Hard Words. 

So here I sit, six months into my journey, and I’m not in my lounge room in Amata. I’m in the city. Tears cloud my vision as I type, and I long for the country I love so dearly. These are hard words to type. Words that fill me with shame, failure and a sense of running away with my tail between my legs; for you see, we’ve had to leave. It became apparent that despite having spent time in the APY as a kid, and having visited countless communities, that there are things that simmer beneath the surface of remote Aboriginal communities that cannot be seen by the untrained eye. Things that cannot be seen even by many of the Anangu. Things that cannot be seen until you work, live, send your children to school there. Things that are being kept deliberately quiet, to maintain the status quo and keep Anangu oppressed and marginalised. And those things made living in Amata unsafe for us, and more important for our children. 

So here I am. 

I’m wracking my brain to try and articulate how I feel. It’s so difficult to find the words. I feel empty. I feel like something that is so deeply enmeshed within my personhood has been ripped callously from my chest. And all that is left there is a hole, and an ache. An ache I carry with me every moment of every day. I long to feel the red earth beneath my feet. I pine for the velvet dusk and crisp mornings, with their pallettes so vivid and true. If I close my eyes long enough I can just remember how being on country made me feel like I could breathe again. And then I remember where I am and that ache in my chest, that feeling of not being able to take a full, deep breath returns. And I try so hard to be positive and think about the safety of my children. But it doesn’t negate the hurt I feel inside. A kind of brokenness that can’t be easily fixed. 

I want positive change for Anangu, and I’ll do my best to be that change down here. I want to challenge the thinking of White Australia and challenge the actions of the government to ensure that policy, process and accountability are part of what drives that change. But it won’t stop the ache. And it’s now, sitting here, not on country, with a sleeping baby in the crook of one arm, that I truly understand why it is that we cannot force the closure of remote communities. We cannot displace Aboriginal from their ancestral lands. If we do that, we remove their very personhood. Their identity. And that’s a wound that won’t easily heal. Oh sure, alcohol or other drugs will numb the pain for a couple of hours, but we all know how that story ends. Maybe counselling will help? I don’t honestly know. For now I’ll focus on what being on country for the last six months has given me. I’ve grown so much as an Aboriginal Woman. I found my Anangu family (or they found me!) and I learnt more than I could ever have possibly hoped to learn before embarking on this journey. I’ll keep writing, and I won’t stop advocating for Aboriginal Australia. I’ll remain the activist I am and when the time is right and it’s safe to do so I’ll explain in detail how and why we came to the decision to leave. Thank you for supporting my writing and my journey – know that my journey does not end here. 

Palya. 

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7 thoughts on “Hard Words. 

  1. You haven’t failed Liz. It’s the system that has. Focus on the positives and all you and your family have gained. Life is a journey of learning and sometimes that learning isn’t pretty or sanitized or manipulated by media for someone else’s agenda. It can be harsh or full of grief and unfairness. That kind learning opens our eyes and minds and souls and moves us forward. It is what you do with your new insights that matters, as that is what weaves together into our constantly evolving identity. Sometimes we have to work through pain to achieve miracles…like giving birth. Sometimes that birth is a newer version of yourself. Being able to let go of the pain takes time, and that time is different for everyone, as we all have a unique journey, so don’t let anyone rush your grieving. Your art is such a powerful way of renewing yourself. Paint your feelings even if you burn all your canvases after on a ritual bonfire. I have always found art to be healing, like meditation as I can lose myself in my painting while my subconscious keeps working at my problems. Keep on advocating for positive change. We need strong thinking women like you to do this. And I know you will be on country again when the time is right.

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  2. Liz,
    Thank you so very much for your deeply felt expression and articulation of your experiences.
    I have felt that what you have written is so powerful.
    It also gives the very clear impression that much has been left unsaid.
    I hope that you and your family have a support network that will be able to help you struggle through this experience.
    I believe that your search for meaning as part of Aboriginal heritage has been incredibly powerful and courageous.
    I believe you succeeded, because you have burst ‘burst bubbles’!
    I have the impression that you’re exhausted and deeply stressed.
    But you know what? That is a reality in the lives of truly good people.
    I suggest that right now focus number 1 is to do your best for the wellbeing of yourself and your immediate family.
    Only when that is assured should you look back at your experiences in Amata.

    I know you want to take steps to contribute to the wellbeing of that community, but it is bound to be very challenging and exhausting.
    Re-energise!
    I have no experience in these matters, but I believe that the Amata community can only ‘grow’ if it is given the opportunity to develop ‘empowerment’, so that local decision making becomes a reality and a responsibility.

    Palya!

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    • Ron! Thanks so much for your words. I have left many things unsaid and will absolutely centre, and try and think about the best way to go about forming those words. Which I’ll absolutely do, in good time. As you said, the time at present is about protecting my family and ensuring their well being. Palya!

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  3. Hi Liz, I have been following your blog, but not commenting. I have loved the colours and enthusiasm in your writing. I started teaching in Pt Augusta in 1978 and so many of the challenges talked about then are in your writing. The disconnect between young lives has continued, and the undercurrent of unrest is still disturbing. I also worked in the Wiltja program and at first wondered if moving girls from their communities (to get “an education”) was useful. But after talking to some parents who wanted different lives for their girls, I could see the edges of an enormous cauldron bubbling away. Finding a safe place is so important. To everyone, but especially for young people. And “the system” clearly does not support all people to breathe.

    In the 80s, we talked about how discrimination limits the possibilities for an individual, but that it also means that society as a whole could be missing out on the wonder that one individual might have achieved. A little bit selfish? Maybe. But when I saw young people constrained by the families surrounding them in violence and addiction, I wondered what some of those individuals might have achieved, given a more even playing field? Your voice is important. I am sending you (and your family) positive thoughts. And saying, “You are inspiring.”

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    • Thank you so much for your words. I too have had dealings with Wiltja and feel much the same way. Currently we’ve been moved back to Adelaide and my husband placed at Wiltja and he likens it to a prison – and said that it’s a most uninspiring workplace. I’m torn; on the one hand if you want to walk in both worlds then you need to actually walk in both worlds… It seems such a genuine shame that in essence – it seems to be the only place to be able to get “an education” with measurable outcomes.

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