Monday, 14 July 2014

All good scams must end

A few years ago, I casually complained to my local YMCA about their 'Indigenous' display.  I wanted to let them know that what they had done had the potential to offend people, despite how well-meaning they were obviously trying to be.  I expected an answer in the realm of 'we read a history book and that was our inspiration', but was taken aback when instead I was informed that this was the work of a local traditional owner, who oversaw the entire project.

This was the first whiff I had of Scammers posing as Aborigines right under my own nose.  So I started to hunt around, and in my searches, became all too familiar with the name Sonia Murray, aka Scams a'Plenty.


If you are to believe any of what she says as the truth, she was born to an Aboriginal mother and Scottish father.  Not just any Aboriginal mother either, but, one descended from the original owners of some of the best land in Melbourne - Port Phillip to the Dandenongs and then some, according to her sources.  Unfortunately, in the 1830's, her ancestors were captured and taken to the Bass Strait, unable to return to their country until a plucky descendant named Sonia, who would make the perilous journey some 170+ years later to stake a claim to what was once rightfully theirs.

In addition to her exceptional navigational skills, Sonia it appears, has 'the gift' - or is clairaudient, in her words.  A healer with the ability to see, hear and speak to spirits, available at an hourly charge ($100 for a phone consult, or if you're a bit cash strapped, $50 for an email) to cleanse you spiritually, like only a native can.  If you're feeling lost on your life path, she can contact your spirit guide and ask them for directions as to how you get back on track.

For a brief period, Sonia also set up shop as a snake oil salesman, sorry, Mutton Bird Oil salesman, via her wildly unsuccessful venture 'Nangana Healing Centre', where she offered goods that she declared to be Traditional Bush Medicine as well as the obligatory selection of overpriced 'arts and crafts' for suckers to purchase.  Almost all trace of Nanganas existence is gone from the internet now, but rather than assume that is because she scammed someone and had to shut up shop before people sued, as I'm sure some of you more cynical people will already be thinking, take comfort in the fact that it was probably because of all the other side ventures she had going on that were now demanding more of her time. 

One such venture was Hawkseye Heritage.  Far from being a greedy Aborigine, Sonia wanted to ensure that the environment was taken care of properly, and being who she was, self-appointed spokesperson for the Bunurong, decided to start a business that could fill a growing, and luckily for her - lucrative, demand for managing 'Cultural Heritage'.  The current boom industry.  With her partner Steve by her side, a didgeridoo playing traditional owner himself who could luckily double as a 'Cultural Heritage Officer' for her fledgling business as well, they set about having their demands met, and demand they did over the years. 

Far away from prying eyes, and subject only to the regulations of a body that is loathe to jump in quickly when an Aboriginal Corporation continually fails to meet compliance, they had a pretty sweet set up.  What might appear to most everyone else to be a 'conflict of interest', is almost par for the course in Aboriginal Organisations.  The transparency that should exist simply does not, and years can go by with annual reports and financial statements failing to be lodged repeatedly before they call in someone to take a look.  By then, it's usually a mess, as it was when the Special Administrator was appointed to Bunurong earlier this year.

How the 'Cultural Heritage' scam works is quite simple.  A local developer wants to get a project off the ground, our laws dictate that he must seek out the local Aboriginal group and get advice on the appropriate people to conduct a 'Cultural Heritage' survey/assessment/report/you-name-it.  How it works in this case goes a little like this - Bunurong, the local Aboriginal group, is approached by the prospective developer. Sonia, as Director of Bunurong advises the prospective developer of what work will need to be done, and, hands off the work contract to Hawkseye, the company she owns.  Nice little earner if you can get it.  In fact, Hawkseye invoiced Bunurong Land Council for a total of $4,955.00 in 'Administration Costs' in a less than 6 week period earlier this year.  That is not including the actual payments to the cultural heritage officers who undertake the work, of course.

