week 4

I was advised to go back to the very beginning and to look at the records from the 1st surveyors of the land, such as Dutch, French, English and Chinese accounts. We discussed the layers of veneer that have been placed to create an illusory and possibly incorrect version of the new refugees that landed on the shores of Australia. Their plight was also a means of escape - whether it be from class, crime or poverty- a dream of a new life. The veneer are the stories that were written of the people they encountered - what did the surveyors say - and what was possibly not heard so that British government could make claim, how the history was written to suit the needs of the colonialist government.

I enter a round space filled with small green palm heads. A woman with blue eyes sits on the right, Rebecca Casey is her name, and she is kind enough to suggest a new contact in the Busselton area. Plus she comes with a good tip about the bush - these small palms.

Brett, his daughter Lilly, and Ron sit in a small semicircle in the sun. The conversation focuses on the questions I have had and which have yet to be answered. Finally some Nyungars are willing to help me with concrete answers, and yes, my understanding so far is not far off—for the most part. It is a relief to finally have this conversation in which the intimacy and exchange is finally there. I am so thankful to Soula to having introduced me to Brett Nannup and his mother the day before, and to Brett for extending his hand in friendship and allowing me access to his friends and family. The day before the time keeps getting extended, in a kind of a way that would have in Jamaica - you feel the atmosphere is right and good - you keep going and you do this because you feel the interest and need.

Brett, and Laurel Nannup, his mother and artist are seated. Coffee and cake wait. Brett gives an in-depth overview of his mother’s art, which is connected to personal narratives. Brett has dedicated his life to creating that wholeness which links him and his family to each other, it is really wonderful to experience, be inspired and to see this kind of love. At one point, there is a kind of funny experience; we go out into the yard, where he shows me this stone that he has been working on and carving into small spearheads. This stone seems very familiar, as I had just photographed this stone in the collection at the museum in Northcliffe. So I mention that I know this stone, and he turns around and looks a bit shocked at me. Reason being is this stone is pretty precious, and he has gotten a hold of it through another friend who has had access to it.  I keep feeling that it is somehow these small connections that are beginning to make sense in my journey.

So much has happened in this last week. A possibility to visualize a potential thread in the project is finally coming about. I have been looking towards nature as a possible method for healing - it seems obvious that this is needed, and it is only returning to it - that somehow the freedom presents itself as a tool for the spirit.

If the spirit of death and sadness remains from all these murders, what veneer is laid on the truth? So much can be borne by people, without one beginning to distance oneself from this oppression and the oppressor. I have no answers it is just guessing, and there are so many questions that are connected to one’s own displacement - and if your story is different from those around you, can you fit in? Will you be accepted? It seems the splitting of so many families has really created an enormous task in repairing the deep wounds that must be present. If it isn’t from the abusive existence, and trauma, then it is from the disconnection that is placed between you, the family, ancestral lore and tradition. After all if each Songline was to be carried on by specific families, and if I make the comparison to a Vodun family where each household was responsible for each deity - what happens when the family is split and the Songline has not been kept properly as the ancestral wishes demands? And what happens to the Songline that is then connected to a larger proportion with other families throughout Western Australia who have are also connected to one another? This is the question that Ron Bradfield brings up for me to understand and think about in rethinking this history.  

Moreover what happens to the spirit of the dead who have not found peace? If we consider the fact that tradition demands that the dead transcend through the caves in some form of burial ritual and are to be freed to a beyond. This realization comes about through another meeting I have with an elder, Wayne Webb, who has written extensively on this issue of the caves in Western Australia. So the question remains how and when will tourism balance their condition, since they are profiting by that lies within the caves? And what happens to the tradition according to which Nyungaar bodies still remain to be buried in the caves? I remember a case of an American Indian corpse that was held by an American somewhere, and where the community wanted the body returned so that they make the appropriate burial ceremony within the caves, the solution seems so relevant to the situation here. 

