In 1983 I learned more than I knew I was learning…

At that time I lived in Glebe and was in some ways at a rather low ebb, in hiatus from teaching but still editing Neos. I lived for a while in a boarding house in Boyce Street with assorted students, crims and schizos and one or two ordinary folk. It was an education. Among my neighbours was a schizophrenic Aboriginal woman whom I call “Marie”.  As I listened to Marie, who was also kind of concierge to the house, I found a story emerging amid the apparent randomness and even craziness. I tried to capture that in a poem at the time. Every word in the poem she actually said, though not all at once, and I have structured it so that her story emerges, as it did for me over a much longer time. An artist who lived upstairs read it and said I had captured her exactly.

10166946_01_x

The house in Boyce Street. At the time I occupied the front room. “Marie” was on the second floor at the landing. The artist had the balcony room.

It is clearly no longer a boarding house.

10166946_04_x

Marie: Glebe 1983

(for the “stolen generation”)

my mama was black
dadda a scotsman

in the home there was a flower
it woke us up

see here it is

and here’s one i’m saving for matron
(i loved you matron)
i’ll write a book for matron

she’s gone now
they say she died

sometimes
i think i will come back to her

she said “you’re in trouble, marie”
she said “have the baby”
(i was nineteen or twenty)

i know all about cocks
men can be cheeky
but the girls are worse
two backyard jobs

matron’s gone now
see her flower?
i’ve pressed it for her

i’m forty-two years old i am nothing
a woman not married in this society
is nothing

my dream is to get married
i said to matron
“i will have babies for you”

tomorrow

i’ll give up smoking
i must control the grog
but when my head’s upset i need a beer

the pub is good
nobody looks down on you there

i hope my joseph is happy
he chose his family
and thomas
where is thomas?

there have been too many men

i’ll go picking again
on the riverina

this is not my place

this is a dead end street this is a dead man’s house
but there is a lane

they call me
abo
schizo

words are very powerful
you must be careful how you use them

do the children still read?

the television
i got mine at the hock shop forty bucks
it freaks me out

sometimes

i see myself and matron and joseph and thomas
i learn a lot
it freaks me out

sometimes

this is not my place
my head hurts here

all that fucking going on
over my head

i’ve never hurt no-one
let them kill me it’s good
it doesn’t matter
i’ve never hurt no-one
but i’ve been hurt

do you know my dream?

this is my dream
i’ll have a coffee shop
and there will be little huts
and no-one will be turned away

we did that once
had pillows all over the house

i learned
dressmaking
and elocution

i’ll get up early and get a job
it’s good i reckon
tomorrow
will be good
after christmas
next year
i’ll leave this place

but it’s good
i reckon

see this flower?
i’m saving it for matron
and here is the one
that woke us in the home

my dadda was a scotsman
my mama was black

****

patten-children01

1a

Each photo is linked to its story.  See A guide to Australia’s Stolen Generations and 100 Year Commemoration of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

See also Punishment and death at Cootamundra for a contrarian view from Keith Windschuttle. BTW, if you happen upon that chapter directly via a search you could be forgiven for thinking it had some kind of official status. I find that a bit deceptive, but then I guess it is up to me (caveat emptor) to check the home and about links.

Archie Roach at Cootamundra Girl’s 100 years playing ‘Mum’s Song’ by Kutcha Edwards.

Full of hatred and full of anger
Which I needed to release
But with love and understanding
I’ve moved on and I’m now at peace

Late at night I still remember
I would cry myself to sleep
The scars they hurt no longer
But the memories are deep

As we come up to Australia Day tomorrow it is time to reflect soberly and honestly on the full picture of our country’s history.

Dhakiyarr vs The King on NITV last night

In Three documentaries–one of them a surprise thanks to NITV and How NITV and ABC News 24 have transformed my TV habits… earlier this month I recommended Channel 34 should become a regular part of our viewing. Indeed, I can think of few better ways to celebrate Australia Day than to go on over to Channel 34 as much as possible. Don’t miss the News at 5.30 pm. It’s a revelation.

Back to NITV then. They constantly surprise me, one example being a scoop that seems to have passed over the heads of too many of us: Join NITV’s Political Correspondent Jeremy Geia with his exclusive documentary Julian on the Inside.

Jeremy Geia is a regular on the news. He is really very good. He is also an artist.

Last night NITV showed the 2004 documentary Dhakiyarr vs The King.