With all the cash cows requiring constant milking, and a seat up front on the Gravy Train guaranteed to her, you might be surprised to learn that Scams a'Plenty still felt it necessary to pull off the sickest trick in the Fraudsters book - begging for donations for her sick child.  It seems that in addition to her many business ventures, she has also managed to register a charity.  A charity that proclaims itself to not only assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, but conduct research into childhood cancers.  There is a donations page on the charity website, and searches at www.acnc.gov.au (the Government charity register) confirms it does indeed have registered charity status. Should you decide to donate, it's all tax deductible. Which is probably a good thing- they seem to need lots of donation.  Currently, they need help (in the form of money, of course) to take her desperately ill child to a foreign country for treatment.  Treatment she herself is unable to afford, due to her loss of employment, which was of course, another cruel blow for the suffering family.  Unfortunately her timing was off to anyone who noticed (so far, I'm alone in that camp), for you see at the same time she was crying poor and unemployed, her company, Hawkseye, was receiving the above mentioned almost $5k in 'administration charges'.  She also neglected to mention during her shameless begging that she was planning a new business venture - in the form of a cafe/restaurant, and would later negotiate for leased premises in which to operate that venture from. 

I thought long and hard about providing the links to what I firmly believe is a scam charity, but one thing stops me.  The freely available information contained at length on the sites about the child in question.  The child may or may not have the disease this mother claims cash donations are needed to help fight.  Ultimately, that is irrelevant as I refuse to publish information that may identify a child.  The mother is scamming people, not the child, and I will ask that anyone who chooses to look into this further and finds out for themselves, that they not publish the information freely. 

But take heart.  She won't be getting away with her crimes.  As luck would have it, I'm not the only one who has noticed something dodgy about Sonia Murray.  Whether it was her aversion to paying taxes, or just that her number finally came up, a story in The Age yesterday is the turning of the tide for this particular fraudster.  A possible missing million dollars does not go away quickly or quietly, and now that it is out there in public, questions - uncomfortable questions - need to be asked.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

All the Answers



No, I don’t have them.   

But I hope nobody was seriously expecting I would.  And I want to dispel a myth that has been doing the rounds for some time now, and tends to take us all in at some point, but is ultimately holding us back from making real progress.

There is no Black Superman coming to save and unite us all who has all the answers.  

We don’t need an Aboriginal version of Malcolm X, or Nelson Mandela to lead us to the ‘promised land’ of a better tomorrow and unite us all for a common good.  It’s a popular thought, one I’ve even bought into at times myself, but it is holding us back from where we really need to be.  

Nelson Mandela was an amazing man in many respects, and whether you are a critic or an admirer, it is undeniable that he influenced many South Africans who believed him to be their hero.  The man who saved them from apartheid and promised them a better tomorrow.  The ANC today owe their position largely to the loyal voters who were Mandelas army, who have allowed their faith in one man to let them believe that they could close their eyes and relax.  He helped to establish the ANC, so it has his seal of approval and saintly touch, affording it an almost unquestioned morally superior status.  Superman had come to save the day and now, they could be free and relax their guards, content in the knowledge that their hero, Mandela, had ensured all would be well forevermore.

But it wasn’t to be.  Enter Jacob Zuma, now head of the ANC but probably more scandalously known as an alleged rapist and big time embezzler after his headline grabbing first term in power.  Despite his party claiming that they are dedicated to uplifting the  quality of life for the poor,  he installed a swimming pool at his luxurious compound while failing to achieve delivery of electricity or running water to the poorest of his people first .  

He has just been inaugurated for his second term.  

The problem with wanting to jump behind an icon, whether racial, religious or otherwise,  is that doing so is littered with pitfalls and hidden harms – and the fallout from these will be long, people will suffer, and as a country we will take years to recover from it.  Jim Jones wasn’t always offering after lecture refreshments of bitter tasting KoolAid  that knocked you down dead.  Nearly a thousand men, women and children did what the man they had followed unquestioningly, some for nearly a decade by then, had asked them to do.  Parents helped their children drink the foul liquid, then drank it themselves.   

They hadn’t all been unknowingly spiked the night before with mind altering drugs.  They hadn’t been mass hypnotised or told a lie about what flavour that KoolAid was.  Every adult knew that to drink it meant death.  And that is what they did.  Few people said no, and fewer still tried to run for their lives and hide. More than 95% of the followers at Jonestown went to their deaths on the panicked whim of their icon and nothing more. 
    
Icons and Idols have tremendous power to do great harm.  Whether it’s a religious figure, racial icon or representative of an ideology that is politically based or otherwise, they should not be free from scrutiny, and should never be believed to have all the answers.  If we allow ourselves to believe such a thing is possible, that one person can tell us all we need to know, and guide all our decisions, then we allow that person an opportunity to have complete control of our lives.   

Once you hand over that much power, it’s all up to luck whether you wake up in time not to drink that KoolAid.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Who's your mob?



