By Cally Jetta
I love when the kids are asleep and my hubby and I finally have the chance to really talk and get into the bigger issues that we are both so passionate about. It’s quite a rare occurrence these days, I must admit.
The other night was one of those times however. My hubby said that at times he wondered what it would be like to be white. How his life would have been different. He felt that much of the trauma he experienced in his earlier years and the memories he continues to struggle with today are the direct result of the inter-generational trauma he was born into and the resulting lifestyle outcomes of poverty, violence, alcoholism and crime. He went on to mention the many young relatives and peers he has lost just in recent years to suicide. They may not have been part of the Stolen Generations or alive when some of the worst atrocities against Aboriginal people were happening; but they certainly bare the heavy burden of the compounded feelings of hopelessness, anger and despair of those that did. He spoke about the fact that Aboriginal people had every right to feel grief and anger but without a healthy outlet, it leads to our own self-destruction and at times a deep-seated rage and bitterness that comes from feeling dismissed and disrespected by society.
It made me think of a story I had read just days earlier about an Aboriginal woman who had lived during a period a massive political change, interference and control. Her traditional life was destroyed and her family torn apart. She lost many babies because hospitals and doctors refused to treat her serious condition. She was forcibly removed from every place she ever found sanction and taken to squalid reserves. The children that did survive were not permitted to live in the same house with her and when her daughter of approximately 6 years fell ill and was taken far away to a strange and unfamiliar hospital and staff, the Chief Protector of Aborigines at the time refused to let her accompany her daughter. All she wanted was to sit by her daughter’s bedside during her final days and she was denied this right as a mother by people distant and unknown to her.
We have a 6 year old. I tried to imagine how I would have felt in this woman’s shoes. To be honest just the thought of it filled me with a gut-wrenching bitterness and hatred that no amount of time would likely diminish.
And the frightening realisation is that this experience, or similar, and the attached emotions and trauma are shared by so many Aboriginal people all across the country. I thought also about our aunt who was stolen not once, but three times from her family to endure such cruel and abusive treatment at the hands of mission staff. The pain, anger and hurt shows in her eyes and you can hear it in her words. Her children and grandchildren hear her stories and they see and hear her pain; and then they feel it too.
So, with all of this intergenerational trauma and grief what is the way forward? How do we break a cycle of self, family and community harm? What will it take to move beyond the anger and hate so many are justifiably holding onto and genuinely feeling?
My hubby simply answered with ‘time’. He explained that he didn’t mean Aboriginal people would ever forget their history and what their ancestors endured but that over time the raw emotion of it would fade along with feelings of bitterness and hate. He feels it is because we have many still alive today that endured such awful things and the fact that their children and grandchildren today are witness to the devastating impacts of it that the anger still burns so hot. Maybe when these experiences and stories are no longer still in living memory and the people telling them are not so directly involved and impacted by them we will see a shift forward and away from the raw emotion that is still very much felt today.
I then added that acknowledgement and empathy were also vital ingredients for healing and explained that the apathy and lack of empathy unashamedly expressed by so many Australians towards Aboriginal people and the lasting and devastating legacy of invasion was hugely counterproductive. I don’t think the average Australian realises just how a change in perspective and attitude could make such a monumental impact and difference to how Aboriginal people feel about themselves, others and their place in this nation.
I whole-heartedly believe that it is not entirely possible for a person or people to heal, grieve and move forward without the atrocities that were committed against them and the resulting trauma first being acknowledged and understood. A shift from dismissal and defensiveness to compassion and awareness would allow us to start pulling down the wall that currently exists between our communities and become a nation built on truth, respect and solidarity.
I don’t understand why this is such a challenge for our country and why so many seem to fear and loathe the very thought of considering an Aboriginal perspective or demonstrating any type of compassion and understanding. The scary idea for me is that we will never actually reach that point and that our nation won’t find the leadership and motivation needed to take the courageous and honest action needed to address past wrongs and create the public awareness needed to develop real understanding and empathy.
My hubby agreed also and then we both agreed that it was a double-pronged solution. Both time and empathy would bring healing and change. Time and empathy could potentially move us towards genuine reconciliation. Neither cost anything, they just require some patience, compassion and willingness to listen and learn on our part.
I’m willing to invest those things in the hope of a brighter and better future. Are you?