In his acceptance speech when the film won the Audiovisual History prize at the NSW Premier’s History Awards in 2004, the producer of the film, Graeme Isaac remarked, "It has been said that history is written by he who holds the pen, but much of the Aboriginal history of Australia since white settlement has been unwritten history, a history conveyed orally rather than through books and letters. The court case of Takiyar vs The King and the following appeal to the High Court is a famous part of Australian legal history, often taught to undergraduate law students, but Dhakiyarr’s story has never really been told from the point of view of his own people. We fashioned this film project to rectify that imbalance, and to fill in the gaps in the white history created by our ignorance of the Aboriginal oral tradition. We wanted the film to be a mouthpiece for Dhakiyarr’s descendants to tell their side of the story from their own perspective.

They told it not just in words but also with their painting and their ceremony. And in commemorating Dhakiyarr’s memory in the way they did in the High Court in Darwin, with their generous offer of reconciliation with the system and the society that took their leader’s life, they have also changed the feelings and the views of many others, effectively becoming not just tellers of history but also makers of history" We made our film specifically to present the point of view of a participant, to enrich our understanding of a story that is important not just to the Yolngu but to all Australians, one of the great iconic stories of our frontier history – not a ‘black’ or a ‘white’ history but a shared history, where both sides must understand and learn from the other in order to glimpse the full story.

430_Dhakiyarr

Dhakiyarr

08_dhakiyarr_pk_2

When men of the law meet.

Northern Territory Supreme Court Justices Brian Martin (left) and David Angel (right) and High Court Chief Justice Murray Gleeson (second from right) meet Yolngu Law Man Wuyal Wirrpanda.
Date: Unknown
Photographer: Peter Eve

Just inspiring.

In 2004 my former SBHS student Sacha Molitorisz had this to say:

Tom Murray and Allan Collins have a remarkable story, and they’d prefer to let someone else tell it. It’s about a blackfella called Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda from north-east Arnhem Land.

In 1933 this Yolngu tribal leader came across a policeman who had broken Aboriginal law by trespassing on Yolngu land. He had also chained up Dhakiyarr’s wife. In accordance with black law, Dhakiyarr speared the policeman, Constable Albert McColl, through the leg. McColl died.

The retribution, in accordance with white law, was equally harsh. On the advice of a missionary, Dhakiyarr travelled to Darwin to face the Northern Territory Supreme Court, where he was sentenced to death for murder.

After lobbying by academics and unions, however, the High Court overturned the decision, ordering Dhakiyarr be freed. At the time, it was a hugely controversial result, recognising Aborigines should be treated equally before the law. "It was an amazing decision," Murray says.

But the Yolngu celebrations were short-lived: as soon as Dhakiyarr was released, he disappeared. Rumour had it he was killed, possibly by vengeful policemen, or by vigilantes. His remains have never been found.

Murray, a Manly resident with a deep love for Arnhem Land culture, has long been fascinated with Dhakiyarr. "I’ve spent a bit of time up there. I’d heard the story in whispers. It was such a significant trial of the time, so I’d read bits and pieces. And I thought to myself, ‘I bet Dhakiyarr’s family have an amazing story.’ When I went to meet them, this raw, unreconciled story of wanting to know what happened to Dhakiyarr revealed itself."

When Dhakiyarr’s descendants reconciled with the McColl family, Murray decided to make a film about them. As an experienced maker of radio documentaries who lacked film experience, he teamed up with Allan Collins, the cinematographer of Beneath Clouds.

Funding proved hard to raise – until Film Australia’s National Interest Program saw the project’s significance. So filming began, with the focus on two of Dhakiyarr’s grandsons, Wuyal and Dhukal.

"In the Yolngu way, they call themselves sons of Dhakiyarr," says Murray. "To us they’re his grandsons. The film is about Wuyal’s and Dhukal’s attempts to reconcile this raw wound after 70 years."

Last year, Wuyal and Dhukal sent a video letter to Clare Martin, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, asking for the return of Dhakiyarr’s remains. Alternatively, the brothers asked to hold a ceremony at Darwin’s Supreme Court, where Dhakiyarr was sentenced to death. Martin agreed to the latter, and the ensuing scenes – featuring a meeting of Dhakiyarr’s descendants and McColl’s family – form the climax of the finished film, Dhakiyarr vs The King, a powerful piece of work. Last week, the filmmakers learnt they’ve been nominated in the best doco category at this year’s Dendy Awards, scheduled during the Sydney Film Festival.

The Supreme Court ceremony had a reconciling effect on the Wirrpandas and the McColls. As Joan McColl of Narracan wrote to The Age last week: "The Wirrpanda family involved the McColl family in a wonderful healing Wukidi ceremony during which they apologised for Albert’s death and presented to Alan McColl, his nearest living male relative, a ceremonial headpiece. In turn, gifts were presented from the McColl family and the two families now are in close, friendly contact."

