Reconciling Black & White Australia

Eliza Jane (Rowen) Murray - (c) C.Crout-Habel

Eliza Jane (Rowen) Murray – (c) C.Crout-Habel

I well remember the sob in mum’s voice as she spoke about how her Grandmother was abused and often called a “filthy Irish bitch” as she walked through the streets of her country town on the way to do the washing for the local hotel… with a child in tow and one on her hip.

My Great Grandmother Eliza Jane was a first born Australian with an Irish mother who had immigrated, at the age of 18, to escape the aftermath of the “Irish Potato Famine” into which she’d been born and had managed to survive. The family story is that her parents were told, by their Landlord, that at least one of their children had to emigrate or they would be evicted and so my Susan Kelleher, and her sister Bridget, headed for South Australia under an “assisted passengers” scheme.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that the following may contain names, images or voices of the deceased.

Part of my Family History narrative is also about the problems my pioneering ancestors had with “the Blacks“. Stories of how, as Eliza Jane would sit on the verandah of their modest homestead, whilst her husband was working away, with a babe in arms to try and escape the cloying nightime heat  and being terrified by the eerie sounds of “the Blacks having a corroboree” in the nearby creek. Added to this was her fear, when she was home alone, and aboriginal women would come knocking on the door for “tea and baccy” whilst their men were standing further back with spears in their hands.

So many similar stories peppered my childhood. Added to this is that my very first personal experience was when I was about 10 years of age an Aboriginal family moved in nearby. It was not a positive one. However, what is also very clear in my memory is mum talking about the Aboriginal families, who shopped in the Port Adelaide branch of David Murrays where she worked, and how they were the best “payers” and the most honest of their shoppers.

Inspired to paint the Playground equipment in Aborignal colours. (c) C.A.Crout-Habel

Inspired to paint the Playground equipment in Aborignal colours. (c) C.A.Crout-Habel

Of course it’s not surprising, given my family background, that matters of Social Justice were always at the forefront of my professional life and so was delighted to join with others in agreeing to “pilot” the draft Aboriginal Education programme in our South Australian school. The “lightbulb moment” came unexpectedly and I burst forth with copious tears on the realisation that my GGGrandmother, who fled her home-land because colonisation had dispossesed her Ancestors of their land, then became an instrument for our Indigenous Australians to also have their land taken from them.

We were taught how our Aboriginal people passed on their Family History in dance (c) C.Crout-Habel

We were taught how our Aboriginal people passed on their Family History in dance (c) C.Crout-Habel

It’s such a joy to remember back to those years when we happily worked to educate the new generation about the culture, the spiritual “dreamtime” and customs of our “First Australians”. We read their “dreamtime” stories, sang songs, cooked their food, experimented with their art work

How wonderful it was to have teachers and students from the nearby “Kaurna” kindergarten come join us and teach some of their language. e.g. the well known “Heads, shoulders, knees and toes” ditty but sang in the language of the Kaurna people. What a privilege!

To read more about this programme please click HERE

There’s been a bit of “blah blah blah” circulating and some very blatant racist comments hitting the airwaves, and social media, recently as a result of Australia Day 2013 which is so expected it just about bores me “to smithereens”… but am delighted that the Reconciliation Australia Blog clearly  describes how there has been a huge change in attitude with younger Australians which gives such hope and points the way forward for the continuing healing of our peoples.

Music and song has always been a wonderful way of reaching through differences, making connections and healing pain so, in closing, must share one of my most favourite songs… “My Island Home”. This is the original version by the renowned, and celebrated, Warumpi Band.

Cheerio… Catherine.

Copyright © 2013. Catherine Ann Crout-Habel

12 thoughts on “Reconciling Black & White Australia

  1. Catherine. That is a very powerful post – I suppose I had never thought of Irish immigrants to Australia experiencing racism, and I certainly had not read it in ‘black and white’ before. I loved reading how the need to understand infiltrated your life – what a tribute to Susan and Eliza Jane that you went down the road of respect and integration. It is my earnest hope that my 2 tiny grandchildren who emigrated to Australia 2 years, and their Australian born sister, will grow to love and respect the wonderful culture of these ancient and unique people. Loved the Warumpi Band too!

