Growing Up Aboriginal

I have snaffled the following from Foz Meadows’ tumblr. It’s a description of a book called My Place by Sally Morgan. Morgan describes her own childhood and presents the memories of one of her uncles who was taken away from his family as a child and put in an orphanage to acculturate him into white Australia. He, and all the other kids like him, are the Stolen Generation. It’s wrenching, heart-breaking stuff.

22nd May 2014

[Foz Meadows writes:] Sally Morgan, an Aboriginal writer, has written a book about her life. She called it My Place. In it she examines the place of Aborigines in white society – she traces the lives of her mother, her grandmother and uncle. And she finds pools of sadness along the way…

As a little girl, Sally learnt to hide her Aboriginality. She was taught that it was something shameful: that it mean she was inferior. She remembers:

“The kids at school had… begun asking us what country we came from. This puzzled me because, up until then, I’d thought we were the same as them. If we insisted that we came from Australia, they’d reply, ‘Yeah, but what about ya parents, but they didn’t come from Australia.’

One day, I tackled Mum about it as she washed the dishes.

‘What do you mean, “Where do we come from?’”

‘I mean, what country. The kids at school want to know what country we come from. They reckon we’re not Aussies. Are we Aussies, mum?’

Mum was silent. Nan grunted in a cross sort of way, then got up from the table and walked outside.

‘Come on, Mum, what are we?’

‘What do the kids at school say?’

‘Anything. Italian, Greek, Indian.’

‘Tell them you’re Indian.’

I got really excited, then. ‘Are we really? Indian!’ It sounded so exotic. ‘When did we come here?’ I added.

‘A long time ago,’ mum replied. ‘Now, no more questions. You just tell them you’re Indian.’

It was good to finally have an answer and it satisfied our playmates. They could quite believe we were Indian, they just didn’t want us pretending we were Aussies when we weren’t.”

Being Aboriginal in white society was so painful that Sally’s mother had tried to forget her own past, and that of her children. But it was just this mystery that urged Sally, years later, to investigate her origins. Lying under so much sadness and confusion were the threads that tied her own family together. In her book, Sally researched and recorded her uncle Arthur’s story (1893 – 1950):

“My name is Arthur Corunna. I can’t tell you how old I am exactly, because I don’t know… The early years of my life were spent on the Corunna Downs Station in the Pulbara, that’s in the north of Western Australia…

I remember seein’ native people all chained up around the neck and hands, walkin’ behind a policeman. They often passed the station that way. I used to think, what have they done to be treated like that. Made me want to cry, just watchin’. Sometimes, we’d hear about white men goin’ shooting blackfellas for sport, just like we was some kind of animal. We’d all get scared, then. We didn’t want that to happen to us.”

…Arthur was taken from his home and placed in a mission. Missions and reserves were institutions set up by the Church and the government in order to teach Aborigines the “white people’s ways”. Aborigines were uprooted from their families and told to forget their own culture, their mothers and their fathers… Arthur remembers his last day:

“They told my other and the others we’d be back soon. We wouldn’t be gone for long, they said. People were callin’, ‘Bring us back a shirt, bring us this, bring us that.’ They didn’t realise they wouldn’t be seein’ us no more. I thought they wanted us educated so we could help run the station some day, I was wrong.

When they came to get me, I clung to my mother and tried to sing* them. I wanted them to die. I was too young, I didn’t know how to sing them properly. I cried and cried, calling to my mother, ‘I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go!’ She was my favourite. I loved her. I called, ‘I want to stop with you, I want to stop with you!’ I never saw her again.”

— Growing Up in Australia, Anna Fienberg and Sally Morgan, Touchdown: School Magazine, The New South Wales Department of Education, Number 8, Volume 73, 1988 (via schoolmagazine)

That poor poor child. She was my favourite. I loved her. I called, ‘I want to stop with you, I want to stop with you!’ I never saw her again.” The pain of this reaches out of the computer screen all these years later and wrings my heart.

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2 Responses to Growing Up Aboriginal

  1. iamroewan says:

    The same thing happened in Canada. It’s a shameful thing.

    • janstra says:

      It really is. All that suffering inflicted on those poor kids and their families, because people thought that the native populations were less than properly human somehow…I didn’t realise that First Nations people were removed from their families in the same kind of systematic way. In Australia it was government policy to forcibly remove the children.

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