I have been angry for a week since recently returning from Broome to meet with my partner Magali McDuffie and her extended Family in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.
This sterile city of Canberra and the mundanity of people's lives (me,me,me...it's all about me) as they lurk in shopping malls, self-absorbed capitalism and glorification of shiny 'things' before others, pill-popping-parties, looking-good, drinks-till-we-drop and correct holidays, in the right car via every fast food joint...makes me sick. I was warned I'd feel this way on my return from communities where people struggle to survive, hopelessly manacled to government intervention, lands carved up and fracked till they are fucked pardon the pun.
Then there is the profound peace and meaning I've gained and understood from the trip.
That is what is worth writing about. That is what matters most to me. I was asked to share this with you by a number of people so here it is and I hope you take the next 15 minutes to read it and reflect on it.
Some background before I write of what happened with me on the to Balkinjirr Community, Broome, Derby and beyond.
I was grown up in Sydney as a child to believe that Captain Cook had 'discovered' Australia and that it was a rightful occupation and colonisation of this continent. It would appear now that China is simply buying our country using the profits gained from our obsession and allure of gigantic TV screens, phones, tablets all containing the minerals they frack-mine and poison our country to get.
Vile vipers and greedy pigs like Gina Rhinehart are the facilitator of this ecocide, devoid of any ethics, ensuring the best of everything this country has goes elsewhere to fatten the greedy 1 per cent greed while we all flounder around as the remaining 99 percent...many of us in abject poverty.
My childhood memories of Aboriginal people are as living in one isolated community called Redfern in Sydney. I had no idea as a protected Sydney kid that there was a country that was as diverse, as vast and as beautiful as the one we live in.
My blood Uncle, Joe Hayes worked at one point in the TNT towers which were later to become the Redfern police station and police cells, the lockup. I demolished the main frame computer he had installed from the same building later as a labourer.
I did not come in contact with Aboriginal children as a young child despite attending a primary school that had 56 differing nationalities and where I was the odd Anglo kid amongst them all.
As far as I can recall my family had no contact with Aboriginal people and I had no understanding of the diversity, power nor relatedness they had with booroo - country. My parents, both migrants, who referred constantly to Scotland as 'back home' I am sure would have come in contact with Aboriginal people in their respective workplaces yet, I cant recall ever hearing anything about a connection with them beyond that workplace.
I learned at primary and secondary school that there was one type of Aboriginal creative practice that involved dot painting and heard first hand my teachers say that Aboriginal people had no idea how to live in houses, were more closely related to fauna than human beings and recall on NAIDOC days being given long cultural awareness activities that involved listening to an Elder speak briefly and then returning to a classroom to sit in rows and paint dots on rocks.
As children we went to La Perouse (a jail where many Aboriginal people were imprisoned) and watched the snake handler turn tricks or meandered through racks of fake Aboriginal boomerangs for sale. Likewise we caught the ferry to Manly from Circular Quay and again waded through tourist shops selling bastardised commercial tea towels, beer holders, tea cosies and again, boomerangs that didn't come back.
My memories of Aboriginal people as a teenager were of violent encounters with young Aboriginal men when we travelled through those inner Sydney suburbs, of riots and occupations of civic space that the media portrayed at the time. I feared encounters with these young men who were chroming, drunk and violent.
At high school I was friendly with an incredibly precocious (beautiful and brilliant!) young woman who later revealed herself to be none other than the Aboriginal activist and lawyer, Larissa Behrendt - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larissa_Behrendt
I met a number of Aboriginal people on my explorations of the Royal National Park opposite my home till I was 17 in the leafy suburbs of Kirrawee, southern Sydney which at the time seemed co-incidental and frightening.
When I studied for two years in Lismore, Ballina and Armidale in the paradoxically named 'New England' region of New South Wales I met numerous Aboriginal families through my course or socially who were, as I thought, living in abject poverty, constantly in and out of prison and as I observed they were segregated from community activities, allowed to drink at only certain hotels or under curfew to have returned to their segregated community areas on the outskirts of the town by certain times of the day or night.
I listened in horror to racist stories of infant children admitted to hospital with burns, cigarette gas inhalation or injuries sustained during domestic violence or 'payback' within that community. Little did I know that it was the non Aboriginal families who were the main perpetrators of such crimes and that my cohort and colleagues in Armidale at the time were the very same 'redneck' pastoralists who had generations before occupied this region and caused such segregations.
On a number of occasions I socialised with Aboriginal men where the racial divide at that social event was as divided as the town of Armidale itself, cold and unforgiving. Likewise, when I worked at the local RSL club Aboriginal people were refused entry more often than not.
It seems that everywhere I've been in the rural and remote communities of this country I've encountered the same entrenched and deeply racist attitudes that predominantly white, anglo folk have for Aboriginal people. On the flip side I've also experienced some amazing synergy between families of all ethnic origins and community where the community comes first, where individuals are supported, encouraged and respected.
It seems we are a nation of complete contradictions and paradoxes.
