Stan Grant first walked into the ABC as a current affairs journalist at the age of 23. 30 years later, he is poised to return as Head of Indigenous Affairs and the first Indigenous host of a prime time current affairs program.
Grant started his career avoiding covering Indigenous stories, wanting to avoid being shoeboxed as an Indigenous affairs journalist.
“There is still a tendency to put us in that box – you tick that box, you go on that side of the ledger, and inevitably people see you that way. It defines you and narrows the scope of the potential of your life”.
However, in the past few years, Grant has taken an increasingly public profile as a spokesperson for Indigenous peoples, most notably with a speech in January at The Ethics Centre and with public responses to the Don Dale scandals.
“This has been burning in me since childhood,” he said. “I lived right at the coalface of Australian poverty and bigotry. I saw what my parents had to go through in what was a very segregated Australia. I saw my parents turned away from shops. I saw my grandfather jailed for things that no one should be jailed for.”
However, it is another story about his family history he is eager to tell, and it isn’t one about dispossession.
His great great grandfather was pushed off his homeland, banished from Sydney, and spend his childhood in the missions west of the Sydney. Despite a life constantly shaped by state intervention, he became a schoolteacher and died a respected member of his community.
"It’s a story we don’t tell enough"
“He was a great survivor,” said Grant. “A man of ambition and aspiration and I think that is a story that is very common to us – and it’s a story we don’t tell enough.”
“I’m really tired of the story of us as the victim – as if we are always the people done unto and never the people doing.
"You are pathologising a people - saying you are bound to this fate. The way to get out of this is to change the story. Writing for me is a way of changing the story".
At its heart, Grant believes that the story of contemporary Indigenous Australia mirrors that of the migrants that have always arrived on Australian shores.
"This is in every respect a classic migration story"
“They came here looking for a new beginning, and our people fanned out across Australia to look for a new beginning as well. This is in every respect a classic migration story.
“Trauma sits at the heart of migration – why were we moving? Because we’d been forced off our land. We’re no different to what I’ve seen in other parts of the world. We’re people we’ve had to respond and survive against enormous odds.
“The citizenship movement, the movement towards ending segregation, the 1967 referendum – all emerged out of the agency of people who left the missions at the end of segregation and prised open a place in Australia for them.”