(commentary separate post)
The new rules and ideas that the white man brought with them when they arrived had changed the way people looked at each other. They went throughout Australia and told us how we could fix our lives, fix the way we talk, fix the way we farm and essentially fix the way that we lived. Generations before mine didn’t know what needed to be fixed so they carried on with how they always have they had come so far doing what they had so why change it now they were doing just fine. The white man didn’t appreciate this and so we were forgotten about, written off and told we were simply not good enough for their new country. Forced into small parts of the country that once was all of ours, people that were once so proud began to hang their heads in shame- we were losing everything. Voiceless within a language we didn’t understand, people turned their noses down at the aboriginal people. Uneducated. Unimportant. Insignificant in the progress of this new nation they were becoming so proud of. This was until their white men began relationships with aboriginal women, the inevitable happened and children of mixed races were born. They thought this would be the end of the racial tension, how could you force a child who was both old and new Australia choose an identity that they equally belonged too. Turns out this new generation of children never got the chance to be the remedy instead they were marked as different, not different like the aboriginal people were, not like the white people entirely but still different. They were too good to be with the brown people, not quite good enough to be with the white people so were classed within themselves and if anything had potential to make good domestic helpers. We weren’t just considered a burden on the country, the native men as the settlers called them had their uses. After all the years they had spent working and learning their own land they were of some use to these new comers, but that was the extent of the relationship. We were used, we had a purpose to fulfil for their own selfish needs, and we weren’t seen as souls within human bodies we were seen as mere people. People who no matter how much the white people would bend, would not break.
It wasn’t always like this. We used to be able to enjoy the warm air of the night-time, sitting around and watching the sun set and listening to better tales of our older families generations, times before the white people graced our shores and lived throughout our land and country. It was calm and peaceful, no hushed conversations in the corners, no worried faces. I was happy to be in the red glow of the fire, everybody looked the same in this light, the glow of the fire didn’t allow you to see the colour of somebody’s skin, it was the perfect place to hide and fit in. The fire would snap and crack in front of my heavy eyes, each night when they came to be too heavy to hold open the words of my family singing would echo in my ears “Womraka moses yenyen wala. Wala yepun yepudge. Mara burra ferra yamini yala…”
I have been told all my life that I am the same as my brothers and sisters in Jigalong, we are cut from the same cloth and the light shade that is my skin is no different from those who are blessed with the night complexion. Just because I was told this, didn’t mean I had to believe it. I was born and like any birth my family rejoiced. The rejoicing was not felt widespread, I was considered a wandi, a muda-muda wandi- a half-caste child. Protected from evil spirits in the darkness that the oldest people in Jigalong believed in I thought I would be safe yet, I could not escape from the hurting words of the other children. Ever since the arrival of the white men in the nearby town children were born of mixed colour and we were not always accepted. From the whispered conversations between the elders at night time out by the trees, with their voices carrying across the sandy ground, we always knew something was being kept from us, the way adults looked at us as if they knew something about our own future that we couldn’t possibly understand. As I sat at the feet of my crying parents I was about to know what they have kept from us, we didn’t just think we were different, we were different and everybody knew it. My older sister and Gracie my cousin were like me, they acted like all the other children, walked, talked, danced and played all the same yet were confined to friendship with each other. I was shy and stuck by either of my parent’s side rather than going out and playing with the other children, I was lucky I had Molly and Gracie. I wanted dark skin like theirs just so I could fit in and be one of them. Never so much had I wanted something than just to look the same. When my Mother or Father forced me outside to go and play with the other children they would taunt me and tell me that people not with two parents the same colour were going missing, I would run through the trees and their voices would follow me, going inside to see my dark mother and light father I would burst into floods of tears scared that somebody was coming after me. We have all heard the stories, stories that we were told not to worry about, tales of the white men coming in the night and taking the ones that they could see in the darkness, girls with skin just like mine. I was once told that it was because the white men were like the moon, they shone in the dark and thought that it made them better than those who you could only see in the light. I began to hate the night time.
