Monday, 25 April 2016

Light the Darkness

Light the Darkness

The dogs were still pups and hadn’t mastered how to creep from their baskets across the carpet to the verandah doors without catching the pile with their nails.

The scratching woke me up.  Must have been about 2am. 

I didn’t need a torch to scan my front yard, but I took one anyway.  I lived on a large corner block in the good part of town.  Was so bright, I could have leaned on my fence and read a book under the street lights.

I saw him clearly.  There was a man standing a few metres from my front door.  Dressed in a gray track suit, he quickly pushed his hood back off his head and greeted me by name in a clear voice.

He told me that he had seen some kids trying to steal my car and had come to warn me.

Two things quickly occurred to me.

I didn’t know him. But seconds later I took a closer look and realized that I knew his face. 

Not twelve hours earlier I had been sitting in his mother’s kitchen as she ever so slowly made me a cup of tea.  I was going through the photo albums that the teenage daughter had stacked up in front of me, as she strode around the kitchen declaring, yes she was going out, yes she was wearing what she had on, and no, she wasn’t going to go look for her missing nieces.

A typical family scene was my guess. 

I flicked through the larger albums, putting their family together.  I guessed there must have been about eight children, ranging from the one in the kitchen to others in the upper 20s.  Two males, and six exceptionally pretty girls.  I mean really noticeably beautiful girls.  Their mother could have been another sister, even though she moved like she was very, very old.  I couldn’t work out why. Medication? Just being very careful?  They all had the same long dark hair, small neat features and dark skin.  And sad, sad eyes.
The final album was a smaller, wallet sized book with one photo posted per page.  I was three or four pages in before I noticed something.

I recognized the girl as one of the sisters. The man I guessed correctly, was the father of the baby they were holding between them.  My senses became acutely aware of my surroundings as I looked closer at the tiny baby, a blue blanket wrapped neatly around it’s body.  
I found out later it was a boy.  In the photo, the baby boy, a golden child, he looked as if he was carved from butter.  A buttery, yellow baby with perfect features and tiny neat ears.  I have been to plenty of funerals and open caskets but I had never seen a tiny baby, a baby who had never once had the light in his eyes.  I close my eyes and I can still see that perfect golden child clearly.  I always will.

Unattended, forgotten as they argued - one exhausted, and the other, the younger, wretched - I replaced the album on the stack and carefully nudged the collection to the centre of the table.  

Later by chance, I came across the nieces - a five year old and a three year old - sitting on the kerb on the main road outside the supermarket.  I pulled up, even though I didn’t know what to do with them. 

I didn’t have regulation child seats installed.  In a town like that, driving while black could get me stopped, and unrestrained kids would be a fine, even suspension.   I sat on the kerb with them, turned it into a game, until I was able to flag down the ACLO  bus.  He was already slowing down when he spotted me, so was easy enough.   I handed over responsibility and left.  Just another day in a new town.

And later that night the oldest son, a fully grown man was standing in my yard.  He said my name like he knew me well. "The kids were trying to steal your car."

Forget that it was 2 o’clock in the morning, I was fully awake. “Where’d they go?”

He pointed into the dark end of the street, “Back down the bottom…”

In seconds I was back in and out, slamming the front door behind me, and running to my car with my keys.

I guessed later, he hadn't expected me to head down the bottom of town at night alone, “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to chase them…not many streets down there, I'll find them.”

This shook a smile out of him, “I’ll come too, I‘ll help you.”

I didn’t care either way.

I’d not gone 50 metres down the road and red and blue lights were flashing in my mirror behind me.

The police got out and walked around wide, shining their long black torches into my car, their other hand at the ready on their hips.

I grinned thru my open window, “am I pleased to see you!”

That had them stiffen and brace themselves as they clocked each other before directing me to get out of the car.  Casual but firm, they lead me to the far side of the road.

My navigator was being questioned on the opposite footpath as they drew me out of earshot.

Empty street. Homes in darkness. Streetlights and two cars, one flashing and crackling, the other with both doors open wide and the interior light casting a warm glow on my black leather upholstery.

The police and I told our stories. We each had a different version of events.

My story: I was hunting some juveniles having been alerted to an attempted theft of my car.

Their story: a neighbor had called to say someone was trying to gain entry, by trying each of the windows on the street light side of my house.  The person had been described as a man of about 6 feet tall dressed in white with a hood over his head.

Fitting the description, as the police describe it.  As one we turned and looked over towards my moonlight companion.  Dressed in the softest grey, under a street light he glowed white from head to toe. 

In a poor town, as they are out that way, a seventeen year old is about as big as a standard twelve year old child.  They are undernourished and undersized.  That night, we were looking at a man from any angle. 