Week 3

Adjusting to this environment is a slow process, its steady pace reveals the intricacies of the people and life around me. This week has begun with a constant stream of meetings during which I have met a number of people who are involved in one way or another in the struggle of Nyungar people in the Busselton area. Tuesday morning at a cafe my newest advocate and aid Jacqui Malone brought Gloria Hill to meet me. A brown woman quite small in stature, thinly built, small bones, walks in to this newly renovated luxury spot on the bay front. Gloria’s step is confident, and has a quick paced answer/response to all questions that I might have. She reminds me of women I have seen and really noticed in Port Antonia, Jamaica; hill women who have a twinkle in their eye, a great sense of determination and an answer to all that has passed in life. I do my best in going through my background, upbringing, and my family history with her to give her a little insight into where I am coming from and why I am here. Somehow we strike a very good tone from the beginning and I am pleased with that. She describes her own background and history, in relation to where she went to school. She reveals she was taken away from her parents when she was very young and placed in a Catholic mission where she was treated well and she went on to work in the area. She bears no grudge and appears to bear all that she has witnessed with a great deal of pride and no-nonsense attitude. At the moment she is responsible for parenting her grandchild, a young girl of age 12. I will come to meet her later in the week. Gloria has an immense pride in her granddaughter’s artistic talent and school accomplishments.

At the moment, I am reading Stan Grant’s Talking to my Country. The title has two meanings, one is of course, that he is talking to all Australians, the other is that country means other Aboriginal people. In this novel he confronts his history and the past. How he and other people were treated as inferior and through a racial terminology. I have seen these same ways of discounting one’s presence and mind in so many other stories of colonialism. I can see some of the same remnants of this attitude also in Denmark. It is as if one has to wash away all one’s being to be assimilated into the dominant culture. I am not certain that Danes are always conscious that this is what’s happening, however it was very much a part of the entire system of discrediting and debasing people of color. Basically, get rid of your pride and sense of being, and just make sure that you feel shitty about being who and what you are. I am so relieved that I grew up in Jamaica, and from a young age it was instilled in me pride about who I am- It comes off possibly as brash and self assured in an environment such as Western Australia. Everything is read into what people do not necessarily say or do. But small manners and gestures are encountered in the meet and greet with others. Anyhow Gloria and Jacqui are wrapped in a small conversation, which I am lucky to be a part of and it is the stories, and tragedies that exist around Wonnerup estate. It touches upon all the tensions that exist between the Nyungar people and those early ’settlers ’ or invaders as I have come to like putting it. History is somehow always comes to glorify the event of the pioneer and invader. Anyhow, traces of history of the Nyungar people in Busselton are also becoming extinct. And yet very little has been done to commemorate or even acknowledge their loss in this day and age. Based on the reality you see, many Australians prefer to say to a foreigner such as myself, that Aboriginals are based in the North, in the red land area. This idea is false as they were very present here too before they were exterminated and eliminated. Let me not beat around this bush; one should be straightforward in this deduction. The case of the Wonnerup massacre is an example, of such bloodbath that occurred when the death of the George Layman let loose the rampage of other whites to hunt down Nyungars in a lynching party and where women, men and children were shot down like animals. There is no visibility around this history - this massacre - no museum, no retreat, no memorial—its invisibility is below the very covers of this surroundings - it layers every contact - as it is recorded deep within the Nyungars mind from Busselton.

There is nothing but the bizarre to experience - when an entire population has been wiped out and displaced - there is nothing but more apparent in this atmosphere. My first ceremony and it is cold, and wet, and empty. This does not seem to a joyous occasion—the tent that has been set up, which is quite big keeps flying off by the tug of the wind. The mothers that sit and watch are all quietly observing the surroundings. The elders that are there have also jobs to do are also watching. The ease does not seem to be there instead it seems almost contrived and forced. The one joy of the occasion is the children - they seem to be deemed the brightness in all of this atmosphere, all seem to invest their love there…and this is what I register as they come up and present different dances that they have been studying and learning with very little clothing in this freezing weather, but they do not divert- they stay focused on this task.

 

Week 2

Mike Clark, who is one of the assistants at ArtGeo, the Busselton’s Art Center that hosts my residency, will assist me in my filming and photographic projects. Mike suggested that I visit one of the old settlements and milk farms by the Tuart forest. It has a history. There was an advertisement placed in the British newspapers asking people to come and join in creating this dairy village. Many people came but the logistics were much more difficult than people anticipated, as the land needed to be cleared and nothing was in place, so some left and others stayed and made a go of it. This settlement is not far away from one of the first settler-homes…. Layman’s home called Wonnerup.

In the past month, all the previous residents have vacated the community and so it is the aftermath of this departure that I am observing.

One cannot escape the fact that every time you encounter nature there is some warning sign that has been put up there to make you aware of the danger present. So don’t imagine any casual strolls through it

DANGER 1080 POISON BAITS laid in this area. NO TRAPPING OR SHOOTING. Secure livestock and Domestic animals.

