by Anne E Stewart

Story Summary

In the early 1980's, Anne got a job as a children's librarian in the Northern Territory of Australia. With a middle-class white background, she was to learn much about the black history of Australia. Have race relations changed in the last forty years?

Discussion Questions

  1. What came as a surprise to the storyteller when she moved to the Northern Territory of Australia?
  2. What did she learn about the history and country she calls home when she moved to the Northern Territory?
  3. What do you know about the Jim Crow laws that were enforced in the southern United States of America in the 19th and 20th century?
  4. How would you try to educate people about changing and re-naming English names of rivers, mountains and so forth to aboriginal names?

Resources

  • A map of Aboriginal Australia: https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/articles/aiatsis-map-indigenous-australia
  • Learn more about the Larrakia people: http://larrakia.com/about/the-larrakia-people/
  • Learn more about the Dja Dja Wurrung nation: http://www.djadjawurrung.com.au/
  • Learn more about Cultural heritage and environmental services: http://djandak.com.au/
  • Read more about the storyteller’s experiences in the Northern Territory of Australia: http://www.anneestewart.com.au/uploads/1/0/4/9/10491755/from-daylesford-to-nhulunbuy.pdf/

Themes

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Identity
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript
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Hi, my name’s Anne Stewart and I just want to share a story from Australia with you.

So, it was the early 1980s and I was 24 and I just got my first proper job as children’s librarian in the Darwin library in the Northern Territory of Australia. Now, the Territory is the most sparsely populated region in Australia and Darwin is its capital. And it’s the furthest north, in fact, it’s closer to South East Asia than other parts of Australia. And there are two seasons; the dry season and a wet season. So, it’s either hot or hot and humid.

Now, one of the first things I did was to organize the Northern Territory Young Readers Book Awards, complete with a costumed Book Parade. Well, it was a hot day in the dry season and I was racing about getting ready and I was off to the costume shop. And I was going to change back at the Civic Centre where I’d already set up book displays, dioramas, posters and there were streamers for the parade later on.

Well, I squeezed into an outfit and it is to my eternal shame that I have to tell you I came out dressed as a Golliwog. Now, you might know what that is, but they were blackface minstrel dolls that were popular in literature in the UK and in Australia.

Well, with my black face and my black curls I was unrecognizable till I came out to the Civic Centre and I started to talk, and this loud booming voice was very recognizable. People were whispering about me and tutting at me and then I heard someone say,” How could you?”

What had I done? I had no idea then that Golliwogs were so racially insensitive, especially there on the land of the Larrakia people, the Aboriginal tribe that lived in that region. Well, I was shamed-faced. I didn’t know what to do.

Now, it’s no excuse, but – more as a way of explaining – before I went to the Territory, I had not met one Aboriginal person. At my Catholic school, why I’d learned biblical studies about a holy land far away, I’d learned world geography and I’d learned an Australian history that said Captain Cook had discovered a land that was empty and uncultivated – Terra Nullius. They say, “No man’s land.”

Well, as this blond, blue-eyed, middle class person, I had no idea about our First Nations people. None at all. And the concept of racism was something I didn’t understand. The only way I had heard of Aboriginal people was to say that it was a passing race. They were nomads, noble savages and that soon they will be gone.

Well, my time in the Northern Territory was life changing and it was where I first started to understand the black history of the country that I called home. When I worked in the Northern Territory Library in Darwin, I started to dip my toes into the vast expanse of knowledge.

Well, in the territory, I had the great opportunity to travel to some amazing and beautiful places and I started to feel the sacredness of land; a gorge, a waterfall, landscapes that reached to the sky demanding as much respect as the mightiest of cathedrals. I learned to have great respect for the land. I learned that the earth is my mother and that everything is connected. But, most importantly, I learned that song lines and stories had traversed this wide brown land for over sixty thousand years.

Well, I talked to as many generous Aboriginal people as I could. They were so generous with their knowledge and old Territorians. I looked at books. Things were to change. From then on, my life would be different.

Now, when I got back to Victoria, I joined the Victorian Storytelling Guild and I met Nell Bell who was to become my mentor. She is a proclaimed shanachie, a respected elder and a beloved grandmother. And she was 30 years my senior and together we traveled on this road to understanding.

Well, where I live in the lands of the Dja dja Wurrung people for so many years, the people had quieted their voices. But with this new look at things I realized this was a living culture; it was still alive and I was determined to help as much as I could just to stand and walk alongside. So, in my tiny little venue called the Story House and Garden, I invited a Dja dja Wurrung elder, Aunty Marilyne to come and share her culture with me.

It was Native Week, the National Aboriginal Islander day of celebration and the theme for that year was Because of Her We Can.  And we were celebrating all the contribution of Aboriginal women to their families, to their community, and to the Australian story.

Well, she started the day with a smoking ceremony and people would begin to learn a little bit more about the landscape. She had such an intuitive understanding of the land and an indigenous wisdom. And as the day went by, we learned so much. And to think beginning the day with a smoking ceremony – there in my house! I started to understand that everywhere was sacred. That there were ceremonies and culture that belonged to the very place that I lived.

Well, another great thing happened where I live on Dja Dja Wurrung country. The Victorian Government funded the Regional Center for Culture, and this was a way to celebrate the arts and the local Dja Dja Wurrung people. We were to learn that Aboriginal culture is not just tangible objects you could hold, it’s more about the dreaming stories and law and totemic relationships in culture and the ancestors. There was so much we learned when they, the Dja Dja Wurrung people. were given the opportunity to tell their stories.

One day, there was an amazing sound and light show where we heard stories of the birds and the animals and the place. The epic ancestors who had gone before. It was a wonderful experience.

Well, when I had the opportunity, there was a call for people to become part of a reconciliation panel to help further the cause. And, so, I joined and one of the things we did was to write out 15 recommendations for our council on how we thought we could progress to help facilitate the raising of voices of our Dja Dja Wurrung people.

And one of those just to bring the story forward a little bit is about the naming and co-naming of places in my hometown. So one of the places that runs through the valley of the Loddon Valley is known as the Jim Crow Creek. Now a lot of us who have had their eyes opened, we are aware that this is a very racist term and it applies to the laws in the United States that segregated white and black people.

So many people said Annie, we’ve gotta change the name. But here’s the rub; 80 people, 80 families live along that creek who haven’t been educated. So the process is that we are going to have to educate them about the name and how disturbing it is to our Aboriginal people.

Well, as I said, 80 families need to be educated. And, slowly, we move along and we try to retell the history of Australia. A big story, but one that starts with my first little footsteps.