We were not here first

Journal: 012

Nifty Road Sept '13 (1)

We were not here first. It seems self-evident now and was in fact acknowledged by writers from Watkin Tench onwards. Unfortunately though, our behaviour and in particular our legal system, was based on the conflicting ideas that there was no one here in 1788; or that there was but their perceived failure to build houses, engage in intensive agriculture meant that their presence didn’t count; or that there wasn’t a war but they lost anyway and Australia was ours by right of conquest.

That was all swept away, theoretically at least, by a combination of the (Commonwealth) Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Mabo Case (1982-90) in which the High Court ruled (1) that states – in this case Queensland – could not pass laws which conflicted with the Racial Discrimination Act; and (2) that wherever the rules and customs of the indigenous inhabitants – in this case the Mer people of the Murray Islands in the Torres Strait north of Queensland – have continued without explicit extinguishment by state law, then the land remains theirs.

The Native Title Act of 1993 which was meant to give effect to the Mabo decision in fact interpreted it as narrowly as possible, in order of course to give the greatest possible advantage to grazing and mining interests, with near impossible definitions of continuing occupation for example, when so many indigenous people were forced onto reservations or had drifted in to provincial centres. My own opinion is that all crown land, including leasehold – which is to say, most of outback Australia – should be acknowledged as belonging to the original inhabitants and that we should only then negotiate a treaty for its ongoing use by all Australians. That is, that the Aboriginal Land Councils instead of being supplicants should be able to negotiate from a position of relative strength.

As part of my own, belated education about what it means to live in a shared country I have been increasingly careful to identify whose land it is that I am talking about/driving on in my reviews and journals. But in my last post ‘The Heaviest, Longest Run in the World‘, in concentrating on the driving experience (and the word count!) I said nothing about whose land it was and I want to rectify that here.

In general, because this is where I live, I am best informed about the indigenous nations of Western Australia – though I still have a long way to go! – but as I go on I will do my best to learn and write about everyone whose land I cross.

As I’ve written previously, Perth, the south-west and the wheatbelt (except around Geraldton) are Noongar country. Going north from Perth on the Great Northern Highway we cross the Moore River at New Norcia. The infamous Mogumber Moore River Settlement is just a few kilometres west. I have written about it a few times, in Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence of course, but also in relation to Kim Scott and Jack Davis. Molly, Daisy and Gracie, the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls headed north from Mogumber before striking east and would have crossed the Highway (if it existed back in 1931) a bit south of Wubin. You don’t see many Aboriginals in these little wheatbelt towns and I imagine they have mostly drifted in to Perth or to provincial centres like Northam and Moora.

Since reading Scott I have also become conscious of the different language groups within the Noongars. The AIATSIS map says the language spoken in the area up to Wubin is Balardung.

Separating Wubin and the Murchison goldfield towns of Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra is 300 km of scrub and desert. About 100 km up, the Irwin River rises near Mt Gibson and flows down to the coast at Dongara south of Geraldton. I wouldn’t be surprised if this marks the border between Noongar and Yamaji country. The various language groups within the Yamaji nation occupy the land from south of Geraldton to north of Carnarvon, on the coast, and inland to the headwaters of the Murchison and Gascoyne Rivers (as best as I can ascertain, which applies to everything I write here).

I wrote about the Yamaji for the first time in my review of Papertalk Green and Kinsella’s False Claims of Colonial Thieves. The Yamaji are bordered to the east by Western Desert people. Mt Magnet, Cue and Meekatharra aren’t big towns and they all have active gold mines, but they also have substantial Aboriginal populations, which are probably these days a mixture of Martu from the north, Yamaji, and Ngaatjatjarra from out towards the NT and SA border. There used to be reports of ‘trouble’ in the towns but I haven’t heard any in the last decade. Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis, a Ngaatjatjarra woman, writes of her family’s move, in the 1960s, in from Docker River on the NT border to Wiluna, east of Meekatharra, from where she was sent to school at the mission at Karalundi, on the highway 50 km north of Meeka.