Says Murray: "I think it’s been a profound experience for the McColl family. Alan McColl is from Gippsland. He said to me a year ago he’d never even met a black person, and now he has a family of them."

In the process, the McColls have adopted a sporting legend: 24-year-old David Wirrpunda, a star with AFL team the West Coast Eagles. He spells his name differently, but he is Dhakiyarr Wirrpanda’s great-grandson. Wuyal is his dad. Yesterday, Murray, Wuyal and Dhukal went to a West Coast game in Melbourne.

"It’s the first time Wuyal has seen his son play football since he was a kid. David lives in Perth, and Wuyal is the leader of a community in north-east Arnhem Land," says Murray.

This week, Murray returns to his hometown for the Sydney big screen premiere of his film at the Chauvel in Paddington. Wuyal and Dhukal will attend. "It takes courage to acknowledge the past and to apologise, as Wuyal did to the McColls. That’s been missing from the national debate, where we don’t seem to have that leadership. Dhakiyarr going to face white law, that’s showing leadership … With Wuyal, his leadership was made very clear. He showed dignity and courage, and I think that’s what people are responding to. And the same is true of Alan McColl – the McColls were willing to reconcile their own past."

One of the film’s biggest strengths is that it lets the Wirrpandas tell their own story. "Where there is narration, the two brothers narrate," says Murray. "And I think the film was really affirming for them, especially now so many people are saying to them, ‘You’ve done something really important for the Aboriginal debate. You’ve told a really important story.’

"After the screenings, people have been saying that it’s the first time they’ve been given the privilege of gaining insight into an Aboriginal community, unmitigated by a white voice trying to explain it."

It will no doubt be repeated. Don’t miss it.

Bertie Plays the Blues

This is the second most recent in the 44 Scotland Series by Alexander McCall Smith.

20120415_bertie_mccall_smit

This reviewer finds, in contrast to the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, that these books indulge rather too much in inner speech and philosophising.

I find that this in fact is one if the great delights of 44 Scotland Street, and of Bertie Plays the Blues in particular. The novel ends with a version of this Celtic spiral based on the Book of Kells.

CEL04 PENDANT TARTAN 350

Those interlocked hands symbolise the secular Christianity that is at the heart of McCall Smith’s benignly conservative world view.

But it would be wrong to become cynical,
Would be wrong to dismiss the possibility
Of making bearable the suffering of so many
By acts of love in our own lives…
How foolish I once thought I was
To believe in all this; how warmly
I now return to that earlier belief;
How fervently I hope that it is true,
How fervently I hope that it is so.

That is from a poem by the artist Angus Lordie in the final chapter. Chapter 63, about two-thirds into the novel, is titled “Solastalgia Explained” and is another key aspect of McCall Smith’s world view, one that many of a certain age share in, including myself to a fair degree and others I know to a greater or lesser extent. I really commend pages 241 to 243. I would cut and paste them if I could! On the novel see also Bertie Plays the Blues – Alexander McCall Smith.

The term solastalgia is an Australian coinage!

Solastalgia is a neologism coined by the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht in 2003 with the first article published on this concept in 2005. It describes a form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change, such as mining or climate change.

As opposed to nostalgia – the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from a loved home – "solastalgia" is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to their home environment. A paper published by Albrecht and collaborators focused on two contexts where collaborative research teams found solastalgia to be evident: the experiences of persistent drought in rural New South Wales (NSW) and the impact of large-scale open-cut coal mining on individuals in the Upper Hunter Valley of NSW. In both cases, people exposed to environmental change experienced negative affect that is exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness or lack of control over the unfolding change process.

What a useful word. It may be applied to a lot more than the psychological effects of environmental change – as indeed McCall Smith does. I suspect Jim Belshaw will find the idea resonates.

See also Clive Thompson on How the Next Victim of Climate Change Will Be Our Minds (Wired) and Glenn Albrecht, The age of solastalgia.

The built and natural environments are now changing so rapidly that our language and conceptual frameworks have to work overtime just to keep up. Under the intertwined impacts of global development, rising population and global warming, with their accompanying changes in climate and ecosystems, there is now a mismatch between our lived experience of the world, and our ability to conceptualise and comprehend it.

No longer is the “wisdom of the elders” relevant to how we should live in the here and now, and this loss of historically informed knowledge has implications for social cohesion.

