The Stain In My Heart On Australia Day

Image from www.youtube.com

Image from www.youtube.com

“I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!”

~ Dorothea Mackellar

 

This has been a hard post to write. Harder than I might ever have expected.

It’s Australia Day today, a national celebration of the 1788  arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney Cove.

I love my country. I am grateful for my home, and my community, for the standard of living we are afforded, for our social and political freedom, for our many opportunities. I am immensely proud of the multi-cultural nation that we have become.

And yet…

Is Australia fair?

My friends who are homosexual Australians cannot marry, or live as equals and enjoy the same rights as me. They are not shown fairness.

The many asylum-seekers who languish in custody while seeking refuge and a fresh start in Australia are not shown fairness.

 

I think of my Aboriginal Aunties. (Aunties through love and respect and their gracious inclusion of me in their family – not through blood.) I reflect on how they opened their arms to me, and shared wisdom and acceptance and grace when I was going through psychic awakening. In their culture I was normal, and these gifts were normal. Their kindness continues to shape and enrich me.

I think of the fact that their entire history was negated through the British policy of Terra Nullius at the time of white settlement, which obliterated Aboriginal sovereignty and rendered them invisible and without rights in their own land.

They are still, so often, invisible or made to feel that way.

I think about going shopping a few years ago on Racecourse Road, here at Ascot in Brisbane, with my friend Vynette and her mother Leanna. About how while I was in the change rooms trying on a dress they disappeared. I found them sitting in a bus stop down the road. Why? They’d been asked to leave the shop. They’d been told that they couldn’t afford anything, that they shouldn’t be touching anything – because they were making it dirty, and that they should just leave. Why? They are Aborigines.

I felt sickened that my dear friends had been subject to such racist treatment. Yet they were the ones who apologised to me! They were sorry, I shouldn’t worry, it happened all the time.

In a country where nobody bats an eyelid if I sit with a group of friends who are of various ethnic origins because ‘Australia is multi-cultural’, my Aboriginal friends get treated like this almost daily.

I think of all the history we aren’t taught. Of the massacres and incarcerations and rights violations of Aboriginal people. I’d never known about them. We were never taught them at school. It was never discussed within our homes. For me this history hadn’t even existed. Until one day when I had a visceral introduction to that suffering.

I remember being at a waterhole in country Queensland many years ago. As I sat beside that tranquil water, I was gripped with stomach cramps so bad that I lay down on the earth, wretched with pain. To my mind came a brutal vision and a knowing. I saw Aboriginal families writhing and dying after ingesting dampers (breads) laced with poison, and drinking from this waterhole, also poisoned. Could it be true? Surely, no! I researched local history later, and my vision was confirmed. It was well documented. And this type of poisoning was common. I began to dig around, and the more I looked the more I found. Atrocities. Injustices. Not just in our early days of settlement either. This racist treatment of Australia’s First Peoples still goes on today.

How can I celebrate Australia Day with pride if I cannot also acknowledge these ongoing catastrophic wrongs? If I cannot acknowledge the pain and suffering of my friends and their families and ancestors.

How can we grow as a nation if we are unwilling to acknowledge and accept that there is a darker past upon which our nation has been built? How can we hold our heads high if this inequality is still entrenched?

I love my country. But today I’m filled with mixed emotion, not a need for celebration. I’m happy for all those who choose to celebrate. We live in a beautiful country. A lucky country. Lucky for some. Lucky for me. But while my friends can’t know that same fortune, it’s a hollow day for me.

Advance Australia, Fair.

 

 

Hey Sister, You Okay?

Image from holmsteen.dk

I was looking forward to Saturday. In the last few weeks I’ve supported a friend through the end stages of terminal cancer, holding her hand til she passed, ridden the roller coaster of supporting an addict in recovery, and juggled my daily work and writing. Saturday was this wonderful window of calm in front of me like a soft pillow to lay my weary head.

Nothing went to plan for me. My do-nothing day of leisure and self-replenishment which I had so looked forward to became about helping others through various crises and melt-downs.  It’s okay.  The Universe obviously cleared my calender so I’d be available for the people who needed me most.  But it was an emotionally draining day, capping a difficult few weeks, and it left me wrung out.

I was driving through the inner city late yesterday when the traffic suddenly slowed.  Cars tooted their horns.  People yelled and gestured. I though there must have been a dog on the road.

The traffic slowed to a stop.  I couldn’t see what was happening, so I said a quiet prayer, asking that the animal be okay and be guided back to safety.  Finally the cars began moving again, swerving around something in the middle of the road.  Some stopped to hurl abuse as they drove past. I craned my neck, trying to see what was obstructing our way.

Imagine my horror and disbelief when I saw an elderly aboriginal woman in the middle of the road.  She was just sitting there, a shopping bag beside her on the ground, one shoe off, grazed knees.  I pulled my car over to the side as soon as I could find a park and raced back to check on her.

“Hey, Sister,” she croaked at me as I got closer. “Can you see me? All the rest of your mob think I’m invisible.”

“Hey, Sister,” I called to her.  “I see you. You okay?”

She swung her head towards me, squinting in the sun, but said nothing.  I waited for a car to pass and crossed over to her.

“Hi, I’m Nicole.  Are you okay?  Do you need some help?”

She nodded her head yes.

I helped her up, and over to the footpath. She was unsteady on her feet and I wondered if I should call an ambulance.

“Sorry, love. I’m real sorry.”  She leaned heavily on my arm.  “I just live along here. Too late eating lunch and my strength’s gone. I came over all dizzy. I’ve got sugar,” she said weakly.

“You’re diabetic?” I asked as we walked up some steps to a small flat.

“Yes.”

I got her inside, and she asked me to make her a sandwich, while she ate some jellybeans.  Then her neighbour popped in and said she would make her friend a cup of tea and stay with her until she came ‘right’ again.

Before I left I asked if there was anyone I could call, or if she wanted me to take her to the doctor.

The old aboriginal lady patted my hand. “I’m alright now I’m home. You know, you’re a true nice girl,” she said.  “Brought up proper. Your mother and grandmother, you do them proud. Here….”  Reaching over to a box she pulled something out. “This is for you.”

She opened a small drawstring bag and put the contents in my hand, one by one.

A bag full of treasures

“This shell, it’s from up my country.”

She placed it on my palm, and tiny grains of sand stuck to my fingers.  I wanted to hold it to my nose and smell the sea.  Suddenly I was homesick for my little farm at Byron Bay with a physical ache.

“Got this stone from the river.  See how nice and smooth it is.” It was a piece of clear quartz, tumbled milky, and still luminous. I felt such comfort, and thought of Angels.

This one,” she held up a twisted grey rock, “I got this one off the beach. It reminds me of a baby wrapped up tight in his blanket, trying to talk to you. Feels real nice in your hand.”

“This one – it’s coral.  Looks like an alien head with them two eyes.” She chuckled. “Friendly fella for watching over you.”

“And this last one, he’s a fossil crab, real old from the old times.  Good for protecting your soft heart.”

I left with brimming eyes, embarrassed by her kindness.

And I never asked her name.

Today I’m holding these precious treasures in my hands and feeling humbled and awed. I wonder if she knew how much these things would mean to me, or what they symbolise after so hard a day, so hard a week.

Hey Sister, you okay?

I feel like it was HER watching out for ME.

Rainbow Dreaming. Rainbow Tribe. We are One. ♥