The rest of the trip, except that we detour via Port Hedland (map) to avoid the atrocious Nullagine Road from Newman to Marble Bar, is Martu country. The Martu are the northernmost of the Western Desert peoples. Daisy Bates who owned a station near Jigalong, north of present day Newman (see Ventured North by Train and Truck) learned elements of the Martu language there and was surprised to find it useful when she later settled amongst the southernmost of the Western Desert peoples 3,000 km away at Ooldea in SA. Jigalong, one of the main camps for maintaining the rabbit-proof fence, became the centre of the Martu people and was of course the home which Molly, Daisy and Gracie were heading back to. The northernmost limits of Martu country include Nifty, my destination, as well as the Woodie Woodie and Telfer mines, in the Great Sandy Desert where I imagine the border with the Walmajarri (see Two Sisters) is fairly fluid.

There are two separate language groups on the coast north of Yamji country, one south of Port Hedland, probably once centred on the Fortescue and Ashburton Rivers but now at Roeburn, and another between Port Hedland and Broome. I can’t tell you anything about them so I’d better do some homework!

SONY DSC

Recent audiobooks

PD James (F, Eng), Shroud for a Nightingale (1971)
Hetty E Verolme (F, Aust), The Children’s House of Belsen (2000)
Masaji Ishikawa (M, Japan/Korea), A River in Darkness (2000) DNF
Michael Veitch (M, Vic/Aust), The Forgotten Islands (2011)
Carole Radziwill (F, USA), The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating (2013)
Julia London (F, Eng), The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount (2013)
Richard North Patterson (M, USA), Loss of Innocence (2013)
Michael Connolly (M, USA), Trunk Music (1997)
Tim Winton (M, WA/Aust), Eyrie (2013)
Stuart Woods (M, USA), Paris Match (2014)
Jay Stringer (M, Eng), Runaway Town (2013)
Gregory Randall (M, USA), Venice Black (2017)

Currently reading

Helen Garner, Honour & Other People’s Children


Housekeeping: I started using the Journal heading so that readers who were only interested in book reviews could see the journal emails and press delete. Don’t worry, you still can! But I’ve moved the journal designation down a notch so that while it is still clear in the email it is not so obtrusive.

The photos are mine, from the Nifty and Woodie Woodie roads in the Great Sandy Desert.

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False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Green & Kinsella

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John Kinsella is a notable West Australian writer and has been on my to-do list for some time, not that x-Mrs L was aware of this when she chose False Claims for me at our local indie book store, fortuitously across the road from our favourite pub. She also didn’t know or had forgotten that her brother had been briefly Kinsella’s teacher at Geraldton High when he was newly out of Teachers’ College. I would visit him when I was in town, in his share house of young teachers barely out of school themselves, strangers in a country town, clustered for warmth and protection, a scene multiply familiar to me after years of following my itinerant school teacher father around country Victoria. BiL doesn’t claim to have had any influence on Kinsella, though he is given credit by a later student, Kim Scott – a dedicatee in this book – for his taking up writing , for which we are all grateful.

About Charmaine Papertalk Green I know little, well nothing, but gleaned the following. She is a poet and artist born in 1962 at Eradu railway siding on the Greenough River between Mullewa and Geraldton on Amangu country and is a member of the Wajarri and Badimaya cultural groups from the Yamaji Nation of Western Australia. “Her books include Just Like That (Fremantle Arts Centre Press) and Tiptoeing Tracker Tod (Oxford University Press). Charmaine lives in Geraldton, rural Western Australia.” (ABR)

John Kinsella, born in 1963 in Perth, has achieved wider fame as a poet and writer generally and even a (short) wikipedia entry. Elements of his biography come up in this collection of poems, which are a reflection by the two poets on their experiences living in and around Mullewa, Geraldton, Western Australia. Kinsella’s father appears to have been a workshop supervisor on mines throughout WA before coming to “a millionaire’s farm” outside Mullewa as manager.

