• "We are often told to stop playing the victim. To toughen up. Well I am no victim": Stan Grant. (Getty Images)
'Heartfelt' and 'powerful', is how journalist and author Stan Grant's speech to the National Press Council in Canberra on Monday February 22 was described. You can read it here.
By
Stan Grant

Source:
NITV News
25 Feb 2016 - 2:49 PM  UPDATED 25 Feb 2016 - 5:59 PM

Balladhu wiradjuri gibir - I am a Wiradjuri man.

In 1940 a man named Budyaan spoke this language to his grandson in the Main Street of Griffith in New South Wales. Police overheard him he was arrested and taken to jail.

Budyaan known as Wilfred Johnson, was my great grandfather, the boy he spoke to that day was my father, Stan grant senior.

Budyaan and his grandson were living under the weight of our history.

Lydia Naden was a frightened young girl. In 1894 at a mission called Warrangesda - Home Of Mercy - at Darlington point on the banks of the Murrumbidgee river, Lydia was hiding out in one of the mission huts.

Girls were being rounded up and forced into a dormitory where they would be separated from their families and trained to become domestic servants.

Lydia's resistance was in vain she was discovered taken to the dormitory where she not only lost her liberty, but was starved as a punishment. The mission records show her food ration was cut.

Lydia Naden was living with the weight of history.

She eventually married a man named Frank Foster, who as a boy was snatched from his birthplace on the south coast of New South Wales, and taken to the mission at Maloga on the Murray river. In turn he was sent to Warrangesda, until he was banished for being insolent and impudent for daring to challenge authority. He spent his days wandering the state looking for a home turning up in reports from the so called protector of Aborigines until he finally found his way back to the coast at his death.

Lydia Naden and Frank Foster had a daughter who in turn would have a daughter, Josie Johnson my paternal grandmother, born into the burden of he weight of our history.

I have a photograph of a group of Aboriginal girls standing in line outside the notorious welfare home in Cootamundra. None of them are smiling. I am drawn to the eyes of one young girl blankly staring ahead. She is known by a number - number 658.

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This girl number 658 was recommended for removal by the manager of the Aboriginal station at Cowra. Number 658 was separated from her family along with so many others - over 1500 in the twenty year period from 1912.

Many were forever lost, never to see their families again. Number 658 was sent to work as a maid for wealthy squatter families. She found her way back, finally having to seek approval and permission to marry the man she loved, and live on an Aboriginal mission at Condobolin with her husband and alongside her long lost brother.

Number 658 would die a young woman, only 37-years-old from rheumatic fever she first contracted in the girls home. She left behind six young orphaned children ... a life beaten down by the weight of our history.

Number 658 had a name - a name taken from her. Number 658 was Eunice Josephine Grant, my aunty, the sister of my grandfather. Her daughter, my aunty Elaine, is here today. 

I stand here today the sum of these lives . The stories of Budyaan - Lydia, Frank, and Eunice inform who I am, as surely as their blood courses through my veins.

I speak their names with reverence and honour. I speak here today in this place so that they will be heard so that from their graves their stories will be told as surely as in life they were silenced.

This is my  inheritance - I bear the burden and pride, and the responsibility of the weight of this history.

As I stand here today, I recall the words of the black American poet Langston Hughes - who wrote.

"So will my page be coloured that I write? 

Being me it will not be white.

But it will be a part of you.

You are white - yet a part of me as I am a part of you.

Sometimes, perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are - that is true."

I am drawn from the deepest well of Australia's history. My family born with the first footprints perhaps as many as 60-thousand-years-ago. Over Millenia we formed the hundreds of nations of the First People's. We grew as this country grew with us - our myth and lore took root as the rising seas and volcanic eruptions gave shape to our land.

Once away back in time in southwest New South Wales, there was a mighty lake where people fished and hunted and gathered by their fires. Here a man died and was buried. His body smeared with ochre and placed carefully in the ground arms folded. Here this man lay until one day in 1974 - when a rainstorm lashed the now bone dry lake bed - it loosened the hard packed soil. It was enough for a young geologist Jim bowler to see the outline of a skull. Lying there buried in this ground was a fully intact skeleton. He had been waiting forty thousand years.

