Academic journal article Hecate

"Firing on in the Mind": Aboriginal Women Domestic Servants in the Inter-War Years

Academic journal article Hecate

"Firing on in the Mind": Aboriginal Women Domestic Servants in the Inter-War Years

Article excerpt

In attempting to present evidence of our true situation we are furiously attacked by white Australians...going back 200 years..the past is finished!...Yet kill [our] mother, rape [our] land, psychologically attack and keep [us] in a powerless position each day -- does it not fire on in the mind of the victim? Does it not continue to scar and affect the thinking? Deny it, but still it exists.(1)

Is it possible for white Australians to write "Aboriginal" history? Aboriginal history differs from white history in its concerns and perspectives and probably its methods. However whites, too, are crucially a part of the process. Whites are exercising power and making decisions which affect Aboriginal lives. White norms and values are enshrined in our institutions and white knowledge and ways of valuing are taught and recorded in our schools. We are all products of history and, as a consequence, occupy particular positions of privilege or disadvantage.

Aboriginal people have been excluded from the pages of white history, and denied access to the records of their own people. There do exist, in those historical accounts of what occurred throughout Australian history, many examples of Aboriginal involvement in the blazing of trails, in the establishment of settlements, and in every area of Australian `advancement'. However, they are hidden within the historical accounts that exist. They remain nameless men and women.

Aboriginal writing is concerned with history, with precise knowledge of the history of Aboriginal existence, gleaned if necessary from white records, and prised out of white archives. Aboriginal people did not write down their knowledge, thoughts and experiences. These were passed on, in the normal course of social life, by word of mouth, supplemented by graphic representations with regionally and socially coded and variable meanings. Circumstances changed radically as European settlement and influence spread to the farthest corners of the continent. A great deal of oral traditional material has been rescued and recorded. In a growing number of Aboriginal communities the people themselves are setting up their own literature centres where they are tape recording, transcribing and translating their stories. These centres have ensured the emergence of a written Aboriginal literature. Recently, Aboriginal people have begun to be heard by others, as they name their own world and relate their own experiences.

The difference, the advantage for Aboriginal writers, in spite of so many external difficulties, comes from the different relationships that exist between Aboriginal people and their communities, and the different role and functions of writers in relation to those communities. Aboriginal writers have a sense of purpose, an urgent task on behalf of their community.

This article examines the life experience of Aboriginal women domestics during the inter-war years of the 1920s and 1930s.

Although all of the six women interviewed worked mainly in the inter-war years, it was quite a difficult task to locate the topic of their "total life experience", so blurred into the general as the commonplace tends to be. However linking up routines with the time of certain bosses, locations and their respective duties did not seem to present a problem. Having the advantage of being Black and female, I am grateful that these women confided many intimately personal things, and the narratives show that the quality and the significance of their experiences are not necessarily correlated with the recorder's educational credentials but, rather, with the rapport established between recorder and narrator and with the advanced age of the informants. However, I could not dismiss the idea that whilst some startling information was revealed, endless tales could be forthcoming from each of these women to write a biography. Interviews were conducted in Brisbane in June and July 1987 with six Aboriginal women who were employed as domestics during this period. …

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