And it occurred to me, after having time to think about it: men don’t steal cars out that way, not often.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  That town was so far off the grid people sing songs about it’s distant virtues.  Unless they were lucky enough to shake one with a full tank, there’s no way they were getting far to anywhere without first refueling at the only truckstop in town with it’s CCTV cameras recording your every move. 

Kids stole cars all the time. They drove them 'round and 'round the town till they got bored, set fire to them and walked home.  Not a fully grown man’s idea of fun.  Certainly not worth being locked up for. 

And this one now, he sure didn’t want to be locked up.  Worst case scenario, he’d been trying to break into my house while I was asleep and was willing to drop kids in it to save himself.  I believed that scenario.  It was written all over my face and he could read it from across the road.  Not a shred of shame slid across his vacant features.

By then the ACLO had rolled up and we watched the police as they went back up town and the grey blur slunk off into the darkness. 

The ACLO summed it up, “he’s a bad egg”.

A bad egg. Something had gone wrong.  He wasn’t made right. He had pieces missing.  He was irredeemable.

To reinforce the point he escorted me home and waited till I was back inside my gated yard. 

I fiddled with my dolphin torch while he worked his way up to telling me what was on his mind.  “You can’t let people like that anywhere near you….especially not that one…you see him again, you need to be very careful the second time…see that torch, you come outside again, you better be ready to hit him with it.”

Yes folks, this is the reality of these kind of places.  Picture this kind of black man.   If a woman on her own doesn’t knock a stranger clean out in the middle of the night on her own property, he will take her reluctance to cause a head injury, as an invitation to fulfill his every desire.

I thought about this as my ACLO mate – another kind of black man you will also find out that way – he barely paused, “….but you are better off just not opening the door.  Ring the police.  Don’t trust him even in the daylight. Any time of the day.  I’m telling you, he is no good.”

I tested his suggestion out for size, “if he is so bad, what is he doing roaming the streets?”

“I’m telling you….him, or any one who is in your yard at night…you cannot trust them.”

Sometimes at night I would turn the music on down low.  Not loud enough to serve as an invitation to any stalker that might be waiting in the darkness, the occasional red flare as they drew on a tailor made.  Music just loud enough to dance in the dark, with one arm free as the other curved around the molded plastic handle of my dolphin torch.  Through practice I’d perfected a deceptively powerful defensive move.  Relax and drop the right shoulder, then swing my arm in an arc. The weight of the torch in my hand would carry my arm, and I’d calculated by the time the torch’s edge struck my target at temple height, it would be hard enough to stun.  And give me enough time to connect again, and again.  In my dreams.
Did I over react, were my dreams of skull crushing over wrought after one encounter in my front yard?  I don’t think so.  Some years later, but not more than three, the night crawler was giving evidence in a coroner’s court.  By then he had moved down the road to another town, where he and his new partner had a young child and were caring for a family member’s baby.  Foster parents, kin, the ideal.  The baby died.  He claimed – he swore - that their child, a toddler under two years of age, had battered the baby to death out of jealousy.  The injuries were severe, and some were weeks old.  The police concluded that without more evidence they were unable to charge anyone and doubted they ever would.

 In case you missed that - a toddler was said to have caused the death of a baby.

And most recently, the night crawler had slid further down the line to a bigger town.  More policing and less tolerance has forced the bad eggs to move on, drifting to other towns and bigger centres to escape attention.  He was on the TV, a champion of the rights of the incarcerated and the oppressed, talking up treaties and power to the people.

And that makes so much of a kind of sense.  Out that way, those loose with the truth and desperate for a power base have aligned themselves with the treaty movement. They have no chance of success, and they know it.  But it is the tough talk option.  It is the cause that may shine and let them reflect a little light.  The incendiary rhetoric around people who can’t see the prospects of a successful treaty in a generation is a convenient bonfire to toss on their shame and misdeeds.  
And it deflects any scrutiny - it is the vehicle to attack first, no need to explain later.  

If only people didn’t have such long memories.

It’s not even particularly rough places where Aboriginal people now live wary and unwilling to become another sexual assault or child abuse statistic.  It is now an unspoken rule that if you are where you have not been invited then you are up to no good.  

I see it on Facebook, public notices from men who protect their family by making it clear, they will call an ambulance for you if they catch you in their house.  New rules broadcast in posts, of people sleeping with their children if mates, uncles, family members are crashing at their home overnight.  It has become standard.  It crept in, it became normal.

We don’t have the words for the assaults and abuse.  People can crawl under the skin with admonishments about 'acting white' (whatever that means, no one can say exactly), for not 'sharing', for proving what they suspect is a shameful assimilation. They can rain abuse down on those who protect their women and their children.  It is characterized as a weakness.