I experienced the connections between mental health and changes to a once predictable and loved home-environment when examining the impact of open-cut coal mining in the Upper Hunter region of NSW. My own eco-biography, the seminal influences in my life that have influenced my feelings about the natural environment, had attuned me to the importance of a positive “sense of place” in people’s lives, and to the significance of what the geographer Yi-Fu Tuan called “topophilia”, or the love of place and landscape…

PC090163a

Monday salmagundi

“Salmagundi is also purportedly a meal served on pirate ships. It is a stew of anything the cook had on hand, usually consisting of chopped meat, anchovies, eggs, and onions, often arranged in rows on lettuce and served with vinegar and oil, and spiced with anything available.” – Wikipedia.

Oh yes!

558791_560158160680308_2121174704_n

Memories of the Albury Hotel, my one time alternative lounge room where I met M and Sirdan, among others — based on a photo by Bruce Part who worked there:

FotoSketcher - 16042_232492893548533_882882010_na

Why I won’t be watching QandA tonight, aside from the fact Janet Albrechtsen is on it:

whypoverty

Today Paul Sheehan wrote a total puff piece about Gina Rinehart. If he isn’t already on her PR team he should be soon after this. Talk about fawning! In contrast, please consider More myths from the mining oligarchs.

Australia is in the grip of a group of mining oligarchs, who are spending enormous amounts of monety to shape the economic debate to suit their own very narrow interests. They are opposed to the mining tax (a resource rent tax) and have in the past denied the state (on behalf of all of us) owns the resources that they plunder for private profit. They have also sponsored national tours of leading climate-change deniers (such as Lord Monckton) who are known to trade on distortions of the truth. Overall, there personal resources guarantee them access to the daily media and they use it relentlessly. They also write books which get national coverage and have a record of suing peope who criticise their views. The result is that there is very little critical scrutiny of the propositions they advance to justify their claims. Some of the propositions are pure fantasy yet they have gained traction with the public who have been too easily duped by the promotional onslaught. Here is a little sojourn into the fantasy world on one such oligarch.
The most recent example of this oligarchic-intervention is launch of a new book last week by the richest person in Australia, Ms Gina Rinehart.

I last wrote about Ms Rinehart in this blog – A veritable pot pourri of lies, deception and self-serving bluster.

At that time, the richest person in Australia – mining heiress – who has been fighting it out in the courts with her own children over their grandfather’s inheritance – echoed the Ann Raynd line that the “billionaires and millionaires” create all the jobs and help the poor but the latter are too lazy to do their bit.

She claimed that “billionaires and millionaires are doing more than anyone to help the poor by investing their money and creating jobs”.

Even though the current mining boom has seen her wealth (derived from an inheritance from her father who was a mining magnate) increase by more than $A20 billion in a few year claims that “anti-business and socialist policies for hurting the poor”.

She also claimed that socialism in Australia is “killing off investment in Australian projects” and called for the minimum wage to be cut…

In A veritable pot pourri of lies, deception and self-serving bluster:

… Apparently, socialism in Australia is “killing off investment in Australian projects”.

She wants the minimum wage cut and attacked the poor by saying that:

If you’re jealous of those with more money, don’t just sit there and complain; do something to make more money yourself – spend less time drinking, or smoking and socialising, and more time working. Become one of those people who work hard, invest and build, and at the same time create employment and opportunities for others.

This sounds like it is coming from someone who is “self-made”. The reality is different. She inherited her wealth and didn’t have to do any work to be at the top of the wealth distribution. And then came the socialist state we call China who launched its development phase at just about the right time for Gina – she has made a fortune from companies that dig our resources up, put it into trucks, take it to a ship and send it to China.

Of-course, the empirical evidence is the opposite. The lower income groups in Australia spend less of their budget on alcohol than the higher income earners.

In this 2010 study – Drinking patterns in Australia, 2001–2007 – from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (an Australian Government research body) we learn that (Table 2.6):

… people that are currently employed are most likely to be recent consumers of alcohol.

A lower proportion of the unemployed consume alcohol (within the previous 12 months of the survey) relative in work.

Digging deeper, we find that in terms of the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Index of Relative Socioeconomic Disadvantage (based on the SEIFA Indexes), which measure how well off a person is across a range of indicators, that the first quintile (“the most disadvantaged 20% of people in Australia”) have the lowest proportion of alcohol consumers and between 2001 and 2007, the proportion dropped.

Conversely, the highest quintile (the most advantaged Australians) are way out there in terms of proportions of that cohort that use alcohol. The AIHW Report concluded that:

… as the socioeconomic status goes up, the proportion of people consuming alcohol also increases.

