“It’s Aboriginal History” she says, “We really should know more about it”.
“It’s not ‘Aboriginal History’” he replies.
“This is ‘Australian History’”.
Imagine with me for a minute, a young boy all cosy in the backseat of his family car. It’s a long journey ahead so he is dressed in his favourite shorts and new birthday t-shirt. He has his pillow and snuggle blanket, his soft and cuddly ‘Lucas the Lion’ (because Lucas always gives him courage when he most needs it) and he has his headphones and fully charged iPad ready. There are little packs of ‘french fries’ and ‘thins chips’ available for when he feels peckish or just a little bored, and of course mum packed a Tupperware container full of sliced apple and a drink bottle filled with fresh, ice-cold water ‘to keep it healthy’.
Mum and Dad both plonk down in the front seats and let out a sigh of relief, all is packed and finally they are ready to go…before mum hops out one last time to “just make sure I turned the stove off”. Dad buckles in and checks that his little boy is safely secured as well. He’s been buckled and waiting for at least half an hour. There is nothing quite like a child with no responsibility, waiting impatiently for mum and dad to finally lock up the house and pull out of the driveway.
They begin their journey…a journey with a greatly anticipated destination. The well deserved beach holiday they have all been waiting for.
However for this gorgeous family the holiday does not come as expected. A terrible tragedy occurs and the little boy, clinging desperately to his lion, is left alone. He’s desperately scared and terribly confused as his mummy and daddy are carted off in ambulances and he’s peered at and prodded and carted here and carted there and talked about – not usually to. He’s hugged a little by well-meaning adults, some even shed tears over his little head, but mostly there are unintelligible plans made on his behalf and he no longer feels the loving embrace of the world he once knew. He screams and kicks and ‘acts out’ every now and then, trying to make sense of the changing world around him, trying to wield the small amount of power he feels he might still have. However, most of the time, he says nothing at all. He sits quietly, in a shocked kind of silence, a powerlessness that becomes numbing and hopeless. With a lone tear running down his cheek, he thinks only of the waves and the sand and the sandcastles, and the starfish and the seaweed and mummy hugging daddy (much more relaxed than he’s seen her in ages) and the laughter and kisses and cuddles…all that was, all that should have been.
Fast forward a couple of years and the little boy is little no longer. He’s loud and pretentious and what some might call ‘difficult’. He’s experimenting with danger, numbing the pain a little while also trying to find his own way. He lashes out sometimes, angry at the world and those around him. He’s not sure where he fits in and sometimes thinks he doesn’t fit at all. When his parents’ estate was settled, the money from the childhood home was put aside for him. “Kept in trust” they said, so that he could be ‘cared for’… but he isn’t really sure what ‘care’ is supposed to look like anymore. He’s a little lost, a little hurt, a little scared…and the quiet tear still rolls down his cheek some days, but he’d never let anyone see it. The defences have gone up and the protective coat is fixed firmly in place.
But time has passed and time is meant to heal? Isn’t it?
No one sees a hurt little boy anymore. “Just get over it”, they say. “It’s time to get on with it.” “So much time has passed, it’s water under the bridge, and anyway, you’re a man now and ‘real men don’t cry’.” “Your choices are your choices and you can decide which way you take.” “Don’t play the victim. Worse things have happened to nicer people.” “Yes it was sad, it shouldn’t have happened, but life has to go on.” “Everybody meant well, they were only doing what they thought was best at the time.” Or worse…“Perhaps it didn’t happen quite like what you say…do you think you are embellishing the details just a little?” “You should be thankful for the opportunities you’ve been given, surely you’ve been handed them on a plate.” “Come on, get off your backside and sort yourself out.”
But he’s tired. He’s weary with exhaustion. Exhaustion from not being protected or cherished but rather being neglected, ignored and even abused. And then there’s all the thinking, all the figuring out and protecting oneself, of not being sure of where he ‘fits’, never quite knowing who he can trust and who really has his back. Lucas the Lion remained his only comfort for a while but, as is the nature of these things, after a while that didn’t really cut it. The memories of much nicer days have long faded and the trauma of a vulnerable little boy has taken their place – a trauma that has never properly healed.
They were a people living in peace and looking with anticipation to the future. They had never been invaded and were not a ‘people of invasion’. They may not have seemed sophisticated to the untrained eye, but under the surface were rules and order, wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge of environment and seasons, land and sky, animals and plants and so much more – all needed for thriving and survival. There were hundreds of language groups and vast genetic richness. Tribal borders – unwritten, but well understood – covered the whole of the vast island, and each group had firmly established codes of conduct.
Yet, this land of richness was declared ‘Terra Nullius’ (nobody’s land) and therefore it was deemed lawful to claim it. The people whom the land actually belonged to, were bombarded with, what became, years of incomprehensible intergenerational trauma and heartache beyond imagining. They were spoken about and studied, prodded and poked, used and abused, treated like children and ignored. Denied the rights of freedom and basic humanity, they were a people considered ‘unintelligent savages’, worthy only of elimination, imprisonment, slavery or trained for the life of an indentured servant. They were hidden and disregarded, their culture and language were disdained and their ‘nativeness’ – their skin colour and features – were attempted to be ‘bred out’. Some have even used the word ‘genocide‘.
And now we ask them to “Get over it and get on with it”. But do we completely understand what we are even asking them to “get over?”
If you don’t know the history of Australia in its entirety (or perhaps you feel offended by my words) then I urge you to find out for yourself.
One part of the healing journey for Aboriginal Australians is for us all to truly seek to understand and to acknowledge the truth of our history and its impact on our present.
Will you join me as we seek to learn?
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