Talking To My Country by Stan Grant (2016) is an individual account of an Aboriginal man residing in and navigating between two traditions in Australia. It is a personal contemplation on ethnicity, traditions, and nationwide character that is both profoundly thought-provoking, poignant and troubling. It has left me stunned at my own lack of understanding about the genuine circumstances surrounding Australia’s settlement, the acts of violence committed against the Aboriginal people and, dismayed and disconcerted at my personal want of understanding and gratefulness for Aboriginal people and their care of and love for our country.
I am saddened to say, that before I read this book I had no perception of what it entails to be Aboriginal in Australia. While reading this book I was exasperated by the management of the Aboriginal people and repelled by the awareness that they are still disregarded and grieving today. I should acknowledge also that I have a part to play in this as I have never examined previously what I have, how I got it and who paid the ultimate price for how I live today.
I recall in Grades 5 and 6 in Social Studies learning about the settlement of Australia. I recall the posters I took so much pride in making and coloring in showing James Cook, Botany Bay and Sydney Cove and the flag showing the Union Jack. I remember learning about the hardships that faced the settlers and remember only now after reading this book, the token paragraph on the Aboriginal people. It is only when I read Talking To My Country that I fully fathomed that Australia’s settlement was in fact Australia’s dispossession. Grant (2016) is correct when he says we know little about Aboriginal people. (p. 4, para. 3)
Stan Grant’s identity as an Aboriginal person growing up in Australia is established on numerous influences. The most important is Country. Country to me has always meant the land I live in and love. Grant (2016) enlightens emotionally in his book that Country for the Aboriginal people incorporates not just the physical land but also spiritual, past, community, financial and traditional facets of being Aboriginal.
On reading this book I realise that the perception I have of country is sadly not the concept that Grant (2016) feels and knows intimately in Talking To My Country. Morgan (2008) expresses how Country is a “calling…more than what can be seen with the physical eye…”. Grant (2016, p. 159, para. 1) has this profounder awareness of country as a spiritual bond.
It is only when I read this book that I recognized that Grant’s identity is his country, as his Country bestows on him and all Aboriginal people their feeling of place or belonging. Kwaymullina (2008) states that that Aboriginal people are an existing, conscious, discerning, expression of their land. Country is beyond a place or soil. It is a recognition system. Kline, (2018, Topic 5) asserts that this is observed currently in salutations which enables people to position others in the traditional environment of Country.
Country also embodies the spiritual. In Talking To My Country, Grant (2016) illustrates how country is the heart of Aboriginal spirituality.
“I will always sit by a river or stand on my land and hear the voices and see the faces of my people. My children and their children will always be Wiradjuri people.” (Talking To My Country, 2016, p. 223, para. 1)
The author’s identity is also interrelated with country in its historical associations. I sensed that the author utilised history of country to expand in me an improved knowledge of and appreciation for collective histories. Grant (2016) highlights how Indigenous history is essential to the development of Australian identity. I felt while reading this book very honored as, the author bares his soul to reveal how his life has been formed by past and present Aboriginal experiences. Grant (2016, p. 69, para 3) makes use of the historical framework of country to underscore the powerful oral histories of pre and post colonisation that are entwined in his identity. He discloses too, the multiplicity of past and present-day Aboriginal traditional life.
It is from within this framework that Grant (2016) exposes the appalling impact that government policies, legislation and legal decisions have had and continue to have, on Indigenous peoples. Grant (2016) elucidates that previously determinations made for the “benefit” of the country, played a part only in dividing the country for generations to come. Dodson (1994) argues that the strategies calculated to terminate Indigenous cultures were not perceived as ethnic extermination, but the charitable legacy of development. These procedures and legislature crushed not merely one generation but generations to come.
The author’s identity is also explained by kinship. The basis of the kinship structure is that Aboriginal people consider their whole group as a family. The social qualities of the author’s family group were crucial in establishing his identity. Throughout Talking To My Country, Grant (2016) provides circumstantial stories about his parents, grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles. As I read the book, I understood that from an early age, Aboriginal people learn who belongs to them, where they originate from and in what way they should conduct themselves relative to their kinship networks.
