Books And Movies on Indigenous Aussie Issues

I had a meeting yesterday with some friends about a potential connection between a remote community in the North West and their church in Perth. One of the questions asked was ‘Why?”

I think it needs to be asked.

One of my passions is this very idea of communities connecting with other communities for a reciprocal benefit. A kind of partnership if you like. Most of white Australia’s history with the ‘First Australians’ has been pretty one sided, even recent history – think ‘N.T. intervention’! My passion would be to build relationship between communities for mutual benefit.

What benefit is there for me in having a relationship with some remote community in the Kimberley or a Noongar community right here in Perth? More than there is for them I would suggest! I actually think white man has gone into Aboriginal communities throughout our history with our own agenda of sorts. Mostly a one sided agenda – be it to teach, tell, take or … take over! Very few times do I hear stories of white man going into relationship with an indigenous Aussie or community to listen, learn, and love. I think one of the key reasons I have been rather apathetic in my own relationships and interactions with our first Australians has been largely due to fear of offense (due to my ignorance) rather than any form of racism, although I am not claiming innocence here! Why do people walk across to the other side of the road if they see a dark aboriginal man walking towards them? Racism? Maybe, but my guess is that these days there are many who would not count themselves as racist, they wept when the apology was spoken, they were appalled when the army stormed the N.T. remote communities without due consultation. But these same people when confronted with an aboriginal just don’t quite know what to do. They don’t want to offend culture, they don’t want to embarrass themselves, they are just stuck in ignorance so they walk away.

I know a few aboriginal people, in fact I am related to one. And I would suggest on the whole these great people might want to offer white Australians a gift. A gift of education and relationship. If us white fellas took time and effort to know a bit more about culture, about country about language, history, story and song – if we just knew a bit more we would be less ignorant and therefor less fearful and more willing to engage.

My passion would be to link willing aboriginal people and communities with willing non-indigenous Aussies and communities and humbly ask the indigenous people, “Are you willing to teach us about your people, your culture, your country, your history”, and where appropriate, “your dreaming, your songs?”  I used the word “Mission” in my meeting yesterday and one of the people froze up and became a little agitated. “Let me explain” I said. I suggested that traditionally “mission” has been about proselytism, primarily about “evangelizing the heathen”. I suggested my opinion was that mission was as much about us as it was “them” (whoever the “them” may be). That our mission as believers was primarily about seeing where God was already at work among people and all of creation, then once identified, going and joining Him in His work. This to me is about Kingdom. Seeing opportunities for peace, reconciliation, restoration and relationship – the things of the Kingdom – and working with the Spirit in these things.

I asked my cousin about some of these things and she said for a start I should watch some movies and read some books. Here is a list of some of her recommendations, added to them are some others I have read or had recommended ;

Movies and Documentaries-

10 Canoes

The First Australians SBS Series.

Yolngu Boy

Coolbaroo Club

Ranyini

Bran Nue Day

Why Me? Stories of The Stolen Genneration

Liyarn Ngarn

Books

Two Men Dreaming

An Aboriginal Mother Tells of The Old and The New – Labumore

The Tall Man – Chloe Hooper

Voices of Aboriginal Australia – Moores

The World of The First Australians – Berndt

The lamb enters the dreaming: Nathaniel Pepper and the ruptured world – Kenny

Blood, spirit and bones: Aboriginal Christianity in an East-Kimberley town

I guess aprt from reading books and watching movies, what has helped more than anything else has been sitting with people who are Australian Aboriginal and asking questions and listening… and listening…

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The Tall Man

The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper was my best read of the summer holidays, a book I could not put down. If you love court room type investigative dramas you will love this true story.

0241015375On the 19th November 2004, Cameron Doomadgee swore at a police officer. The 36-year-old aboriginal resident of Palm Island off the coast of Queensland near Townsville was arrested by Christopher Hurley and 40 minutes later was found dead in a cell of the local police station.

In January 2007 Hurley was charged with manslaughter, the first Australian police officer to be charged over a death in custody. He was acquitted in June 2007.

With such a controversial subject, it is a pleasant surprise to discover that Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man Penguin, 2008 handles the matter with such restrained sensitivity and intelligence. (source)

I wept as I read the last chapter of this brilliant book. I know a country copper, a tall , big guy, who I know ‘roughs up’ people a bit, could he do something like this when his temper is pushed to the limit? Would you? Would I? But more than all these questions about our temper and what it can produce, I was challenged by white Australia’s attitude to our indigenous people, the first Australians. Sadly the verdict was handed down just 24 hours before Howard marched the army into the Northern Territory as part of that government’s intervention and ‘answer’ to The Little Children are Sacred report, so most of the drama of it all was lost, but I do remember the news about the riots in 2004 and subsequent reports.

