Kin-fused Reconciliation: Bringing them Home, Bringing Us Home

by Fiona Probyn-Rapsey

© all rights reserved

At the height of the 1965 Freedom Rides through New South Wales, a violent demonstration of angry whites confronted students and local Aboriginal people as they tried to gain entry to the racially segregated pool in Moree. It occurred to one of the local organisers of the protest (Alderman Bob Brown) that the absurd thing about the violent demonstration was that most of those participating (on opposite sides) were in fact related to one another:

a huge number of people in Moree are related, they may not be registered down at the registry office. the stupidity of it was that it was cousins and uncles pitted against their nephews, it wasn’t totally isolated racism at all, it was an absolutely stupid thing and that’s what stuck in my mind (Brown qtd in Perkins:1993).

A similar thing happened in nearby Walgett. In a re-enacted version of another clash between white and Aboriginal residents, an Aboriginal woman called out to a white person in the opposing crowd: ‘What did you say your last name was?.That’s mine wanna go and ask your father where ‘e used to spend his Friday nights, out there at the mission with my mother, that’s where ‘e was.’ The effect of this revelation of shared paternity is described by Charles Perkins (student leader at the time of the Freedom Rides): ‘The white women couldn’t believe it so they turned on their husbands and they all started arguing amongst themselves and the crowd just disintegrated.the message was very clear for everybody to hear. After that discussion Walgett was finished, it had no answer to racial discrimination’ (Perkins, 1993).

Brown and Perkins’ recollection of these events, delivered with both outrage and with wry humour at the stupidity of white racism, evokes the triumph of ‘fraternity’ over racial discrimination: the discourse of the 1960s civil rights movement achieving its apotheosis in the revelation of actual family connections between local whites and Aboriginals. The symbolism of fraternity is based here on the very powerful and painful divisions played out in suppressed kinship networks and denial of white paternity. In the description of these scenes, Aboriginal women and white women look on from quite different vantage points, exposing, shaming, and protecting white men who seem to live two lives in different parts of town. These dynamics are cast into the town’s ‘intimate public sphere’ (Berlant 1997) where racism and family rub against each other, unsettling the White family and, by extension, the White Nation that legitimises it.

An echo of this closed white family can be heard in Prime Minister John Howard’s ‘Motion for Reconciliation’ (1999) where he rejected the need for apology to the Stolen Generations. Howard invoked a nuclear white family as equivalent to a moral horizon of responsibility: ‘present generations cannot be held accountable . for the errors and misdeeds of earlier generations’ because ‘for the overwhelming majority of the current generations of Australians, there was no personal involvement of them or their parents’. Might this nuclear family version of historical responsibility be challenged by extending that family to include Aboriginal members? In other words, could a similar argument to that heard in Walgett in 1965 work on Howard today? Some white liberal proponents of Reconciliation have attempted to do precisely that, by invoking what I am calling ‘kin-fused Reconciliation’, extending that ‘white’ family to include Aboriginal kin to dislodge a narrowly racist white view of family/nation and historical responsibility. It is a calculated rhetorical move which, on the one hand has powerful resonance (akin to what Perkins and Brown describe), but which is also problematic. The ‘Nation as family’ is a ‘standard conceptual metaphor’ according to George Lakoff (1996) which informs both conservative and liberal thought, and which is not ‘rational’ but rather ‘moral’. Here I discuss the limitations of the family/nation conceptual metaphor within liberal calls for kin-fused Reconciliation.

A good example of the extension of fraternity (for kin-fused Reconciliation) appears in the 2005 Charles Perkins Memorial lecture delivered by Chief Justice Jim Spigelman (himself also a freedom rider with Charles Perkins) 50 years after the violence described by Perkins above. In that speech Spigelman stated : ‘To the extent that I am correct, and that millions of Australians have Aboriginal ancestors, the Reconciliation process will be substantially advanced if persons of whom that is true take steps to identify those origins and take pride in finding them.’ Other readings of Aboriginal and white family connections have also been positioned as grounds for Reconciliation, and as such, they appear to bypass and open up Howard’s narrow, nuclear white family of innocent bystanders (Probyn 2003). Germaine Greer in Whitefella Jump Up (2004), builds her thesis for change on the recognition of long term histories of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal intimacy. Another example is the discovery and celebration of connections between Mick and Pat Dodson and the Fegans (through a lost white relative) which ‘might say a great deal about the discourse of reconcilation’ according to Stuart Rintoul, and is celebrated as a ‘beautiful thing that can unite people’ by one of the Dodson’s new found relatives (Rintoul 2003). Another attempt to extend the political family (and open up the Nation) underscores Peter Read’s analysis of the Stolen Generations where he calculates that one stolen Aboriginal child represents sixteen people lost in whiteness. Read writes:

Perhaps an even more striking statistic is the much greater number of people who have been denied their heritage as Aboriginal citizens of Australia because they were the descendants of the Stolen Generations.By the removal of a single individual, two generations ago, the four children and twelve grandchildren have also been denied their birthright to identify as the indigenous people of Australia. Seventeen Aboriginal people each of whom marks the Population Census form as being of ‘European descent’. All victims of the policy of separation (Read, 1998:9).

