"Regardless of the negative experiences due to my identity, I believe much of my success is due to knowing my identity, which has further enhanced my ability to relate to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people."
My identity is something that I have always had or known. Having such a strong identity, I believe, has helped shape me into the person I am today. However, for most of my life I took it for granted. It was not until I was an adult and had started to mix with Aboriginal people other than my family that I realised what I had.
I was amazed at the stories people had. How some were so easily removed from their parents. Others, not removed, described their childhood as being terrible, with perhaps some love and affection but certainly not the security I felt.
Many did not know who their relatives were. This was due to their parents being removed to missions. Those that did eventually meet their family had no bond or connection with them.
Other individuals never mixed with Aboriginal people because they did not know how to mix, nor did they know how to fit in within an Aboriginal community or family. Being raised in a mission or by a non-Aboriginal family is very different to being raised as an Aboriginal. The cultural differences are huge.
Something common within Aboriginal communities all over Australia is to ask another Aboriginal person where they come from. From such a question, the individual is then able to explain who they are and name the family groups to which they are related. This is, of course, if you have such knowledge.
Having connections is so important within Aboriginal communities. In order to obtain such connections you must be linked to someone known by members of the community.
This was never an issue for me living in or around York. On many occasions, some Aboriginal people would just have to look at me. Most times, knowing your identity was a positive experience. However, there were some occasions when it was quite a negative experience.
I remember nursing a Noongar elder in Northam (36 km from York). She could hardly see, even with her thick glasses on. One day, she grabbed my hand, pulling it up close to her face and laughingly said, “And I thought you was a white girl, talking flash way and all.” Then she asked where I come from.
I told her, hoping we were not related, because if we were I should have known who she was. However, one of her visitors, a woman in her 40s, told her exactly who I was right down to where I fitted in to the family. I was very surprised as I had picked up negative vibes from this woman each time she visited.
So I asked her how she knew me. She replied with an angry tone, “You look like a Kickett to start with and you haven’t changed much. I remember when you were still ‘shittin’ yellow’. I am your cousin and this here is your aunty.”
I felt ashamed not knowing who they were or how I was related to them and apologised to my old aunty. She told me not to worry and pulled me closer so she could get a better look. She told me I looked just like Dad with a spoonful of Mum’s looks. I then got a lecture on, “The importance of knowing who your family are.”
Accepting the lecture, I again apologised for not knowing her. My aunty was quite forgiving, explaining she had moved away from York years ago. Her niece, not so forgiving, spat the following words at me as she left, “Don’t forget where you come from, you’re not white now and you never will be.”
Feeling annoyed and wanting to have the last say, I responded pointing to my face, “I will never be white. This doesn’t fade nor does it wash off.”
Dad had been gone for about six months and I remember telling Mum of the incident. I was confused as I had been polite to the elderly woman and all her visitors, not giving any of them reason to talk. Yet that so-called cousin of mine would look me up and down with contempt each time she saw me. In my opinion, they should have told me that we were related.
Mum gave me some advice that I never forgot and have used whenever possible. I was to always strike up a conversation with Aboriginal people, not just Noongars. Get in first and ask them where they come from and find a connection.
I knew what Mum was saying. I had witnessed her and Dad doing this all my life. Always greet people first, she said, and smile to show you mean it. Mum said this would work most of the time, but for the times it didn’t I needed to just accept that it was the individual’s problem, not mine.
On reflection, and after some other close encounters with this particular cousin, I believe it was jealously on her part. Many of our relations looked down on us because we lived on the reserve and did so prior to its closure in 1973.
So there were those who were somewhat surprised when seven out of nine completed Year 10 at high school. My second oldest sister completed Year 10 in 1962, becoming the first Aboriginal student to do so at the York District High School. Overall, most of my brothers and sisters have been quite successful in obtaining further education and employment.
There have also been the comments such as, “Who do they think they are?” or “They think they’re white.” My family and I received such comments due to the way we dressed or how we spoke. My mother had standards and we followed such standards. These standards were followed even whilst living on the reserve.
I have always been able to relate to Aboriginal people, even when I travelled interstate. There were times when I could make no connection to a community other than just being Aboriginal. However, I had the confidence and ability to communicate with Aboriginal people in general, allowing me to quickly build rapport with certain individuals and eventually gain acceptance from the community.
Regardless of the negative experiences due to my identity, I believe much of my success is due to knowing my identity, which has further enhanced my ability to relate to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
> My Spirituality
Whilst Marion lives successfully in two worlds, some Aboriginal people have questioned her Aboriginal identity. She discusses internal oppression and how some Aboriginal people become 'victims'.
Marion welcomes students to Noongar country and explains the importance of the tradition. She likens it to a blessing and explains how it shows respect for both the visitors and the hosts.