Grant’s identity as an Aboriginal man in contemporary Australia holds intense significance. His identity appears at times to be a cross to endure. The book leaves me feeling that being an Aboriginal man in Australia has taken a heavy toll on Grant. The book opens with the young Grant drifting from one spot to the next and progresses to the damaging encounters of being withdrawn out of class at school by government representatives and scrapping with the white boys at school.
Reading his narrative of his grandfather’s survival, and subsequent treatment, in the frontier wars and the continual reminder as he walked past the places as a child can only have been traumatic and potentially detrimental on the young Grant’s intuit of self. Muir (2006) contends that historical suffering is the communal, emotional and spiritual wound, throughout the lifetime of a person or a group. In Talking To My Country , this wound festers in Grant’s grandfather’s and father’s individual lifep and across generations to Grant’s and his son’s lifep.
Grant’s identity was further formed as a teen when he encountered racism at school. Even with the Federal Government in 1970 paying allowances to Aboriginal children to stay in school, he was removed to the principal’s office and informed that he and his cousins would be better off abandoning school because of their ethnicity. (Talking To My Country, 2016, p.45, Para.4)
Stan Grant’s identity is founded on extremely juxtaposing emotions. I believe that Stan Grant’s identity incorporates both extraordinary sorrow and resentment. This is counterbalanced by Grant’s remarkable dignity in where he has come from an ancestrally, who he was, that young boy who was so ashamed of the colour of his skin and, the man he has become today, a family man, award winning reporter, television anchor and foreign correspondent.
As an Aboriginal man living in contemporary Australia, Stan Grant has extended us in Talking To My Country an awareness into what it means to be an Aboriginal living in Australia. He addresses every Australian about our country as it was, is, and could be in the future. His book both criticizes the Australian dream and aspires to the new all-encompassing Australian dream which is only conceivable if we unlock our minds and hearts to the reality of Australia.
Historical impact of the dispossession, oppression, and marginalisation of the Aboriginal people in Australia.
“This was the space that history had made and the place it had reserved for people like us.” (Talking To My Country, 2016, p. 37, para. 4)
This quote encapsulates the author’s feelings about the effect that colonisation, the subsequent government policies, legislation and legal determinations have had on Indigenous people. The author’s application of persuasive technique is clearly evident in this brief sentence that generates clout and achieves his point. The use sensory language arouses the feelings and generates intense pictures in my mind. This is specifically so in the words “…people like us.” (Talking To My Country, 2016, p.37, para. 4) which immediately makes me feel unnerved and chagrined.
This quote is also intended as a statement on Australia’s history which Grant considers has pursued two distinct pathways, one Indigenous and one white Australian. Briskman (2014, Ch. 1, pg. 23, para. ) states that Indigenous people were and remain maltreated by the downgrading of their involvement in times past, rule and procedures in Australia and elsewhere.
The premise of colonisation by the British was “terra nullius”, a lawful expression which declared that the land Australia belonged to no one. This was an unashamed rejection of the existence of Indigenous Australians as human beings. This principle fashioned the foundation of the association between Indigenous people and the nation state from its very establishment. This challenging connection has never completely been reconciled.
From 1788 until current day colonial authorities have at no time joined in discussions with Indigenous people about appropriating their land. This absence of agreement must denote for Aboriginal people that they go on to experiencing the distress of occupation, dispossession and denial of acknowledgement.
From 1788-1930’s thousands of Indigenous people engaged in battle with colonisers for their birthplace, kin and way of life. These wars have been excluded from history and subsequently people like myself had no understanding of the battle by Indigenous people for their country.
From 1780’s-1920’s the Indigenous population was shattered, and Indigenous people were debased in order to rationalise the horrendous undertakings against them. I can’t start to realise the bearing the destruction of traditions, loss of cultural knowledge as whole family groups were slain had, on Indigenous people. This would have led to a crisis of identity and belonging which still effects people to the present day. Until I read this book I felt complicit in this as my being uninformed without doubt supplemented the invalidation and pain of many Indigenous people.