If you’ve read any ‘Aboriginal’ media interviews, or watched NITV for longer than an hour, you’ve probably come across the question ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, and for those who never heard it, let me explain it to you, and for those who have – I want to tell you why I despise the term.

For those not in the know, or new to the term, ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, it is a term crafted and used originally by the Aboriginal Industry,  but now is creeping into the mainstream media,  to place a special label on a person and confirm their heritage.  Apparently, all Aboriginal people identify by their tribal groupings nowadays, and use this greeting to identify who they are to other Aboriginal people.  At least, that is the idea they’ve been promoting.  You can hear and see the term used often when someone wants to draw attention to the fact the person they are interviewing is ‘Indigenous’.  When asked the question ‘Who’s Your Mob?’, the answer is supposed to be a tribal name.  This allows you to then be referred to as a ‘(insert tribal name) man/woman’ thereafter.

Being ‘culturally aware’ is difficult.  Not just hard because the term is misleading, but difficult because a certain level of mental disconnect is required to achieve what stands for cultural awareness in this country.  ‘Who’s Your Mob?’ is a perfect example of this.  What may have been a common use greeting in one area, or one state, or amongst several family groups does not constitute an appropriate ideal for all.  But it has become almost standard use among several media outlets already. Despite the fact that we are striving for better educated Aboriginal adults and children, we are encouraging the use of little more than slang as a benchmark for our communications with one another. We should be aiming much, much higher than that.

Can anyone please explain to me how it is racist to say “All Aboriginal people are (insert derogatory stereotype of your choice)”, but not racist to think all Aboriginal people use poor grammar and are capable of speaking or understanding in only the most basic of English, or have only one way to ask one another where they are from, or who their family are.  I’m told only the first one is racist, the other, simply ‘cultural awareness’.  

If that is what passes as ‘cultural awareness’, you can take it and shove the whole idea.  I speak, read and understand English at a level you would hardly call remedial.  This is not a skill unheard of for an Aboriginal person to possess, in any location.

Because of the way I look, I am often approached by people for no other reason than the thought that we may share some relatives somewhere, or may have a common friend locally.  This exchange is usually instigated by a nod of the head and nothing more.  If I see someone I don’t know, but who looks obviously Aboriginal to me, one of us will inevitably nod in the direction of the other and a conversation will start.  Never once, in my many encounters, have I been asked ‘Who’s Your Mob?’.  Not once. When I talk about my family to others, I identify my links through missions, not tribal names or groups.  People will ask what my surname is, or ask for the location where I live or where extended family live, but never,  ever, do I get the NITV style ‘Who’s Your Mob?’
. 
I am not a product of traditional people who stayed on their ancestral lands, but a child born from generations of native people to this land who were rounded up and placed on missions almost two centuries ago.  My brother, sister and I are the first generation of my family to not be born and raised on a mission, but who were born to two parents who lived that life, and whose grandparents were, and their great-grandparents before them…and on it goes.  My story is not unique, but neither is it a story that fits all Aboriginal people in this country.  In the seemingly endless obsession to classify and understand Aboriginal people as a race, whether through the misguided notion that by doing so, less racism will occur, or whether for some other less noble intent, we’ve made a messy and uncomfortable bed for ourselves.  To label ourselves brings the expectation we can be categorised and understood based on that label alone.  Nothing could be further from the truth.    

The culprits aren’t just evil whitey anymore.  Aboriginal people have to wake up and point the finger at ourselves here as well, because now that we’re a special race, with special rules, and unelected representatives who speak for us and decide the issues on our behalf, it’s all on us.  By saying we’re so different, and do things in a ‘special’ way, so unlike everyone else and so unique and, again, special, we’re forced to conform to an imperfect ideal that is supposed to speak for us all.  We lose the right to be unique individuals when we allow ourselves to believe that we can be defined so easily, and by something that matters so little when it comes to who and what we are as a human being.

Gap Year

It's been awhile, but I'm dusting off the keyboard.

Not that it ever gained a whole lot of dust.  I half started over a dozen pieces, even managed to finish one - but I was enjoying time away from the internet more the longer time went on, and my short break away wound up being a gap year (and then some).

