Growing up white, naïve and ignorant in middle class Australia.
Updated: Jun 1
This isn’t easy for me to write, nor to admit.
I never truly understood why the colour of our skin ever matters.
I didn’t have the perspective or experience of anything else but one of a human being who had white skin.
I was born into a world where this was a position of a certain level of automatic ease. I never experienced the looks, the slights, the verbal abuse, the assumptions, the perceptions, the projections of being defined or judged by my race, my skin, my clothing, my language, my voice from others around me.
I remember being six years old and wanting a dark-skinned Barbie doll with beautiful glossy ebony hair like I had seen in the backs of comic books. It was the 1970s. White dolls with blue eyes and blonde hair were the only option manufacturers back then felt was suitable to market to children and to the adults in my world. What was defined as the goal to look like.
I had what you may call a ‘typical’ childhood in Brisbane suburbia, 4 siblings, parents who loved us, glorious holidays in nature on my grandparent’s farm, or camping in national parks, a neighbourhood full of kids spending summers swimming, playing backyard cricket or football, building tree houses, finding penny turtles and guppies in the local creek.
Being from a religious family, in our community we had friends who were born from many other countries, such as the Pacific Islands, India, Malaysia, Europe and more. I loved their accents, the food they cooked, the clothing they wore, and the stories they shared. I was raised without racism from my parents, and differences to be embraced. I remember spending rainy days with hundreds of passed down copies of National Geographic magazine, and reading the stories of the natural world, and the people native to different countries around the world. My own grandparents were post-war immigrants, so, food that was different, and stories and languages that weren’t English or western, were ones I loved the most.
I never knew however, anything of the language, culture, or foods of the people native to my own country of birth.
The first awareness I had of Aboriginal Australia was as a child on my grandparent’s farm on the Atherton Tablelands in tropical North Queensland. It was a small dairy farm, and edged onto beautiful ancient rainforest, where there were two Aboriginal retirement cottages, and sounds could sometimes be heard late at night when they had visitors. One of the occupants was Jenny, an Aboriginal elder, who I remember my German Grandmother speaking of fondly, and often visiting her with eggs and fruit she grew on her farm. My Grandmother knew what it was like to be different, to sound different, and her friendship with Jenny was part of connection and understanding.
I also remember going to sleep as a child, listening to Aboriginal Dreamtime stories with my brothers on vinyl records, repeatedly. The magic etched with the Aboriginal voices woven into my forming mind and psyche, with the fierceness and lore of the stories of our first nation people of the wide beautiful land that I was born on. I used to feel I was part of that world, yet also separated as an outsider, wanting and somewhat longing to be a part of that connection to the people of the land I was born on.
My education in school, as typical with my generation, was focused more on English colonial figures, explorers, settlers, what they did for the country, and only a little of their brief encounters with the Aboriginal people. This was primarily with the view of a culture that was fairly primitive and not developed.
Being a good catholic school girl, I got to know a lot about a guy called Jesus, yet names such as Bennelong was one who was unknown to us. I walked out of a Bangarra Dance Theatre performance of Bennelong a couple of years ago, deeply quietened and saddened that this was the first time I had heard this of this man’s incredible story. The resonating awareness and a level of shame, of how removed we were as a people from the truths, the voices of our country, and its real history.
In more recent times, after the next 20 years working in the Natural Medicine field, I took the opportunity to train with Aboriginal Elder, Steve Richards, who has a healing modality taught around the world, called Holographic Kinetics, based on Universal Law and Aboriginal Lore. Steve has won many awards for his work, including a National Award for suicide prevention. It was through this training, I felt firsthand the power and wisdom of what our first nation people offer to share with the world. Of how this ancient cultural knowledge also has the power to change us, to question the way we think, how we respect, take responsibility, and consider our environment, our animals and one another, for the better.
I speak here as a white skinned Australian-born woman, and human being, from my own personal experience and perspective.
Perhaps your experience is one which was more consciously and actively connected to Aboriginal culture, true history and wisdom from a young age. I feel however, this is not so common here in Australia.
I also have been confronted with my own deep sense of naivety. Our lack of understanding is due to many things, of a colonial history we have been indoctrinated with, that has many omissions of the truth and completely lacking in shared knowledge and perspective. There is a huge presence of ignorance, and it is not one that I feel is always deliberate. However, it is sometimes convenient.
It is also our willingness and ability to listen and hear the voices of Aboriginal people is often missing. This is reflected in our media coverage and social dialogue from many areas, from sport through to politics.
I cringe at the attitude of some white Australians, that the Aboriginal people should ‘’just get over it.‘’ The argument that we have officially made an "apology," and that should be enough. Well, no, it’s not.
One of the things I am aware of in my training of the mind and different healing therapies, is how in communication, so many of us do not actively listen well. We often rush to say what is in our mind, from our experience, our perspective, wanting to say what we want to say in answer, or to defend ourselves. When we come from this place, we aren’t facilitating anything but our own selves.
Few of us are masters in the art of truly listening.
What creates any good relationship, family, friendship, work environment, government, or community, is when people are listened to - and their voice, their truth, their perspective, listened to, and heard. Taken into consideration.
We heal from our trauma, the ones that may have been passed down from our parents, and theirs, other life events and experiences when space is held, and we feel truly heard. We feel connected, and feel we are valued, and belong. With this sense of connection and understanding, only then are we able to begin the journey towards healing, celebrating, and working on a shared future. One that is inclusive, and one where we all thrive from the richness this will bring to all of our lives.
I encourage you to begin the journey like I have, to start to listen more in your own world to the voice of our fellow Australians, our First Nation People. Journey a little into more honest educated viewpoints with books such as Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, or to ask the questions of the experiences of those you know have family stories, and real-life accounts of the perspective of living life as a first nation Australian.
I wrote this article July last year for NAIDOC week, and interviewed several of my Aboriginal friends sharing their voices in the theme of Voice. Treaty. Truth.
I share once more as we have had a series of events of deep disrespect and devastation of Aboriginal spiritual and historical sites in Australia and one highlighting racist violence in the U.S, that blatantly reflect in our OWN country has a great deficit in equality, and we have a very long way to go to when it comes to so much with basic respect of our Aboriginal people - particularly relating to deaths in custody.
Not to take away from our overseas brothers anywhere in the world suffering racism or violence right now, however, we need to start at HOME, supporting those who suffer racism here in our own country.
This week is National Reconciliation Week.
"Reconciliation is a journey for all Australians – as individuals, families, communities, organisations and importantly as a nation. At the heart of this journey are relationships between the broader Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
We all have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures, and futures."
Written by Nicole Armit, The Mindfoodie.