I was at the Byron Bay Writers Festival and I met some lovely older ladies. We talked and I shared with them my experiences of government policy in Australia affecting Aboriginal people.
One told me that she was in her seventies and the story of when she was a child growing up around Carlton and how she knew some Aboriginal girls from the one family. She said that they never came over to her house when she invited them and they never invited her to their house, she asked why?
I explained to her that the policy of the day meant that the family was probably checked on by the government bodies, in Queensland the Protector. I said that the girls would have been stopped by the police if they had gone to her house. It would have been assumed that they wanted to rob some one or that they were being cheeky. The woman who shared this story started to cry, and she said. “I didn’t know. they were my friends who has the right to decide that they shouldn’t come to visit me”.
Another lady in the group then told a story from the 1960’s while she was living in Queensland. She asked, is that what would have happened to the boys, my son’s were friends with? They played football, and my husband was the coach. Once a month the team came to our house for a Bar-B-Que. The Aboriginal boys never came. They came to training and games and went home. They didn’t have the boots and shorts, but with our house there was plenty of spares for anyone who needed them. My sons never went to their house. Those boys lived in the area where a lot of Aboriginal families lived. I remember one day the father of one was sent to jail. He was working at the property next to us, never knew what happened, neither did the family he worked for. The police took him one night when he was working late on the hay. I remember him saying he didn’t do anything.
I told her that the boys were probably not allowed to go over to her house, if they got caught, they would have ended up at the police. So the families probably didn’t let them go, because it was much safer. I said that the father was probably arrested for being out of the Aboriginal area after the set time and that’s why he was arrested and the family he worked for didn’t know what had happened to him.
Lastly one of the ladies told me of the story of her friends at school back when she was little in the 1950’s. She and an Aboriginal girl were mates, the mum came to the school fence at lunch with tucker for the kids, and anybody else who didn’t have a feed. She said she would pretend to not have lunch as she loved the johnny cakes and syrup. She said one day when she walked to school, the kids didn’t come out to met her. The family was gone. The police were in the area the family lived and that she was told to get along to school and not worry about the (not going to write the word, but I think you can guess it).
I told her that her friend was probably moved to a mission or out of the area. That that was the sad reality of Aboriginal people.
These women were touched by Aboriginal people in their lives. They didn’t know or understand what had happened to these people they made connections with. It is something that could have easily turned into racism. But with these women it just left them bewildered as to what was happening.