Situated on Worimi country, my country, just north of Newcastle, New South Wales, and within a stone’s throw from the beautiful Karuah River known for its delicious oysters, sits a community of strong and proud Aboriginal people.
By
Jodan Perry

13 Oct 2015 - 2:09 PM  UPDATED 14 Oct 2015 - 1:28 PM

Worimi country is very dear to me, as it is the home of my family and ancestors.

Karuah Aboriginal Community, affectionately known as "the mish", is a place where I have made some of my happiest early memories, running wild with my cousins, jumping off the bridge into the river and playing tackle footy at the park

Growing up I had three homes, my mother’s and father’s where I spent most of my time, but the mish holds a particularly special place in my heart.

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These days the community is lined with solid brick houses, many of them two storeys high, but these have only been in place just over a decade. Prior there were vulnerable dwellings made of treated pine, and before that living conditions were at an even lower standard.

My grandmother Colleen Perry is the oldest resident of the community at 83 years of age. She was born at Purfleet in northern NSW and moved to Karuah at the age of seven. She still remembers what the houses were like in the old days.

Karuah Aboriginal Community

"Well, we lived in an old shed first, it used to be the school's tool shed," she told me. "We had a school on the mission here because kids weren't allowed to mix up with the white kids at school."

"The housing has changed a great deal, [but] the living conditions [are] still much the same, only we are charged higher rents now to keep up with the modern days.

"We had a school on the mission here because kids weren't allowed to mix up with the white kids at school"

"We pay for our water now. We never ever paid for water before… yeah, but drinking and drugs has hit the scene now, and it’s not the same."

While these days were before my time, I can still remember the good times at Nan's next house.

My cousins including Kiah and Richelle 'Ging', Tarina, Barbara, Maurice, Dwayne, Mindy and I were always playing hide and seek around the place, or we were forever getting yelled at by our grandmother for climbing up the water tanks to the roof.

 I think we only ate half of the fruit we collected, the rest we threw at each other in the 'Mulberry Wars'

There was just a slim wooden plank that connected these two tanks to the roof, and looking back I am surprised that none of us actually fell off and broke bones. But the prize once we made it onto the roof was easy access to Nan's huge mulberry tree. I think we only ate half the fruit we collected, the rest we threw at each other in the 'Mulberry Wars'.

My father Joe Perry is a lecturer at the Wollotuka Institute of Aboriginal Studies at the University of Newcastle. He has produced a history of the Karuah Aboriginal Community as part of his Doctor of Philosophy.

Titled Mission Impossible: Aboriginal Survival before, during and after the Aboriginal Protection Era, it chronicles life growing up on the reserve, and brings to light the challenges our people faced living in segregation.

The story will no doubt resonate with our mob all over the country, and my father highlights how important it is for us, as Aboriginal people, to keep passing on our stories.

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"It was always going to be about Karuah, I wanted to tell the story about what it was like for Aboriginal people growing up and living on a mission," he told me.

"It was about telling stories about our ancestors, our family, our genealogy and our history. I think that's one of the most important things we need to do as Aboriginal people.”

Storytelling is one of the central aspects of our culture, and my dad hopes this story will give some broader insight into what life is like in our communities.

“It was basically for my family so that we had a history, and it was for the Worimi people so that they could have a history also to read about," he said.

"Wider society needs to understand what it was like for Aboriginal people living and growing up on missions and reserves under sometimes extreme pressure from government"

Dad wanted to tell this story because it had become a forgotten part of Australia's history. "It's not just important for Aboriginal people to understand that history, but also for non-Aboriginal people.

"Wider society needs to understand what it was like for Aboriginal people living and growing up on missions and reserves under sometimes extreme pressure from government policies and practices that has destroyed not only Aboriginal families, but their culture and their very lives".

The thesis is littered with recollections of the old days from my grandmother, who was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters from the World Indigenous Nations University in Ontario, Canada, in August for her commitment to improving Indigenous education here and overseas.

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This is a huge achievement considering the pressures she faced in the past.

"[My] mum was denied education under government policies and access to western education, she grew up on the mission at Karuah all around and only received like a third grade education," dad said.

"She wasn't allowed to get any more education, she became self-educated just from reading."

I can still remember her old house, where she would lay down reading on her bed while my cousin Kiah and I would sit at the end playing Super Nintendo games or watching a martial arts movie

Looking inside my grandmother's room, books are abundant. I can still remember her old house, where she would lay down reading on her bed while my cousin Kiah and I would sit at the end playing Super Nintendo games or watching a martial arts movie.

She was never happy about that, and we were met with calls of "Get out and play you two, come back when it's dinner".

And we did. Whether playing rounders (a version of baseball usually with a bat or sometimes a stick) with the other kids at the community tennis court, or walking to the bush to line up old bottles to throw rocks at, there was such adventure and wonder in those younger days.

While these are now but memories, they will always live on if we continue to tell our stories through the generations. Our stories are central to our culture, they are who we are.