Magazine article New Internationalist

I Was Born White: Mark Minchinton Makes a Personal, and National, Journey to a Suppressed Indigenous Past

Magazine article New Internationalist

I Was Born White: Mark Minchinton Makes a Personal, and National, Journey to a Suppressed Indigenous Past

Article excerpt

Beginning

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This journey begins with my awakening to my indigenous identity. This awakening has taken more than 40 years.

The awakening is performed. I walk from Busselton - where my grandmother was known as black - to Kellerberrin - where my grandmother was known as white. I carry a pack with food, clothes and shelter. I also carry a digital camera, a handheld computer, a Global Positioning System (GPS) and a mobile phone. A modern nomad.

Twice a day I stop, take a GPS reading and five photographs and write about what I hear, touch, see, smell, taste, find, feel, think or imagine at the place I have stopped. Each day, I choose two of these photographs and send them with a text to a website.

Some history

I was born white-skinned in Victoria, in an Australia that still had a White Australia policy. My great-grandfather, a Wardandi man(1), was born at Cattle Chosen - the estate of Alfred Bussell - around 1868. He married a white woman in 1891 - not unheard of, but unusual. His last child, my grandmother, was born at Busselton in 1901. Subsequently, she moved to Wyalkatchem where she gave birth to my mother in 1927. My grandmother then moved to Kellerberrin where - living in hardship - she raised my mother and her other eight children virtually on her own.

Somewhere between Busselton and Kellerberrin, or perhaps before then, my grandmother 'lost', disavowed, or 'forgot' her Wardandi identity. Perhaps her father and mother had already done it for her, I don't know. In any case, by the time she got to Kellerberrin my grandmother certainly no longer identified as Aboriginal. In light of the 1905 Aborigines Act - which allowed cruel interventions into indigenous people's lives, including taking children away from families - the reasons she did that are obvious. Many people did the same. I don't know whether she told her husband, or what she told her children. Most of them are dead, and those alive, including my mother, are unwilling or unable to talk.

Before she left Busselton and met my grandfather, my grandmother either had a relationship with, or was raped by, another man. As a result, she had her first daughter, my aunt, in Perth in 1923. This daughter was raised by relatives outside my grandmother's home. Certainly, my mother didn't know that she had a half-sister, although she had met her and felt there was something 'strange' about her.

My grandmother's 'illegitimate' daughter is now dead. I spoke to her third husband last year. He knew that she had Aboriginal 'blood', and was proud of it. He described her as nervous, edgy, and particularly fearful of authority. She seemed ashamed - and told many different versions - of her childhood. He could have been describing my mother.

Furthermore

Uncovering these stories has taken me nearly 20 years. I wouldn't have been able to do it without contacting a helpful second cousin. Unlike my mother, my cousin's mother and family weren't ashamed of their indigenous antecedents. They spoke about their history and family. My mother spoke too, but never openly, about her Aboriginal background. She stressed how much better she and her brothers were at running, throwing stones, getting away with things than others; how smart they were, how tough, how they were always outwitting a hostile world. …

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