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5 years ago

A Place in the Past: Pilkington and van den Berg on the Moore River ...

A Place in the Past: Pilkington and van den Berg on the Moore River ...

Accordong>inong>g to Neville Aborigong>inong>al people were ‘outcastes’, ‘unducated, untraong>inong>ed, illnurtured weakly people’ unfit to ‘fight agaong>inong>st life as it [was] today’. 12 In The Makong>inong>g of ong>theong> Aborigong>inong>es, Baong>inong> Attwood argues – as Martong>inong>ez does later – that ong>theong> harsher aspects of segregation ong>andong> assimilation were ong>inong>tegral ong>inong> unitong>inong>g disparate Aborigong>inong>al groups ong>inong> opposition to ong>inong>stitutionalised racism: The more consistently ong>andong> rigorously authoritarian ong>andong> oppressive colonial racial policy ong>andong> practice has been, ong>theong> more ong>theong> conditions for a common Aborigong>inong>al iong>denong>tity have grown. 13 For ong>vanong> ong>denong> ong>Bergong>, ong>theong> extended family is ong>theong> strongest foundation for this common iong>denong>tity: ‘Both my faong>theong>r ong>andong> my moong>theong>r were orphans, which is why ong>theong>y put so much value on family life with ong>theong>ir 10 children.’ 14 I would also argue that Christian values ong>andong> gender iong>denong>tification also played crucial roles ong>inong> ong>vanong> ong>denong> ong>Bergong>’s representation of her faong>theong>rs sense of self. In No Options, No Choice, Thomas Corbett describes his relationship with some of his more considerate white bosses as those of equals, ‘man-to-man’. He tries to apply reason to ong>theong> ong>inong>stitutions of white society ong>andong> ong>inong>stitutionalised racism – government policy – but fails. Gender acts as a bond between men whose Christian decencies allow Corbett to forget ong>theong>ir part ong>inong> his imprisonment ong>andong> ong>theong> genocidal dimong>inong>ishment of his masculong>inong>ity ong>andong> cultural pride: It seemed to me that, though paternal ong>inong> his attitude toward ong>theong> Aborigong>inong>es under his care, Neal (ong>theong>n Protector of Aborigong>inong>es) knew more of ong>theong>ir ways ong>andong> culture than did Brodie (ong>theong> former ong>inong>cumbent) who was a tyrant. The new superong>inong>tenong>denong>t was more approachable but that did not make him a weak man… To me, he was a firm, fair man who did try to help ong>theong> Aborigong>inong>es ong>inong> his charge.’ 15 Neal’s male firmness, sense of justice, strength ong>andong> decency earn him Corbett’s respect despite his role ong>inong> dimong>inong>ishong>inong>g him as a man: I remember askong>inong>g Mr Neal if I could travel to see her (Rose) at Quairadong>inong>g. I had nothong>inong>g to do ong>andong> was just hangong>inong>g around ong>theong> settlement waitong>inong>g for any casual job to turn up. I had just received a letter from Rose ong>andong> wanted to go ong>andong> see her. My request was ong>denong>ied. Mr Neal was very sorry, but he could not let me go traipsong>inong>g off around ong>theong> countryside just to conduct a love affair, or a romance, to put it ong>inong> its right perspective. I was so down-hearted, dispirited ong>andong> tempered-up. I thought Mr Neal was my friend ong>andong> confidante, but he wasn’t at this time. (162) He describes how ong>theong> ‘adventure ong>andong> camaraderie’ of travellong>inong>g togeong>theong>r brought him closer to a white truck driver on a workong>inong>g trip to Meekatharra: He wasn’t snobbish or racist, but spoke to us man to man… The driver wasn’t afraid of tellong>inong>g us yarns ong>andong> eatong>inong>g ong>andong> sleepong>inong>g ong>inong> our company – not like some white men who treated Aborigong>inong>es as ong>inong>ferior to ong>theong>mselves. No, this bloke was a decent ong>andong> straightforward person who was glad of our company ong>andong> our help. (169) 4

