I tell this story from my place in the circle. This is Talahue’s story. Talahue is Sally’s Nan. Lilly is Talahue’s sister. The white people told Talahue’s mom that they were taking her daughter away so that she could go to school, but she never did. They took Talahue away from her family to work as a servant for white people. Talahue told Sally about it and Sally wrote it down. Talahue said ...
They should have told my mother the truth. She thought I was coming back. When I left, I was crying, all the people were cryin’, my mother was cryin’ and beatin’ her head. Lily was cryin’. I called, “Mum, Mum, Mum!”. She said, “Don’t forget me Talahue!” They all thought I was coming back. I thought I’d only be gone a little while. I could hear their wailing for miles and miles. “Talahue! Talahue! They were signing out my name, over and over. I couldn’t stop cryin’. I kept callin’, “Mum! Mum!”.(1)
It didn’t take long for Talahue to realize that she wasn’t going to school and that she wasn’t going to go back to her family. Talahue told Sally about that too:
At night, I used to lie in bed and think ‘bout my people. I could see their campfire and their faces. I could see my mother’s face and Lilly’s. I really missed them. I cried myself to sleep every night. Sometimes, in my dreams, I’d hear them wailing. “Talahue! Talahue!”, and I’d wake up calling, “Mum! Mum!” You see, I needed my people, they made me feel important. I belonged to them.(2)
All of her life Talahue’s daughter Gladys wondered if she had a sister that she had never known. Gladys believed inside that she did have a sister, but Talahue hurt too much to talk about it. Sally asked her Nan about it.
Sally said, “Okay. Has Mum got a sister somewhere?” Nan looked away quickly. There was silence, then, after a few seconds, a long, deep sigh. When Nan finally turned to face Sally, her cheeks were wet. Don’t you understand, yet,” Nan said softly, ‘there are some things I just can’t talk ‘bout’.(3)
I tell this story from My Place in the circle...
I've been Glad's neighbor for many years. I helped her with Bill when he'd go on those wild tears of his, so I know her pretty well. But what first puzzled me about Glad was why she pretended like her and the kids weren't Aboriginal. One day Sally asked Glad what their ancestry was? Why Glad told her they were Indian! Imagine that poor kid growing up believing she was a foreigner in her own country! Glad was always doing things like that. She'd bake cakes, cookies, dash off to a Roman Catholic service, then a Baptist one, then an Anglican one (4). And she sent her kids to public schools so they might "make something of themselves" (5). Yep, Glad was worried about what people thought of her. She'd even tell "little white lies." It's as if the truth was never good enough. As if she was ashamed of her own blackness.
But it's wrong, wrong for me to judge. Glad has her own life history and it's her past that has made her who she is. I know she's lived a tough life. One of painful separation from her mother. She was sent by the "Drake-Brockmans" to Parkerville, an Anglican home for "orphans." There were Aboriginal children there, European too, but the Aboriginal children had it the hardest. Some of those kids had been taken from homes and families hundreds of miles away. It was too far for anyone they loved to come and see them.
One time, Glad told me this story. She said every Friday night, they watched movies and often these were just heart-rending tales, like about gypsies stealing a child from a family. Glad said she identified with those films. They all did. Glad always thought of herself as that stolen child (6). That's why she liked the films about family.
Another time (Glad was just a kid), these boys were feeding live baby mice to kookaburras! Well, Glad got so upset she broke up the mouse nest for she thought that if she did that, the mother wouldn't have any more babies and then there'd be no more babies to be treated like that.... Glad knew what it felt like, I guess. To be taken from your mother.
So, you see, its all this, all this baggage, this hurt and pain, that has made Glad act the way she did. You can understand her not wanting to tell Sally anything. For her, telling her kids they were Indian and passing herself off as a white person was survival. First, she took on white, middle class values, but she did so only to escape oppression. Its not that she wanted to be white, she just wanted to be treated like a human being! Second, Glad was scared (and for good reason) that the government might take away her children if they knew she was a single Aboriginal mother raising her kids. Once she said to me, "I worry about dying and leaving the children. I know Nan won't be allowed to keep them, they'd be taken off her and she probably wouldn't be allowed to see them ever again..." She knew Bill's white parents wouldn't have taken them, not with his mother not liking "dark-skinned" children, so it would have meant an orphanage or the kids would have been separated and adopted. Glad couldn't have beared that to happen. Those children were wonderful gifts to her.(7).