I wasn't completely cut off in my absence.  I didn't miss the Adam Goodes/Eddie McGuire affair, the 18c repeal debate, or anything else that was reported via television news, so expect my 2c on those dated subjects in time as well. And if you can't wait until then for which side of the fence I am about the King Kong joke, I'll at least give you an answer to that - I think Eddie got a bum rap.  I'm not his biggest fan, but the guy wasn't being a racist.

Let the fun and games begin...




Thursday, 4 April 2013

Who is more Aboriginal?

Recently, a contributor to this blog (Brotha_B) posed a question to me:-

In a previous post you wrote that neither of your children are disadvantaged “simply because they have an Aboriginal father” and that they do not fit the ‘stereotypes’ associated with Aboriginal kids in central Australia. However, would you agree this does not make them any less Aboriginal? They are still entitled to be proud of their heritage.

And in this blog post, I'd like to begin to attempt to answer that question, but I'm afraid I'll pose many more in the process.

You can't say you haven't been warned.  It's going to be a long one...


First, I think we need to be allowed to discuss what Aboriginality is?  How can we even answer who is less or more Aboriginal, if we don't have an opinion first of what it is to be 'Aboriginal'.  The thing is, Aboriginality (or being Aboriginal) means different things to different people, and a majority of those opinions I've been lucky enough to have shared with me in no way fit with the current three part definition that makes up our current law.

For some, to be Aboriginal means that you speak your traditional language, live on your traditional land (and understand how it was and is passed to you to care for), follow lore, perform ceremonies and know the stories of your creation.  To these people, my children would both not be considered 'truly Aboriginal' and neither would I.  Just of descent from those who once were.

For others, to be Aboriginal is an identity you have been given, whether chosen or not.  By virtue of appearance alone, an inescapable identity that singles you out from others - whether positive or negative. 

For yet others, being Aboriginal means that you have discovered a relative in your family tree who was identified as being 'Aboriginal' at some point, and therefore accept a previously unknown identity and adopt that in part or in full - due to pride, or a wish to 'belong' or a genuine interest in family history and Aboriginal culture, right up to the more sinister motivations like financial advantage or power seeking.

For a few, Aboriginality is about race.  The recognition that prior to the arrival of the various waves of people to these shores, there were a race of people scattered upon this country who shared genetic traits, practiced various rituals that often differed from tribe to tribe - collectively known as 'Aborigines', and that the bloodlines and traditional practices stemming from these people have either been diluted or maintained.  How Aboriginal you are depends on your mathematical blood quotient and their cut-off marks with what constitutes cultural practices.

I don't speak language (hasn't been the practice in my family since my Great-Grandparents), live in the suburbs and would completely agree with traditional Aboriginal people when they say they don't see me as truly Aboriginal.  By their standards, I'm not, and I understand and accept that.  My children wouldn't be either.  Although I've never been mistaken for anything other than Aboriginal, and despite my genetic lineage, Aboriginality is as much a system of lore and living and traditions to those who know what they are talking about when they say the word 'culture', as it is about genetic lines.  It is not skin colour or who you happened to be born to or from that gives you authority.  It is far, far more complex than that.  In their world, I have no respect or standing, and rightly so.  Our worlds are completely different and to ignore that is nothing short of being disrespectful.  I'm far more 'whitefella' than 'blackfella' in their eyes.


The thing is, if you asked 100 people who identify as Aboriginal and another 100 who don't, from all walks of life, to answer the question 'who is Aboriginal?' honestly, and without fear of reprisal or judgement (and they're not allowed to use the 'safe answer' of the three part definition), you will probably get a wide range of answers - everything from fitting into the categories above, halfway between one and another, to those that could make other categories completely.  When I've posed this question over the course of my life to all kinds of people, I've gotten a huge variation in responses.  All I've learnt is there is no one definition that is agreed upon amongst all people who consider themselves Aboriginal. 

If you ask me what being Aboriginal means to me, I would say it means that I am always identified by others as Aboriginal - that is the first thing that a question like that prompts.  Second, I would say that it means my parents were of only Aboriginal heritage, as were my Grandparents, Great-Grandparents etc, therefore I  am the sum total of my ancestry in that respect.   