Here, Corbett subsumes race to gender to appeal to ong>theong> humanity-as-masculong>inong>ity of his readers. Shared responsibilities ong>andong> experiences, as well as Christian decency, replace what his anger tells him should be shared authority. At ong>theong> University of Wollongong’s ‘Com(prom)isong>inong>g Postcolonialisms’ conference ong>inong> 1999, Ruby Langford-Gong>inong>ibi described how ong>theong> experiences of colonialism ong>andong> ong>inong>stutionalisation had emasculated many Aborigong>inong>al men. Strong women were able to work withong>inong> ong>theong> limits imposed by racist policies, ong>andong> ong>inong> some communities power shifted from patriarchal to matriarchal. 16 Corbett’s Palyku iong>denong>tity is ong>inong>tricately tied up with his masculong>inong>ity. Both are mediated by his absorption of Christian-capitalist values, such as salvation through hard work. Christianity promised Aborigong>inong>al people equality under God, a sense of community among fellow supplicants ong>andong> a utilitarian belief system. Corbett describes how he was confirmed, became an altar boy ong>andong> even considered enterong>inong>g ong>theong> priesthood. His Christian beliefs were strong. Religion taught him a sense of right ong>andong> wrong that seemed more rational than ong>theong> arbitrary rules of distant white authorities. Although ong>inong>termittent, farm ong>andong> station work offered ong>theong> men of Moore River some connection to ong>theong> long>andong> ong>andong> way of life ong>theong>y had lost. Some station owners (such as ong>theong> Forresters) allowed Aborigong>inong>es a measure of freedom to live as ong>theong>y wished. Station work was also a road to a kong>inong>d of salvation. Its goal-oriented lifestyle, physicality ong>andong> wages – albeit meagre – offered hope for an ong>inong>depenong>denong>t future. It is ong>theong> persistence of this hope ong>inong> spite of alienation from self ong>andong> society that makes No Options, No Choice an ong>inong>spirong>inong>g book. Contact with ‘full-blood’ Aborigong>inong>al people livong>inong>g on camps on ong>theong> outskirts of Moore River, as well as participatong>inong>g ong>inong> church services, football matches, work ong>andong> family obligations, helps restore Corbett’s sense of belongong>inong>g to a supportive extended family. Material conditions were bad, but Tom ong>andong> Rose had each oong>theong>r ong>andong> ong>theong>y were happy. 17 The Moore River experience failed to strip him of his Aborigong>inong>al iong>denong>tity. Instead, its polyglot of disparate dialects ong>andong> customs combong>inong>ed with common huntong>inong>g ong>andong> gaong>theong>rong>inong>g lore ong>andong> shared spiritual beliefs socialised him as part of a new pan-Aborigong>inong>al generation united ong>inong> opposition to colonial oppression. He spent his summers with oong>theong>r young men who taught him how to name birds, plants, fish ong>andong> flowers; which were edible, which poisonous ong>andong> which had medicong>inong>al qualities (77). They taught him to respect his ancestors ong>andong> to avoid ong>theong> sacred places where ancestral spirits dwelled. He hunted for bush tucker such as kangaroos, beehives, birds ong>andong> fish, ong>andong> distributed it with communal largesse. After years of separation from his home ong>andong> family, ong>theong>se experiences of ‘carong>inong>g ong>andong> sharong>inong>g’ 18 facilitated Corbett’s reclamation of his Aborigong>inong>ality. Kong>inong>-oriented social networks restored his cultural ong>andong> spiritual iong>denong>tification with ong>theong> long>andong>. Full-time work was also a means to comfort, security ong>andong> autonomy – an escape from ong>theong> ong>inong>vasiveness of ong>theong> state ong>andong> its racist ideologies. Young Aborigong>inong>al men had this option if ong>theong>y could get work ong>inong> ong>theong> 1930s Depression era, but ong>theong> prospects of Aborigong>inong>al women at Moore River depended entirely on those of ong>theong> men. Whereas ong>theong> boys at ong>theong> mission hunted ong>andong> contributed to everyone’s welfare, ong>theong> girls were put to work ong>inong> ong>theong> sewong>inong>g room – if ong>theong>y were lucky. Residual colonial values measured femong>inong>ong>inong>ity ong>inong> idleness ong>andong> meanong>inong>gless tasks. Women who lived outdoors on ong>theong> long>andong> were considered coarse ong>andong> uncivilised, anaong>theong>ma to a culture that reified 5

Torsos by Dutch sculptor Eja Siepman van den Berg Beauty in ...