From 1820’s to the present day the legislation and state policies of government worked to prevent Indigenous people from involvement as nationals through their extraction to reserves and missions. The effect of this today is that many Indigenous people are existing with the trauma of growing up in these circumstances.
The colonisation of Australia preordained denial, ostracism and subjugation to the Aboriginal peoples. It commenced with their land being appropriated, their derestriction as human beings and advanced to their being tracked down and murdered and their children being taken. From the nineteenth century through to the 1970’s , the Australian Government presupposed lawful responsibility of all Aboriginal children and consequently isolated children away from their families with the intention of integrating them into European culture.
The Human Rights and Equal Rights Opportunity Commission (1997) avows that this integration was founded on the hypothesis of black inferiority which recommended that Indigenous people must be permitted to die out within a progression of natural elimination, or where achievable integrated into the white community. The impact of this today is the disorder of Indigenous values and much Indigenous cultural knowledge being lost.
Concurrently, numerous Indigenous people from the Stolen Generation never experienced residing in a beneficial family environment and subsequently never acquired parenting skills.
From 1880-1960 social segregation signified that Indigenous people were marginalised in all facets of life. This led to Indigenous people being left without the entitlements and freedoms of that system including healthcare, education and employment. The impact of this today can be seen in elevated proportions of poverty, imprisonment, unemployment, homelessness, inferior health and deficiency in educational opportunities and outcomes.
The Aboriginal people that did survive the Stolen Generation subsisted with unbearable anxiety and what we recognise today as trans-generational trauma. I personally understand trauma to be defined as an individual’s reaction to a major shattering occurrence that is so devastating, it disenables a person to the point that they are unable to come to terms with the event either for a short period of time or indefinitely and are, unable to move on with their life as it was before the event.
The Healing Foundation (2013) explains trans-generational trauma as trauma, that is passed on from the first generation of survivors who wholly underwent or observed the trauma to future generations. Milroy in Zubrick et al (2014) argues in detail about the intensified consequences of unending exposure to elevated levels of trauma occasioning a communal emotional and psychological injury.
Talking To My Country is a special interpretation of trans-generational trauma. The book is about Grant’s upbringing and consequent adult life, his own family and how Indigenous people in Australia have undergone trauma as a direct result of colonisation. This trauma has included the accompanying hostility, forfeiture of customs and land, as well as successive policies such as the enforced removal of children. Atkinson et al (2014) maintains there is an association between government policies and interventions and actions accompanying trauma events in Aboriginal people.
Likewise, Kirmayer, Tait & Simpson (2009) state that Indigenous people, everywhere in the world, have suffered colonisation, cultural subjugation, involuntary integration with little interest for their self-sufficiency. Talking To My Country underscores the trauma that colonisation and succeeding policies have begotten Indigenous people and the distressing after-effects that even now pervade indigenous culture today.
These consequences include the interruption of culture and undesirable impacts on cultural distinctiveness that have been passed from generation to generation. Talking To My Country is one man’s journey through the increasing consequence of historical and inter-generational trauma. Grant (2016) repeatedly refers to aspects which subsidize the social, political and economic position of Indigenous people today and how these aspects have a great deal of their origin in historical policies and practices.
Talking To My Country is a poignant account of Australian history, identity, and the bearing that government policies, legislation and legal decisions had and continues to have on Indigenous people. Briskman (2014, p.15, para.3) purports that history and policy are collective in their methods and results. Indigenous people who haven’t immediately gone through the happenings are nonetheless frequently crushed by the legacy left behind.
Talking To My Country while being an insight into the trauma caused by colonisation is, also a challenge to Australians today to justly scrutinise what it signifies to be Australian today considering our history of settlement. It is an open invitation to consider our country as it was, as it is today and as it could be in the future. Talking To My Country is a cry for Australia to be honestly inclusive. There are no rejoinders or resolutions but there is the anticipation that, and opportunity for, the Australian dream will be accurately Australian and will hold close all Australians.
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