Author: Kristy McMahon
Originally posted on The Guardian on Saturday 13 February 2016 07.49 AEDT.
As an Indigenous woman, it’s been a long, hard journey to find out where my family is from
The colour of my skin and features show that I am Aboriginal, but not knowing where my country and family are have led me to question my Aboriginality.Kristy McMahon
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My name is Kristy McMahon, I’m an Aboriginal woman from Brisbane. I have been fortunate to grow up strong in my identity as an Aboriginal woman, but like many other Indigenous families affected by the Stolen Generations I have had to struggle with not knowing where my mob is originally from, not knowing any stories of that place, and having far too few family stories to try and piece it together.
I’ve always known I was Aboriginal, and have always felt accepted into the community I’ve been living in. I got my confirmation of Aboriginality when I was young with my father and sister. I don’t remember why we got the forms, it was just something that you had to do. I know that Aboriginality is much more than just a piece of paper though, and have been trying to learn as much as I can about our family history.
It has been a long and hard journey finding out where my family are from. I have had to start from scratch with only my grandfather’s and my great Aunt’s name. My grandfather Robert passed away before I was born and my Great Aunty Mary passed away when I was little. The only information that can be remembered about my great aunt was that she lived on a mission with her mum and that I reminded her of her sister. I do regret not asking her about her parents and what it was like growing up on the mission. It’s a regret I will always have, but at 12 years of age I simply never thought to ask. I have found out recently that my Aunty Mary’s middle name is Louisa, my great great grandmothers name. I also found out that my great, great grandmother grew up in a place called Geraldton in Queensland. She got married at 16 years of age, my great great grandfather was 34. I am still on a journey to find about my family and my history. It’s a familiar story for far too many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people all around Australia.
- There were times when I was growing up that I didn’t really feel like I belonged anywhere because I don’t know where my mob is from. I struggled with hearing so many other people talk about the importance of place and history to your identity, and not having that knowledge caused me a lot of worry and anxiety about my own sense of identity. The colour of my skin and features show that I am Aboriginal, but not knowing where my country and family are have led me to question my Aboriginality. There are times in my life where I have felt embarrassed, angry, and even guilty calling myself Aboriginal when I’ve been unable to answer where my mob is from. It makes me incredibly sad not knowing the struggles my family have faced and not being able to share their stories and acknowledge what they have had to deal with. It makes me even sadder to know that there are many other people in a similar situation, but it gives me hope when I hear stories of people finding their way home, and I know in my heart that I will one day learn about my family, my ancestors, and my country.
I’ve spent years working in Aboriginal and mainstream media and have heard stories from so many wonderful people throughout the country. I’ve heard a lot of sad stories about massacres, deaths in custody, kids being taken from families and land being destroyed. I’ve also heard lots of positive stories including Aboriginal artists being able to perform overseas, funding being received to run programs, kids winning awards at schools and countless others. I felt incredibly fortunate to be a part of sharing these stories to the world. To be able to help get more black voices on the airwaves is vital. I studied a Bachelor of Journalism because I feel as though all we see in mainstream media is negative stories on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. What people don’t see is the longest surviving culture still thriving today.
This week I was fortunate to interview former prime minister Kevin Rudd about his Apology speech to the Stolen Generations. On the 13 February 2008 he apologised to the Stolen Generations. I still get goosebumps when I read the speech or when I listen to the audio.
It’s now the eighth anniversary of the Apology. Many people think because the speech was years ago that everything should be fixed. There is still so much more that needs to be done but the apology was needed to start the healing process for many of our people. We experience intergenerational trauma, see that our cultural sites and our cultural heritage are being destroyed, can expect to live less and see family members dying in custody.
It wasn’t that long ago that Aboriginal people were being massacred and were attempted to be bred out as the government thought we were a “dying race”. It’s not okay to forget what has happened, and we need to address this history for the benefit of all of Australia. At the time of the Apology it was referred to as ‘the first step’, for me the next step is finding out where I come from so I can visit the land my people are from and finally feel at home.
The challenge for Australia is working out how we can start moving forward in leaps and bounds.
“Our stories, our way” – each week, a new guest hosts the @IndigenousX Twitter account to discuss topics of interest to them as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Produced with assistance of Guardian Australia staff.