Read’s objective is to bring the issue (of the Stolen Generations) home to whites; this is their/our history too, and ‘whiteness’ is and should be displaced by the history of the Stolen Generations. It is, as I mentioned, a calculated risk because it risks reduction and sentimentality where ‘true feeling cannot admit the non-universality of pain’ (Berlant 1998 641). Berlant argues that such sentimentality is distinguished by the fact that ‘cases become all jumbled together’ by a ‘passive’ and not political ‘ideal of empathy’ (Berlant, 1998, 641) The displacement of that narrative occurs in the shift towards valuing ‘fraternity’ (equal consideration of the other’s pain) over difference (it is not exactly our pain to feel). Moreover, as Carole Pateman (1988) has pointed out ‘fraternity’ is a political model that necessarily downplays the role of women in order to raise its symbolic stakes, and here it is not the ‘child/mother/culture’ that is, at least rhetorically, of principle concern, but rather it is the Nation and its biopolitical structure that comes to the fore. Hence Read cites ‘population census’, ‘generations’, descent, heritage, statistics (biopolitical measures) rather than individuals and their stories.

Of course there is evidence to suggest that kinship and close connections to someone from another culture significantly reduces the possibility of racial discrimination (Frankenberg 1993) and furthers cross-cultural understanding (see for example Tonkin 1999). This is possible even in Australia where, (unlike the US where Frankenberg’s study is based), cross-cultural relationships were deemed instruments of assimilation by government plans to ‘breed out the colour’ (Canberra Conference in 1937). Greer and Spigelman, Perkins and Brown situate the recognition of kin across racial lines as having a powerful effect on racist attitudes. While this is true (particularly where the symbolic is invoked), the family has also functioned within Australian colonialism in a biopolitical form to help shape the racial composition of the nation. Family and kinship are tied very closely to racial ideologies (Collins 1998, Bammer 1994, Nash 2003, Williams 1995) and the ‘nation as family’ trope evokes a negative genealogy with a settler colony like Australia, where paternalism situates whites as adults and blacks as children in an Imperial ‘family of man’ (McClintock, 1995). This trope was not supposed to reflect ‘real’ family networks but to naturalise a colonial hierarchy and supercede indigenous sovereignty. The ‘Imperial family of man’ required the conditions for surrogacy: the break up of families of the colonized and the concentration of ‘orphaned’ children within the colonizer’s family networks, both literally and figuratively.

During the 1930s, a policy of ‘breeding out the colour’ made marriage between whites and ‘half castes’ (as Aboriginal people with white and Aboriginal parents were called) desirable, but only with the approval of the Protector of Aborigines and on the basis that Aboriginality would be suppressed.

