A womans regret-she had an entire world ahead of her, and an entire life holding her back.
|The Milks would laugh if they could see us now. They always did. They would stare at us, the look on their faces scornful and reproaching. They would mutter to their friends, whose ironed clothes and groomed hair would blanket their milky skin. They would snicker to each other, all the while pointing fingers at our dark bodies, as if we were no more human than the dirt beneath our feet they spat upon. We were but dogs to them, to be ordered and controlled, and of course we obeyed, for we were Aboriginal.
The Aboriginals did not know the difference between right and wrong, so we were wronged.
The Aboriginals did not have the capability to govern themselves, so we were governed.
The Aboriginals did not have the authority to be anything but savages, so we were savaged.
To them we were nothing.
Yet now, as we sit around the fire, the music calling our ancestors to earth, I recall a time when I was once as free-willed as the children around me. At an age where the mistreatment and oppression of your race made no impression on you, and when no amount of contempt shown to you could possibly make you question yourself. A time when even in the face of all manner of hardships and adversities, you could still look at the world with a smile on your face, and see it smiling back...
I first met Jimmy when we were seven years old. At the time we were still young enough to be innocently unaware of the Aboriginal-white relationship. We often played together and when given the time we would spend hours in each other's company, writing our names in the dirt and telling each other stories. I didn't understand at the time why I couldn't play with him like I did with the rest of my friends. Or why there had to be a fence standing between us.
I lived on the edge of the West Aboriginal Reserve, WAR it came to be known as. I was forced into the camp three years after its establishment in 1902. I hadn't seen my mother since. My sister and I were told by the Milks we had to live there, with all of the other Aboriginal families.
I often looked through that tall fence, passed the wire and into a life entirely different from my own. I saw many people pass, most of whom never came within thirty feet of the fence. Some stared, some sneered, some avoided eye contact altogether. I stood by that fence alone so many times, a tiny dark girl with the entire world in front of her, and an entire life stopping her from moving. I would often thread my fingers through the diamond shape of the wire when a stranger walked by, trying to snatch even the tiniest moment in their life. And it wasn't until Jimmy, a boy whose skin was so white it reflected the sun, came to my fence and threaded his fingers into my world, that I realised we weren‘t so different. To me, he was the boy with skin the colour of sand and the sun. To him, I was the girl with skin the colour of chocolate and the night. And to us, that made no difference. We didn't see the world in black and white like our elders did, we saw the world in every colour imaginable. We knew that no two leaves were exactly the same shade of green, and that a rainbow never sat in quite the same spot in the sky. And for two seven year old children that was enough to create a friendship. As it turned out, not nearly enough to keep it.
My eyes were fixed to the heart of flames as they danced their way in and out of formless orange shapes. I glanced away momentarily, watching the cluster of children that had formed in front of me, sitting cross-legged and waiting for my story to continue. I remember sitting as they did once, wide-eyed and full of anticipation for the adventure of a story. For a long time I have been told the stories of the Dreamtime. When I was young I was told that the Dreamtime explained every aspect of the universe. I now know it as a religious experience, and a spiritual tie that binds all Aboriginal people to the land that owns them.
My favourite story was the story of Wiljawi, the young lizard who stopped his village from being seized by the great white bird, Yiruma. Yiruma would swoop down on the village on the sunset of every night and take one of the small lizards. No one really knew where they went, they were just taken from their village and their home. They never came back. So one day, Wiljawi set up a trap for the bird, a net that would capture Yiruma, and stop him from taking the young lizards away from the village. And it worked, Yiruma was blinded by his irrational hatred of the lizards and fell straight into Wiljawi's trap. Wiljawi set the net on fire, and watched as the bird screeched. Then suddenly the bird escaped, but was scorched black by the flames it had been burnt by. It became the crow, and to this day still flies around in its blackened form, searching for young lizards to take.
When I was young the story meant much more to me than the simple explanation of the crow's creation. It showed me it was possible to achieve greater things than anyone expects you to despite who or what you are. It taught me that sometimes to get what you want you have to fight for it. In the end, that was a harder lesson to learn than I could ever have imagined...
Jimmy and I had been friends for a year and hours of spending time together behind that wire fence had brought us closer than any friends we'd ever had. One afternoon it was especially hot, and the sun was so harsh on Jimmy's white skin that it turned pink and burnt within minutes. He told me he was jealous of me, the girl with chocolate skin. I smiled. He didn't know it, but with one sentence he gave me more hope than I'd ever been given before. To know that I had something someone else wanted, that there was a part of me someone else wanted as a part of themselves, seemed also too good to be true. Perhaps it was.
The day grew even hotter, and the earth began to crack beneath our feet. We were playing a game, a competition where we tried to catch as many insects as we could without killing or losing them. I had one in my hand, a tiny butterfly with black and white wings. I showed Jimmy and he reached his hand out, still just small enough to fit through the wire, to touch it. But before his fingertips could graze the butterfly's wings he was jerked backwards, his hand ripped from the fence. I fell back from the fence and scrambled to my feet.
"What are you doing, brother?" The older boy's voice was callous as he stood above Jimmy, still sprawled on the dirt.
"You are to never come back here. Understand?" Jimmy whimpered a reply but I could not hear it as he was hauled to his feet by his shirt collar. I stared at him through the wire, my fingers once again trying to grasp at something well out of my reach. He glimpsed back quickly, but was shoved forward by the older boy.
"Never again Jimmy," the boy said. "Never again."
I wonder now how different it would have been if Jimmy was never taken away by his brother, if I had ever seen him again. I wonder if we would have continued our friendship, or if we would have eventually drifted apart because of our differences anyway. I regret not ever finding that out, and as I watch the children get back up to continue their games, I realise that even if I fought like Wiljawi, some things aren't meant for some people, and other people make sure of that. The Milks make sure of that - most of them anyway.
To them we were nothing. But now I realise something else too. I realise that regardless of whatever misconceptions they had of us, we were everything they weren't. And that made us something.