The lake is called Mungo, and the skeleton Mungo Man - these are the oldest human remains ever found in Australia. Mungo Man's grave is among the oldest evidence of ritual burial anywhere on earth.

But as surely as I trace the journey of ancient footsteps then I cannot but walk too with a man who stepped ashore 206 years ago.

John Grant was an Irish rebel. He fought the British in county Tipperary at the turn of the 19th century. It was a time of terror - when the Irish language was silenced, when the heads of troublemakers were publicly displayed impaled on spikes, when their catholic religion was outlawed, and their liberty curtailed by curfew.

By 1810 John Grant's mother, brother and sister were hanged and he was banished to a land he could not have imagined. He sailed to Australia bound in a ship called Providence. For seven years he worked as a convict before being given his ticket of leave on the proviso the rebel never return to his homeland.

John Grant had no place back in Ireland. But he made a place here, first in the town of Hartley in the blue mountains, and then on the plains west of Bathurst.

In the 1820s Bathurst was a scene of war - the Sydney Gazette reported the time as 'an exterminating war'. Windradyne a Wiradjuri leader raised his people to fight the settlers - he led raiding parties who carried out killings, burned homesteads to the ground, speared and chased off livestock. The settlers formed vigilante groups who hunted down the blacks herding many to their deaths. Ultimately martial law would be declared here my people - Wiradjuri people - could be shot with impunity.

With his people's numbers depleted and a price on his head Windradyne led the Wiradjuri over the mountains into Parramatta to meet Governor Brisbane, he had come to make a settlement. In what seems now an improbable theatrical flourish, this man Windradyne wore a hat and in its brim was written the word peace.

In this time of death and theft John Grant - Irish rebel - emerges as a landed gentleman. His holdings stretched from his first property in the mountains, to a vast parcel of land he called Merriganowry in the rich fertile soil of Canowindra. 

Here John Grant met a man called Wongamar - a man born before the coming of the whites. On the banks of the Belabula, John Grant my white forbear handed my black ancestor a brass breast plate inscribed 'to Wongamar King of the Merriganowry.'

John Grant left behind a hidden black family. My DNA, along with my name derives from this frontier. On the marriage certificate of my great grandfather - a rare document in itself for that time - there is an x marking the witnessing signature of his sister Selina, his mother's name is blank - black women were not counted - but next to fathers name there is written - John Grant squatter.

Out of the exterminating wars of Bathurst, and the rebel uprising of Ireland the Grants appear - one branch white, and they  become Australians, the other - my family - black, and they become outcasts. These are the names to be recorded on the missions of New South Wales, these are the Grants who would lose their children, whose names would be replaced with a number - 658.

Here is the weight of our history.

By the time I am born in 1963, our fates are sealed. I am the son of a Wiradjuri man, Stan Grant and a Kamilaroi woman, Betty Cameron. Two people raised on the margins of this country singed by the fires of bigotry.

My mother the daughter of a black man and a white woman - a woman who crossed the colour line of 1930s Australia and was ostracised. My father the child of strong Wiradjuri families the Naden's, the Johnsons, the Grants.

This is the time - in the words of anthropologist William Edward Hanley Stanner - of the great Australian silence. A cult of forgetfulness practiced on a national scale. We had erased the blood and misery of the frontier. To quote from my book:

"The myths we created fed Australia's lie that no blood had stained the wattle. We were told a story of peace and bravery and the conquest of a continent. This was the inevitable push into the interior, a land opening up before the explorers. It was empty: tamed and claimed."

These were the myths of my childhood, the myths of my education. In this telling Australia was discovered by captain James Cook. The Endeavour was a ship of destiny that led to the First Fleet. On 13 May 1787 eleven ships set sail with a cargo of prisoners to found a penal colony in New South Wales - but the true first fleet landed here 60 thousand years earlier. I was told Lawson, Blaxland and Wentworth were the first people to cross the Blue Mountains.