I went on to live in Western Australia for 14 years between 1992 and 2006 prior to my return to the eastern states. During that time I worked closely with many Aboriginal Nyungar families in the south-west of Western Australia and soon came to know of the atrocious history and present day treatment of these people particularly at the hands of successive governments who support land occupation, physical exploitation of Aboriginal people and degradation of sacred sites important to those people and communities. I taught their kids, I ran art classes at the local gallery and helped host exhibitions of their artworks.
I visited their homes, drank Billy tea, ate damper and did my best to understand that it was a Yonga, not 'kangaroo'. I must have made every mistake there was to make as far as assumptions are concerned.
I heard of stories of why Nyungar people did not seem physically present in places south of Bunbury and Busselton such as Margaret River, Augusta and the Blackwood River. It was revealed to me that massacres of entire families and even whole communities had occurred which you can read about here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_massacres_of_Indigenous_Australians
I was shocked as a young man to be working with Elder Aboriginal people who had spent their young lives removed from their families by welfare services as a result of government assimilation policies of the time to forced domestic servants enslaved to pastoralists, mining and building development. I was equally in dismay to be working with the parents of children in my care as a teacher and education tutor, whose own life stories revealed successive genocide - stolen generations, brutal incarceration and successive intervention.
It has been a terrible past and continued oppression via these interventions and occupations of land.
Equally I was grief stricken to witness the toll of alcoholism and violence on the very children I sought to deliver numeracy and literacy skills with which prompted my own shameful and blinded employment as an Education Officer and Protection Care worker within the Department of Community Services (DOCS). Desperate to find a way to protect children I had thought at the time that employment in these government agencies would in some way help to eliminate such poverty, would in someway help to break the violence and by taking children away from families where such things happened was the best solution.
I was acting out of what I had hoped would have happened to me at points in my life, particularly as a child and early teenager. I saw in many of those childrens eyes what I'd often felt as a child and that is why I thought that I was doing the right thing at the time.
I paralleled that employment working inside prisons across Western Australia and with Juvenile Justice programs relating closely myself to the prisoners stories that as a young man I had been spared of experiencing simply due to the colour of my skin and my supposed privileged upbringing. I worked closely within the TAFE and Vocational Training sector across Bunbury, Perth, Northam and further afield in the wheat belt towns of Northam, Quairading, Kellerberrin and York in Western Australia.
Yet again I was exposed to cultural awareness activities that brought to my attention the facts - successive government intervention and genocidal perpetuance of incarceration and segregation in these communities.
It was during my work in Quarading with the Yarran, Taylor, Kelly and Kicket families that I formed a bond of which I could not describe at the time, a mutual acknowledgement although I always felt that they considered me to be asleep. I didn't 'get what it was that was missing from our relatedness and I put that down to being a profound cultural difference, returning to my comfortable existence within the arts community of Perth, Western Australia.
As fate would have it my time of reckoning and awareness came in 2004 and in 2005 when I made two visits to the Aboriginal communities of Punmu, Jigalong and Purnngurr (Martu people) which are located east and nor-east in the Australian region of the Great Sandy Desert near Lake Disappointment. The 'connection' withdrawal effect of travelling four hours down the Talawana Track from the tough and catastrophically effected town of Newman to the west still remains burned into my mind.
I recall at the time on arriving in that community of being faced with the awful truths of my actions a decade earlier as a young man working with the Department of Community Services (DOCS) and Juvenile Justice (JJ). I listened in shame to the life stories of Elders, parents and children who had been subject to the repeat interventions of government on their communities.
I witnessed first hand the catastrophic effects of John Howard's and the Liberal party military led intervention across those three communities with my very own eyes over the period that I was there. The effects of that intervention are beyond comprehension after centuries of stolen generation and only to be followed up with an apology.
How I hate the politics of this 'fair' nation. Such repugnant hypocrisy.
I returned to Perth in both grief and elation that I had in some way come to understand that I was in fact accepted by those Elder women as being a good person, as being someone who had not been aware of my own contributions and inactions that had affected themselves and those of their relatives in other Aboriginal communities. I was given a woven basket.
It took me until a month ago to be able to identify and put my finger on what it was I have been feeling deep inside myself as I express my own life story and live by my own truths in order to assist others to cathartically express and live a good life of their own.
In 2014 I met with a young Aboriginal woman who had only since a late teenager identified as an Aboriginal person, who stated that my totem was that of the bat, who confronted me with the assertion that I was 'asleep' and that in order to be alive, good and useful in this world that I would need to 'break' again. I've learned since that only some aspects of that advice are useful.
That very same year while working in a project at the Australian National University researching the legacy of Aboriginal service people across all wars since Australia's occupation I was assured by an Aboriginal co-worker and colleague that '2015 and beyond will be good for you Alex'.
Thank you Kerrie Hogan.
In essence I felt ready to let that shame go and in my heart say I was sorry. I did break at the end of 2014 in many ways.
That year I also met Bruce Hammond, Son of Ruby Hammond - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruby_Hammond
Bruce called on me also to connect with country, to let that story out and to allow waiting time to reveal what was next.
