Strength and Resolve
There are two constant themes in all my work, both as a writer and as a researcher/facilitator. One is that Aboriginal people need to retake authority and responsibility for themselves as a race, now and for the future. The other is that non-Aboriginal people need to recognise the many skills and strategies that Aboriginal had to ensure those two things occurred, for the sixty thousand plus years before the coming of wedjellas or kardiays as we are known. If that were not true, I doubt if Aboriginal people would have survived so effectively in some of the harshest environments on earth.
The laws and rules which governed their social structures and survival were, obviously, not based on the Westminster system, which itself spawned the legal system under which Australia now operates. Those laws and rules were different from ours, and often, to our eyes, harsh and what we may define as unjust or criminal. This isn’t the place to begin a debate on that point, but this story describes an event in a remote community. If ever repeated I am certain that under western law in 2018 there would have been legal and criminal repercussions of considerable proportions. But through the story, hopefully, the wisdom of recognising the historical strengths, skills and strategies of Aboriginal people and their survival is at least food for thought about Aboriginal people taking authority and responsibility for their, and their children’s futures. And why suggest this? Because if it doesn’t happen, there is every chance Aboriginal people will, in three or four hundred years, have been assimilated out of existence. To my mind, that is not a loss that should be contemplated by any race on earth, including all races of non-Aboriginal people.
1988: Somewhere in Australia.
The Aboriginal community was about 100 kilometres out of the biggest town in the region. Like most remote communities, grog was a problem, both when people went to town and when they brought it back to the community. And as well as bringing it back in their own vehicles, people without cars would often ring one of the town hotels from the community, order four cartons, then get the hotel to call a taxi and have the grog transported to the community. I have never been sure if people in the community knew they were being ripped off by the hotel (the charge per carton for the community was always double the rate charged in town), but they paid it. Add a taxi fare of over a hundred dollars and the cost was massive. And then take into account the mayhem caused by the grog in the community and size of the problem increases exponentially.
So Sundown, as the community chair, decides to act. He announces that no grog will be allowed into the community at all, and especially by taxi. People wanting to drink must go to town, sleep ‘long grass’ and not bring grog back. Because he’s a man of considerable strength of mind and physical appearance, he’s someone community members won’t disobey . So the edict is enforced. Then, a few weeks later, Sundown is called to meetings on the other side of the region for a week. He tells community council members, however, to make sure the grog edict stands.
Lanie, his lady, sees him off in the battered old tray-back he drives and goes back to her house. Unbeknown to her, the moment Sundown has departed, several council members are on the phone to the hotel for cartons of grog to be delivered by taxi. An hour and half later, Lanie is sitting on the veranda of her house when a taxi arrives. Three council members walk towards it as the driver opens the boot to reveal cartons of stubbies. Laura is up like shot, and heading for the taxi.
“No grog,” she shouts striding towards the men, “Sundown say no grog when he go.”
“Piss off old lady!” one council members retorts, lifting a carton of grog from the boot as another one counts several hundred dollars into the taxi-driver’s hand.
As Lanie passes a wire fence being constructed around the school, she grabs a star-picket, lets out a wild scream, and charges at the men, the picket whirling around her head. One of the men tries to disarm her, but instead, collects the picket against the side of his head and is out cold. She doesn’t notice, however, because her attention on the cartons of grog, which she lashes from every angle to the constant sound of shattering glass. A second council member comes to try and disarm her, and out of the corner of her eye, she spies him. Without hesitation, she swing savagely with the star-picket and hits his leg just below the knee. He crumples, screaming in pain from the blow. The third council member, a woman, has seen enough and has taken off, leaving the taxi-driver and Laura facing each other.
“Don’t hit me!” the driver squeals, throwing some of the twenty dollar notes in Lanie’s direction, leaping into his vehicle, and speeding up the highway in no time flat.
In the space of fifteen seconds, Laura’s actions had restored calm to the community and to the best of my knowledge, no one ever tried to bring grog into that community while Sundown was chair, whether he was home or away.