Another time, Glad got a reality check when she threatened to leave that drunk husband of hers. Why, he actually said to her: "Nobody will let someone like you bring up kids and you know it. I'm the one that'll get custody, I'll give them to my parents" You know what the sad part is? She knew he was right. Aboriginal women weren't allowed to keep children fathered by white men! (8). So you see, I can understand what made Glad raise those kids the way she did. Glad didn't think it was safe to speak of being her own race. I don't know if she was right, but I know the past, for Glad, was too much. That's why when Sally got wind of her Aboriginal roots, Glad begged her not to stir up old ghosts. She was concerned for Nan, too. Glad said to Sally, "If you leave the past be, it won't hurt anyone." But Glad gets this from Nan. Nan once told Glad as a kid, never to tell anyone what she was. That really frightened Glad. That was when Glad started wishing she was something different(9).
But now things are different. Glad is finally sharing all those things she kept locked away from her kids -- her aboriginal identity, their aboriginal identity. It makes my heart sing to see Glad finally doing this. Nan to Glad to Sally: three generations of Aboriginal women and nothing but silence. But now Glad is speaking up. She's broken that chain of silence, and there's nothing to be ashamed of no more.
Yep, Gladys Corunna. Now she wants her children to feel proud of their Aboriginal backgrounds. She was saying, "If we all keep saying we're proud to be Aboriginal, maybe other Australians will see that we are a people to be proud of." And then she said to me, "I suppose every mother wants her children to achieve greatness... All I want my children to do is to pass their Aboriginal heritage on" (10).
I tell this story from my place in the circle. From here, I see the story of Sally and her family.
"What had begun as a tentative search for knowledge had grown into a spiritual and emotional pilgrimage. We had an Aboriginal consciousness now, and were proud of it." (11)
Sally, your search and pilgrimage has become mine as well. The fear that Gladys and Nan felt about authoritative figures is understandable. I understand them. I understand that there has been great injustice done to them. I can feel the fear that has grown into great pain and anguish. I can only imagine the terrifying and heartbreaking experience that Gladys experienced through the Substitutive Care System in Australia: how she lost her identity; how the fear of being taken away from her mother scarred her for life; and how her experience as an Aboriginal girl has influenced her life and way of thinking as a woman. It is the experience of being an Aboriginal girl that she wants to shield her children from. She is not denying her children their heritage or culture, or at least she did not think so. Gladys was merely protecting her children. As for Nan, she has gone through a lot in her days. Her first child was taken away from her, yet, that was not enough for "they" took her second child, Gladys, away from her as well. Nan was tormented with the constant craving for knowledge ... the knowledge of her daughters - how they were getting on. This craving was never satisfied. "They" never told her. She never knew.
Gladys' and Nan's experiences grew into great fear ... fear of reliving the painful experience ... fear of remembering. Being an Aboriginal was too painful to carry on. It was a knowledge and experience that was too hurtful even to mention. It was the pain that lead Gladys and Nan to try to assimilate Sally and her siblings into a culture, and identity that was not their own: Indian. It was an identity that was much better than knowing that one is an Aboriginal. Anything other than being an Aboriginal was better, less painful and less hurtful.
Sitting here, I see Sally, I see her family. Listeners, what do you see? Do you see Sally? her family? their experience?
Listeners, do you see yourself? What do you see listeners? What is your story? What is your story from your place in the circle? ====================================================================================
(1) Sally Morgan, My Place (London, U.K.: Little, Brown and Company) 332.
(2) Morgan, 333.
(3) Morgan, 351.
(4) Morgan, 62.
(5) Morgan, 22.
(6) Morgan, 246.
(7) Morgan, 295.
(8) Morgan, 301.
(9) Morgan, 279.
(10) Morgan, 306.
(11) Morgan, 233.
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