I know Mullewa well enough both from passing through on my way from Geraldton to the eastern goldfields and from visits as a tourist. It is a small town once an important railway junction and centre for farming, notable for its stone buildings and particularly its Catholic church, Our Lady of Mt Carmel.

Catholic church Mullewa
Our Lady of Mt Carmel, Mullewa

The church and its architect/builder Monsignor John Hawes (1876-1956) come up surprisingly frequently in the poems.

Hawes – God’s intruder:

Galloping in, bible and cross in hand/Hawes, God’s intruder/Altar stone of the earth/ Intruding on our barna/In the name of Catholicism/Bow your head and conform/For this is now the whiteworld. (CPG)

That priest, England in his veins,/converted the midwest diocesan vision/of souls gathered under one-roofs./A Spanish breeze drawn/under the arches. Mt Carmel. (JK)

It also helps in understanding the poems to know – from the Our Lady of Mt Carmel website above – that the Yamaji people didn’t attend the church but instead had services at a site outside town

Mass Rock is the intruder in our space
Mass Rock is not my significant site
My people’s campsite not Hawes’ space (CPG)

And it seems Papertalk Green shares my bemusement with the Catholic practice of praying to stone gods: A space for those to pray their sins away/Under the watchful eyes of icons and statues/Like civilised colonial pagans with gargoyle guards.

The back cover blurb describes the poems, which alternate irregularly between the two poets, as “call and response” but that is not completely accurate as they are more “variations on a theme”. Their main shared concern is the impact of mining on country

Grandmothers:

My grandmother was a mining town child -/Kookynie where her father was foreman/of the South Champion Mine. My father/worked for decades in Karratha and Kal -/so it’s not as if I come to the mines/without foreknowledge. But I can only/see them as the harrowing of Hell,/the opening of the land to release/what shouldn’t be released,/a desecration of spirit and place. (JK)

I am glad the only mining/She would have known was/From the rich ochre on her/Body and in her hair during/Ceremony time out on country. (CPG)

Papertalk Green writes also of things that are specific to her – the claims of pale skinned Indigenous people not being taken seriously: His skin is fair – no argument there/Lived as a Yamaji all his life/As a strong Wajarri man (CPG, writing about her father, I think), and words of warning to the Identity Police; drugs in her community, dealers, ‘needle teachers’. While Kinsella writes more generally about Western Australia – Mrs Dance cutting down the first tree; travelling with his parents; the Great Western Woodlands (the world’s largest remaining temperate forest); the tragedy of cutting down salmon gums which may predate white settlement.

Papertalk Green writes a jokey little piece about ‘yarning’ (telling stories) and Kinsella tops it, talking over her: How can I but take up the call,/Charmaine, and yarn right back at you -. Papertalk Green offers a space for reconciliation

Come on I dare you
Grab my hand
We can discard our
Protective robes of
Biases, superiority, stereotypes
Oh yes don’t look surprised
We both own those robes
You wear yours when you
Call me a black multhu, a gin, a black bastard
I wear mine when I call you a
White invading convict land grabbing multhu
Oh yeah we both got those robes
But that space over there
Will allow us to take off the robes
And stitch a new robe
To wear and heal together
On this land we both call home

There’s lots more. This is a lovely book, not just a new look at WA’s midwest, but a new attempt to define what it is to be Australian. I know I say I don’t like poetry but the truth is I mostly can’t be bothered concentrating long enough to read it, and this time I’m glad I did.

 

Charmaine Papertalk Green & John Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018. Cover image: We Remember – Our Barna! by Charmaine Papertalk Green and Mark Smith. “This print tells the story of Geraldton’s foundation around colonialsim and its impact on the First Peoples – the Wilunyu of the Yamaji Nation.” 2016

Journal: 004, Up the Coast

Kalbarri NatPk Murchison Gorge2
Kalbarri Gorge, Murchison R.

My second trip, earlier this week, was to Karratha again, but with two trailers rather than three I was able to run up the coast road – so called though it’s sometimes 100 km inland – returning via the inland road, the Great Northern Highway, with old conveyor belts from the BHP iron ore mine Area C (I think they ran out of names) back to Perth (map).

