Stan’s welcome comments as he begins his speech with greetings to his “Gadigal brothers and sisters” indicate the level of change that has taken place for a lot of Indigenous Australians “down south,” as we say up here in the north. This greeting and the custom of addressing older people respectfully as “Aunty” or “Uncle” is a radical simplification of a complex kinship system. Warlpiri address each other by an exact kin term. We are all related in a particular way; we are not all just brothers and sisters. We do not use the terms “Aunty” and “Uncle” for anyone other than those who are in fact our aunty or uncle.
A re-creation and reinvention of culture is occurring down south; up here, in the Northern Territory and remote parts of Western Australia and South Australia where Indigenous languages are still spoken, we are different – not better, but different. Among those of us who identify as Indigenous in this country there is tremendous variation. At last Stan Grant is acknowledging this variety. I disagree with some of the points he makes in his Quarterly Essay, while respecting his right to think differently.
The media go looking for an “Aboriginal viewpoint,” talk to some radical from a city with absolutely no knowledge of, or interest in, my part of the world, and then present that opinion as authentic, and somehow generalised. The media’s acceptance of one view as “the Aboriginal view” is a bit like “They all look the same to me,” only now it’s “They all think the same as me.” Yes, I call it a racist attitude.
I wasn’t outraged by Bill Leak’s cartoon. It was not a presentation of a racist stereotype. It was pointing out that there are some Aboriginal fathers who don’t care about and do nothing for their kids. I know a few just like that. And I know a few white ones like that as well. I know some extremely decent and devoted Aboriginal fathers who were not the least bit worried by the cartoon, because they could see that he wasn’t saying anything about them. We are capable of critical thinking.
My opinion of the Adam Goodes booing incident differs from Stan’s as well. He rightly says that he does not know what was going on in the hearts of those who did the booing. He then decides to interpret it as an act of deeply offensive and hurtful racism. I have another interpretation. I believe many were reacting to the treatment meted out to the thirteen-year-old child for calling Goodes an ape. I don’t associate the word “ape” with “Aboriginal,” and I don’t see why there should be an automatic connection. I have no doubt there were a few, not very bright, meat-headed racists among those booing. I have been taught not to be afraid of them and not to be hurt by them, but rather to pity them as the fools they are.
I have played sport all my life in Alice Springs. I now umpire men’s Aussie Rules games and captain a women’s team. My mother also played team sport in this town for around thirty years. In all that time, neither of us has been racially abused by whitefellas. The racists here are cowardly – outnumbered and outgunned. However, both of us have been obscenely abused by drunken Aboriginal thugs in racist and misogynist terms. We are not hurt by them and we aren’t afraid of them. We know they are pathetic, lost souls to be pitied, not feared.
Since I was a young teenager I have seen white friends racially abused and physically assaulted for being white by these same thugs. I have often acted as a bodyguard for them. As an umpire, I have had to admonish Aboriginal spectators at football games for calling Aboriginal players “f—g whitefella lovers” because they are happy to play in racially mixed teams. What is more hurtful: being called an “ape” by a thirteen-year-old girl, or being abused by your own mob because you have no problem counting whitefellas among your friends and teammates? White sportspeople put up with continual racial abuse because they feel that the Racial Discrimination Act doesn’t apply to them and because they have enough Aboriginal friends and supporters to know that their abusers, just like white racists, are a small, ignorant, mentally unstable minority.
I am happy that Stan Grant tells us of the large number of Aboriginal Australians who have taken what is on offer and, building on the strength and dignity of their ancestors, have made a good life for themselves and their families. I, too, know of the sad history. In 1928, when my grandfather was in his mid-teens, he was hunting in the bush around 35 kilometres south of George Murray’s police party while they were shooting probably over 100 innocent people in reprisal for the death of one white man. My grandfather also told a local historian of a massacre of perhaps ten to fifteen men, women and children by white pastoralists in response to the killing of a draft horse.
Yes, I know the stories. I also know that not all the killers were white. I have also been told of the murder of my people by black killers. I know that my Irish great-great-great-grandfather was not given a choice when he was sent to this country in chains in his mid-twenties in 1833. He and his descendants didn’t kill anybody. I know that my white father’s family accepted my Aboriginal mother with loving enthusiasm and that my Warlpiri family did the same for my father. There is no racism in our families. My grandparents, white and black, taught me that race doesn’t matter.
I would now like to see people like Stan Grant, those who have made the big time, add to their story of victimhood and oppression a story of determination, personal responsibility, hope and success. I would like to see those who have made it reach out their hands in a practical way to help those who are trying to keep their languages and traditions intact and cope with the contemporary world. Teach them not to become useless, stereotypical victims. I want my people to succeed and I want their children saved from an early grave because of violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse and despair, all within their own families and communities. Like Kevin Gilbert said years ago – “because a white man’ll never do it.”
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is a Warlpiri/Celtic woman, an Alice Springs town councillor and the founder of Yangapi Productions. For many years she has advocated against domestic violence and worked to empower Indigenous girls, women and children.
This correspondence featured in Quarterly Essay 65, The White Queen.
ALSO FROM QUARTERLY ESSAY