There was a white man who worked at the depot with my father, uncle and men from the settlement had been watching us grow up; he was showing too much interest in us and often made comment about our light skin. It made many people uncomfortable and on a day when the leaves on the trees had began to brown and the days had gotten shorter, he decided to make this known, he had shown up as the sun was setting to talk with my mother and father. Tears rolled down my mothers’ cheek as I remembered the day that everything began to change. We had been playing outside and could only hear parts of the conversation, we knew that he had written a letter to somebody who I do not know telling them of us. I could not understand what was happening or why everybody seemed to be panicking and tempers were beginning to flare. The dust from the desert surrounding our home began to lift from the ground in a large gust of wind and my father hurried me inside unable to hear what was said, this was not before I saw my mother fall to the ground with her head in her hands. He sighed heavily as he wrapped his arms around my small frame and made calming shushing noises, I feel as though he needed soothing much more than I did. My mother stayed outside long after the strange white man had left, she was staring out across the plain landscape not phased by the wind whipping sand around her. Everybody changed from that day, there was no more sitting under the night sky, the fires were lit but nobody felt the warmth, songs were no longer sung. It was frightening, nobody would tell us what was happening, they instead shrouded us in a cloud of doubt and fear.
As I now knew, there was no hiding from fear; it consumes you until finally it finds you. In the dark and silent night we felt them coming. What the adults had been worried about was finally coming true, their worst nightmare became real in the form of the sound of large work trucks pulling up in front of our house, doors slamming followed by heavy-footed men climbing onto the porch and ripping open the door. In the time it took my mother to scream in fright and anger, I was bundled into a blanket and hidden under the foot of the bed. What I heard through muffled ears confused me; I couldn’t understand what was happening or why I was hiding from these people. I heard somebody say he was a constable, we were told to trust him or her, so why was mother yelling at him? He said he was a Protector of Aborigines? In a matter of moments filled with yelling and crying they were gone. Along with Molly and Gracie. Just like they turned up to my house, they had turned up to my country. Unannounced and uninvited. Around a hundred years according to the stories, they came to our shores in their big boats and pretty dresses and brought with them new religions and rules and thought that they knew what was best for my people and our land. At some point it changed from them being the different people, to us being the different ones. They were there only a matter of minutes but the damage of what they did in that small time would affect generations to come. I kept my eyes tightly closed and breathed in deeply to inhale the musty smell of the blanket around me, at any second expecting to feel a hand around my ankle and drag me out and take me away into the darkness. It never came. What felt like a lifetime later I was coaxed out by my father and was told to keep my eyes closed until the sun rose. As I slept my family gathered around me, the truth was- Molly and Gracie weren’t the first girls to be taken and they weren’t going to be the last.
The light came in the morning but the day was still filled with darkness. I awoke to the sound of tears, and the sight of two empty beds. My sister and cousin, my only friends had been taken away and I was supposed to go with them. The strange man that was at our house just days earlier had written a letter all about our skin colour and how we needed to be taken from our home because we weren’t like the others apparently. There was hope for us; hope that we would be more than those we grew up with. He had only made reference to what they thought was just two girls, so the people who visited during the night did not know I existed. My mother cried uncontrollably when she told me where they had taken Molly and Gracie, enough tears to flood the land too the Moore River Settlement, on the other side of the country in Perth where they now were. My father spoke softly when he hung his head and let tears fall from his eyes, it is the first time I noticed the colour of his skin. His skin was tanned from the hours he spent working the land out in the sun and in some places it was worn like old leather but was still light like milk, my father was white and my mother next to him was a dark brown… they were different from one another. Running his hands through his hair he began to speak “they will grow up with a better outlook on life than back with their families” he said it over and over again until he choked on tears trying to speak. He put his arm around my mother and they comforted each other while I sat on the ground in front of them, without my sister, without my cousin and let a single tear roll out of my left eye. They were going to find me because I was different. They were going to take me away from my family and try and make me white. Make me not who I was. I was old and new Australia, for the first time I was proud of this. They were not going to take this away from me.