As the chapter in my own life story identifies that 'breaking down' occurred of my own volition whereby I came to terms with, expressed and accepted a forgiveness for my part as a younger man in all naivety thinking I was doing things as a government worker to help these communities.
You can read about that here - http://www.alexanderhayes.com/realstory
Prior to leaving on the plane for Broome I had expressed to Magali my fears and deep feelings of shame and trepidation at what I might be treated like or thought of by the Kimberley community and specifically the Nyikina community of the greater Fitzroy region of Western Australia.
Upon landing in Broome I was greeted by my Kaka (Uncle), Petrus Poelina-Hunter.
We drove south where he listened to my story and then turned right onto the Balkinjirr community pindan track soon after Willare Roadhouse.
He began telling me his story through his connection to the land and later he agreed to give me an idea of his own larger life story that you can listen to at http://www.connections.life/#/petrus-poelinahunter/
We sat at the Balkingirr, Lower Livaringa billabong a few days later and he spoke to me of his connection and also my connection with this space. We sat in 40 degree heat and I related to him my personal fears and trepidations while he gently related to me of the very same atrocities and agony that his own family, mob and community had suffered at the hands of successive white fore-fathers, pastoralists, mining companies and the Australian government.
His fingers waved over a long gone sheep and cattle station and other enterprise swallowed up by time and dust.
When I began to stop speaking and listen I began to understand that I am now part of that story, that it is now longer seperate to me. That it is my responsibility to look after Country and in doing so that it looks after me.
The next few days were stifling hot reaching 45 degrees in the day and as I sat under the boab trees some of which are over 500 years old in the community or visited the graveyard in the centre of the community I began to understand that my fears and trepidations were largely unfounded.
I met with Dr. Anne Poeline, Nyikina Leader and actionist who has inspired me to understand and connect, to lead a life protecting and positively creating change that is culturally inclusive and powerfully connected. To my absolute amazement I also met with her partner Ian Perdrisat who gave me a piece of Goongooroo timber that is uncanningly the Woonyoomboo bird in profile, the main character in the dreaming story of how the Fitzroy River came to be created.
In speaking with Rob Watson, Nyikina leader who lives at the community I came to understand the incredible challenges that young Aboriginal men in particular have as they strive to forge a living, retain their self esteem despite the shocking statistics of incarceration and unemployment. His on country life skills programs for young men inspire me as deeply as I also felt working in Midland, Perth myself with street kids a decade earlier.
We chased down a cow (a killer) and slaughtered it before night fall with the entire beast divided between households, shared, across community. I watched Rob engage and teach on country, skills to young men in how to humanely kill, butcher and dress a beast.
Travelling into Derby I met with Sam Duinker who told me of her incredible work with local youth, the chronic challenges of alcohol and drugs in the Derby community and the devastation that it causes across these communities.
We visited the Pandanas Park Community on the way back and I listened to the life story of Pat Riley, community leader and extraordinary woman. Her story of the community and her own personal tragedies experienced in that community brought both Magali and I to tears and many hours of discussion later we concluded that this woman and her mission, her community must be helped in our own small way for as long as it takes for that community to become autonomous and protected.
One morning I was told by Magali that we were driving into Derby to pick up Niyikina Elder Lucy Marshall OAM and that shortly after that day her Sister, and Nyikina Elder, Jeannie Wabi would arrive too at Balkinjirr.
I met Lucy and immediately felt like I had connected with her given the hundreds of hours I had heard her voice when Magali had been editing the 'Three Sisters' film she had created with Dr. Anne Poelina, Jeannie Wabi and Lucy Marshall.
You can see that film here - http://www.magalimcduffie.com/films/2015/9/19/three-sisters-women-of-high-degree-2015
A few days later whilst sitting in the shade out of the 50 degree sun I was invited to attend a smoking ceremony which is normally women's business in the Aboriginal community.
I now want to share this feeling of profound gratitude and grace and understand that my life has changed. I realise that for some people the perception is that I may be sharing for the sake of doing so, for attention, but given I have been asked to write this and share my story I will do for those who will benefit form hearing it.
We drove down the track to the Billabong and sat under the shade of the same tree that Magali's late Husband, Brian McDuffie has his ashes spread. I have been working on bringing Brian McDuffie's life work to the world so that we can all benefit form understanding the incredible person he has been for so many people, especially his Family and children.
You can see his website I am building here - http://www.brianmcduffie.com/
We sat in the cool of his tree as a Rainbow Bee Eater darted above the billabong and caught insects.
A fire was lit.
A ceremony as old as this earth is round, which we all must protect.
My name is Malkay (pronounced mal-gi)
My Kooya (Mothers) are Anne Poelina, Lucy Marshall and Jeannie Wabi.
I am Yakoo (pronounced ya-goo) (Husband) to Magali McDuffie
I am Yibala (Father) for Manon McDuffie who is now my jookoo (Daughter)
My name is Malkay.