When I was 20, I moved from Western Sydney to the city suburb of Balmain. I hadn’t seen any place like it. Born and raised on Dharug country, home of my ancestors, I took in the narrow streets and tiny houses stacked like matchboxes. A bittersweet quaintness, contrasted with primary palettes and a history that told a different story.
At times I’d walk slowly, looking into any one of the tiny houses. A mother tinkering, a father pottering, a daughter tapping softly away at the piano. Another daughter returning home with flushed cheeks and grubby shin pads; braces to straighten those teeth and a mild acne that years of middle class nourishment and a good GP will sort out.
I imagined soft beds, Chicken Tonight casseroles, and balmy nights of friends that came and went. I’d steal a glimpse of the dining room; dried lavender in a vase, old books stacked neatly at the table’s head; a plump and solemn canine peering through the screen door pleadingly.
I would hear soft intermittent voices with an ease between them, a contract of safety and togetherness. I took in the foreign scene with suspicion. I had long learnt to fight for and negotiate a version of a love – anything different felt unsafe.
Through years of violent eruptions from the men in my mother’s life, I sought refuge at another Blak woman’s house. A single parent living in housing commission, her daughter and I were inseparable as teenagers, bound by a mutual turbulence.
I would take flight and show up at their house bruised and muddled, while my friend’s mother slow-cooked broth, smoked cigarettes, and assured me this too shall pass. My mother grew wary and frustrated at my preference to be with them and I returned home less and less.
How could I tell her that another girl’s mother had saved me? How could I reach her when she was drowning herself?
Mum didn’t spare my brothers and I from over a decade of violence; a violence she repeatedly invited into our home. At times, she demanded he keep his “hands off” her kids. By morning, he would have moved back into the bedroom.
I didn’t tell her of the lonely gaze and lingering hands of male relatives.
Mum and I had a strained relationship. She was a friend to her sons, while triggered by the presence of a daughter. I was 17 when a brain aneurysm robbed her of her mobility and quality of life. Four-and-a-half years later, at 44-years-old, mum’s heart gave in and she died.
My mother’s mother, Nanna Margaret, a Darug woman now in her early 80s with advanced dementia, offered moments of solace. She hugged us, and the hugs smelled like fabric softener. She took me to buy my first sports bra. When I got my period, she treated me to a new CD. I took these outings as a sign she was proud of me. No longer a compound of mere limbs and blooming awkwardness, I had transformed into womanhood and she made sure it was acknowledged.
I once watched a documentary on dingoes. The film crew flew above a running dingo, gliding through the desert with glittering opulence - her beauty depicted in slow motion. She was clocking 60km per hour.
The filmmaker reasoned the use of dingo bait as a viable governance where necessary; he had to witness what the local farmers have to contend with. It’s the only way, he supposed.
Like the dingo, Blak women continue to be stripped of incarnation, of innate artistry; the basic right to exist and run free. We are too wild, too alluring - our agency confounded by the white colonist whose desires are at stake.
Three of Nan’s daughters died before their time, one of them at birth. For decades, Nan swore she heard Aunty Robyn’s cries after she emerged from her body. The doctors insisted it was a stillbirth.
I reflect on Nan’s life and the way Blak women are repeatedly told, through colonial encoding, dispossession and violence, that their bodies are not their own. It’s a narrative I inherited through decades of colonisation and abuse - a narrative I have fought relentlessly to change.
It is Blak women that continue to show up where Mum could not. It was local Aboriginal women who rallied around Mum when she got sick. And it was local Aboriginal women who helped pick up the pieces when Nan and Pop’s marriage ended six months after Mum had died.
A vision of the lives Mum and Nan might have carved out in the absence of intergenerational turmoil is what propels me to push forward. If not for myself, for future generations of Blak women. My own resilience was constructed through witnessing the subjugation that framed my predecessor’s lives.
It’s an endurance I bore witness to when laying out the stories of fiercely strong Blak matriarchs in last year’s edition of Blak Brow; these women taught me about humility and patience and what it means to tell your story, in your time, on your terms.
It’s the strength I see in my cousins, and sister-cousins on my mother’s side. Once estranged through family fragmentation, we reconnected later in life, through tears. We have bonded over a shared staunchness and parallel tales of self-mothering and survival.
I often think of her, the running dingo. Cheekbones as deep and vast as the dusty crimson land she embodies. Her mouth wide as she gallops to a rhythm, a dance of resilience. Her tongue free to flap about and cut through the wind’s friction at all costs. She’s beautiful, she’s powerful, she’s unwavering.
Laura La Rosa is a proud Darug woman now living on Wurundjeri land. She is the founder of creative collective, Woolf Communications, a writer, producer, and graphic designer.