When an Aboriginal guide was asked by one of the people in his tour group if he ate crocodile, he said, ‘Well, the crocodile tastes good, but he has big teeth and moves real fast, whereas the wallaby has less teeth and doesn’t move as quick, but they don’t taste that good, so I go to Coles.’
I love this cheeky irreverence. It makes me proud to be an Ozzie. If Aboriginal people gave lessons in it, I’d do the training, like a shot. Our “larrikins in khaki”, were good at cheeky irreverence. A more current example from white culture is my sister. She was great at it. She did it to get children to do their music practice and got more people supporting the arts. She was a great music teacher. If she’d been given a chance, I believe she could even have got politicians to do more than just number shuffling with things like global warming.
My sister’s cheeky irreverence couldn’t cure cancer though, so we lost her. To honour her memory, I now try to display her cheeky irreverence. I think we all need to show more cheeky irreverence to deal with how mad our world is becoming. This can be difficult when discussions on important issues get reduced to slogans. I need to remind myself that showing anger with this is as futile as punching a tar baby.
I am part of the dominant male culture of Western Australia. I want to write to reduce the great Australian silence about the crimes of my culture here. I believe I can’t dream for the future if I don’t understand my past.
I am a writer. My joy of writing comes from being able to write from someone else’s perspective. This must be like how an actor inhabits the character they are playing. Just as well I like to do this because I need to write about my culture’s appalling crimes from the point of view of someone impartial, but who in this mess could possibly be impartial?
I have decided to tell stories of my culture’s history, from the point of view of an embodiment of Death. I’m inspired by Markus Zusak’s wonderful work “The Book Thief”. I love this book, so getting death to narrate a story, worked for Markus. Aboriginal culture has managed to survive the abhorrent treatment that my culture dishes out. This means that there must be uplifting stories out there, but I hope death has more luck in finding “Schindler’s Ark” and “Rabbit Proof Fence” type stories than I have.
I’ve found things like in 1834, the massacre of the Binjareb tribe near Pinjarra, was perfectly legal, because it was planned and led by Governor Captain James Stirling and carried out by twenty-five European soldiers and policemen. The Governor even personally supervised the slaughter of the women and children.
I found a newspaper article from the 1870s complaining that some people were treating their dog, worse than you’d treat a Chinaman. I didn’t make that up or make up that despite the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833, a Royal Commission into Canning’s 1906 survey of the stock route that now bears his name, accepted that it was “reasonable” for the survey party to capture and put in chains aboriginal men to force them to work for them while they raped their women.
In 2020 the dominant culture I am a member of, is still doing things like encouraging people to boo aboriginal football players while complaining about aboriginal people not celebrating Australia Day. ##@$%! In the good old days, we could have treated people, who are not us, worse than dogs and put them in chains to force them to stop complaining and get them to start celebrating how great our dominating culture is! Is this going too far? Am I ranting already?
I know there are good people and uplifting stories here, but I really need to deal with this subject without the shame or defensiveness that I’d have as a member of the dominant culture. My plan is to get Death to narrate the story to provide a more balance telling. Inhabiting a character like death may seem strange if you haven’t done it. I can’t escape my mind and will still filter the narration through my view of the world, but being a writer is about learning how to let characters drive a story.
I want to write from the point of view of an Ozzie version of Death, who has been here more than sixty thousand years, which is going back to when people were first getting a load of Australia. This means, the character of death will have cheeky irreverence and will embrace as much of Aboriginal culture as I can get away with without becoming a scumbag.
Lexico says that cultural appropriation is the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society. I think this means I’d be a scumbag if I embraced Aboriginal culture without respecting and including aboriginal people.
Rachael Hockingsaid, “We’re never gonna reach a stage where the people in this country are on equal footing if we don’t show those people on our screens.” Rachael Hocking is a Warlpiri woman, journalist and television presenter with NITV.
I’m sure Rachael is right. On the screen isn’t a problem, because,” those people” have control over what they do. People and even gods in my books, do not have any control over how they are portrayed. So, how far can an old white bugger like me, go with embracing aboriginal culture in their writing, without becoming a scumbag? I’ll try to find out. I should ask people like Rachael what they think. I hope you can join me and contribute to my understanding.