Can I again recommend, for all those who think I may be a bit biased towards Australian Aboriginals, the SBS series The First Australians. You can watch online at http://www.sbs.com.au/firstaustralians/

Oh and – Read The Tall Man

Rev. John Green and the People of Coranderrk Station

There are stories you find that you wonder how they have ever been kept a secret. The story of Scottish preacher man John Green, described as a

“Devout Christian man, yet a gentle and understanding man. He was a freak, he had almost no prejudices, whether, a black or white or whatever. There were few people around like Green…

He transcended the popular racist mindset, he had full faith in the aboriginal people, their community, their capabilities and what they were able to achieve.”

I discovered John Green in episode three (Freedom For Our Lifetime) of “The First Australians” on SBS online. He is an amazing and inspirational example of an incarnational missionary. He gave his life for the people he loved, the Wurundjeri Aboriginal nation near Melbourne Vic around 1860 and beyond.

Green stood with Simon Wonga and Barrack, leaders of the people whilst they asked for just a portion of their own land back. They gained victory as they were given what they called Coranderrk Station, named after a tree growing nearby. They claimed the land as their own, they set up their own settlement, independent, very unique at the time. Although the government continued to hold their finances and dictate much of what happened on the station they were given local right to govern. The model Green helped them establish was so successful that others began. But none with the same ‘feel’ as Coranderrk station, others were ruled over by white fellas, and you had to ‘convert’ to Christianity before being allowed on the land, Green allowed the aboriginals the right to choose, it was their land wasn’t it?

After some years of very successful lifestyle the government decided to  set up a brewery at Coranderrk, growing the grain and everything on site with promised return of profits into a new hospitalal.

This was the beginning of the end for the settlement because;

1. They put a white fella boss over Wonga, Barack and Green.

2. They refused to pay any money to the Aboriginals for their work.

“The board is under no obligation to pay any aboriginal. They must be attentive and civil to all persons or they will be sent away.”

The government sold the entire project out from under Wonga, Barack and Green and their community and kept the $1m – a promise broken.

The grain gardens drained the energy of the community and of Green. He was forced to resign and struggled as he was the meat in the sandwich between two races of people. Green found himself living just outside the settlement banned from entering by government officials who saw him as a threat, he allowed the aboriginals too much self governing rights, too much freedom!

One aboriginal man says “Green had lost hope with Government officials, he had no friends there. he was a black man on the inside, all his friends were aboriginal. He lived with them and let them live in and run their own community”

By now, the government ruled the town, Wonga dies, some say of a broken hert. His friend Green at his side despite not being allowed there. Coranderrk was a pain to manage for the government as the locals all had tasted self rule and were quite independent thinkers and doers. So they decide to sell the land and just get rid of the problem. After massive appeal to the government the local aboriginals were given the land and their good friend Green back in their community.

In 1886 the “Protection Board” makes a new law that begun what we now know as “The Stolen Generation”, it is called the Half Cast Act. If you were not a full blood aboriginal you were removed from any settlement, more than halving the populations of the communities and the governments budget for them. Children and grandchildren, aunties and uncles mothers and fathers, families were destroyed and torn apart.

The beginning of the end for Corunderrk. This was genocide. Absorbtion of aboriginals into mainstream white Australia. Although at this time Corunderrk was given over to the Aboriginal people, the people, their heart, was taken from them and Corunderrk collapsed.

We hear nothing of what became of Green in these latter years, we hear much of the leader of the Corunderrk people – Barack, and so we should! It seems fitting that the ledgend of this man Green and his ministry to a wonderful people seems to fade away. That the story finished as a tribute the the last great leader Barack as he drags himself, crippled, the 60 mile journey yet again to Melbourne to plead for his people.

At that time in Victoria it is suggested about 300 Aboriginal people remained. Today there are approx        30 000 and traditional ceremony and teachings have begun again as young aboriginals reconnect with the stories of Wonga and Barack…oh and a white fella named Rev, John Green.

Great Story!

The Fish and the Shadow (as retold by Richard Trudgen in Why warriors lie down and die, 2000, pp. 161-163). This story was originally told by an Yolngu man (Arnhem Land, NT), Tony Binalany Gunbalga, in response to a government worker who was trying to get their community to embrace unemployment benefits in the late 1970’s. The government worker couldn’t understand why the old people were resisting the generous offer…

He told the following story.

A long time ago, somewhere near here, there was a billabong. It was very beautiful, with calm clear water and water lilies growing across the surface. In the water lived some fish families – mother and father fish, old fish, young fish. They were very happy and loved their home.