There were people standing on the shore as Cook weighed anchor. Smoke from campfires trailed the white men who trekked over the mountains west of Sydney. Black people watched these people who appeared like ghosts and would bring death. But that story wasn't told in my classroom. The lesson I learned was that we didn't matter. In fact we didn't even exist.

I was young when I began to question all of this. Even through the eyes of a boy, the glory of Australia did not match the reality of our lives. Something was rotten here. Each morning at school I would stand in line to recite the pledge: 'I honour my God, I serve my Queen, I salute the Flag.' And then in the evening I would return home to where this flag had deposited us. Home was where ever we could find it. It was a home on the margins, outside of town, outside looking in.

Here is the weight of our history.

Ours was a life on the move crisscrossing the back roads of rural New South Wales, my father searching for work chasing that new beginning looking for a way in. He lost the tips of three fingers and broke countless bones in the sawmills of small country towns trying to put food on our table. My mother would swallow her pride and ask the churches and charities for clothes and food vouchers.

I looked on the world through the rear window of a car at night watching the White posts mark the miles we had travelled. I felt reassured and comforted with a blanket of stars around me. My brothers and sisters were squeezed in tight asleep I could hear the murmur of my parents talking my dad running a bottle top over the grooves in the steering wheel creating a rhythmic percussion to try to stay awake. 

Occasionally the darkness would be punctured by the red tinge of a cigarette as mum lit up inhaled and passed it over to dad. Those little ceremonies, rituals of love and intimacy between two people together facing up to the world.

Always I wondered about us, who we were and what put us here. I was always aware that we were marked by something more than poverty, that no amount of hard work, honesty or decency would untether us from our destiny. We lived in Australia and Australia was for other people.

The weight of our history.

So how do I stand here today on this stage in our nation's capital in a room where I had once quivered as a callow young reporter in the press gallery trying to summon the nerve to ask a question. Journalism has been my salvation I have been fortunate to have found it and made a life in words and stories. I was raised on stories at the feet of master storytellers. Here was my dreaming - the family history passed down to me by my mother and father.

My mother has the soul of a poet, and as the great British soldier poet Wilfred Owen said "it is a poet's job to warn." She wrote poems of stolen children, the heartbreak of exclusion the burning hunger of poverty and the joy in each other.

My path to journalism has been one of good fortune, persistence and the generosity, encouragement and support of others. It has taken me around the world. I have reported from the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan I have stood in Gaza and the West Bank, I have walked in the blood of terrorist bombings in Pakistan, seen apartheid fall in South Africa, peered behind he secret veil of North Korea and returned to the home of my Irish ancestor John Grant to look upon the troubles that had pitted Catholic against Protestant.

As a reporter I was drawn to those stories that mirrored my own. Always I sought to answer this question: how do people live meaningful dignified lives when all certainty had been removed? What makes a man who has lost a son to war or natural disaster get up in the morning to look for work to support his remaining children? How does a mother mourn and yet love and nurture at the same time? What does the future mean when the now is so bleak? And when I reported these stories I met myself. In the eyes of an Afghan refugee I saw the eyes of people in my family. In the struggle of a Chinese peasant farmer looking for that foothold in the China dream I saw my sawmiller father.

Here were lives shaped by the great forces of our time as surely as was my own and that of my people.

I have spent half my adult life away from Australia. I felt liberated from the chains of my own history. No longer did I meet people across a chasm of race. I was free to be seen as a human being in my own right and delight in meeting other people with my guard down, freed from the suspicion and mistrust that can still tear at us here - lifted from the weight of history.

But always I felt the pull of home, the smell of wattle and wheat, and the way it would sting my nose on a hot day. The feel of melting tar under my feet, the crack of frost in a paddock, and the cool waters of the Murrumbidgee. Eventually I came back to a country fighting old battles. 

In the winter of 2015 I felt us turn to face ourselves. It happened in that place most sacred to us: the sporting field. Adam Goodes an Indigenous footballer, one of the greatest players of his generation was booed and abused until he retreated from the field. We were forced to confront the darkest parts of this country - black and white, we are all formed by it. This wasn't about sport, this was about our shared history and our failure to reconcile it. Some sought to deny this, others to excuse it, but when thousands of voices booed Adam Goodes, my people knew where that came from. 

