January 26, 2016

Survival stories

Good ol' Australia Day. We all deal with it (or don't) in our own way. Typically, I lay low and don't give myself a holiday. I keep working and apply myself to some task pertaining to Aboriginal languages which relieves my coloniser complex somewhat.

I completely see how it is seen as a day of survival. Being exposed to endangered Aboriginal languages, sometimes I reflect on how remarkable it is that the languages have survived this far into colonisation at all. But that's just language survival. There are so many inspiring stories of Aboriginal people surviving particular events, discrimination and hardship. All Aussies value a good against-the-odds story. So this Australia Day, I thought I'd share a few survival stories that I find very moving:

Croker Island Exodus

I was just talking about this documentary yesterday when I caught up with a friend in Katherine - her mum was one of the kids who went on this walk. During the 2nd World War, the mission on Croker Island - which was home to kids who had been removed as part of the stolen generation - were running out of food and had to get off the island. The missionaries took them on a boat and walked them a few hundred kilometres to Pine Creek and they eventually spent the war near Sydney. It's an amazing tale and the documentary, Croker Island Exodus, is one of the best I've ever seen:


It screened on ABC a few years ago but I've never caught a repeat unfortunately, though you can buy it. So highly recommended. It's part historical documentary and part good yarn. One thing I loved is the kids they use in the recreation scenes are all descendants of the original 'walkers'. For me though, the kicker comes right at the end: old Alice, who is delightful and warm throughout the film, sits in a park and is asked about being removed from her family as a little girl. She's not bitter, she loves her Croker Island Family and has had a great life, but 90 or so years on, when she starts to talk about it, the tears flow. So much time, so much life lived, and a happy elderly women still cries for the family she lost. Heartbreaking.

If there was one movie I could force all non-Indigenous child protection workers to watch, to demonstrate the effect of removing Aboriginal children from their families (which happens an awful lot - yes, today), it'd be this one.

For an extended interview with the film's director go here.

Kwementyaye Briscoe

Just over four years ago, Kwementyaye Briscoe was drunk and left to die in a police cell in Alice Springs. Aboriginal deaths in custody aren't supposed to happen anymore. And certainly not like that. Kwementyaye Briscoe is far from the only Aboriginal person to have died in custody in recent years, but the reason I mention this, is because of this interview with his aunt, Trisha Morton-Thomas, following the coronial inquest. It floored me when I saw it and it still makes me cry. I feel a little reserved about sharing it because Trisha seems quite vulnerable, but then again, she probably agreed to the interview knowing its rawness would be powerful. And it is:


Every time an Aboriginal person dies in tragic and unfair circumstances, family have to survive and Trisha's interview gives a sad-but-eye-opening window into what that is like. When asked what should happen if police are found to have been negligent, through tears Trisha says: "What I think should happen, is this should never happen again". 

Yet what is so amazing about Trisha Morton Thomas (who you may recognise for acting roles in things like 8MMM and Radiance) is that later that year, she appeared in an episode of Redfern Now that dealt with exactly this issue. She played the mother of Luke Carroll's character, Lenny, who dies in custody. It is absolutely extraordinary to see her in that episode. Without context, she's fantastic. With context, it blows my mind. Again, I can't find a clip but here's the preview - unfortunately without Mona, but if you look at ABC's web extras, the Making Of clip shows a bit more. I don't think survival gets much tougher than that. 

If you can stomach it, here's the coroner's report relating to Kwementyaye Briscoe's death.  

Bla Mela Langgus

Lastly, and turning to language themes, in 2015 the Ngukurr Language Centre's, Grant Thompson, put together a short doco called Bla Mela Langgus "our language(s)". It's about the survival of traditional languages, in a place where language loss and endangerment is obvious and of community concern. Grant did a tremendous job, assisted by Jenny Denton, and I'm completely biased with my affection for the video. It did go on to win a community broadcasting award, so I'm not the only one who loves it. 

Unfortunately, Indigitube (where the doco is hosted) doesn't seem to have an embed function, so just follow the linkhttp://www.indigitube.com.au/video/item/2500

I know all the people on the video and they're all treasures. Through all the language work I've done at Ngukurr, I'm continually amazed that people still carry on trying to support their traditional languages when they are so embattled. Survival personified, if you ask me. 

Well that's all I wanted to share. Obviously this is a drop in the ocean. If you have some similar stories or videos of survival that have stuck with you, I'd love to hear them. And hopefully you've got something out of the one's I've shared.

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