Week 10, Semester 2
By Tyson Holloway-Clarke
On the morning of the 13th of February I was turning 13. I had just returned to boarding school for Year 8, and was supposed to be in maths. Instead I was in a year 7 humanities class taught by Ms. Deguara. We were watching Kevin Rudd deliver the Apology to the Stolen Generations. Ms. Deguara understood the historical significance of the moment and did not question my wanting to miss maths to watch the Apology myself. I think if she had her way she would have had the whole school, the whole country, stop and watch.
My Dad Gavin called me after Kevin had stopped speaking and I left the classroom to take the call. I had gotten a phone for the first time last year so I could keep in touch with my family during semester. He was somewhere in the Northern Territory at the time. We spoke a lot over the phone - we only saw each other a few times a year since he and my mother broke up and we moved from the NT.
Gavin is a hard man. Worked as a labourer and carpenter most of his life. He was known for physically tormenting his opponents on the footy field. When he wasn’t digging holes and kicking goals he was working security in Adelaide and Darwin, places notorious for bikie gang activity. His hands, head, and arms are covered in scars. Some merely flesh wounds from decades past, others are reminders of all the close calls.
Gavin is an emotional man. Back in the day he was known for his temper and has been in more than one high speed car chase. That being said I have only known him to be brought to tears under three circumstances. He cries when he is going to miss us and he has to send us back to our mother. He cries when he is proud of us, graduations and birthdays are never dry affairs. On the day of the Apology that he also cries for his mother.
I sat on a bench outside, missing more of my maths class, for a half hour after Kevin had finished. It only took about a minute before Dad had started crying. He cried for his kids and for his mother. My Gumani, Eileen, had been taken as a toddler to the Moore River Native Settlement near Mogumber. She was there the same time as Molly and Daisy, the sisters from the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Years later, I would record her experience as part of my history honours thesis but at 12 years old I had no idea what she went through and what it meant for my Dad. I had no idea that she was a slave.
Gumani held her story and experiences tightly, sharing them with only a few people at first. As my father grew up he did not know the specifics about what happened to his mother, he just knew the church, the police, and the government were responsible for taking her and keeping her from her mother.
So when the Apology aired across Australia and rippled around the world it resonated with my Dad. He had lost his chance to talk to her about it but he knew the pain, the confusion and the frustration. Here we both were, crying on opposite ends of this wide continent. My grandmother did not live to hear her Apology, but we did and we cried for her.
It wasn’t until much later that I realised that the Apology was controversial to some. I had missed Brendan Nelson's speech in reply. I had missed the fact that Dutton and others had left the parliament or abstained from the Apology. Now that I am older I understand that there are people out there without compassion, empathy, or decency. Whether it is born of prejudice or ignorance the result is the same, they turned their back on my grandmother, my father, and me. Those of us that remain have not forgotten what happened. And we will not forget who turned away.