Alice Shaw

My Name is Rosie

In Opinion on July 29, 2010 at 9:27 am

My name is Rosie, and I am of mixed race, Tasmanian Aboriginal, and Anglo-Saxon.  I carry the guilt of one side along with the suffering of the other, with the scars caused by the racism visited on my family and myself by both.

I grew up in a small town, where my grandparents lived; my mum’s parents.  Dad’s mum lived about an hour away, and she was disapproving to say the least, of mum, and of us.

But Nanna wasn’t the only one, and, oddly enough, her contempt was the least hurtful, mainly because she was, well, she was Nanna, and she was difficult, and very opinionated, and so far as we could see, she hated all of her children’s spouses.  The things that hurt the most were the ones we encountered on a daily basis.

My entire family suffered under the yoke of the label of ‘Abo’, and all the negative connotations of, not so much the word, but the way it was said; with a sneer, and a glower.  We were below the lowest rung on the social ladder, and expected to remember that.  We were thieves, drunks, child rapists, drunks and violent.

One of the clearest  – and most hurtful, even 32 years later – memories of racism I have comes from when I was 8.  A girl in my class had invited me to her birthday party, and, all excited to be attending my first ‘proper’ birthday party, I arrived at the appointed time.  The main part of the party was outside, we had fairy bread, and cocktail franks, and all the usual party food, until it was time for cake – then we had to go inside, because it was an icecream cake, and a blisteringly hot summer day.  Everyone except me that is, I was stopped at the door by her mother, who informed me she didn’t want a ‘filthy, thieving Abo’ in her house.  I left in tears, went home, and told my parents I left because I didn’t feel well.  To this day, Mum does not know the truth.  Dad never knew.  It would have destroyed them.  As much as it is the job of parents to protect their children, sometimes children have to protect their parents.

I was taunted at school, followed around shops, frisked before leaving, and at times, I was followed home, to be accused of stealing.  I was bashed and abused by my peers – those who didn’t go out of their way to avoid me, in case they got some form of contagion from the Abo.  If I went to someone’s home, I was expected to enter and leave by the back door, and to make sure there was no-one around to see me arrive or leave.  My extended family, most of whom lived out of town, and were the cause of our labelling as thieving, lazy, drunk and violent, were furious with my parents for paying rent to a white landlord, and sending us to a whitefella school, where we were only learning how worthless the whites thought we were.

The most vocal of these was my Uncle, who lived in the bush in a corrugated iron shanty, with his wife, son, and daughter.  He was a violent drunk, who delighted in belting his wife and daughter, and would ‘hire’ his family out in exchange for grog.  I despised him, and dreaded those occasions where we had to see him.  Sadly, he really was my uncle, an actual blood relative.  I sincerely hope he burns in Hell.  The townspeople I can forgive, to a degree, but not him.  The damage he did to me, and my family, as well as his own, is immeasurable, and unforgivable.

We left the area when I was 14, but I still haven’t healed the wounds that those years caused.  To this day, I fear being judged for what I am, rather than who I am.  I still struggle to get my head around the race debate; I live with one foot on either side of the line, with my head and heart in the middle, spinning in a various random directions.  And the older I get, the worse it gets.  The scars thicken, and the spinning in my head and heart get faster, and more random.

I have never been back to the town where I spent most of my childhood, and I cannot see it ever happening.  There are just too many ghosts, and too much pain.  I carry the people there with me every single day, both the good and the bad.  I will do so for the rest of my life.  And that is ok, they helped shape me.

I will continue to correct those who call me an Indigenous Australian (I find the term offensive), and defend my right to do so.

I will also continue to defend my right to celebrate Australia Day as Australia Day, rather than Invasion Day, as certain activists would have me do.  My beliefs and principles are the things that make me who I am, here and now.  What happened to me, and my family, in the past, may help to shape me, and continue to hurt me, but it is not who I am.  While I may not be completely sure exactly who that is, I am damn sure that whoever it is, is more than the sum of a few strands of DNA.

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  1. What beautiful writing Rosie. I have no words… xxxxxx

  2. Rosie, Thank you so much for sharing your story. I want you to know that I feel honoured to say you are my friend. xxoo

  3. An extraordinary piece of writing and so very heartfelt. I too feel very honoured to have you as a friend and you are sooo much more than the sum of your DNA and Family History. You are Magnificent! x

  4. Rosie, that was absolutely rivetting to read. Thanks for sharing it with us. I can imagine that some of those memories are hard to revisit. I am proud to know you…even if it is just in cyberspace my friend.
    Susie
    xoxox

  5. Hi Rosie,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I am imagining the hurt and heartache of a little girl and am sure you carry a part of that around with you all of the time.
    People can be so cruel and so bloody stupid!
    I know they say that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger- but that doesn’t compensate for the pain.
    sending Love

  6. Thank you for sharing your intensely personal story Rosie. The pain is etched into every line but so too is the accomplishment, strength of character and determination that has shaped you into the Rosie I am proud to call my friend.

  7. what an amazing story, just saw your post on MM and thought i’d check your blog out. looks like i’ll be back, great stuff and beautiful writing. i love the layout too, a bit newspapery

  8. Hello Rosie. I too found you through MM. Amazing writing, so very eloquent. I’m glad you started this blog.

  9. Same here Rosie. Beautiful writing from the heart – the best kind. I’ll be back!

  10. Hi everyone! Thank you for your kind words, means a lot, especially this week.

    Many, many thanks to Alice for allowing me to use her blog to share with you.

    xo

  11. Rosie, your piece throws up so many feelings and questions for me. Thank you for your courage and generosity in sharing your story. You remind me of a very dear friend who fought her way through a similarly fraught emotional landscape of ‘who am I – what defines me – on which side do I belong?’. I salute your strength and determination. xo

  12. Thanks for sharing your story Rosie…it was compelling and heartfelt. It’s so hard to hear about any pain inflicted on innocent children, by adults especially. I’m sad to hear it gets worse as you get older. You don’t elaborate on how you choose to correct people in their use of the term Indigenous Australian…I would be interested to hear your thoughts or feelings on that. My best, Ms T

    • Hi Ms T,

      It’s a personal thing, I don’t correct those who use it respectuflly. It’s not something I identify with at all, and I find the reasons for creating the term utterly offensive.

  13. Rosie, you have honoured us immeasurably with a private and privileged view of your life. How you have managed to become so balanced, after such a childhood, is amazing. I can only hope that education and communication will eventually remove the treatment, you received as a child, from our society.

    One of the saddest parts, for me, was reading: “And the older I get, the worse it gets”. May you find peace in life.

    Beautiful and intelligent writing, thank you.

  14. Rosie, I cant imagine how it must have felt to grow up receiving that sort of treatment and that you have risen above it and can understand the motives of those who dealt it out to you, is indeed a credit to you. Thank yo for sharing ..xx

  15. Thanks for the insight Rosie. Lovely piece of writing.

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