On the coast road it’s desert or near desert country almost right from Perth with farmland shading quickly to hilly coastal heath, which will be alive with flowers in three or four months, to Geraldton (430 km), more hills through Northampton to the Kalbarri turnoff (100 km), 200 km of mallee scrub to Overlander Roadhouse and the turnoff to Shark Bay, then flat, open red dirt, anthills and straggly acacia scrub for the remaining 800 km, broken only by a few km of irrigated mango plantations around Carnarvon on the Gascoyne River, and gums in the river beds as we cross the mostly dry Minilya, Yannarrie, Ashburton and Fortescue Rivers.

Coming home inland is much the same, though with more trees, white trunked eucalypts as we cross the Fortescue flood plain to Munjina and then up over the hills at the edge of Karajini to Newman.

I’m just starting to learn the names of the peoples whose country this all is. The wheatbelt, which stretches up to and narrowly past Geraldton is mostly Noongar country, and the inland, centred on Jigalong near Newman, belongs to the Martu, a Western Desert people. But if you click on ‘Aboriginal Australia’ above, you will see that there are at least another two major groups on the coast between Geraldton and Port Hedland.

I get a clue from False Claims of Colonial Thieves by Charmaine Papertalk Green and John Kinsella who both grew up in Geraldton and its hinterland. Green’s home town was Mullewa, 100 km inland of Geraldton, a rail junction on the now disused Northern Line to the gold mining towns of Mt Magnet, Meekatharra and Wiluna, with lines south into the wheatbelt, to Toodyay and Northam and thence to Perth, and a branch line for the Mid-West iron ore mines –

I saw the rail wagons as a kid/Rolling on by Maley Street/Carrying Koolanooka iron ore (CPG)

And we as kids, outsiders,/jumping from one side of the tracks/to the other. The Mullewa,/train to Perth, discontinued/a few years earlier (JK)

I got distracted by ‘trains’. I meant to say Charmaine Papertalk Green is a Yamaji woman, as I guess were the (fictitious) Comeaways in The Fringe Dwellers (review). “Yamaji Country is in the Mid West region of Western Australia and stretches from Carnarvon in the north to Meekatharra in the east, to Jurien” south of Geraldton (Yamaji website).

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As I drove I listened to two remarkably similar books, Philippa Gregory’s The King’s Curse, about Henry VIII, and Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord, about (the Old Testament) King David, inadequately separated by four hours of Raymond Chandler. Both kings are athletic womanisers who come to the throne as young men and become increasingly murderous as they age, but the most striking of their similarities is that they both  have fair, reddish hair! Brooks is a middle of the road American story teller with a better reputation in Australia, where she was born, than she deserves, but what is she suggesting here? That God’s favourite people couldn’t possibly be brown skinned north Africans? Hard to avoid the R word.

On the other hand I am increasingly impressed by Gregory. Although I originally came to her expecting light romance in an historical setting, she’s in fact an academic historian with an impressive grasp of the Tudor period, and as I said in my review of The Taming of the Queen, is clearly bent on highlighting women acting with independence and initiative. The King’s Curse is an account of Katherine of Aragon’s marriages to Henry VII’s sons Arthur and Henry as seen through the eyes of Margaret Pole, the last of the Plantagenets. I recommend it – a fascinating account of Catholic opposition to the Reformation in England.

Recent audiobooks

Phillipa Gregory (F, Eng), The King’s Curse (2014)
Raymond Chandler (M, USA), Playback (1958)
Geraldine Brooks (F, USA), The Secret Chord (2015)

Currently reading

Green & Kinsella, False Claims of Colonial Thieves, Magabala, Broome, 2018
Cixin Liu, The Dark Forest, 2008 (translated Joel Martinsen, 2015) – I wish I’d finished it while I was on holidays, it’s taking forever now and I’m starting to lose track.

Volvo, second load Yandi (Rio) (3)
Heading home (first trip) with used conveyor belt