Patrick Wolfe argues that while other ‘coloured’ groups were excluded from the nation, Aboriginal people were ‘shifted from one of exteriority to one of interiority.since no external homeland could plausibly be assigned to Aborigines’ (2001:12). He points out that ‘the white authorities have generally accepted – even targeted – indigenous people’s physical substance (synechdocially represented as blood) for assimilation into their own stock’ (Wolfe 2001: 2). Assimilation and the shift ‘from exteriority to one of interiority’ was borne upon Aboriginal women particularly, as Larissa Behrendt points out: ‘women of the conquered are assumed to become the property of the conquering. Just as the invading colonists saw Aboriginal land as theirs for the taking, so too they assumed they could do as they wished with Aboriginal women without fear of interference from British Law’ (Behrendt 2000). In debates between Aboriginal ‘Protectors’ at the Canberra Conference in 1937, where the policy of ‘breeding out the colour’ was agreed upon by a majority of Protectors, white men’s sexuality was explicitly worried over (Roberts 2001) and also explicitly harnassed to biologically ‘absorb’ Aboriginal people who were not ‘full bloods’. At the same time that the ‘half caste problem’ was being addressed through removal policies and plans for biological assimilation, laws were introduced to prevent further intercourse between Non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people. The law did not prevent Aboriginal and white relations, in fact, it appears to have been ambivalently received and enforced (Haebich 2000: 239). While it may not have had ‘doctrinal explication’ (Wolfe 2001: 10) the plan to breed out the colour was simultaneously a plan to breed in the indigeneity, thus ‘resolving’ a problem of settler belonging keenly felt by those illegitimately in possession of colonised land. Australian writer Xavier Herbert puts it rather boldly as: ‘there is no hope of my ever being able to claim the right to live in this land unless I infuse my very blood into the Aboriginal race’ (quoted in de Groen and Hergenhan 2002: 71). Herbert wrote elsewhere: ‘Some day I shall father a Euraustralian so as to truly root myself in this dear earth and so as to legitimise my bastard white fella genius’ (2002: 71). He expressed these views at the height of the ‘breeding out the colour’ phase of assimilation, whereby Aboriginal (‘half castes’ particularly) were positioned in Official discourse (not uncontested) as providing good stock for white Australia to graft itself onto, while simultaneously ‘absorbing’ a cultural ‘problem’. Bringing eugenicist history into the present, Warwick Anderson points out that today the racial science of ‘breeding’ is still very much under the surface of current debates. He argues that it ‘may not inform research and practice in the clinic and the laboratory, but it remains the partly hidden bedrock underlying much public debate’ ( Anderson 2002: 258). He points out that ‘organic models and biological analogies, by now well disguised, still inflect arguments for and against Aboriginal assimilation and self-determination’ (2002: 258). Here I emphasise how such arguments still inflect white settler identity in Australia in its urgent pursuit of Reconciliation. Given the history of this trope of ‘Nation as Family’, the implications of what Perkins, Brown and Spigelman, Greer and others are calling for are more broad than might first appear.

Disputes over ‘legitimate’ family lines transform into disputes over legitimate views of Australian culture and history. This became obvious in the discussion around Sally Morgan’s My Place (1988), a book which drew attention to the shaming of Aboriginal and white relations and also to the effects of that suppression. Morgan was accused of pandering to white belonging (Langton, 1993:29-30): and race opportunism: ‘Instant coffee doesn’t mix easily with pure spring water’ (Huggins, 2003:62). Her revelations of white incestuous paternity were met by an attempted re-burial by the ‘Other’ family. Judith Drake-Brockman’s book Wongi-Wongi: to Speak (2001), and interviews after its publication accused Morgan of disloyalty to the family. In Wongi Wongi: to Speak, Drake-Brockman does not spend too much time debating the possibility that her father is also Morgan’s grandfather and great-grandfather. Instead, she defends the image of a man as a caring pastoralist, tying the family connections between her family and Morgan’s to the paternalism of the times: ”Father made a very strict ruling about fraternisation on Corunna Downs. The Aboriginal camp was, for their own welfare, out of bounds to all hands . he was not going to have the Aborigines taken advantage of.’ (9) In an interview on Channel 9’s Sunday program, another recognised member of the Drake-Brockman family, Ashley Dawson-Damer, recalls that on reading Morgan’s book ‘I felt the family had been betrayed because we had loved them and we had looked after them, and they were our family. And I don’t say blood family, because we knew we weren’t, but we loved them’ (Sunday transcript). Here Dawson-Damer articulates the slippage between the paternalism of Aboriginal-white relations ‘we had loved them and we had looked after them’ ( like children) and the non-figurative paternity that paternalism conjures up; ‘I don’t say blood family’ ( not like children). The shock Dawson-Damer displays at the revelation of incestuous paternity is reflected in the lack of words available to her to describe what she perceives as the necessary closeness and the necessary distance of their families. Dawson-Damer’s use of family here evokes an older, feudal model, where ‘family’ included both blood relatives and servants. The slippage here between ‘family’ and ‘servant’ is also invoked by Judith Drake-Brockman’s description of the ‘past’ as peopled by fathers, ‘kings’ and ‘bastards’. She says that in the frontier Kimberleys, ‘many, many a king in the past had bastards everywhere, that was the way they lived’. But she finds no evidence that Howden Drake-Brockman was one such ‘king in the past’ (and therefore possibly also Sally’s grandfather and great grandfather). In fact, proof of the impossibility resides, for her, in the happy marriage of her parents and Howden Drake-Brockman’s wife’s intolerance for liaisons between Aboriginal women and white men: ‘she never would have tolerated it if she knew’ (Sunday transript: 4). Judith Drake-Brockman also offers their sleeping arrangements as evidence: ‘happily, happily in the same bed, double-bed always’ (4). Drake-Brockman’s refusal of the story thus promises an intimate reading of her parent’s relationship, a curious transgression of another sort, seeking good conscience through peeping at the parent’s bedroom, their sex life, their double bed, the place for ‘legitimate’ sexuality. The idea of ‘the incest, the daughter’ so horrifies her that, ‘I just want to throw up about that’. Drake-Brockman wishes to expel it from the body of her family history; her own body and her family’s history fused in rejection. Perhaps Morgan’s lack of emphasis on this aspect of her story also suggests a level of disgust at being related to such a story, to such a man.

