It’s fascinating to sit aside from the pace of life and reflect. I recently began to work again on my fourth novel, “Life on a Ferris Wheel”, which has been in draft form for about four years. I came across a section in it which ran to about six pages, in which I tried to give my version of the history of Indigenous and Aboriginal connections with non-Aboriginal people, the consequences and why. It is now down to just over a page. Isn’t it mind-stretching, yet very understandable, how time plays such an important role in learning. It’s been my privilege to live long enough to learn how to say complex things simply. Or rather, I hope that is the case. Those who read may disagree. Whatever the case, I’m so grateful.
The conversation is between a non-Aboriginal researcher whom I’ll call Tim and an Aboriginal man from the Pilbara who I’ve named Shep.
“In some places in Australia, language groups are extinct or they barely survive. The causes are probably genocide, intended or unintended assimilation, cultural desecration or all three.” Shep didn’t lookup.
Tim focussed on him. “What’s your definition of assimilation, and what do you mean by intended and unintended?”
“I define it as making blackfellas be like whitefellas. Well, let’s start by the law forcing us into live in compounds to keep farmers, station-owners or townspeople happy. Then came taking caste kids from black mothers or getting us to renounce our Aboriginality if we wanted to live in towns or go to schools. That’s what I meant by intended assimilation. But there were, and still are, four more insidious assimilation strategies: religion, schooling, the legal system and capitalism. Even laws passed since the 1960s, as well the 1967 referendum, which were all supposed to help us, really didn’t. Assimilation keeps happening, kardiyas don’t even know they’re doing it and it keeps damaging us.
“For all their good intentions, and the protection they gave, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and so on saw us as heathens to be saved through conversion to Christianity. That dragged a lot of us from our religion, which is our lore.” He spelled the word. “Then there’s what you call education and I call schooling. Our kids were originally barred from the schooling system, until laws were changed and it became compulsory. But enforcing schooling ignored two things: that schooling is all whitefella values and ways of knowing and doing, and the values and learning that are part of my culture were ignored.
“Then there’s your law,” he spelled the word again. “It divides us with land claims, creates conflict and often ignores our values and lore.”
“And last, there’s the belief that the panacea to all our ills is employment, without any consideration of what that means to our traditional ways.
“If I’m struggling with all of that, it’s little wonder that our kids are totally confused. They have to try to live in two worlds, and that’s a hard thing to do. I know because it’s been my life. I feel for our kids because I understand why they seem so lost and angry. They don’t who they are, where they’ve come from, or where they’re going to.”
Tim struggled to come to terms with the information even as he picked up his ringing phone.