The infantilisation of Indigenous Australians

A problem for democracy

Featured in

  • Published 20180807
  • ISBN: 9781925603316
  • Extent: 264pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

I GREW UP in the 1990s, the daughter of a white Australian and a Torres Strait Islander. I was raised on my mother’s stories of the Cairns Esplanade, her doctor father and English migrant mother. I learned the stories of generations of my British ancestors, as far back as the Battle of Hastings, who over the centuries would emigrate to Massachusetts, to Ohio, to Bermuda via the White House, to the Victorian goldfields, to Fitzroy in Melbourne, and to Sydney, where my grandfather was born. I grew up on stories of British settlers, of dispossessors, of those who wielded colonial power and benefited from it. And I was raised on my father’s stories, too. Stories of water, of fishing and of islands. Especially of the island that is ours, the one we don’t live on anymore, Naghir. I listened to the stories of how multiple generations of my Islander family navigated the arrival of the missionaries and the government to access education, to find work, to keep fishing, to stay free. I watched my father become the first Torres Strait Islander to receive a PhD. And, to be completely honest, I didn’t really hear all those stories about our family – I read some of them in his book. I think this is important to acknowledge: Indigenous people are not meant to write our own histories, we’re just meant to speak them. And we’re usually expected to speak them against a more powerful, white, narrative. But it was not ever like that for me. These were never stories told against one another. These were the stories that just told me who I was. In all, I grew up on stories both written and spoken, authored by both the dispossessed and their dispossessors. Some have told me that it’s almost like I grew up in two Australias, but I didn’t. I grew up in the same Australia as you. This is your Australia, too.

Imperfect memories of my childhood are punctuated by things like Nelson Mandela’s release from prison (my mother weeping, my father rolling his eyes), the Murray Islanders going to the High Court, Eddie Mabo’s tombstone being desecrated, governments generally messing with our lives. I grew up with Pauline Hanson, and the vitriol that she legitimised spilled over into the schoolyard. As an adult, when I’ve reflected on how I’ve come to do the work I do, interested as I am in the politics of childhood, these are the faded moments I recall. As an adult, when I’ve seen deeply controversial political moments take hold, I’ve always noticed the children at the heart of them: the children not thrown overboard, the children of the Northern Territory Intervention, the kids of same-sex parents during the recent marriage-equality plebiscite. Because though they are rarely seen and rarely heard, children are never far from the political struggles of a nation.

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