as La Perouse. Consequently, a reasonable percentage of the school’s population were indigenous.
They were kids, we were kids, we were all kids together and did what kids do in school yards world over except, the aboriginal kids were terribly good at all sports and so, you always wanted them on your ‘side’. I don’t recall any sense of separation or segregation and the aboriginal kids I knew showed us how to dig for (with sticks and fingernails) and eat ‘nuts’ which grew at the base of plants growing on the school oval – no idea what they were.
They also showed us which flowers had the best ‘honey’ and we would all destroy the local flora by picking off the flowers and sucking the nectar on the way to and from school. Goodness knows what the aboriginal kids thought of promising ‘to honour the Queen and salute the flag’ each morning before we trooped into classrooms to spend the day avoiding getting cuts of the cane from the teachers – ever an equal opportunity school, girls were caned too! The Queen was probably as alien a concept to them as she was to white kids.
My point is we all played together and liked each other or squabbled and didn’t like each other in the usual way of children’s interactions and inadvertently absorbed each other’s cultures.
Larrakeyah Primary School
When I was 10, mid-term, our family relocated to Darwin. Day one at Larrakeyah Primary School (the Larrakeyah are the indigenous people of the Darwin area) shy, dreading being the new girl again at yet another school, I was dragging my feet as I was being led to my new class by the Headmaster. “Come on girl,” he said, “ You’ll never get anywhere if you walk behind me like a blackfella.”
I have never forgotten what Mr Roberts said. In that space, my world view changed and in one way or another, I have been conscious of that change ever since. I do not mean to suggest that La Perouse was an utopian idyll – it was far from it, but if prejudice reigned there it was not overt and did not translate meaningfully to relationships between kids in the school-yard. In Darwin, where there were also aboriginal children attending the school, I became aware things were different. Prejudice/racism can be as subtle as it is pervasive.
And so, bad news folks
Due to the COVID19 restrictions, we will have to postpone Gallery One’s Indigenous Art Exhibition. The Committee is genuinely disappointed but the exhibition will definitely be rescheduled and will happen, probably early next year. I am still excited! I have seen many of the pieces – they are great, enervating!!!
The Book Worm: Non-fiction
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Continuing with the Reconciliation theme, this week’s book choice is a controversial work: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. Non-fiction, writ large, this work explores, indeed sets out to disprove (annihilate) the concept of terra nullius upon which white Australia bases its original British occupation and subsequent settlement of the Australian continent. This is not a book that needs to be read cover-to-cover. It is easy to dive in and out, picking and choosing subjects as your interest takes you. The language is easy and fluid, the proposition/s extremely well-researched and presented. The bibliography is extensive. Every house should have a copy.
Before purchase, I had heard that what Bruce Pascoe proposes in Dark Emu is terribly controversial, perhaps even revolutionary, but didn’t really give that aspect of the work too much thought while reading. However, at a pre-COVID19 party, the weekend before lockdown, I was talking with a group about a diary held by the Art Gallery of SA which I had seen on display in the Gallery before I bought the Dark Emu book. This diary is/was, at that time, and in case you are curious to see it, in a floor cabinet in the first gallery as you enter from the main entrance on the LHS. The diary shows a reasonably accomplished sketch, certainly an unmistakable image, drawn by a white explorer, of aboriginal women harvesting some form of apparently cultivated crop (maybe kangaroo grass).
As I was describing this sketchbook in relation to Pascoe’s book and his claims, one of the party to whom I was speaking became visibly agitated with me and vehemently denied that such a thing was possible. In fact, denied it 4 times during the course of the evening. Another person insisted that my statements went against everything we had been taught (surely the whole point) and insisted that what the book says simply couldn’t be true. I was and remain, astonished.
Read Dark Emu, perhaps at your peril, but prepare to change your mind! This work is highly recommended.
So, as the ashes cool in our imaginary camp-fire, and although our First Australians will have a very different perspective to my own, I am glad I live in Australia, despite its many failings.
Our positive energies this week should be directed to the USA. Amid all their violent woes they still have the virus active on the streets.
Since 1991 there have been 432 black deaths in custody in Australia. Some of these deaths have been proved to be murder. Australians who identify as First nation people comprise 2.8% of Australia’s population. The incarceration rate of First Nation people in Australia is 28%. Australia has the highest rate of incarceration of aboriginal adult males in the world. Yes, higher than the US. – The Stringer Independent Newspaper. On-Line – 3/6/2020
On second thought, if I was an aboriginal male in Australia perhaps I wouldn’t feel so comfortable and safe here. I have decided to let my initial statement stand as we should all be called out for our ignorance – including me.
I acknowledge and show my respect and friendship to the First Nation peoples of this country and thank them and appreciate their care of this land through past millenia.
Video of the Week