Later, the Report analyses alcohol use and income and concluded that:

When personal income by alcohol drinking status was analysed, the data show that as personal income increases, so does the prevalence and frequency of drinking … For example, the prevalence of any alcohol consumption is 95% among the highest income group, compared with around 80% among the lowest income group, and there is a fairly constant gradient across these groups. This applies for both sexes.

The March 2012 edition of the ABS Australian Social Trends – carried a feature on “low economic resource households” – which is a cute way of say those who are poor.

The article presented data (for 2009-10) on expenditure on goods and services by the poor relative to the rest of the population.

We learn that:

In 2009-10, the average weekly equivalised expenditure (adjusted to include imputed rent) on goods and services of people in low economic resource households ($500) was 57% of the average expenditure of other households ($872) … Housing, food and transport were the broad expenditure items that accounted for the largest proportion of expenditure on goods and services across both low economic resource households and other households. Among those in low economic resource households, these items accounted for 57% of total expenditure, while for those in other households they accounted for 45%.

In terms of weekly equivalised expenditure, the Low economic resource households spent $A10 a week on alcoholic beverages (1.9 per cent of their total spending) whereas the rest of the population spent $A21 a week on alcoholic beverages (2.4 per cent of their budget).

Spending on other items relating to “socialising” were also much lower in absolute and proportional terms for the poorest Australians…

Inconvenient facts from an economist, eh! Still, I am sure Paul will love her as much as ever.

I considered going up to South Sydney Uniting Church, but didn’t – partly because my neighbour down here asked me to a barbecue at The Bates Motel and I though being neighbourly was important. Had I gone though:

Homily
Reign of Christ, Year B
“Celebrating Community”
South Sydney Uniting Church
November 25, 2012

Psalm 93; 2 Samuel 23:1-7; John 18:33-37

‘Trust

“Is the brutalisation of the weak by the strong just what happens behind closed doors, when families, orders, tribes and forces self-police? Is it, in short, inevitable?” asks Elizabeth Farrelly. “Because it’s not just sex, or violence, or corruption, though those are bad enough. To my mind, this kind of abuse is theft. The child abused by a priest isn’t just sexualised, degraded and humiliated. As surely as Roberto Curti was robbed of his life by spontaneous official torture, the abused child is robbed of his or her budding trust in authority and, by extension, the world. Children are very moral animals, with an intense and intuitive feel for justice. To be betrayed and defiled by the supposed source of truth and goodness leaves a child truly broken hearted. In the case of grubby planning decisions, politicians are the slimy adults and we the broken hearted children, but the destruction is similar. We are the victims of systematic environmental theft” (Elizabeth Farrelly, “Developing a tale of comeuppance”, SMH, 21/11/12).

I’ve been thinking on Farrelly’s words for a few days. Power corrupts, she laments. Without an alternative to abusive power we are doomed to fear and hopelessness. One way out is by way of the victims of abuse – by way of their courage and by way of their critique of the systems of abuse. Michael Mullins, editor of Eureka Street, made a decision last week not to publish an essay on media bias against the Catholic Church. He wrote: “Any hope that the Church has of being a credible witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ depends upon its ability to accept its current humiliation and give glory instead to the sexual abuse victims whom it has humiliated.” God be with you

Mad pollies: cut, cut and cut again, and hang the consequences…

Let’s hope they have more brains than that, but I am not holding my breath.

From The Illawarra Mercury.

Illawarra’s multicultural services will be forced to take up the slack if multicultural program staff are lost in a Department of Education and Communities restructure.

NSW Teachers Federation regional organiser Nicole Calnan said the multicultural support positions were not included in a draft proposal of the restructure sent to department offices this month.

Under the restructure – part of the NSW government’s plan to save $1.7 billion in education spending – Illawarra schools will be absorbed into a super region and support jobs will be cut.

"There is no provision for ensuring that the current level of multicultural program support for schools will continue," Ms Calnan said.

"Under this realignment, the positions of multicultural/ESL [English as a second language] consultant, community information officer, regional multicultural support officer and ESL/refugee- teacher mentors won’t even exist."

Ms Calnan said the multicultural program staff performed several roles, from providing professional learning and support for ESL teachers to running multicultural and anti-racism programs in schools.

Earlier this week, the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra (MCCI) convened a meeting of all CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities) representatives from the region.

MCCI general manager Terrie Leoleos said the loss of these valuable school roles would adversely affect the region’s already disadvantaged communities.