Quick points:
1. do people want an end to the confected outrage? Yes. 
2. do they think a treaty is achievable. No. Not with the current effort.  Anyone who has worked in native title knows it isn’t, and they know why not.
4. if the only way to progress a treaty is thru vicious character assassination and being propped up by allies clinging to their Anarchists Handbook and adolescent dreams of disruption, this lot are incapable of negotiating an agreement and are better off devoting their time to their life’s work of volumes of research of the Bad Aborigine. (sic)
5. the opening tactic of promoting the ‘one or the other position’ split the support base and splitters don’t have the standing to put it all back together.
6. the silent are the majority. Chaos, death, suffering and misery dominates the lives of all but the very privileged.  So there is no chance that having endured all that, final decisions on the constitution, representation and treaties will be left up to a handful. 
7. the only chance of success with a treaty is to pursue constitutional recognition.  See how you go with that, and we can talk about other aspirations once this Everest is climbed.
8. stymie the ambitions of people around constitutional recognition and imagine the consequences for the small group…known by name…who will be held accountable. 
9. Note, those who voiced support before they became targets of abuse, are generally older, with strong cultural ties and closer to country.  We don’t have solidarity now – and never did. Imagine the wasteland of post referendum failure. 
10. what is the track record of those presenting themselves as drivers for change? Exactly.

And the showstopper, and people who work closely with Aboriginal communities know this is true:
At any time, any proceeding will grind to a halt with a few simple words: ‘the right people are not here, this decision is void’.

To be clear – the tactics around constitutional recognition and treaty has become a fissure for the violence and decline of Aboriginal society.

A couple of years ago, it was legitimate to abuse people for being educated, for speaking well, for being independent, and for women, for speaking in public at all.
Think about that.  A person could claim to be a warrior, an advocate, an activist and expect to get away scot free with their mentally abusive and in some cases physically debilitating mental assault, on the flimsiest of charges.  And that was ‘normal’.  And sanctioned frequently by other women.

The same men who are copping to depression today, were verbally flogging women for speaking in public a mere handful of years ago.

Physical assault and abuse doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. It is nurtured by shunning, gossiping, character assassination and bullying.  By exploiting the vulnerable and misrepresenting the strong.

Online spaces are the new war zone, as more of us continue to distance ourselves from Aboriginal spaces.  According to the last census, over 90% of Aboriginal people are in relationships with non-Aboriginal people.

Freedom looks like that. Freedom from abuse looks exactly like that.  Abuse and neglect of children, women beaten to death, women and children raped, and every other foul and evil act meted out on Aboriginal people is not a secret.   And men are frightened of other men.  It is easier to agree, or to remain silent rather than become a target. 

Even the deceased are not free.  A tiny girl, some-one’s child, a family's grief is defiled and exploited by black advocates and their craven demands for status and worse, (god help us) crowdfunding, with their shameless and cruelly dismissive references to ‘the dead girl’.

Two years ago Aboriginal men were abusing Aboriginal women they had never met via tiny online windows and other men saw this and did nothing.  Men who curate spaces, who cite their accomplishments as leadership material, who demand media platforms to advocate for black voices – did absolutely nothing.

Recent studies have reiterated that the most vulnerable person on line is a black woman, and it needs to be said, she is at risk – her work is mined as punishment for daring to speak out; her thoughts are plagiarized for other’s personal gain; her plight is ignored – by other black men and the black women who also benefit from this bastardised version of black culture.

It is the online equivalent of being struck in the head with an axe or a hammer, or the increasingly violent and grotesque ways in which women are being murdered by their Aboriginal partners.

Violence has infected and squandered the potential of online spaces, where an increasingly homogenized version of black life continues to emerge as the preferred standard by a vocal minority. 

All this, a distraction from the misery that children, our young people themselves are now forced to speak out about.  They can no longer rely on adults to put their interests first.  They risk being knocked over by grandstanding freelancers, who demand that their interests, their livelihood, their pride, take priority.

Lest we forget the children, the women and the men whose heart’s broke in grief for them.  

Will we one day see a memorial for the Fallen, the ones who died but are yet to be recognised with as much vigour and solemnity as the victims of the Frontier Wars?  

Or will they continue to be collateral damage while the privileged few, insulated from physical and the worst of emotional harm, chased an elusive dream that was never ever going to restore all they think they were due.

About this post
Somewhere between midnight and dawn I decided now it is time to write the things that must be said.  I do not know where it will take me but I have begun.  

On ANZAC Day 2016
I was recently reading some old transcripts of my aunties talking of their childhood and discovered that my grandfather had asked to join the war effort in the 1940s. His request was denied. The station manager said he was needed on the station.  He was denied an education and worked on stations all his life.
My grandfather wanted to see the world. He never felt true freedom and died before he was compensated even partially for the wages he earned and were mostly withheld up until the day he died. 

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