Privilege

It’s school holidays so I’ve spent a lot of time surfing and ‘helping’ to make a model of the international space station (more about that shortly).

And, as always, I engaged in my favourite pastime, cleaning. And while I was cleaning I had the radio on, and caught the end of ABC’s Radio National’s Music Show, featuring an interview with the Aboriginal rapper, Barkaa.

Stolen from The Guardian

I only heard bits of Barkaa’s piece, but mostly, she described rapping about her life, about the good stuff, and inevitably, the bad stuff too. Much of the bad stuff was the expected travails of a life navigating poverty and disruption, with some drug addiction and incarceration chucked in, and trying to forge a nice and happy life for her kids while also keeping in touch with her cultural background.

This was promptly followed by an hour long interview with Di Morrissey. I wasn’t familiar with Ms Morrissey, but she is some kind of television royalty apparently, and spent her life making commercials and later, prime time TV shows, and then writing a book. She sounded nice, and certainly had an interesting life, but it was very, very difficult to escape comparing the trajectories of both talented women.

Di Morrissey was born in 1945, into the shambling squattocracy of middle-upper class regional Australia. Her mother was pretty, ‘arty’ and moved to Palm beach with her husband, where Di had a comfortable childhood. She moved to LA with her mother, after her father died, for a period, and then back to Australia. She recounted feeling unfashionable amongst the Californian girls, who had prettier dresses and school bags.

At the end of her schooling, she said she would like to be a writer, and so a family friend suggested that she work as a journalist to ‘get some experience’, and ‘marched her in the door of ACL publishing’ in downtown Sydney, where she gaily recounted a few years producing copy for the Women’s Weekly, before traveling to London, marrying a nice chap, spending a couple of years working in TV in Hawaii waiting for her and her husband’s US citizenship to get approved before he started work as a diplomat. Much was made of her work in TV but also of her outfits and the fabulous parties with heads of state, and a ‘dippo’ life.

Her account of her life was colourful, interesting and gave an insight especially into feminism of the 70s and 80s – for instance, she left her husband to move back to Australia to ‘see if I could write a book’. I’m not sure whether her children came too, but much was made of the fact that she was moving for career, in an age when men routinely did so, with their ‘trailing wives’.

Every step of Ms Morrissey’s life was handed to her, doors opened, barriers removed, the world, quite literally, her exciting, beguiling oyster. I guess, in terms of age, Ms Morrissey would be Barkaa’s great grandmother.

I thought of Barkaa’s great grandmother, who was she? I would have loved to hear an interview with Barkaa about her mother, grandmother and great grandmother, where they came from, what their lives were like, but that’s not on the cards.

Barkaa is from Western NSW, from the Barkindji Nation, based around the Darling River basin. In the 1950s, many Aboriginal people in Western NSW were living on reserves or missions, or on stations (mostly oriented around training people for work, or work itself – sometimes paid, often not). Those who did not live on reserves or missions often lived in settlements on the edge of towns, in conditions in which you can imagine. It was apartheid. The colonial government (well, we still have a colonial government) controlled all aspects of people’s lives – where they could live, and in many cases, had legal guardianship of their children. It’s worth remembering that Aboriginal people gained franchise in 1962. This system of apartheid was still in full swing in when Ms Morrissey was flitting off to LA with her glamorous mother.

When Di Morrissey’s mother was moving into the arty, shabby gentility of Pittwater in the 1950s, her Aboriginal contemporaries, perhaps Barkaa’s great grandmother, would have been living a completely controlled life, proscribed by the government and administered by local police. Her children may have been removed, or may not have been, but she would have likely raised them in very difficult conditions. It’s not hyperbole to say that it’s likely Barkaa’s great grandmother would have been treated like stock, while Di Morrissey’s mother moved to a comfortable beachside home in Palm beach and later, to LA for a while. It’s really, really hard, when you live in Australia, to ignore the different lives that Aboriginal people have led, and marvel at how incredibly different they are. And yet many manage to do so fairly bloody well.

As just one example, when I googled Di Morrissey to see where she was born, (Wingham NSW) the wikipedia article told me about the town – it tells me this;

The first land grant in the area was made at The Bight to George Rowley in 1841. Wingham was chosen as a location for a government settlement because supply boats could not proceed any further up the Manning River and was also located on the road from Raymond Terrace to Port Macquarie. Named after Wingham in Kent, England, Wingham was proclaimed a village in 1844 but allotments were not made until 1854, the same year that Henry Flett laid out Taree as a private settlement. In the meantime, Tinonee had also been established as a government settlement and in 1866 had a population of 100, compared to 90 at Wingham and 150 at Taree.[2][3][4]

Wingham was proclaimed a municipality in 1889. By 1909, Wingham consisted of 285 houses and had a population of 900, but government services had been transferred to Taree, which had a population of 1300 in 269 houses. The municipalities were merged with each other and the Manning Valley Shire in 1981 to form the City of Greater Taree.[5]

So that’s nice. But, if you’ve been to Wingham you would know that it seems like a really fertile place, with excellent fresh and saltwater options, very good soil and a really benign climate. I would assume that it was home to a large Aboriginal population. I wanted to know what Aboriginal women of Di Morrissey’s mother’s vintage were up to, in Wingham, in 1945. Separately, I looked up the list of Aboriginal reserves, on wikipedia but not linked from the Wingham page. It told me there was an 80 acre reserve in the Parish of Killawara, County of Macquarie. That’s it.

I know this isn’t a shock to anyone, but I guess I’m just noting that the invisibility isn’t an accident.

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