I went home this summer. As I do each year since I moved out of home at 17 to pursue my athletics career and university. The journey home to Tumut, in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains fills me with an intoxicating sense of joy.
Joy at the prospects of waking up in my childhood home, where little has changed, even down to the bedsheets used as window furnishings, that my mother insists do a far better job than you know…. ‘curtains’. To the hills that surround our home, filling your gaze wherever your eyes may land. There’s a sense of comfort being embraced by these ancient monoliths, covered in that instantly recognisable olive-blue haze that eucalypt forests of the south seem to emit.
There’s also joy in the familiarity of slotting into a family dynamic where we all know where we belong. Which despite conflict, tensions and outright battles, settles into a rhythmic and comfortable pattern. Teasing, guwangy (crazy) laughter and regaling one another with stories of our childhood. Like the time we all ‘ran away’ with our cousins up the bush to go yabbying when Dad refused to take us. Or the time that we saved up to go on a holiday to Tathra on the NSW coast & the drum brakes of our old metallic blue Ford Falcon station wagon, who we’d affectionately dubbed ‘Limle’, caught fire while we descended the steep and treacherous corners of Brown Mountain. Clutching our seatbelts, we pinballed through each corner as we gathered speed, smoke billowing from the wheel arches, my sister in the illegally installed seat up the back nervously contemplating which of her two dolls she was going to save when we had to abandon ship.
This story features each year. And so, through the laughter, the almost ritualistic regaling of the tale, becomes embedded in our collective memory as a defining moment of our childhoods.
Each year since I was 17. Many things have changed. Despite all the familiar comforts of being home, in my place, on my country- which I crave in the months I am away.
I cannot escape the reality of the deep-seated trauma that sits with us as we yarn around the kitchen table. A violent and ominous figure that reminds us of lives taken too soon.
My mother’s voice wavers as she recounts the last two weeks of her mum, my Nana’s life. Who was quietly suffering with bowel cancer but told no one as she was too shame to see a doctor.
Shame. This is not the kind of shame that originates from mild embarrassment. Shame. This is not ‘shame job’ when you have second-hand embarrassment from someone big noting themselves. This is SHAME. An ingrained response to a lifetime of being othered, being looked down upon, discriminated against. This is shame that begins before Nana even took her first breath underneath the old gum tree in the grounds Narrandera Hospital where she was born. My great grandmother Nana Ethel, like so many black women not welcome to give birth on the wards.
This is shame.
We only knew something was wrong when Nana suddenly fell violently ill. I’ll never forget my beautiful Nana’s eyes filling with tears as she lay in that hospital bed. I am so angry as I write this. My hands quivering, punching the keys with such ferocity because it’s the only control I have. I have no power to change this. I am enraged. That my Nana, a proud Aboriginal woman could not go to the hospital because she was made to feel inferior, less deserving, sub human. By the hardnosed, racist nurses who looked with disdain at any Black person who dare step into the blindingly white domain of a small-town hospital. The doctors gave my Nana two weeks to live and with a brutal punctuality, this is how it was.
Nana asked us to film her in her final fortnight with us. She wanted to tell stories of Brungle, the haloed ground so many Wiradjuri mob call their place, the stories of her horses on the mission, Nancy, Jack & Nugget, of her Nana Cora aged & blind, who would gather the children around to pick the bindis from their feet as she told stories of growing up before the white man came to them. Nana wanted to sing the lullabies that she would sing each of her forty grandchildren, ‘tinky ninky na-na, tinky ninky noo’ those words softly floating on the air as I tried to steady my hand & hold back my tears as I filmed. Nana wanted her great grandchildren to come to have the gifts of her song and story long after her passing. Alas it wasn’t to be. No one has watched that video since it was filmed in 2007. The wounds too raw, seeing Nana in her hospital bed, only able to suck on cubes of ice for sustenance in those last days.
I am so angry.
I am angry for the many things I don’t know and cannot ask, for opening those wounds would only hurt more. The inquests, the fights, the deaths and ones we no longer speak of, or those who we no longer recognise. Like the cousin I ran into at Christmas, whose years in and out of the prison industrial complex have rendered him an unfamiliar caricature of his former self.
Perhaps these are the defining moments of our childhood. The other memories conceivably a response to cover and sugar coat the trauma that stays lurking in our collective consciousness.
So when you ask me what I would like to change about the nation this Invasion Day. I too want climate justice, land rights and Indigenous sovereignty recognised and upheld across all facets of this society we ‘live’ in.
But if you’d indulge my dystopic imaginings for just a moment, I’d want Black/Blak lives to be defined by things like the beauty of long summer holidays and adventures with cousins in the bush. Not the violent, ominous figure we know as trauma.
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