The following reflection was written by Rev Dr Ian Robinson, the non-Indigenous co-chair of the Bringing Them Home Committee (WA) Inc.
‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ is one of my favourite stories. It stands tall, for sheer courage, among all the histories and braveries that are told and re-told by all Australians. Three stolen Aboriginal kids ‘follow the rabbit proof fence’ from the compound at Moore River to their home at Jigalong.
Wouldn’t it be good if there was a long fence that led us all home? Then we would know what to do. We would apply ourselves with courage and cunning to make the long journey to where the land sings our name. Many have made that journey and it is a wonderful thing to honour and celebrate. There is more to this, however.
For many others the fence that leads home is just not there. Removed as children, records distorted or inaccurate, alone in the world, who knows where they come from, who knows where their land? Where are the link-up services that can do the detective work and bring them home?
And if they do find their people, when they arrive, it isn’t always a big welcome. Someone they have never known. A new voice to be included. A fractured soul to be nurtured. At home too, they have had the hurts of the past twenty thirty fifty years.
For many others the fence runs all around and goes in entirely the wrong direction. The trans-generational effects of Stolen Generations trauma now places many angry souls into prison, there to be fenced in from the long journey, institutionalized some more, de-humanised, punished and punishing, hurt and hurting. Vicious circles like tractor wheels have run many people down, the wheels of rejection, illiteracy, rejection, addictions, violence, rejection, crime, imprisonment and so on. And they don’t know why it turns out like this. If only there was a balcony from which to get a perspective?
Just as immigrant peoples make secrets out of the history and say – they are better off in institutions – so too do the Indigenous peoples who have never known their history say – we are better off going away from here. ‘Away’ can mean an illusion of remote outstations where everything is all right, ‘away’ can mean succumbing to the prison system, ‘away’ can mean suicide. What we need is a home, an imperfect welcome home.
For many others the fence is actually a revolving door. Their own removal to an institution means a lack of family nurture, and then in turn a lack of parenting skill, and removal of their children…. Reliable relatives are found but routinely burn out on the workload of looking after too many grandies. With all their brilliant degrees, endless research, and piles of dust-gathering reports, the family welfare departments simply oil the door instead of working out how to keep support systems in place to make families strong. Bottle shops pick up the profits. Police are called to pick up the pieces. Revolving door and vicious circles turning, turning.
Home is a long journey and hard work. The journey Home is the gathering of as much identity as can be found, as much connection with community as we can muster, and setting out to care for the next generation. It takes a love of neighbour and love of one another as much as we love ourselves. That’s a love that needs ongoing renewal. That’s the love that will heal, as nothing much else does. Like water holes, we can find it along the way.
Who has the courage to make that journey? Who will stop being a victim and take their first steps? The time to decide is now. The risks of the journey are much less than the risks of staying where we are. Things must change. We must change what we have been doing.
Can we make it? Together, yes. We DO have enough love to hold each other long enough to make the journey far enough. Aboriginal people have been through huge trials and changes before. Who will decide not to pull out their white privilege whenever the going gets rough? Who will stop shaming and think twice and stand up in support of a generation or three?
Home is where a magnificent culture is recognized and restored. Australia is where all these cultures, ancient and modern, speak to each other and call out from each other both old and new things. Haven’t you heard – we are welcome to country!
Who will listen to a vibrant creative people, who know from of old how to care for the arid lands, who move to the rhythm of a zero footprint? Who belongs in the oldest living culture on the planet, and will allow this Spirit to resonate through them to others? Let all those who say ‘yes’ now mark this day as Home-coming day, and begin the long journey Home.