"The Education Department’s multicultural support program has played an intricate and important role across the state in supporting migrants, refugees and humanitarian entrants and settlements into this country, particularly in regional areas," Ms Leoleos said.

"Cutting positions like these … will be detrimental not only to those communities but it will put a lot of pressure on multicultural services, which are already stretched and will have to take up the shortfall."

The MCCI this week sent a letter to the Education Department asking that they do a comprehensive review and engage multicultural services and communities in the process.

A department spokesman said a revised model of the restructure would be available on Monday, with a final model to be released on December 21.

Having been an ESL teacher in the not too distant past, I know just how much I valued, indeed needed, the services that it appears may be about to become victims of small government ideology/bean counting. They operated on a shoestring even back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but I can’t begin to tell you how good they are! Consider, for example:

Refugee support programs

A refugee is a person who has fled his or her country and cannot return because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality or membership of a particular social group.

In recent years, increasing numbers of young refugees, in particular refugees from Africa and the Middle East, have enrolled in government schools in both metropolitan and country areas of NSW. About 1,600 enrol each year. At any time approximately 12,000 refugee students are enrolled in NSW government schools.

These students come from a number of countries in Africa, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kenya, Congo, Uganda, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ivory Coast and Burundi, as well as countries in Asia and the Middle East, in particular Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many refugee families have lived in protracted refugee situations before coming to Australia. Some students were born and have lived all their lives in refugee camps. All have experienced disrupted schooling. Some may have had very limited schooling and, as a result, have few or no first language literacy skills.

Many of the recently arrived refugees have high resettlement and educational needs and may need high levels of support. However, it is important to avoid over-generalisation as this is not the case with all refugees. Conclusions about a refugee student’s capabilities and needs should be reached through careful assessment over a period of time.

Traumatic experiences that refugee students encounter before they start school in Australia may impact considerably on their learning and behaviour at school. In some cases, post traumatic stress and poor health due to refugee experiences can lead to absences from school, or manifest in poor behaviour in the classroom.

The safety, security and support provided by schools are critical factors in ensuring the adjustment of refugee children and adolescents to life and schooling in Australia. Officers at Multicultural Programs Unit can assist regions in planning and delivering successful refugee support programs.

I am not directly familiar with what is happening in schools down here in the Illawarra, where I now live, but one may get an idea from school sites such as Wollongong High School of the Performing Arts.

Picture1

Picture2

Images from a Wollongong High Powerpoint presentation.

Recent developments in our asylum seeker policy continue to depress me. Some consolation may be found in seeing fellow feeling among the Herald cartoonists lately.

gal-land-Wilcox-600x400

port-Moir-baby-overboard-620x0

Our River Days and the Croker Island kids

Picture0059

I mentioned this book a few days back: see Croker Island Exodus. As you can see I secured a copy from Wollongong Library and have now read it. I also saw Croker Island Exodus last night.

Alice Briston and Jessie Lyons, in their 80s, still recall their group canoeing across a crocodile-infested river, tussling over who would eat a dead goanna, discovering leeches in a waterhole they were drinking from and walking barefoot for days across rugged terrain…

The two women had been forcibly removed from their parents and wound up with other youngsters from the stolen generations in a Methodist mission on Croker Island. Its supplies were running out after the Darwin bombing and the group had to evacuate, starting with a boat to the mainland but having to then bypass Darwin.

At one stage, the children walked single file almost 100 kilometres across Kakadu after the government trucks sent to pick them up became stuck. ”It seemed a long way … no shoes, nothin’,” Briston said softly. But ”I didn’t even take notice of my feet”, she added with typical understatement. ”I just enjoyed myself walking around with other children.”

At that age – many were under 12 – it seemed more a big excursion than frightening experience. ”I don’t think we were scared,” Lyons said. Returning to Kakadu as an adult, ”I got more scared just going back there and seeing what we went through.” A boy died along the way.

One of the missionary carers, Sister Margaret Somerville, 99, was recently reunited with some from the journey. The emotional scenes are captured in Croker Island Exodus, which weaves historical footage with interviews and re-enactments.

Somerville told their story in a book, They Crossed a Continent.

The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, said: ”This is one of the greatest of all Australian stories of love and compassion.”…

art-Croker-Island-exodus-420x0

The documentary lived up to its promise. While it did not go into all that much detail about the children’s time at Otford there certainly were pictures worth the proverbial thousand words, especially colour footage of the children at Otford.

