Thursday, January 27, 2011


“Sorry is just a word. The white man might pretend that the wounds have healed because he said he was sorry but my people still suffer…”

In the streets of every big city in Australia, there lurk the shadow people. You don’t see them on the streets but every once in a while you find their tracks, on the billboards, in a name, in the souvenir stores, and every once in a while, playing a big game. These are the ghosts of the Aboriginese, the indigenous people of Australia who were once spread all over the great vastness of the island nation, but now only a relative handful remain, swept away under the fringes of a still predominantly white Australia. Symbols of their culture reverberate in the strains of the didgeridoo (the long hollow pipe that sounds like a musically inclined elephant in heat), in names of cities and streets (Yuendumu, Woolloomooloo), in the colours on a boomerang or on a wall in a gallery, and in the cheers at a footie game (inspired at least in part by the Aboriginal game of Mam Grook) and yet you can’t see them... the Aboriginese have vanished…

Then one day, near Darling Harbour, I see a green flag pinned to the seat of a bicycle. It said, in letters big and black – White Australia has a BLACK past. I wanted to know what it meant, and what it meant to have been a part of that past. As the flag fluttered up a hill and disappeared, I heard the sound of an elephant in heat. I chased the sound and found a man dancing by the harbour. His features were unmistakably Aboriginal. Behind him sat another man, younger and lighter skinned, his swollen cheeks blowing away for what they are worth, into what looked like the trunk of a small tree – the didgeridoo. They told me that a man called Russell Dawson could tell me what it meant, because that past was also his past.

Dawson is Aboriginese; his tribe – The Kamilaroi; and his bush name - Waaji Wallu Doungu Thanni Bunjalong Goomaroi. He is a big man with a big heart. When I called on him in Melbourne, he called me ‘brother’, and I believe he meant it. He thought I would understand his pain because I came from India – a country that had been a colony; a country that was righteous; a country that believed in peace. He greeted me with the words Shanti! Shanti! and I believed I would understand…

Dawson began his story. “You don’t see my people on the streets because there aren’t many who are still around. And that is because up until 1967, merely 40 years ago, we were treated like animals. We, the oldest civilisation on earth, one that goes back more than 40,000 years ago, were classified as fauna, as vermin, by the white administration. White hunters would go out with their guns and hunt our people down in cold blood…for sport. Hundreds of thousands of indigenous Australian men, women and children have been killed, and no one was punished. Weweren’t even worth a butcher’s goat. You ask me, so I’ll tell you but these are difficult stories to tell… they are not old enough yet, and they churn our hate… in many parts of Australia, white settlers would go in groups, round up a tribe, gather all the men and cut off their penises. Our fathers would scream and run and thrash about in pain, while the white man would laugh as he saw them bleed and die. The babies and the young children would be buried alive upto their necks in the earth and then the white man would come in his heavy boots and kick their little heads off . Then white man gets drunk on rum and drags out our mothers. They rape them till their lust is slaked. Then they’d take red hot iron bars and burn them into the women’s vaginas, and beat them to death…” I was quiet. “I know what you are thinking brother..” Dawson said. “You are from India, the land of social harmony, the land of non violence, the land of Gandhi, and you wonder if such barbarism is possible. But it happens. Remember the Nazi holocaust…” Dawson was wrong. I know such barbarism is possible. Because my land is not just the land of Gandhi, it is also the land where Priyanka Bhotmange’s 17-year -old body lay, on the infamous soil of Khairlanji, with ‘rods sticking out of her genitals. It is also the land where almost everyday a dalit woman is stripped naked, or a minor dalit girl-child is gang raped and murdered, and in almost every case, there are no witnesses, and no one is punished. And this story isn’t 40 years but four days old.

Dawson twisted the knife. “India is beautiful. Her people, wonderful. You know the red dot your women wear on the forehead. It is the red land of Australia. Like you, we believe in peace. We have never raped our land or our women. We live in peace with other tribes as equals. If you look at our people, you’ll see we are similar… beautiful and peaceful”, he said with a laugh and a pat.

I smiled and walked away with the realisation that it isn’t just Dawson’s hurt that needs understanding….

Tomorrow’s papers will insist that not much has changed in these three years, but someday it will…it has to. This Birnam Wood too would move one day. Until then, Happy Republic Day…


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