I am secure in myself enough to be well aware that I am more than my appearance, but it is often the first thing others notice about me, and frequently employed in any description of me to others.  I'm judged more often than not in new social situations by the previous interactions with others of my racial group.  I often come without a clean slate, and have to overcome long held fears or beliefs before I can begin to build a relationship of any substance with a great number of people.  They are often not racists, but rather, like me, their experiences or what they have heard or been taught have helped shape their view in a way not always approved of.   They are cautious of me because I'm from the same racial group they just watched on television, where some reporter filmed an Aboriginal man and woman drunk and fighting in the main street of town with the voiceover telling them this is nothing new or exceptional.  They're frightened because I look the same as the people who John Howard came on television to explain were neglecting and abusing their children in record numbers.  They seem wary of me because they know that Aboriginal people are over-represented in our jails, and jails house people who have committed crimes.  Possible criminal by default - proceed with caution.  On the flipside, you get people who want to use you to demonstrate just how much their first year Indigenous Studies Professor has taught them about "my struggles".  They tell me "you're a true Australian" or loudly exclaim that they "support the First People like me in their just plight against the white man" or simply must tell me about some rally they attended to "make a difference".  

Want to know the difference between the first group and the second group?

With the first group, those often branded as 'racists', I often find that once I open my mouth and start talking, and they hear that I speak no differently to them, and am obviously educated - most times we find a common ground on which to start a friendly conversation and like magic, they stop seeing the black skin and treat me like an individual.  The latter group, however, more often than not, never seem to stop being able to view me as a victim or as anything other than an Aborigine.  They speak to me like I'm an idiot, that because of the colour of my skin, I was discriminated against in education and therefore lacking against their University educated prowess so they must make concessions for me and expect a lower standard of me at every opportunity.  They seem to believe that I am unaware of how the modern world works, or worse, believe I need some of their do-gooderness to overcome a disadvantage that I clearly don't have.  I'm a cause, not a person to them.  

But back to the original question...

Based on my own opinion of Aboriginality, my children have part Aboriginal heritage.  They live with me in the suburbs (they visit but don't live on the land their Aboriginal ancestors did), speak only English, and therefore, to me, they are 'less' Aboriginal than those children who live a traditional life, or have heritage that is solely Aboriginal.  I want them to have pride in the ancestors, but not selective pride.  My kids have a white history and family that is just as large as their black family and black history.  To pretend they don't, that they are only a singular racial background or identity, is not appreciating all of what contributes to making them who they are, and in turn, insults good people who have always loved them unashamedly (as do my children them) - whose only 'sin' worthy of such treatment is apparently being white. 
 
That my children are 'less' Aboriginal than some others in my eyes is not really the important argument in the entire debate.  It is not about whether they are part-Aboriginal, or part-white, or seen as one or the other, but whether having Aboriginal ancestors in itself makes them disadvantaged to the degree that other Aboriginal people in certain communities are.  I can't in good conscience say that they have it anywhere near as hard as many people I know who just happen to share their racial background.  Disadvantage is about circumstances, not genetics or racial identity, even if one racial group has statistically poorer outcomes than another.  It is not 100% of the group suffering, yet we continue with race based funding rather than needs based funding in an effort to alleviate this suffering and disadvantage.  All the while we're happy to pretend that there is no harm done by acting in this way, and ignore the fact that to provide benefit to one race exclusively, based only on the fact they belong to or identify as belonging to that race, is in itself 'racism'.  That kind of racism, we're apparently happy to suffer.  Other types, not so much. 



Racial politics are difficult.  Even for me, its often a fine line to walk.  If I do not mention my heritage, I am accused of somehow being ashamed of my race, when the reality is, I'm proud to have the heritage I do.  I'm proud because I'm descended from some great people who did great things.  The thing is, that heritage makes up only a small part of who I am as an individual and a person.  I'm many things that I'm very proud of - an Aussie, a father and husband, a carer, a lover of Rugby League and old Kingswoods - as well as being of Aboriginal heritage.  I'm no poster child for the Aboriginal disadvantage and suffering we are sold as being necessary to ask no questions about where race-based funding is spent, or how it is divided up.  If anything, people like me are the reason we should ask hard questions and not shy away from debate on this topic. 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Success - we like it white

Why are these people smiling?


Picture

The two on the left are smiling because they've not long returned from Harvard.  The two on the right are smiling because they're about to depart for Oxford.

The 2012 Charlie Perkins Trust Scholars

These three (excluding of course, the not-for-much-longer PM) are smiling because they're off to Oxford & Cambridge.

And yes, they're all Aboriginal.  All helped to achieve their dreams and more success than they imagined by the generous people at the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation & The Charlie Perkins Scholarship Trust, with help from the faithful taxpayers of course. 