Betty Bezant’s book is even more an account of her childhood – and her family – in Otford than it is about the Croker Island children. It is a little repetitive, but nonetheless a good read and as memoirs go very accurate, I would say. One detail I found fascinating is that Clarence Greentree, originally the one teacher at Otford’s one room school – before the arrival of 76 Croker Island kids – went back to Croker Island after the war with the children and remained there as teacher. See also another memoir, Lorna "Nanna Nungala" Fejo.

Lorna was born in the late 1920’s to an aboriginal mother and a white father.

Lorna’s bush name is Minpirmngully.

She is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon).

Lorna was taken as a 4 year old, 1932, from her mother and became a part of the “Stolen Generation”. She was sent to Alice Springs to the bungalows. From here she was sent to Goulburn Island then to Croker Island in the early 1940’s.

She remained there until being evacuated to Sydney via Oenpelli and Pine Creek, after the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese. (They Crossed a Continent by Margaret Somerville) Photos contained in this book.

While in Sydney, Lorna attended primary school at Haberfield Primary School then moved to join the other children from Croker Island at Otford. She attended the Wollongong High School until the end of the war.

All of the younger children returned to Darwin on board the “Reynella”

After the war, Lorna returned to Croker Island, where more houses had been built to house the children. Schooling was provided by Mr Greentree. She was studying her 3rd year high school while also helping to teach children in grades 1-3. Her time at Croker was enjoyable…

See also Paint Me Black: Memories Of Croker Island And Other Journeys by Claire Henty-Gebert and Man with a mission: Alec Ross – House Parent at Wangkana Kari Aboriginal Hostel tells of his early years.

I was born at Barrow Creek in 1936, but I grew up in Sydney. I’m of Scottish descent, my father’s three quarters Scots. I work at Wangkana Kari Aboriginal Hostel as a house parent.

I was living at Neutral Junction with my mother when I was a baby and in those days they had a ruling that if you fathered a half-caste child, you weren’t allowed to be a father to it or stay with the child. My father was classed as a white man, he looked white but he wasn’t a white man. Then they took me away because my mother had me in the camp. The reason they gave my father for taking me away was that it was the law and that my father couldn’t do anything about it.

Because my father was classed as a white man, he couldn’t have an Aboriginal partner and so the child would therefore be taken away. They wanted us to grow up like a ‘normal’ white person I suppose and give us a better education and a better living.

While he was there my father actually took care of me but he had to go to Adelaide with R.M. Williams, the clothes manufacturer. They were good mates so he went to business in Adelaide with R.M. Williams and he said he couldn’t look after me, he left me with my mother and so the authorities came about a week later and took me away.

We all went to the Bungalow, the old Telegraph Station in Alice Springs, actually I think it was the Cullen Compound first and then moved to Alice. They kept us there for about two or three weeks, I’m not to sure and I was probably three or three and a half or something.

They then split us up into religious groups, Methodist, Catholic, Church of England and so on and they moved us south. They said, "You go with them and you go with them," and I ended up in a place called Croker Island in 1941.

The Japs started bombing there in ’42 so they had to move us in a hurry – they couldn’t find a place in Sydney, but they did eventually find somewhere at a place called Otford, about an hour outside of Sydney. We stayed there until the War was over. I remember all the Jap’s subs coming in and getting knocked out in the Harbour and that sort of thing. I remember the Japs flying over us at Croker and before we had to leave and then when they bombed Darwin.

We had to walk practically all the way from a place called Barklay Bay on the Arnhem Land coast right over to Pine Creek through the bush. It would have been two or three hundred miles and there were about eighty kids and three or four missionaries. We had two old trucks, an old Chevrolet truck and a couple of horses and that’s how we travelled through crocodile infested waters.

We went right through the Arnhem Gully across to Pine Creek and when we got there we met up with the Army. We put on an impromptu concert for them, I was one of the ten green bottles. I fell over and cut my lip on the stage!…

On the Island [Croker] they had taught us everything – gardening, fencing, anything that was there you had to try and learn to do. I think in my case it was very good thing because I look back at my family now and see them, the way they’re living and my half brothers and sisters. All the black fella side, my mother’s side, I mean they’re not the same, they’ve got no work, they’re just living out in the bush and coming in when they want to. They’re on the dole and they can’t get a job. But I’ve been working ever since I was ready to work and it was very seldom that I got on the dole queue…

Maybe some people are inclined to be angry and maybe they’re looking for money or some compensation from the government and that’s the big problem. Some of them did suffer more than I did because a lot of the older kids probably knew their parents better than me, I didn’t. Being so young, I was taken away and I hadn’t known my parents, so therefore it didn’t matter to me. All these kids who were running with me in the same age group would be like brothers and sisters…

Passing through the Otford Valley, Christmas 2010

Gaza… What the f***!!!

