The desire to tell the whole truth, and not the glossy, newspaper version of events. How it began in our family.
When the grandmother died, and the little bit of label-like thing was found, the evidence of her origins, what happened?
The first thing – the eldest granddaughter grabbed the thing, read it with wide eyes and pale skin that became paler the longer she held it – she chucked it into the fire and watched it burn, held off two other sisters who wanted to know what it was, what it meant.
She’d never tell them, so I did.
“It’s the tag that gives her permission to be human,” I said.
“What does that mean?”
“That she was allowed to pretend to be an ordinary white person as long as she only worked in jobs like cleaning and housekeeping and -”
“What are you talking about?” A cold voice, descending to total freeze on the last syllable.
“Don’t say it! Don’t tell! It’s not true!” Yelled at the loudest decibels the eldest could create. Of course she wouldn’t want anyone to know – she wasn’t a black person, was she? I mean, look at her: dark hair, olive complexion, the legs and torso long and lean … Her eyes became little dents inside the lines of the scowl.
Safe on the far side of the room, and away from the fire, I held up the other documents, yellow and frayed with the folds that spat snow as they moved. The decayed pinkish cotton tie fell off as I lifted the papers into the air.
“She was stolen. When she was a kid. From her parents. Aboriginals.”
Silence solid as basalt. Stillness. Then the tree branch scraped against the window; the sound of history being rewritten.
“What? Do you think it didn’t happen?” The version we’d been taught at school: didn’t happen, not true. That aboriginal people needed to be taught how to be civilised, that’s all. Nothing about children being stolen.
“It didn’t happen. It’s not true.”
“But it did, and it still happens now. Even today. Read the news, go to the country towns, to the -”
“Shut up, shut up, shut up – it’s not true.” Eldest ran from the room in a spray of spit and rage. The door crashed, bounced, crashed back, clicked in the lock and rattled for a few minutes, trapped with all that energy until silence returned.
Two faces turned away from the watch on the door, glared at me.
“Is it true?” the youngest sister asked.
“Can I look?”
“Not if you’re going to throw them in the fire.”
“Why would I do that?”
“That’s not an answer.”
She left. The poor door went through another pounding and purging of anger and fear.
“Is it really true?”
“We’re all aboriginal?”
“Do you know somewhere safe to put those?” She pointed at the hand with the shabby bits of paper.
“I know someone.”
“Why do you want to keep them safe?”
“It’s a family thing.”
“No, it’s evidence that it happened, and it needs to be seen by-”
How do we end this? Acknowledge the hidden history, try to learn about it, to reconnect with something we didn’t ever know and will now never understand because it’s so far back in our lives, in our genealogical line? Or because it’s too recent, too clearly seen in what’s happening now?
Do we try to do something about what’s happening now, this very moment, when children are removed from adult aboriginal parents ‘for their own good’?
Do we, as Australians, try to find a way to acknowledge and absorb our other history? The history of the people who were here as Originals? Do we create a community of inclusion and refuse to think that ‘white = right’?
What do you think should be done? Before it’s too late and the policy of ‘breed ’em out’ is fully successful.
Copyright 5bayby14u 2017.