DANGER mining operations no unauthorized entry KEEP OUT

WARNING. Underground telephone cables in this vicinity BEFORE DIGGING OBTAIN CABLE LOCATION DETAILS BY RINGING.

OVERNIGHT CAMPING and sleeping in a vehicle is prohibited and restricted in public area in the City of BUSSELTON

WARNING watch for REVERSING VEHICLE

DISEASE RISK AREA

I don’t have an animal, or a gun, not planning to dig a hole—no just want to take a walk and photograph. This too presents a problem as I must look on the ground and wear noisy clothes so that I do not step on a snake out there… and I don’t understand what does it mean exactly that this is a disease risk area? Lord, I am too much a FOREIGNER—here, .not understanding the codes exactly. So the danger factor is high out there! And it’s more than likely that if you have located a beautiful natural landscape you want to get to….sorry, there is also a fence to prevent your intrusion. The government seems to be unconcerned with the fact that pedestrians have limited access these hotspots. Maybe if there was more of an attempt to integrate humans with their environment through natural paths and walking areas without too much concrete, signs would not be necessary and nature lovers would explore more. I spoke to a hobby photographer in the supermarket who told me of his encounters with fences and how he hops over them, we also talked about the notions attached to neighbours’ rules and the morality of private property, of what is owned, and what is free. It is possibly the same kind of hidden history that is entangled with the question of morality versus ethics inherent in contrast between the morality the herders, settlers, and fences versus the open ended, nomadic existence? “Morality” or “settler-morality” is an aspect or code that seems to be a central question. These warnings seem to date way back to the early settlers. There is a sign that was issued for the department of native welfare—this was meant for Nyungar people living in Busselton.

The courtroom in Busselton stands as a bastion/stark reminder of law and order. I had a great interview this week, which clarified that this was a small and petty charge court. Normally, for more serious crimes people were sent to Albany or Perth if this was needed. However, while looking at some documents at the Wonnerup estate, there was a distinct difference in the kind of fines that were given to settlers and Aborigines. Charles Bussell, one of the first Busselton’s settlers (hence the town’s name), was only fined a shilling and discharged for the manslaughter of Cummangoort, an aboriginal child, whereas three months imprisonment wad given to two Nyungar men, Bomke and Bale, for stealing flour.

I started reading ‘The Protectors - A Journey Through the Whitefella Past’ by Stephen Gray. It is totally and utterly devastating, and as a black person you don’t feel comfortable after reading his description of the past, which is so very recent, and stepping out into the streets of Busselton. At the same time, people are extremely friendly, so the dichotomy is kind of schizophrenic. If you look at the landscape and travel a bit, I cannot but agree there has been an unparalleled near extinction of Aboriginal people in the Western Australian areas I have seen. The absence is so distinct you cannot be in any way be uncertain of it.  I have been and travelled to many post-colonial societies in Western and Eastern Africa and the Caribbean, and I have never seen so many white colonizers (British/white Australians) dominate the environment. The travel down to Northcliffe through Nannup reiterated this point, and to me it is shocking— the place could be a small town in Britain- there is absolutely no difference- and I am guessing that I will see a more varied migrant population in Britain than I am finding here. As a Jamaican it is just mind blowing—and bizarre to be absolutely honest…

My Aunt reminds me that of course this is literally the same as it was in USA, and the population of Native Americans who were also killed. And in Jamaica the Arawak Indians also died when they came into contact with the Spanish in 1600’s. I guess this has always been the contingency for overtaking another country or continent. And Black people, Indians, were a part of a commercial forced migration. Destroy or be destroyed must have been the motto for war and land ownership. This reality is depressing to say the least. I guess what I am reacting to is the rawness of the spoils, and what this reality looks like.

I was prepared that the settler was the prime mover here, and the focus would be on the recent occupancy of British settlers. Northcliffe museum is in the middle of town across from a gas station, it is reminiscent of some a film scene - a mix of American grocery store and something else—but definitely with a feel of the outback. An elderly lady with her adorable dog stood attending the entrance of the museum. She was very friendly, and informative. A man who I later found out was the carpenter stood talking to them about how they could change the look of the displays in the museum. As I entered I was struck by the notion that museums that preserve history tend to have the same look about them. In one room, there stood an old schoolroom, with Australian flag and children's desks. In another room there were basins, the washroom. Finally I stumbled in a room full of geological rocks and the collection of Mr. George Garner, a wonderful display of all the stones he had dug up over the entirety of Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. My reaction to the display was immediate… this was something that could really work visually in the project I had been cogitating/reflecting about it over the last couple of days. 