    • Thankyou so much Angela… and how fortunate was I to be able to positively Influence not only my own children, on matters of Social Justice, but all the students I taught as well many more children and adults in my additional role of Social Justice Co-ordinator all those decades ago 🙂
      I have no doubt that your hopes for your Grandchildren will be fulfilled because your values and beliefs will filter down through your descendants… just as has happened with me.
      I actually started off writing a post entirely about the Warumpi Band but got sidetracked… so guess it’s time to get back to that. {chuckle}

      • What a great ‘place’ to be to be able to influence such big numbers. The Warumpi Band is great ! Lead singer has a great voice so I look forward to more on them!

  2. It’s all too easy to forget just how much the Irish, and Catholics, were disliked well into our own lifetimes let alone a century or more ago when they feared the loss of Protestantism.

    For many Australians, there’s little exposure to Indigenous Australians and much of what we see and hear is distorted in the media. When I first came to Darwin I felt flashes of deja vu from PNG when I saw so many dark faces after the whiteness of the capital cities in the east. It’s up to each and every one of us to reject racism and religious prejudice in all their forms whether against Aboriginal people or Muslims, to name just two contentious groups.

    • Indeed Pauleen! Here in South Australia the colonisers wanted “clean” Scottish girls for their domestic servants and were outraged at being sent “the Irish”… 😦
      You and I sure are on the same page re: rejecting discrimination of any sort and being willing to speak out loudly, and determinedly, whenever it raises its ugly head! Mum, whilst proud of me, always worried that my practice of speaking my mind would get me into trouble. Phewww!!! … she was SO right but it’s stamped right into my very DNA, so what can a girl do, eh? 😀 Thanks for your comment.

  3. This is a very thought-provoking post. Until I read it I had never thought about the ethnic issues in Australia. It makes me think about the similarities and differences between Native Americans in the US and the aboriginal population in Australia.

    • Yep… I’ve been thinking that it’s pretty much the same story when one country colonises another, but with some home-grown differences, Sheryl… e.g. England stole the land claiming that it was “terra nullius” i.e. didn’t belong to anyone. South Australia wasn’t colonised until 1836 and they did recognise the indigenous population and declared they should be given “equal rights” but the reality differed and their land was still stolen… thanks for your comment Sheryl.

  4. What an interesting post, Catherine. You’re doing a good job of educating your readers about Australia that we might not have thought about or been aware of. Your poor great-grandmother – and all the other Irish men and women who immigrated to Australia – to have been mistreated in such a way as she was. Thanks for sharing and thanks for introducing me to Warumpi Band. Love it!

    • Thanks Nancy… lovely to hear from you and so glad you found it interesting. I write for my descendants so they’ll know about the lives of their Ancestors and be proud of who they are. Of course they have the “Family Tree” but this puts the “meat on the bones”, so to speak. It’s an absolute surprise, and delight, that others enjoy the stories too.
      Glad you enjoy the Warumpi Band too. Guess I do need to get that original post written 🙂 Cheerio

  5. Interesting post. good music and interesting interview/discussion following your link. It did remind me of similar discussions about Native Americans and the celebration of Thanksgiving in the US. I was interested to see that the discussion took place in Alice because I recently read the book “A Town Like Alice.” I’m always interested in posts that discuss race and colonization and how the realities and perceptions change through the generations.

    • Absolutely Kristin… re: “how the realities and perceptions change through the generations.” I reckon it’s about education and the opening up of people’s minds but does take time, persistence and the willingess for individuals to stand up, speak out and accept the consequences.
      I applaud my mother for not just accepting the negative stories coming from her Grandmother & Mother but arriving at her own decisions and passing this open minded thinking onto her children. Some pick it up and some don’t.
      How wonderful that, with technology, we can open our minds further by sharing similar, yet different, experiences with those from other countries.
      “The Alice” is “just up the track” (so to speak) 🙂 from us here in South Australia.

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