Every morning the fish woke up and went about their work. The mother and father fish went off hunting for food, working hard all day. The young fish went with them, learning everything they could from their parents: where to find the best food, how to catch it and how to be on guard against sea eagles, ducks and other enemies. Their parents taught them many things about life while they worked together.

In the evening all the fish came together and shared the different types of food they had found during the day. They also told stories about the day’s activities. If any fish had done something funny during the day, other fish acted it out, making everybody laugh. At night the fish went to sleep early, tired from their day’s work.

The old fish taught the younger ones discipline of mind, body and soul, giving them direction and advice on all aspects of life. The young ones listened in awe to their wise counsel, hoping not to miss or forget even one word. The fish all shared responsibility for life in the billabong. They lived well and were very happy. They didn’t depend on anyone else or leave their work to others.

Then one day about four o’clock in the afternoon, the fish saw a shadow fall across the water. Something stood near the billabong. The fish had not seen anything like it before. The shadow threw something white into the water. The fish saw it land on the surface, sending rings out across the billabong. They all shrank back, fearful as the white stuff sank to the bottom.

After a while a couple of brave fish – there are always a couple in any mob – swam up gingerly to the white stuff. They nibbled it, finding the taste funny at first. But they nibbled it again and again until there was none left. When the white stuff and the shadow had gone, all the fish went back to their hunting and other work.

Four o’clock the next day the shadow came again. This time, because all the fish had been talking about the shadow and the white stuff, many more came out of hiding to taste it.

The shadow came again and again at four o’clock every afternoon. Now the fish quickly grabbed at bits of this white stuff, trying to eat as much as they could because it was free for the taking. The fish found the taste bland but it filled them up. As time went on they named the white stuff ‘bread’. The shadow threw bread to the fish every day, giving it freely.

Slowly the life of the fish started to change. They waited for the shadow to come every afternoon. At first they still went out in the morning to gather some tasty food for themselves and returned in the afternoon for the shadow. But when the shadow saw that lots of fish were interested in the bread, it threw more and more into the billabong. Soon the fish were not going out in the morning any more. They just waited around for the shadow to feed them.

For the first time in their existence, the fish found themselves bored at night. There were no more interesting stories to tell about the day’s experiences and they were not tired because they had done no work. Many stayed up most of the night because sleep would not come until the early hours of the morning. They started to find other ways to take up their time, gambling and things like that. This caused many arguments. Soon the fish were getting up late, but this was not a problem because they only had to wait for a while before the shadow came. The bread was still bland, but it was easy food and the fish had grown too lazy to care.

Trouble, however, was brewing. Some fish, completely forgetting their old cooperative ways, raced to get to the bread first. ‘We were the first to taste the bread when you were all scared, so the shadow’s bread belongs to us. You mob go away and find your own shadow,’ they argued. Others said, ‘the shadow comes to our end of the billabong. That means the bread belongs to us.’ They fought and jostled each other out of the way. Fish got hurt, which caused arguments between families. Sometimes these arguments went on for a long time, causing bigger fights. The fish had stopped thinking about each other; they only thought about themselves.

Then the old fish became very sad because the young fish had no respect any more. They did whatever they liked, following their undisciplined desires. It was all too hard to deal with. Many old fish became so sad that they died.

More and more the fish’s life changed. They didn’t teach their young ones the old ways any more. And they took and kept the bread for themselves, wanting it desperately, their hearts held by it. Many fish mistakenly thought the bread must be good for them because it made them all very fat.

Then the shadow began to change. Usually it came right on time and the fish were happy. But sometimes the shadow came a little late. This made the fish angry. ‘Why is it keeping us waiting?’ It knows we’ve been waiting all day,’ they cried. Then the day came when the shadow forgot to bring bread at all. As this became more frequent, the fish got really mad, swearing at the shadow and even threatening to hurt it in some way. But these threats only made the fish feel very weak because they knew their threats were hollow. They could not hurt the shadow; it was too powerful. It lived outside the billabong where no fish had ever lived. And only it knew the source of the bread on which they had come to depend.

There was now a deep feeling of emptiness and shame within the fish. They didn’t value or even think about anything other than bread any more. They lived badly, unhappily, with their hearts and spirits bound. Their lives became powerless and meaningless. They got sick because of their troubled thinking and couldn’t sleep at night. They had no peace of mind and felt deeply insecure, not knowing who they were or where they belonged.

Then came the time when the shadow no longer fell on the water. maybe the source of the bread had dried up. All the fish grew skinny and lamented its passing, because they were too weak to go hunting for themselves or didn’t know how. They had forgotten the way of the ngurrnggitj (black charcoal) – the time-honoured way of their ancestors.