The opening up of this story demonstrates the profoundly difficult terrain in which the call to celebrate and recognise kinship networks operates. Spigelman suggests that it is important to take pride in these connections, but that seems a difficult task for Judith Drake-Brockman and for Sally Morgan, whose identities, deeply held family beliefs and loyalties lie not with ‘both’ communities/families, but with the one (‘my place’) with which they identify. Not surprisingly, neither ascribes a positive value to the incestuous relationship that brings the families ‘together’.

The capacity for the Morgan/Drake Brockman story to do the work of Reconciliation lies only in its retelling in second-order myth – where the violence, the shame and disgust are allegorised, leaving a narrative of Reconciliation, where white and Aboriginal shame is reclaimed as a ‘truthful’ source for the Nation’s pride, and where the force of denial and horror is read as the force of truth itself. The call to register the Aboriginal family connections (for whites) comes with the recognition of the conditions in which children were conceived, born and reared and the way that whites treated Aboriginal women and children. The dominant story in the following narratives is rejection and shaming of Aboriginal relatives and defence of white family distinctions from them. But there is also another element that whites need to take note of, and that is the, at times, stunning irrelevance of white relatives in Aboriginal life histories. Sally Morgan’s book, for instance, is not an expos√© of her white family (though they reacted to it as if it were) but a reclaiming of Aboriginality: white men who fathered Aboriginal children (like Howden Drake Brockman) are here incidental to the continuity of Aboriginal family connections. Whiteness is leapfrogged in favour of a persistent Aboriginality. Critics noted how Sally Morgan’s My Place relegates her white father’s history to the less significant side of the story or in Jeremy Beckett’s words: ‘her white forebears are delegitimised, leaving her with an immaculate Aboriginal identity’ (163). This lack of emphasis on her own white father and grandfather is understandable given that, at the time, it was her Aboriginality that was being consolidated: a reversal of the history of Aboriginality being delegitimised in favour of a white identity. Other stories are now possible and Morgan’s strategy contrasts with Lynette Russell’s account of her own grandmother’s passing, a passing that for Russell results in her being closed off from an Aboriginal identity.

Sally Morgan’s final chapter of My Place (1987) called ‘The Bird Call’ confirms Morgan’s identification with her Aboriginal heritage. As her Nan lies dying, the ‘Aboriginal bird’ calls out but is only heard by Jill, Sally’s sister. It signals Nan’s imminent death. Disappointed that she initially does not hear the bird, the book ends with ‘Oh, Nan,’ I cried with sudden certainty, ‘I heard it, too. In my heart, I heard it’ (440). This heart which hears the bird call also heeds the call to ‘identify with.[her] newfound heritage’ (172). Consequently, Morgan identifies with Aboriginality in order not to deny her Nan: reclaiming Aboriginality is here proportionate to cathecting the denial and shame that her Nan suffered. Lynette Russell in A Little Bird Told Me: Family secrets, Necessary Lies, (2002), also hears ‘our message bird’ (2) forever connected with her grandmother but in her memoir there is no connection between this and reclaiming an Aboriginal identity. Instead of ‘my place’, Russell finds ‘our place’ (141,142) and a ‘hybrid space’ is ‘salvaged’ from her grandmother and great-grandmother’s stories of passing for white. In these stories, Russell does not find grounds for a recovery of a Koori identity, but she finds grounds for rendering the truth of her own identity (and those of her grandmother and great-grandmother) uncertain, multiple, hybrid. A similar ambivalence and considered articulation of the implications of discovering Aboriginality in a ‘white family’ is found in Henry Reynold’s Nowhere People (2005), where he writes about the limited positions available to those in Australia with “mixed” descent.

