Monique Grbec is a Wiradjeri woman and member of the Yirramboi Blak Critics program. In 2017, Monique won the inaugural Life Writing Award for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors at the Melbourne Lord Mayor’s Creative Writing Awards
I want you to know why finding out where we are from, where our country is, is so important to me. I believe that all the beauty of the Australian landscape, the stillness and the tidal lapping, the food to be foraged, and the fresh morning air is where our beauty is.
I believe that finding our homeland and casting my eyes over outback undulations, breathing in the crisp clean air, and listening to the soft language of the animals and trees and shrubs will bring peace. Isn’t that the aim? I believe that the best of us is our blackness, our Aboriginality.
Your light skin was like a shroud that you hid behind, and defended. How could you protect the people and the institutions that held you captive, sent you slave-like to clean dormitories and then to be a maid and pay back your education? You were incensed when you told me, your hands clasped and twisting with torment: “I wasn’t even allowed to take my books, or say goodbye to the teachers.” Snatched. Pushed. Discarded. Happy 14th birthday Mum.
I don’t understand how you can blame your mum, my grandma – out of all the people who were in your life when you were a baby and then a kid. Especially since she was stolen too. Did you know she married three times? I just found out from the Koorie Heritage Trust Family Unit. The first man was Smith – that’s what confused me so much the first time I went searching. So many documents, so many names, and the cursive writing almost illegible. It’s easier now apparently. Now, everything is on computers. No more scanning microfiche at the library, and rejected birth, death, and marriage certificates; no more soulless rooms reading court files at the Freedom of Information office.
Found wandering with no means.
I couldn’t hold back from crying when I read those files. How can an eight-month old baby wander, let alone wander with no means? Snatched, pushed, discarded – with the reading of those files I finally understood the magnitude of the sadness and hopelessness in your life.
I already understood that being brought up in a children’s home and suffering all of their rules was why you nurtured me with hugs and kisses, looked at me with eyes of worship, and talked to me with words of adoration. And, before I was old enough to understand, I heard the seriousness in your voice: “I want you to be independent”. But when I got older and was reeling from experimentation with sex, drugs, and crime, I was angry about the lack of boundaries, wished you’d given me more guidance, kept me home, safe. I wondered if some of the life I chose was a roaring call for help, and why you never answered. Even when I was suspended from school, you encouraged me to go out that night to the Blue Light Disco.
My stomach still seethes when I remember telling you I’d been raped, and you didn’t believe me. Blanked me like you blanked me anytime I wanted to talk about our Aboriginality. Was that because you were raped too?
So many years of medication, and no-one to believe you. When I hear of families supporting one another through emotional breakdowns, I get jealous. Surely if you had had family support, someone to listen to you, to hear your hurt; someone to acknowledge your experiences, you wouldn’t have had to stay medicated. That photo of you with Uncle Ian where you’re laughing mischievously shows a woman I didn’t know. Thirty years of antipsychotic medication and you became numb. “My Mum can’t cry”.
I watched Sweet Country the other day. They used dry riverbeds to tell the story of stolen culture. The brutality of the western way that creates craters in the ground, exhaust fumes in the air, plastics in the waterways, and medications to mask trauma. Everything is a quick fix. I’m looking for my Indigenous culture as the deep breathing of Warwick Thornton’s open country, the frolicking of river water over rocks, and the solid silence of just being.
Mum, this is why I’m so desperate to spotlight that smallest most precious jewel in me – my Aboriginality. My shame is in the white that took you and traded you, and sold you a belief in greed, and death, and consumerism at any cost. All the things I will ever own will never be as beautiful as the sunset, the soundtrack of birds and breeze through trees, or weaving a basket while yarning with family and friends.