The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

Disclaimer: I am not Aboriginal, I cannot pretend to be.

Almost super-human. A powerful, shackle breaking story of coming alive.
Almost super-human. A powerful, shackle breaking story of coming alive.

Originally Published 8 April 2014:

The motivation for my writing came from a late realisation I had spent time with an Aboriginal friend when I was a kid but that all along I never knew anything about him. Many years after that friendship fell away, the realisation prompted me in a quite sudden and wrenching fashion to want to find out. So I began searching for Noongar literature, anything I could find that would help me to understand the story behind Aboriginal identity in the South West of Western Australia.

This introduced me to the writing of Kim Scott.  Upon recommendation I bought ‘Kyang and Me’ an exploration  in conjunction with his aunt, Hazel Brown, of his wider family history;  and then ‘Benang; From The Heart’, his Miles Franklin Award winning exploration of what I concluded to be the anger of being forced to feel incomplete.

Every West Australian should read this book. A humbling read to my mind. Dignified, sincere and moving it represents a true and profound history of what I'm calling the Transition Era.
Every West Australian should read this book. Dignified, sincere and moving it represents a true and profound history of what I’m calling the Transition Era.

Being Forced to feel incomplete.” Putting that in writing makes me shudder. I ask myself what right have I got to take on this subject? It makes me nervous.  Among others I read Eric Hedley Hayward’s book, ‘No Free Kicks’, and ‘Under The Skin’ by Kathy Gresty and Wendy Watt. I read Peter Gifford’s, ‘Black and White and In Between’ and Kim Scott’s second Miles Franklin winner, ‘That Deadman Dance’, building an historical perspective and beginning to understand the process  Aboriginal families had been put through by the time I came to see them around me at Albany and during my time in Perth.

Already, the words ‘them’ and ‘us’ appear. Already, I’ve had to use the term ‘the other’ to describe something I am not. I am not Aboriginal, I cannot pretend to be. I think that is what challenges me the most, facing down the ease with which I could have passed on this.  I have the luxury of exile too, I’m a long way from daily contact; from face to face questioning and criticism.

Goes to the core of today’s social complexity, representing many modern Noongar family situations. Courageous, honest and absolutely necessary.
Goes to the core of today’s social complexity, representing many modern Noongar family situations. Courageous, honest and absolutely necessary.

Still, when examining my position here I can’t relax, I know it’s tenuous, so I fall back to my default position, the one I reasoned out over a long period a couple of years ago when I decided to embark upon all this in the first place. That default stance is a bit like an old White Ant-resistant jam tree fence-post stuck out on some abandoned sheep run somewhere along the coast. It isn’t pretty and it isn’t much, but it does appear to be resistant to rot.

If someone of non-indigenous descent who holds an attachment to the place we are talking about does not attempt to make an inclusive enquiry of the past then there will never be a properly cleared avenue toward true reconciliation. It’s about looking back and really facing up to what actually happened. It’s about writing about that now, more than a hundred years after Daisy Bates’s trawl through the remnants of the Traditional Indigenous population. In all, a grand and lofty place from which to commence but at least it has virtue. I’ll do my best to do my best.

2 responses to “Disclaimer: I am not Aboriginal, I cannot pretend to be.”

  1. Merilyn Stewart Avatar
    Merilyn Stewart

    Hi I have a Facebook group ‘Gnowangerup’ which includes quite a few First Australians, Noongars from the Gnowangerup District.
    Names are Penny, Williams, Knapp, Farmer, Pickett and more.
    I’m just hoping you may have some writings specifically about the Gnowangerup, Ongerup, Borden, Lake Toolbrunup, Broomehill areas.

    Your writing is professional and easy to read.
    I have only found it this morning!

    1. ciaran@theviewfrommountclarence.com Avatar

      Hi Merilyn, thanks for your message. I was asked to join the Gnowangerup fb page and am enjoying the content you are posting. I’m very interested in Gnowangerup from an historical perspective, especially the early settlement period and merging of the Indigenous and settler groups. I’m very happy to respond and to offer relevant material wherever I can. Best wishes and good on you,
      Ciaran

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