I can’t help seeing merit in Gaza Bleeds as Israeli Right Wing Prepares for Elections. Yes, written by Zainab S Khan on The Platform. So? Alan Dershowitz is more objective? You jest, surely… According to Khan:

So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

Obama’s speech at the Cairo University, Egypt (4 June 2009)

With these words echoing throughout the Middle East, the world was made a promise four years ago – a promise of ‘change’ and ‘freedom’. As we got sucked into the euphoria of the inauguration and momentarily turned our gaze, Israel took the opportunity to disable Gaza, bringing its people once more to their knees.  By December 2008, Operation Cast Lead was in full effect. The three-week Operation strategically bombed schools, hospitals and urban areas resulting in the deaths of 1,417 Palestinians, including 926 civilians, compared to three Israeli civilians. The people of Gaza looked to the newly elected President, only to find that his earlier sentiments had withered away with power.

As of 14 November 2012, Israel – yet again – launched a systematic attack on the largely defenceless population of Gaza. Operation ‘Pillar of Cloud’ has reportedly killed 45 Palestinians, including a pregnant woman and 12 children, and has caused over 400 casualties. The American response followed its usual course, as it has largely done for decades – of unwavering support: “the United States’ support for Israel’s right to self-defence in light of the barrage of rocket attacks being launched from Gaza against Israeli civilians”. The hypocrisy of Obama’s words in Egypt are further highlighted as the people of Gaza once more face continuous bombardment, with no electricity and declining food and medicine. Gaza’s right to exist is again denied.

Writing this, I am left asking myself the same questions as I did four years ago. How long will Israel maintain the facade of self-defence to justify the mass slaughter of a besieged population, and what are the real reasons behind Israel’s aggression?

Israel’s disproportionate attacks have sent their PR team into overdrive…

Paul McGeough in the Sydney Morning Herald sees such a  pattern too.

We don’t have a clue how it will end, except there is a growing sense that even by regional standards, it will set a new benchmark in ugliness and that it has a special ability to draw in the rest of the region. Might be a time to tread lightly – yes?

So with all that in mind, it was courageous – in the Yes, Prime Minister meaning of the term – for Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to decide that he absolutely had to go to war against Gaza this week.

Still testing its footing after the tectonic shifts of the Arab Spring, Israel might have opted for a less aggressive test of its ”cold peace” alliance with Egypt, which, after years of dictatorship, has an Islamist administration that is required to respond to its people’s massive and heartfelt sympathy for the Palestinians.

Could Netanyahu be so cynical as to stage-manage this show of force, because he faces re-election in a matter of weeks? That’s what some commentators say. Even as he threatens war on Iran and contends with the Syrian conflict on his doorstep, might he have hit Gaza in the hope of showing the world what a bad lot the Palestinians are – on the eve of a Palestinian bid for greater recognition at the United Nations?

It has to be said that for a conflict that can cause so much pain to so many people, it may well be the leadership aspirations of a handful that drive this current chapter – and not just on the Israeli side…

He also notes today that Obama has to factor Arab Spring into reaction to Israeli-Hamas crisis.

Absolute support has been the default position of American politics for decades. But might this President see that the geopolitical reconfiguring of the Middle East in the past two years makes that historic position untenable?

The Arab Spring was a bolt from the blue – an event that most who monitor the Middle East didn’t see coming. But in it, millions of defenceless Arabs found the courage to rise to meet and to grasp the soaring rhetoric of Obama’s famous Cairo speech delivered in June 2009.

It was brilliant stuff. You remember the lines – ”I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.”…

In Haaretz Khaled Diab begs: “Israelis and Gazans: Don’t buy your leaders’ rhetoric!”  Chemi Shalev notes “For Israel’s PR war on Gaza, it may be all downhill from here.”

I took the photo above in January 2009 in Sydney. It is linked to the relevant entry. See also A rabbi on Gaza from that time. And on this blog Tread warily in the graveyard called Palestine/Israel among other posts tagged “Israel”.

This letter in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is truistic but nonetheless totally relevant.

My Facebook friends include people with more or less partisan views on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, in recent days I have had many graphic colour pictures appearing on my wall, some showing bloodied Israeli civilian casualties, others showing bloodied Palestinian civilian casualties.

What all these pictures demonstrate is that the colour of the spilt blood of innocent Israelis is exactly the same as the colour of the spilt blood of innocent Palestinians.

Paul Norton Highgate Hill (Qld)