In the call for a kin-fused Reconciliation, there are a couple of important things to observe about the recognition of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal kinship relations. The first is that on the whole, but with exceptions (like Russell’s), life writings have not been particularly interested in celebrating mixed race identities – rather, it is an Aboriginal identity that comes to the fore. There are few references to white fathers and mothers in Aboriginal life writing. For instance, Melissa Lucashenko points out in the preface to Hilda Jarman Muir’s Very Big Journey (2004) that ‘It mattered little that her father was an unknown white man. This small girl had a name, a loving family, and a secure Aboriginal identity’ (ix). Jessie Argyle is quoted in Alice Nannup’s When the Pelican Laughed as saying ”My father never claimed me’ Jessie said. ‘But I don’t care. I remember my mother and I got a life.’ (120). Suzanne Parry argues that ‘children born of rape were absorbed into an extended family that did not lack for the absence of the white male’ (143). One testimony from Bringing them Home evinces abject refusal of her white father, ‘I don’t want any of his blood in my body’ (1997: 240). White fathers in these cases are significant because they were major factors in removal from Aboriginal families. Life writings are commonly directed at Mothers and grandmothers that were left behind, or in Morgan’s case, attempted to pass as white. Doris Pilkington Garimara’s Rabbit Proof Fence is one example of this, although as Anne Brewster points out, the Pilkington Garimara’s work constructs a ‘counter archive’ (2002: 6 of 14) that strategically includes the naming of white fathers alongside other disavowed stories. In Donna Meehan’s autobiography It is no secret: the story of a stolen Child (2000), Meehan’s father is mentioned only once in the book ‘I was polite when I met him but didn’t feel any particular bonding’ (198). Aileen Moreton Robinson notes that in Aboriginal women’s autobiographies ‘Indigenous and white men are not mentioned or featured as main characters in the texts; it is indigenous women’s relations with other Indigenous women that are given significance’ (15-16). Also largely irrelevant is Bill Yidumduma Harney’s father Bill Harney. Hugh Cairns points out that ‘ His own recollection of W.E. is minimal. He told me he had heard about him sometimes, that his elderly father wished him well when they eventually met for a talk. But he responded matter-of-factly when mentioning a friend’s memory of his father, and quickly moved to a more interesting topic’ (xii). The writer is careful to indicate the lack of interest that Harney has for his famous father because the question of the white father evokes white interference on more than one level. Perhaps not surprisingly, whites follow the chain of whiteness in this story and are confused as to where it stops. The family ‘connections’ between Aboriginal and whites in Australia might be one explanation for why ‘ Australia has never seriously entertained a policy approach which recognises Indigenous Australians as distinct nations or peoples’ (Bradfield 80). The important point here is that kin-fused reconciliation is implicated in this lack of recognition of Aboriginal difference.

This interest in ‘who the father is’ has given whites access to Aboriginal people and culture in an unprecedented way and has up until very recently, placed Aboriginal children in danger of being removed from their families. This removal was enabled by the white fascination for biological paternity as key to social identity. Malinowski argued in Anthropological work published in 1913 that fatherhood was not strictly biological in Aboriginal societies and that fathers of Aboriginal children were the husbands of their mothers. Mary Bennett talked about this to the Royal Commission in 1934: ‘I have often heard the simple children pray that God will bless their father and mother, and then I have realised that they mean their aboriginal mother’s aboriginal husband’ (Bennett 1934). Bennett was arguing against child removal policies at the time. The knowledge that the children had fathers would have complicated the argument, used more in policy rhetoric, that removalists were rescuing ‘fatherless orphans’. An interest in white kin can preface interference yet again, the white reader, like the Aboriginal Protection Board, claiming white kin as his/her entry into a subject which concerns the intimate lives of Aboriginal people who hold whiteness at arm’s length. The lack of emphasis in these Aboriginal life writings on white kin may be indicative of not just lack of significance in their personal lives, but also indicate the weight of a historically over-determined significance that led to white interference and removal. Spigelman’s call for Australians to take pride in their Aboriginal ancestors appears to steer us back to a time when these ‘ancestors’ were seen as ‘fatherless’ and thus could be claimed by a State anxious to step in and claim them. He calls on the nation to embrace these difficult histories, where individual family members cannot, will not, or do so ambivalently or with greater sense of the wounds that surround them. The enjoyment of these connections and the celebration of ‘Aboriginal ancestry’ rather than Aboriginal continuity seems to be largely a symbolic gesture aimed at displacing racist whiteness and separatism. As such it is a powerful one, as I have argued, but it is also one that risks substituting specific lives and narratives for symbolic, archic reading which assign to these stories the power to regenerate the nation, to re-organise its racial divisions along the lines of fraternity, commonality and consensus. Spigelman hints at this when he says ‘Past assimilation has been treated as divisive and only divisive. It is more complicated than that’. While Spigelman makes a case for reading assimilation as something other than divisive only, it needs to be added that ‘division’ or dissent and difference is not inherently bad if it allows the Other room for ‘irreconciliable differences’ (Secomb 2000: 148) and for stories that are ‘difficult to reconcile’ (Kinnane, 379). Indeed, in Secomb’s analysis of a ‘fractured community’ like Australia, ‘community needs to be open to disagreement, resistance, and fracture. This expression of disagreement would not only allow a place for difference, it would overcome stagnation and complacency, and generate transition and transformation’ (137). In other words, Spigelman’s call to see the ‘good’ in assimilation draws parallels between it and consensus based fraternity. For community, for politics and culture, this can be totalitarian (Secomb 134). Spigelman concludes that it is not enough that the families only recognise these connections, he argues that they must be institutionalized at the level of the State: ‘In a complex society such as ours, relationships of civility, tolerance and trust cannot be established or maintained only on the basis of interpersonal relationships. They must be institutionalized.’ Spigelman’s reference here to the need for institutionalization of what he seems to suggest are ‘family values’ suggest that while the family might ‘achieve’ the fraternity that the State cannot, the family is not its rightful heir; the State is the rightful recipient, patron and father of such affairs.

