Top Ad unit 728 × 90

The day a stranger thought my dad had stolen me - Amy McQuire

Amy McQuire on growing up looking white but feeling black – and how a visit to her other homeland, Vanuatu, changed everything

Amy McQuire

It has become one of those family anecdotes: the time a stranger thought my dad had stolen me. Dad was walking around a shopping centre in Liverpool, where I was born and lived for a few months in infancy, when a perplexed man came up to him and asked, “Is that your baby?” He was worried I had been kidnapped.

I don’t know if that would happen today, given how diverse western Sydney is, but back then it must have been a shock to some to see a black man with a white baby.

My mother is non-Indigenous and, in terms of genetics, my South Sea Islander and Darumbal father never got much of a look-in. I came out with paper-white skin, black hair and blue eyes, which eventually turned green.

A few months later, Dad got a job in Rockhampton in central Queensland, where the majority of his family lived. My mother had grown up in a small town called Morven, about an hour’s drive from Charleville, and much of her family was now spread out across the state, so I grew up predominantly around my extended South Sea-Murri family.

Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia
I always had a complex when I was younger, and it was complicated by the fact that my dad’s siblings were light-skinned. I was socially awkward, the type of child who would take books to parties and soccer games and hide under tables while my sister made new friends. Sometimes I think a part of this awkwardness came from a feeling of being an outsider and even a fraud: feeling black but looking white.

I remember lying under our big poinciana tree and trying to come up with theories about why I was so pale and freckled. I can’t remember many of them now but one does stand out: that I was white and my dad was black because I had been born in Australia.

My developing brain was undergoing the colonising process, teaching me to consider the country I was living in a white one. This is settler colonialism at its most insidious, targeting our children and feeding them ideas of white supremacy.

In fact, Dad wasn’t born in Vanuatu and nor were his parents. On both sides he had great-grandparents who were kidnapped from their homelands of Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands and taken to Australia and, on his mother’s side, a grandmother who was a member of the stolen generations and who was forced into a form of slavery on her own land near Shoalwater Bay, now a US military training base.

I didn’t know of this heritage growing up, even though we had lived near the base of the mountains in the area known as Nerimbera (nerim meaning mountains and bera meaning people) and walked daily through massacre sites where our Darumbal ancestors lost their lives.

I didn’t know that during the killing times blackfellas were cornered on cliffs and sent to their deaths
I only began thinking about the concept of country when I visited Vanuatu.

I have been going to the island of Tanna since I was nine and my sister was six, when my family made the journey after we reconnected with our cousins. I always remember my first trip.

There was a big ceremony to welcome us. I clearly recall sitting on a mat with my family near a banyan tree, watching dancers. The chief got up and gave my sister and me our custom names. A hundred years after my Pop Youse was stolen off a volcanic beach and sent to the pastoral properties and sugarcane fields of Queensland, we had returned.

It was a few years later that I began to realise the importance of country – how land is not a thing to be bought and sold. We were at another village on Tanna, at a place named after the killing of a white missionary, and I looked around and kept thinking: “This is what land rights is.”

Land holds stories and, within those, it contains the people both of the past and of the present. You can’t sell it to the highest bidder.

Pop Youse’s portion of land was saved for his descendants; the family he left behind cannot give it away because they’d be giving away a part of them.

I have always thought of this as I write stories and campaign for land rights back here in Murri country, where the scars of invasion run deep. To me, being Aboriginal, being Darumbal, means being in connection with country. This is the essence of our identity.

Growing up, I didn’t know what it meant to be Darumbal. I didn’t know that during the killing times blackfellas were cornered on cliffs and sent to their deaths. I didn’t know that the river Toonooba, which cuts Rockhampton in half, was a boundary line blackfellas couldn’t cross during curfew. I didn’t know that there was an unofficial licence to kill, and that neighbouring tribes were also decimated – the Jiman, the Goreng Goreng, the Birri Gubba peoples. I didn’t know that this land holds within it tens of thousands of years of history, that it retains the blood memories of the past, and that to heal ourselves we have to heal this country.

And so, growing up, I equated my identity with the colour of my skin, and in my head assessed myself against a measure constructed by white Australia and designed to breed us out. It was only on my other homeland of Tanna that I began to realise just what my identity meant, and how important it is to hold on to the stories of our ancestors.

It’s taken a long time to realise that that stranger in the shopping centre, like white Australia, knows nothing about us – and that we must hold our children close and ensure they grow up in the strength of who they are, not what they look like.

https://www.geezgo.com/sps/22807
The day a stranger thought my dad had stolen me - Amy McQuire Reviewed by Chidinma C Amadi on 5:54 PM Rating: 5

No comments:

Kogonuso © All Rights Reserved!

Contact Form

Name

Email *

Message *

Powered by Blogger.