Set up a possible photo shoot at the museum using the collection of geological rocks that had come out of Western Australia. This could be amazing. I realize that there is a real need for healing in this landscape- as there is a real disconnect with the past, and yet there are people who have been working hard to extract and focus on the geological beauty of this world/place. Could this be the way to commence healing—or to make the connection? Could I possible appropriate and reuse this collection as a way to extend or to find a route to an atonement/apology—the sorry to the Aboriginal people came in 2008, but it can still be discussed/argued whether this apology was wholehearted or halfhearted. I am still wrestling with the fact that I know that Aboriginal people of different groups, live in other parts of Australia, however it is here where all is lush and green, that there has been an eradication of their presence. It is a small trickle.

Could this collection be recreated into something cosmic, and could a connection be drawn to the underground caves of the western region that are breathtaking. Could slow drips of water and salt mold this landscape- and could it be a possible method to address the pain hidden and present in this atmosphere. After all the earth governs us all even though we would like to make ourselves believe that humans are in control, and yet we are interconnected bodies that are constantly linked and dependent on one another. Maybe there should be a sign for every Nyungar person that was killed, and this should be placed in the sign landscape of Busselton so the memory does not slip by and get replaced so quickly.

WEEK 1

I spent last weekend, in the hospitality of my host Diane McGirr and her partner, Dave. She lives on her farm with horses and sheep. At dinner we seemed to delve into many topics; race, the history of this country, the prison system, the similarities of British colonialism in island countries etc. My question before I came here was how come a young country with a decisive history of immigration created a situation such as the asylum seekers camps in Manus Island. But then again, the United States of America did the exact same thing in the early nineteen forties after the Japanese bombings of Pearl Harbor.  Many Japanese refugees were sent to Perry Island before they could enter the United States.

Diana and Dave, wanted me to see the effects of bush fires on the environment, and we delved into quite a few stories about different areas that had been seriously affected. Aboriginals in various communities in Australia have used controlled burning as a method to stimulate new growth in the forest, but as noted by Kimberley Berley, an environmentalist and conservation expert, who is head of the Western Australian Environmental agency and fire control in Western Australia, this method is good for certain plants but does not necessarily benefit other plants and animal species. He showed me a map, which displayed the effects of population growth on the natural environment in Western Australia. The middle of the state was still good but the beach and coastal environments had become vulnerable to natural forces.

I am living right by the beach, which is a threatened environment. What you notice most about the man made landscape around where I live, is the attempt we humans make to dominate nature. Visually it’s a Floridian landscape, where cars dominate the priority and functionality of what’s made. Pedestrians can just watch them whizzing by because they will stop for nobody. The tarmac seems to dominate as much greenery as possible as it attempts to grapple its counterpart.

As Kim reminded me, he is presented with the constant struggles of fighting to preserve nearly extinct species such as yellow and white underbelly frogs, possums and different plants and birds inhabiting this geological hotspot. If it isn’t clearing for housing, there are mining initiatives, deforestation and many other challenges present, such as underground water being re-diverted to be used for Perth’s water supply, a diversion that creates problems for species dependent on this water.

I DON’T BELIEVE IN KILLING PEDESTRIANS

DON’T ELIMINATE ME, I AM HUMAN.

(T-shirts to be made) 

’Good Evening’ she is bubbling all over and wanting to talk. My mouth still hurts from the fall, blisters packing upper and bottom lip. ‘Good evening’ I say. She begins to talk about the other woman who she had been talking to, and then she catches herself. I tell her that I think she is friendly and she catches herself’ and says’ Am I too loud.’  I tell her ’No you are just being yourself’. She smiles and relaxes caught in the moment and she realizes I see her and its ok. And she wishes me a good evening, and in that small interchange I feel as if I have made someone happy and I have a friend. She is so real in her awkwardness. The next day, I meet another woman in the supermarket who makes a big deal to tell me how nervous she is because she has been away from work for a week. I tell her that all will be good and that she should not worry and that things will work out fine. So with all the security of perfection and bourgeois/ middle class living – there is the murmur of insecurity and imperfection—all good in my eyes.