There are autobiographies that do find grounds for incorporation of their non-Aboriginal kin, notably Stephen Kinnane’s Shadow Lines, Bob Randall’s Songman, Ella Simon inThrough My Eyes and Kim Scott and Hazel Brown’s Kayang and Me, as well as Scott’s fiction Benang. These very different narratives incorporate white fathers who recognised their children (not all in the case of Earnest Scat in Benang ) and who then earn a place in the family story. It is positive paternal relationships that are more likely to bear the place of pride for the kind of Reconciliation that Spigelman indicates might be possible. A closer look at two texts (Ella Simon’s Through My Eyes and Myles Lalor and Jeremy Beckett’s Wherever I go ) can help to contextualise the ‘position’ from which Greer and Spigelman make their impossible entreaties to reconcile, ancestrally (or in the 1960s), in the family.

A good reader of the peculiar psycho-sexual dynamics of the racially divided and kin-fused town is Myles Lalor, who was born in 1928 to an Aboriginal mother and white father. From his account of growing up in Uralla, it is clear that his father recognised him but that he was not intimate with him. His father’s parents did not recognise him because he ‘showed a bit too much colour’ (28). He suggests that this was because his paternal Grandfather was in fact ashamed of his own blackness: ‘somebody told me that old Grandfather, old Jack Fuller was a quartercaste. I never ever took it up with him. He never ever looked white to me. He was always about my colour, working in that butcher’s shop, but I never had much truck with him’ (29). His paternal Grandmother was disappointed that her favourite son (Lalor’s father) had become involved with an Aboriginal woman, and Lalor recalls taunting his Grandmother with his mere presence: ‘you used to see the hurt in her face for me to sit on her verandah and talk to her, and call her Granny’ (29). Lalor also used to like ‘getting back at them and making them squirm: like catching them on the street on a Saturday morning and running up: ‘How you going, Uncle, how you going, Auntie?’ See them squirm, amongst their so-called white relations’ (29). Lalor identifies a similar dynamic at work in Uralla as that seen by Brown and Perkins in Moree in 1965, a town that is racially divided into ‘black and white’ but in actual fact much more mixed than either: ‘You’ll hear people say that there’s no blacks in Uralla. Well, I’ll dispute it. I’m classified as black wherever I go, and when you look at Uralla, I must be related to about two-thirds of the town.’ (27) Lalor paints a town that is deeply divided between those who were classified as Aboriginal and those who were classified as white and is deeply conflicted about who might fit into those particular categories because the ramifications were enormous: ‘it didn’t matter how fair you was, if the police knew that you had a bit of blood in you, you’re still a bloody useless blackfella. ‘Get down the bloody mission there. Get down the bloody reserve. We don’t want blacks around here. Get going’ (43). Lalor was ‘troubling’ to his extended family: ‘They spend a lot of time worrying, ‘When’s that black cunt gonna kick the bucket?’ (laughs) (29). In this sense, his relatives’ rejection of Lalor is tied up with their resistance to being treated like a blackfella with the risk of being sent to the ‘bloody reserve’.

Myles Lalor is not clear about the circumstances of the relationship between his white father and Aboriginal mother but he depicts the towns as suffused with a violent undercurrent of sexual predation and opportunism for white men who took advantage of their structural and economic privileges to coerce Aboriginal women to have sex. He reports that police officers, store owners, managers of the stations, would threaten women with child removal, no rations, or expulsion (40-41) unless they agreed to have sex. Lalor says that ‘Some of the women have been known to say it at public meetings: “Yes, you say you don’t like blacks, but we’re not black when it comes bloody night-time”‘ (41). Perhaps the lack of recognition from his ‘white’ family is related to this history of coercive interactions between black and white. Perhaps the recognition of white and black family interaction exposes this other history and Lalor’s ‘white’ relatives did not want to be the first to do so. This is what kin-fused Reconciliation brings to the fore: both the continuity of relationships between Aboriginal women and white men and the shaming of them. Here shame’s accompaniment is not pride, but acknowledgment.