So here we are all of us in this country - our country. Tethered to each other - black and white, the sons and daughters of settlers, the more recent migrants, refugees looking for haven and my people with tens of thousands of years of tradition. I have to accept you. We are so few and have little choice. And anyway you are in me and I am part of you. You can turn away from our plight, but while you do our anthem will ring hollow. And I don't believe that is who we are.

All of this is our story. These are events and faces and memories all set against the drama of this land. Our lives are pages of a history still being written, a story of a place and its people, the sins and the triumphs and how all of it has formed us. 

The great American playwright Eugene O'Neil said, "there is no present or future, only the past happening over and over again."

For so many of my people, Aboriginal people this is true. There is a deep, deep wound that comes from the time of dispossession, scarred by the generations of injustice and suffering that have followed. And this wound sits at heart of the malaise that grips indigenous Australia. It is there in our life expectancy ten years shorter than other Australians, it is there in statistics that tell us we are not three percent of the population yet a quarter of those in prisons. These are the things that kill, the things that send us mad or steal our sight.

How often we are told to get over it, leave it in the past, but these wounds are fresh. My family like so many Indigenous families is still shackled to its past. We are told to let it go, but our history is a living thing. It is physical. It is noses and mouths and faces. It is written on our bodies.

It is there in the physical scars of people like my father, it is there in the mental scars - that I too have battled to overcome - the scars you cannot so easily see. It is there in numbers that show indigenous men between twenty five and thirty are four times more likely to kill themselves than their fellow Australians.

And it is close this history. When I was a baby my grandfather held me in his arms, himself the son of a man born into the bloody Bathurst frontier. From me to my grandfather to his father - that is how close it is.

We are often told to stop playing the victim. To toughen up. Well I am no victim. My father is no victim. His father a rat of Tobruk, a man who fought for a country that denied him his citizenship. A man who fought because he believed this country was better than that. A man who came home from war to fight for his people - don't anyone dare stand in front of me and call him a victim.

When this country has called us to step up, so many of us have stepped up, and we still do, but Australia can still lay us low.

There is a need for policy there are important arguments and great debates to be had in the halls of our parliaments. There are those who favour a rights based solution those of my people who strive for sovereignty and treaty. There are those who see the answer in mutual responsibility.

To me a synthesis of the two is surely preferable. Children need protecting, we need to graduate kids from our schools we need viable, strong communities tapping into the entrepreneurialism that has always been there. We have seen what governments and laws can do how they can take our children tell us where we can live or who we can marry we live with the failure of policy ... we need less government in our lives not more.

There is no one size fits all just as there is no one Indigenous people and no one Indigenous language - there will be ideas and solutions that come from the ground up and we need to listen.

But here's what unites us - all the first people's of Australia. Our shared journey started with those first footprints on our soil, our culture and our history has shaped us and we share the common wound. I see it wherever I go in Australia, when my eyes lock with another indigenous brother or sister and we recognise ourselves in each other.

Balladhu Wiradjuri Gibir - I am a Wiradjuri man.

When my great grandfather spoke in his tongue to his grandson my father he was arrested.

But my father never forgot his language. Years ago this sawmiller took it upon himself with the help of a linguist named John Rutter - to revive our language, he began to teach it throughout Wiradjuri country. He taught in schools and halls and jails in paddocks and on river banks. Together he and John wrote the first Wiradjuri dictionary.

Two years ago I stood with this man - my father - as he received a doctorate from Charles Sturt University for teaching a language this country had once tried to silence. He has been awarded an Order of Australia medal ... that's how far we have come. That's what we can be.

In my language my fathers language.

Man dang guwu.

Thank you.

Stan Grant is NITV's Managing Editor and presenter of news and current affairs show The Point, screening Monday -Thursday from February 29 at 9pm. He has also recently published 'Talking to My Country'.

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