This issue I’m submitting something different. This was a speech my brother wrote upon being called upon as ‘a great example of Indigenous employment initiatives’ in his Government job. His words move me beyond belief and deal with the unique issues him and I share in growing up away from mob and the difficulty we feel because of this. These are the words that need to be heard. This is a common issue and something I wish to cover.
“My name is Christian Tisdell, and I am a 25-year-old man who was born in Mt Isa and moved to Brisbane at a young age. My mob is Dulgaburra Yidinji of Northern Queensland, Tablelands area. I have a large family with extremely varied backgrounds and experiences ranging from unfortunate drug and alcohol cases to outstanding, international entrepreneurs and philanthropists. I’m proud of every one of them, not because of aboriginality, though, but rather any family or human experience.
So what is it to be Aboriginal?
To be an aboriginal in modern society is to be walking a tight rope between two worlds; one world is a culture that slips through our hands year by year, while the other is a dominating force of industrialisation and white society. Try as i might to identify with my heritage, being so removed from the source only makes it difficult. It’s not a lifestyle that fits with today’s world and not a lifestyle that people want.
Regardless, Australia presents a face of Aboriginal culture and heritage to the world, ignoring the horrors of the past (‘what stolen generation? Genocide? Never heard of it’). The references to indigenous culture are how we present ourselves in a bid to show that we’re not just another clone of the US and UK.
But it’s not true.
Indigenous people are boxed up and dealt with as policy initiatives until we need them – we take their art, their history, their colour and their land when it suits, but otherwise, we take them as a problem. A problem of crime, a problem of drinking, a problem of employment, a problem of welfare, a problem in general. A hard thing to say, and a hard thing to hear, but it’s the reality.
So we try and fix things. We come up with initiatives, interventions, on-the-ground support, financial aids, and alternate pathways to conventional assistance. All have the very best intentions. Don’t get me wrong, the consideration and desire for change is a wonderful thing, but are we actually helping those in need, or do we just make ourselves feel better?
Life for me as an Aboriginal man has been easy; this is because, as I call it, I am ‘commercially black’ – black enough to be recognisable, but not black enough to be threatening (satire, people). But as others have said to me, I’m “one of the good ones”. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident or that I was joking. Racism is rife in this country, and really dark aboriginal people will be judged based on the colour of their skin alone. This severely limits their chances at life regardless of their character. I’m quite a light-skinned Aboriginal – I’m not judged by my appearance as someone darker would be (unless you count my skinny Murri legs).
Instead, my struggle is not knowing my culture and feeling like a ‘bad blackfulla’. It’s not an easy thing to pick up and learn, either, especially because each year the traditions and stories are lost with the passing of our elders and the spread of family across the country/world.
Australia has hundreds of different Aboriginal groups, mobs, tribes, lands, each with unique and special cultures and traditions, but most with a similarly sad story. Cultures were forcibly abolished and made to assimilate into white life all those years ago, and now they’re slowly fading and literally being bred out.
So, what can we do about it?
We just need to keep educating, and this means fully involving EVERYONE in Aboriginal culture because exclusivity is killing us. Keep it going, keep it strong, keep it respectful, and share the beauty and stories of our countries with everyone so they can feel as proud as we do.
And maybe things are changing in schools, I don’t know anymore, but we should be teaching kids the Traditional Owners of the land, and the unique features of their cultures. Not only that, but the real history of black Australia needs to be taught and not just swept under the rug. A little knowledge goes a long way.
Anyway, I’ve rambled for long enough. On a final note, I’ll leave you with a list of the great parts of being Aboriginal:
- A great beard
- A genuine connection with the land, which for me, is a love of red desert lands and the outback like that of the Isa.
- Being able to spot other Aboriginals and strike up a conversation purely on that basis (where’s your mob?)
- An amazing family and culture
- Feeling a connection with your ancestors.
- Rarely sunburn.
- Having rhythm.
Much love you mob