2 July 2020

Photo Black Lives Matter Rally Melbourne. Matt Hrkac 2020. Flickr cc.

When I heard the news of the George Floyd’s killing, I was really sad, but not the least surprised. Now, I am actually hopeful that something will be done to stop the ingrained racism in this country. Most Australians are still blind to it.

I see Aboriginal deaths reported often in the Koorie Mail and the National Indigenous Times, as well as in Facebook news. As a community, we share information in the hope that the wide community will see what we see, and demand change.

The racism in this country is a disgrace, and unless you’ve experienced it, then you just don’t understand what it is like to be Aboriginal. I remember that, when I went to Aotearoa New Zealand, I was shocked at how respected and acknowledged were the Maori people. Truly shocked and ashamed that my people are treated so badly here.

My people have been fighting oppression for far too long. If you are angry about the treatment of Black people in the USA, then you should be angry – very angry – about the treatment of Aboriginal people in your own country.

In the 1950s, my father Valentine Moloney was a guest in Communist countries. He promoted Aboriginal human rights. His comments on returning were “I am no longer an Aborigine. I am now a Communist.  It is the first time in my life (early 30s) that I have been treated with dignity, and all my fellow Aboriginal brothers and sisters deserve the same”.

Are we treated with dignity? Are we treated with respect?

We have to be tougher, more vigilant, second-guessing about everything, always on time, or else we are judged. This is a fact. I have faced racism throughout my life from early primary school. All my children have faced racism head on in schools and workplaces, just because they identify as Aboriginal and are proud to do so.  They have called out racism as I have done. I am proud that they have.

For me, the judging is not for being black, but for not being black enough! I am constantly questioned on the percentage of Aboriginal I have. I can be judged as being not ‘really Aboriginal’! We as Aborigines must be more diligent, more punctual, more professional than others, because we are not judged in the same way as everyone else. There is a double standard in this country.

Marching for Black rights

There was a push from media and government for the protest march to stop. The media used scare tactics, warnings that it was going to be violent. It even seemed they were trying to incite violence.

When is a good time to march? In three months? In two years, when this is all over? When everyone has forgotten about George Floyd, and gone back to their ‘normal lives’?

We have waited so long for justice, and now is the time to stand up with our brothers and sisters in Australia and from around the world and say racism is not acceptable, racism is ugly, every person should be treated with dignity and respect irrespective of their skin colour. 

There have been 432 Aboriginal deaths in custody since 1991. There have been no convictions. That does not count all the others who suffered mistreatment in jail but did not die! There was an inquiry into Aboriginal deaths in custody 30 years ago. We wait for the recommendations to be implemented. We are the most incarcerated race of people on this planet.  

The voices of those who are mistreated in the criminal system are rarely heard. The voiceless are too scared to complain against the police, or too powerless to fight back.

These are my thoughts and reflections.

Working to fulfil a dream

Black Live Matter Rally. Mat Hrkac 2020. Flickr cc.

I long to see a new Australia which prides itself on the treatment of First Nations Peoples and reveres the cultural heritage of this land, where every child who  goes to school learns about the First Nations people as the guardians and protectors of Mother Earth.

I am longing for our next generations to learn how we lived off the land and respected and cared for it like our Mother, how we had over 500 Aboriginal Nations in every inch of this Great South Land, and how we survived two ice ages and the mega fauna to be the longest continuous race on the face of this planet earth.

When this happens, we will have the world God really wants.

I watched in shock and disbelief as Americans rioted across their country. Such was their horror that they drew a line in the sand and said, ‘no more!’.

We know what it is like to face racism every day, to fear for our children just because of the colour of our skin. We First Nations Peoples were groaning and people’s hearts were hurting, because we know how black people feel. There are many, many examples of the suffering caused by racism. I need look no further than in my immediate family. Here in Australia the murmuring about Black Lives was becoming louder, there was starting  to be a rumble, about #Black Deaths In Custody.

We protest here in Australia, we march here in Australia, but no one hears us. Our message is always ignored or brushed under the carpet. Now we fear people will say, “Yes it’s sad, but what can we do? It’s in America; it’s not here”.

Guess what? It is here. It has always been here. And it is not going anywhere. Not unless we stand up to it.

Now is the time

I had no intention of going to the protest march. We have been isolating since February, and I am scared of the coronavirus, but my children insisted. They made posters and they showed their passion. How could I not go? How could I not stand up for my family, for my grandchildren, and denounce the blatant racism in this country? It is now or never!

We wore gloves, we had face masks. What will be will be. This is about solidarity. This is about dignity. This is about being human, and being hurt by bigotry and racism.

We were told that we have failed to respect Australia by doing this. But what about us?

When is a good time? When will it be OK? In two months, or two years?

So, as we drove up Victoria Parade towards the Exhibition Gardens, I was overcome with emotion, and I cried.

Do you know how many times I have joined the NAIDOCC march and been heckled from the footpaths, how many times we have marched for our rights and been ignored? Hundreds.

And now the streets were packed; there were thousands of people marching in solidarity with us. It was so incredibly heartening. Australia is growing.

The only time I have felt this atmosphere was in Sydney in the 1988 march on Australia Day. But this time was different from that, very different. It was predominately young people under 30. They get it. They do see it.

I have much hope for the future, but not for my generation. It is too late for us. But the next generation will hopefully stamp out this systemic racism, so much part of Australia’s fabric. They will change things for the better.

It will be a better place for my grandchildren. They will not be judged by their skin colour. They will be a gift to their country. They will walk in two worlds, and will share their culture with the world. They will do it with dignity. That is what this is about – having dignity, being proud of your race, not being discriminated against because you are Aboriginal.

As Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream”. Will you join me on this journey? Will you teach your children about the oldest, longest continuous culture on this planet? Will you teach them that we must take responsibility for this land as the Creator God intended?

Will you teach them that our culture is so rich that it has endured incredible obstacles – genocide, stolen generations, black deaths in custody, and more?

Will you help to make the dream a reality? Educate yourself. Knowledge is power.  Join us on the journey of truth-telling about this country Australia.

Sherry Balcombe is the Coordinator of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria. She is an Olkola/Djabaguy woman from far North Queensland, born in Melbourne. She worked at the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency in Foster Care and family group homes for six years. She has been employed at the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry since 2003, as Coordinator since 2015. She was born on Wurundjeri land, and grew up on Bunurong Land, where she still resides. She is mother to four and grandmother to three boys.
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