Ella Simon’s memoir Through My Eyes (1978) also depicts a rural town that is racially divided and connected by kin. Her father Sam is mentioned often in her remarkable life story, but his last name is not given: ‘I just couldn’t bring myself to like my father’s name. I won’t disclose what it was, because of his relatives and because I loved my father’ (12). Simon’s father worked as a Saddler, recognised Ella and was in contact with her. Her mother worked in the house of Sam’s family but died when Ella was little (having remarried and left Ella in the care of her grandmother).

Later in his life, Ella Simon’s father Sam went to live with her and her husband at Purfleet near the reserve. Her father’s family (including her Uncle the Town Clerk) objected to this and contacted the Aborigines Protection Board to have him removed. Her Uncle’s powerful position meant that ‘they were able to make so much fuss about his staying with me. Oh, it wasn’t fuss that was out in the open, though. They managed to keep it very quiet, in fact’ (18). Soon after her father was ordered away he became ill and ended up in hospital. It was some time before Simon came to know about it (not being informed by the rest of the family). She was very worried about how to contact him: ‘Black people just didn’t’ go and visit white people in hospital, let alone advertise that an old white man was their father’ (20). When Simon finally got to the hospital (with the support of her white employee) she finds that her father had already died days ago and that the hospital still had no details of his family: ‘Where was the rest of the family? None of them had been near him’ (21). It seems that the white family did not want contact with him, but even more than that they did not him to have contact with his Aboriginal daughter. After Ella makes arrangements for the funeral, she turns up, only to find that the family had cancelled her arrangements and made new ones and agreed to pay for it on the proviso that she not attend (22). At this she writes: ‘I think that’s the very first time that I felt so desperately angry about prejudice’ (22).

After her father’s death, Ella approached a friend of her fathers who told her: ‘Sam spoke of you for many years. The things he said about you were very, very good. I often used to ask Sam why he didn’t forget about you and he’d say, “No, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t let her go”‘ (24). The friend’s question indicates Sam’s contravention of a norm at the time: to ‘forget about’ the child, which, rather than ‘forget about’ would have meant ignoring and not recognizing her, much like one of her Uncles:

I’d nearly always run into this little old fellow buying a paper. He’d always be looking me up and down out of the corner of his eye. I used to wish I could read his thoughts. I mean, was there ever just a little doubt in his mind about the family dismissing me out of hand? Did he ever wonder what I was really like? Did he ever think that my father might not have done something so dreadfully bad in conceiving me as they had made out he had. If he did, he never said a word. I didn’t speak to him either. I never gave him a chance (25).

The story of the white family here is one of shame over Ella, and for Sam’s recognition of her: ‘They just wouldn’t let him alone’ (19). And in response to their shame and rejection, Ella also rejects them. The pressures on individual white men not to recognise their children were greater than the pressures to be a ‘good father’ to their children. Does Ella Simon’s story fall into the paradigm of kin-fused Reconciliation that Spigelman calls for? Ella Simon inserts her narrative into a broader context:

I don’t think it would ever arise today. The attitudes of people are so different, thank God. I think all this publicity about racial prejudice and prejudice against illegitimates too has helped to bring things out into the open more. Yet I suppose somebody had to suffer at first, so that we could all know how people who have to suffer such things feel, and how we should treat all people with respect. We had to learn the hard way before we knew what to do and what needed to be done (25).

In this excerpt Ella Simon connects her personal fight against racism and the racism of her white relatives to a broader ‘we’: ‘we could all know how people who have to suffer such things feel’. In this shift from ‘I’ to ‘We’ we also see her shift from an ‘I’ to a ‘somebody’ and a ‘people’, a ‘people’ who ‘had to learn the hard way’. This could be read as a manoeuvre that sees her personal battle swallowed up by the Nation or it could also be seen as an expansive manoeuvre whereby she maps her personal experience on to the Nation to teach it, and the people, something about themselves. Does she turn her narrative into the nation or over to the Nation? Ella Simon invites the readers to learn from her work and her account of her white relatives. Her account amounts to recognising the difference of her story and the differences of her white relatives.