Both organisations make some pretty high aims.  Some of them I even agree with, like needing more positive Aboriginal role models and mentors out there, however, I disagree with having an overwhelming majority of white faces cast to play those roles.  That is not to say that each of those people in the photo above won't be a great role model due to their achievements and efforts for their own family, or their friends, but a nationwide beacon of hope to all Aboriginal people? You can't even hope to claim such a thing is true.

What these opportunities have done is help these specific people.  Not all Aboriginal people .  We have no end of Doctors, Lawyers, Academics, Artists and Authors who identify as Aboriginal, however - it seems a smaller and smaller number of those are easily identifiable as Aboriginal - and therein lies the difference.  Whilst someone of a similarly fair complexion who identifies as Aboriginal may be able to look up to the group above and see one or more of them as someone whose achievements they can aspire to, that is just not the case for me. 

Perhaps, what is most disappointing, is the fact that when we question this lack of black faces among those receiving assistance in the name of Aboriginal Equality, we're called racist, or perpetrators of Lateral Violence.   Whilst taking part in the 'Aboriginal or Not' SBS program, Greg Lehmann stressed the point that those of us questioning the motives of those like him were guilty of Lateral Violence and responsible for much of the infighting amongst Aboriginal people.




A pretty comfortable position to take when you're on the blackfella dollar at Oxford, bruz

Similarly, Kyle Turner, recipient of a scholarship in excess of $50,000 for Aboriginal students, wrote a piece denouncing any questioning of heritage in a piece in The Global Mail in August last year, using the tired line of 'Bolt is a neo-con', rather than address the questions people like Bolt have even raised. It is just easier to keep labelling people I guess, as engaging in a dialogue on the issues may just bring to the surface some uncomfortable truths that cast some of us in an unfavourable light.

But who is that helping to succeed?


Let's look at the local cohort of Indigenous Barristers here in Victoria.

Linda A LovettRobin A RobinsonCathy M DowsettJacqualyn L TurfreyAbigail  I Burchill

Or have a gander at the Board over at the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association.


What gaps have we closed again? 

Monday, 18 March 2013

Don't be sorry for me


When I was born in 1973, my parents were only 18 years old - and I was their third child.   Before I was 2 years of age, my brother, sister and myself became foster children.

My brother and I were sent to live with a white couple, who by this stage were also taking care of several of my Aunts.  My sister was fostered and eventually adopted by the brother and sister-in-law of my foster mother. 

But don't be sorry for me.

That white couple, I call them Mum and Dad.  And I couldn't have asked for better parents to raise me than the two people my father and Great-Grandmother (Nan) chose.

Dad was a hardworking, big hearted bloke, and Mum was a larger than life woman, who'd always wanted to have children, but after several losses was told that it was never going to happen.  Thankfully, fate stepped in and our worlds collided.  Her best friend was employed as the Nurse at the Lake Tyers Aboriginal mission, and introduced Mum to my Nan, who instantly fell in love with her.  Turns out they were the answer to each others prayers.
 
My father was the eldest of a large family of 9 children, and by the time I was born, his mother had already passed away at the ripe old age of 35 - close to two years before I even arrived in the world.  Before I would have my first birthday, his father would also be dead, aged only 40.   After the passing of my Grandfather in 1974, my Nan, now 64 years old, was left to care for her grandchildren - three of them still under the age of 10.   Adding to her headaches, my parents weren't doing such a bang-up job of things (very young, both only knowing mission life and having three young kids, I can't say I'd do better) and my Nan again had to step in. 

I'm grateful that my Nan could see the value in education, as that is what she hoped to achieve for us by sending us to be cared for out in the 'white world'.  She wanted the opportunities and a life for us that she knew would never be afforded to us if we stayed on the mission, and so, along with my father, made what would have been one of the hardest yet most selfless decisions of her impressive life - and sent us to live with a couple she had grown to love and admire for their generous hearts and kind souls.

My father and my Nan were regular visitors to our house while I was growing up, as were most of our extended family.  By the time I was about 8 or 9, my parents had 12 foster children (including me) - all of them Aboriginal and all of them related to me.  I had cousins, Aunts and my brother living in the same house, and whenever another carload of relatives would turn up to visit, the doors would be flung open and everyone was welcome.  Each and every holiday, we would have a full house and then some, and there was always lots of laughter and love in the house.  We had the kind of childhood that you see in the movies, we celebrated 'Unbirthdays' and even had our own special song to go with them, had regular 'Scare Nights' as most of us were horror fans, and got into everything festive and seasonal. 

