Thursday, 10 March 2016

A Little Woman

Sing her song, brush her hair and hold her hand. Tell her stories, hear her laugh and hold her gaze. Watch her dance, smell her skin and hold her close. Don't let go.

Aboriginal children aged 14 years and under, are 8 times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous children the same age.  This is a national statistic, that draws on figures from urban, rural and remote parts of Australia.
March 8th fell on a Tuesday in 2016.   It is International Woman's Day.   Social media was alight with messages, remembering the great, the triumphant, the struggle and the glory of women - feminism, friendship and families. 

But for those who knew, had heard the terrible news, there was no celebration, no reflection  because a child, a girl child, a little woman had died.
She died on a Sunday, and the word travelled out from the remote Aboriginal community, shattering everyone who heard the tragic news.

What is there to say? How to put tears into words? How to describe the bruised heart? How to make sure this never ever happens again? How to remember her, how to grieve?

Two questions. How did this happen? What can we do to make sure it never happens again?

The answers are in a small community in a remote part of north Western Australia.  Is it our right to pry?  Does our curiosity multiple the anguish for those left behind?  How do we support the family, the ones who grieve for the child they knew, of their blood?

You won't find the answers in Sydney or Melbourne, or even Perth.  Most likely we will never know, even with the inquiry the WA government is planning to hold into the nineteen other deaths by suicide that has happened this year. 

Mostly black lives are lived below the gaze of those who care to look our way.  Or we are in rural towns that are not on any tourist travel log. Or we are in remote parts of the country that appear in documentaries and in pictures painted by media stories.

Stock footage, they use - the media when they don't have a photo of the people, or the community - it shames us all,  these generic photos of actual people that reduce Aboriginal people to symbols, their faces turned away in a nod to privacy.

A child dies, there are no words.  A child dies in this way, it scrambles the mind.  And by the time the news breaks and people reach out to others in horror and sadness, I need to set the anger aside.  
What are we doing with our power? We are not all of us powerless.  I want to smash the world and have everyone stand in shreds in a wasteland and say, 'yes, it has come to this. Now I understand how a child could die. We do not know how to live, how will a child?' 

We ricochet silently and coldly off each other now that those of us no longer have the rituals when death follows life. 

Words are dangled in silent faces.  How did this happen, what can we do to stop it ever happening again?  There's a black hole where our customs used to be.  We are in mourning, how can we talk about how to change the world now?  

We no longer mourn as a community.  Death, it is everywhere now.  It stokes the fear inside.  There is no reprieve, who will go first? Who will twist this into just another day? Each hour of ticking life taking us further and further away from when a small child still walked amongst us.

This is our culture now.  We are small groups trying to survive in isolation from each other.  We were not forced apart, we escaped the brutality of colourism: where the darker the skin, the greater the scorn for being too country, too secretive, too politically naive. For being too black. Troublemakers as they live and breath.

Urban, rural and remote - black, brown, white - old, young, new born - educated, book shy and cant sit still - halfway, in the way, lost.  We are too many to describe.  We are pushed and torn, battered and feted. We float on the river of chance.  We are disturbed from our thoughts and powerless to care for our own when we are forced to fight for our right to be in our skin, unchallenged.

In no particular order, we can expect conversations along the lines of...

Years ago, I was head hunted to work with kids. No one else wanted to. I had to be asked three times. I was not keen. I thought a person should be qualified.  
The centre looked small and bare and boring. The kids were small for their age and angry.  People wold cross the street to avoid us.  In the end, the kids weren't the problem at all. 
They were victims. Indifference, poverty, abuse, they faced more battles than a fully grown adult.  They were beaten by the system, the town, their colour and the low expectations of the school.

Overwhelmingly the priority for a young person is some where safe to sleep at night when they need it.  People will recoil in horror at the thought of children being found in some rough spot roaming at night but they should be gut punched with shock to hear that no government body will approve a safe house for children.
The reasons to deny safe shelter for a child make sense if you are a bastardised version of a human being.  'But someone gets welfare money for them, why should we pay more money to have an extra home for them?'

But the state will pay thousands of dollars to house them in a detention centre or an adult jail?  

My final remarks... 

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