Another alternative to the archic (as in State-building) rhetoric of Spigelman, Greer and Read can be found in the work of Stephen Kinnane Shadow Lines (2003). It recreates the lives of his grandmother, Jessie Smith (nee Argyle), an indigenous woman from the East Kimberley, and his grandfather Edward Smith, an English immigrant to Perth. Jessie Argyle was a member of the Stolen Generations, taken from her mother at the age of five in 1906, then kept in ‘settlements’ and sent out to work in white homes. She met Edward Smith and they fell in love, amid threats of prosecution for ‘cohabitation’ which could see Edward jailed and Jessie sent back to the notorious Moore River Settlement. It was nine years until the couple were able to marry. They had to ask the permission of A O Neville, who approved the marriage at a time when he became increasingly convinced that ‘biological assimilation’ was the key to eliminating the ‘half caste problem’. The couple took up residence in a house opposite Hyde Park in Perth ‘s northern suburbs and thereafter Jessie Smith (Mum Smith) became a centre of cultural activity, looking after other people’s children, hosting card games with indigenous and non-indigenous friends and neighbours and protecting her friends and families from surveillance. In his research Steven Kinnane gained access to the file kept by the Aborigines Department about his grandmother ‘File no 1261/21: Jessie Argyle Personal file’. Kinnane describes it as ‘thick as telephone book’, some three hundred pages long, containing correspondence between Edward, Jessie and Mr Neville, police reports, annotations of gossip surrounding her house and her visitors, letters from her requesting clothes, requesting access to her own money – in all aspects of the everyday over which Mr Neville and others had power. In searching through this file and others Kinnane is wary of their double edged nature, much like Kim Scott’s protagonist in Benang (2000). Through these files Kinnane can revisit something of his grandmother’s experience, and resistance and find links with more family, but they also represent the dominance of a white paternalistic culture that obsessively recorded, collected and biopolitically ‘managed’ the lives of those it attempted to file away. Kinnane treats these files as productive of shadow lines : he looks for the moments when the files break open new perspectives, leading him back to the community for alternative, oral histories of those years. These files betray their own secrets and complicate the ‘ability of others to make you inhabit their story of you’. (379) Shadow lines are also points of connectedness between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people which are, as Kinnane puts it, often ‘rough and difficult to reconcile’ (379). They do not collapse differences, they draw attention to them. For instance, one shadow line lies between the graves of A O Neville and Jessie Smith, buried near to each other in the same cemetery; same ground, different memories of place. Another shadow line exists between Edward Smith and Jessie Smith, both of whom resisted rigid lines of race drawn against their relationship. Other shadow lines exist between Jessie and her white father, M P Durack. Jessie Argyle was named after the station that she lived on, not her biological father who did not recognise her. The shadow lines are lines of alternative cultural memory which underscore official histories, settler ‘pedigrees’, the land and interactions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Australia. They do not appeal to the nation’s capacity to reconcile (to symbolically unify), rather they appeal to its capacity to give way to difference: ‘These lines of story shadow all of us. They are not always eloquent, or enlightening. Some are rough and difficult to reconcile’ (379). Shadow lines draw attention not to the imaginary of kin-fused Reconciliation but rather to the recognition that connections with Aboriginal people need not provide whites a way ‘in’, to bring us home, to do the work of settling us, welcoming us to country, into the family, guiding us into the country, reconciling. Shadow lines might be better thought of along the lines of Secomb’s ‘fractured community’, a community that allows itself the contestations, the differences, the disputes and doesn’t attempt to ‘resurrect old structures of commonality’ (133). A fractured community is one that can trace its shadowlines without seeking solace in the promise of unity, that congeals and calcifies difference. It is symbolic still, but a symbol that is attentive to the ramifications of shifting between family, Nation and State in a way that highlights the differences between them and within them

Kin-fused Reconciliation is seen as a solution to racial discrimination, but it is also rooted in it; after all, those who advocated family ties to bind Aboriginality to whiteness, argued that they too were alleviating discrimination against ‘coloureds’ by whites (Neville). Dr Cecil Cook also argued that it, implicitly, it was a better way to make the settlers indigenous, by breeding out certain undesirable white traits like skin cancer. This biopolitical interest in the fostering of family ties between Aboriginal and white was dreamed of initially to ‘breed out the colour’ (and in the colour), and now it re-appears as a way to breed out the racists and to biopolitically unify, reconcile a Nation that has not yet come to grips with difference. Family slips easily into Nation, so that bringing them home means bringing us with them, or so kin-fused Reconciliation seems to suggest. Consequently, both the liberal ‘extended family’ response (or kin-fused Reconciliation) and the conservative nuclear family exclusivity (kin-fused erasure), are problematic. One maps the Nation on to a family that deals with difference by denying it (not in my family) while the other deals with difference by assimilating it (my familyis difference itself).


Fiona Probyn-Rapsey is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney. The author gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australian Research Council.


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