Mum and Dad did all of this on a tight budget, and I watched them both go without time and time again to make sure each and every one of us had what we needed first.  Dad worked long hours as a pump jockey, and never complained.  I remember one day he had an accident at work and burnt his leg quite badly with LPG gas, but he refused to even take the afternoon off work, hopping around on one leg to fill other peoples cars with petrol because he had 12 hungry kids to feed.  Mum was a financial wizard who knew where to find the best bargains and stretched Dads pay packet out to get value from every cent. We never went hungry, we always had a warm bed to sleep in, and there was always a hug and the door was always open.

But it wasn't always sunshine and roses. 

Two white people and a large brood of black kids tend to stand out.  Often for all the wrong reasons.   I don't know how we came onto their radar, but after finding out about us, one of the local Aboriginal organisations began making noise about our situation.  They were unhappy that white people were fostering Aboriginal children, and wanted us removed from their care.  We were reported to Welfare, but thankfully the world wasn't yet gripped by Stolen Generation hysteria, and when they found us to be well fed, clean and healthy, wanting to stay and very much loved, they had no grounds to remove us.  This didn't stop the cycle repeating several times over, and by the time I was in my teens, Mum had a thick folder full of letters from Welfare - all typed up on blue paper - all the result of people who cared not for our situation or our welfare, but were simply horrified that the people providing exceptional care to us were, shock horror, white.

I was never denied my culture, in fact, my parents did everything they could to keep us connected and proud of who we were.  My father was a regular visitor to our house, and he and Mum built up their own special connection, one that endured for decades and until death.  He called her 'Mumma Dawn' and she had a multitude of nicknames for him, 'Peanut Butter' being one of the favourites.  

My mother was quite a different story.  I only remember one visit from her, when I was about 8 or 9.  My Uncle had brought her down to see us, but when they pulled up in the driveway, she didn't come inside the house.  I was told to go out and see her, and we mumbled a 'hi' to each other before I invited her to come inside.  She stayed firmly planted in her seat and told me she wouldn't go inside the house, not with those 'white c**ts inside'.   I remember feeling angry, and I said to her 'those white c**ts are looking after us kids and you don't even have the decency to come in and say hi'.  I told her I didn't want to see her again if she was going to be like that.

I didn't see her again until I was in my 20's.  An encounter in a hospital entrance - I walked straight past her and didn't recognise her.  My brother had to point her out to me, and I introduced myself to her like a stranger 'Hi, I'm Dallas, remember, your son?'.  The only response I got was 'Oh...hi'.  Awkward silence ensued and I left shortly after.  She died about a year later, and took with her all the answers to all the questions that seem to amount to little more than Why? 

Mum & Dad lost friends, and even family, over their decision to foster Aboriginal kids.  Mum had a sister who lived just around the corner from us, but I never met her.  When Mum began fostering, she just disappeared.  Another sister almost completely ceased visiting her, and when confronted as to why, she revealed her husband 'doesn't like Aborigines'.  After his death, when she still didn't visit, we all realised what was really going on.   Mum never had time for the mind games though, she was a very no-nonsense woman and people quickly came to realise that if we weren't welcome somewhere, Mum wouldn't go either. 


Right up to the final years of their lives, they fostered Aboriginal children.  More than 40 all told, some short term, but most like me, children they raised from infancy to adulthood.   When I lost them both in 2009, I was gutted.  The two people who had given me everything in life and asked for nothing in return, the people who had always been there to guide me,  to provide everything in a role model I could ask for and then some, were gone.  I will be forever grateful that I had the privilege to call two such incredible people Mum and Dad, and eternally thankful for all that they have done for me.

I wouldn't be here, writing this today, if not for them.

Vale Raymond Christoffersen - beloved father to many
Vale Irene 'Dawn' Christoffersen - beloved mother to many

**This has been a difficult post to write, and rather an emotional experience - but one I feel is necessary.  I want people to understand that great foster carers come in all colours - and I believe it would be nothing less than a tragedy for the current thinking of 'Aboriginal kids need Aboriginal carers' to be allowed to gain any more traction.  Kids need good carers, loving carers, and dedicated carers, and sometimes, the best person for the job will be a white person - and that is definitely not something to fear.