Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Book Review - Talking to my country by Stan Grant

Talking to my country by Stan Grant

Sydney: HarperCollins, 2016                           ISBN 9781460751978

Stan Grant is a well-known journalist and broadcaster, and he wrote this book as a cri de coeur to his fellow Australians, after the Adam Goodes controversy had taken place on Australian football fields.

As the son of a Wiradjuri man and a Kamilaroi woman, Stan understands only too well the rejection, confusion, and sadness that goes with growing up as an Australian Aboriginal. This book is his attempt to portray what that feels like, and how mainstream views of Aborigines affect his people.

He does this by telling us of his life - a life of constant movement through western New South Wales, his father working hard to keep food on the table, and the welfare away from his children. The way Aboriginal people have been, and still are, treated by their own country burns through these pages. Grant describes how his people, who had lived on their land for tens of thousands of years, are denied not only title to said land, but have had their whole lives taken away from them by white settlement.

This invasion (for that is how it is seen by Aboriginals) has left its mark on the people. Grant clearly shows how confusing it is to be an Aboriginal in Australia, where you are ignored, or vilified, or told to behave like "the rest of us", but when you try to do that you have your colour and heritage thrown back in your face. Grant acknowledges that in many ways he has been lucky, but the fear and confusion remained even as the physical trappings of his personal success increased.

Eventually Grant left Australia, to escape the expectation and degradation he experienced, to places where his Aboriginal heritage was not loaded with personal politics. At first he found it a release, but everything he experienced continued to burn and grow inside him until he broke under the strain.
He returned to Australia, and to his conflicted self. When back in his country, he can breathe deeply, and feel connected again to his people. The position of Aboriginals in society seemed to have changed while he was away, and yet... Grant explains well how, when the national anthem was played at the Sydney Olympics he found it impossible to sing along, as, for Aboriginal people the lyrics are almost a sick joke, and how, given what has happened to Aboriginals in the last 200 years, people like Adam Goodes can't " get over it" when racism yells in their faces at a football match.

This book is not a polemic aimed against white Australia. It is a heart-felt document of what it feels like to be Aboriginal in Australia, and the effect of racism and misguided policies on his people.

At the height of the Goodes controversy, Grant wrote an article that he reprints in this book, and which deserves quoting at length -

" But this is how Australia makes us feel. Estranged in the land of our ancestors, marooned by the tides of history on the fringes of one of the richest and demonstrably most peaceful, secure and cohesive nations on earth.

The 'wealth for toil' we praise in our anthem has remained out of our reach.....'Australians all let us rejoice' can ring hollow to us. Ours is more troubled patriotism. Our allegiance to Australia, our pride in this country undercut by the dark realities of our existence.....

From childhood I often cringed against my race. To be Aboriginal was to be ashamed....

We were ashamed of the bastardised wreckage of a culture that we clung to.....

And as I grew older I pieced together the truth that we didn't choose this. We are the detrius of the brutality of the Australian frontier.... "

I could go on, but it's probably best just to pick up the book and read it yourself. It's well-written, accessible and does not shy away from the hard questions. Grant would like to contribute to the long hard job of true reconciliation in Australia, and Talking to my country is a solid effort. Read and learn.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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