The first five years of my life I was raised by my great-grand-parents on our traditional land on the Sunshine Coast. By traditional land, I mean our tribe the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi tribe originate there. My great-grand-parents Cecil and Pauline had raised three generations – their own children, their children (my mother and her siblings) and then me and my siblings.
My great-gran Pauline's mother Chloe was a part of the Stolen Generation and was taken when she was twelve years old, where I was told, she was raped and child-tortured. When let go, Chloe went back to her people and married and had my great-gran and her siblings.
Every story I heard about Chloe was how angry she was and how bitter was her temperament as she grew older, and astonishingly racist against her own people. On the other hand, her daughter, my nan, Pauline, was completely the opposite. Nan Pauline was was kind, loving, smart, funny and always seemed to have a smile on her face no matter what the circumstances.
Pauline faced a lot of prejudice and would say, I can hear it now, not to hold grudges against the people who were being prejudice against us and her bright presence and strong stance was what held our family together. Sadly nan Pauline passed away when I was five years old, then my Pop kept on raising us.
My Pop Cecil is an old South Sea Islander man whose family was Blackbirded over to Australia as slaves to work – to cut sugar cane. My Pop spoilt me and I recognised he did his best job he could do for the following five years. He was suffering from a broken heart after Nan Pauline passed away.
Cecil had real medical problems with several heart attacks and strokes and against ball odds he remains alive today. In my view, he is a great man, he never smoked throughout his life or touched any drop of alcohol. My prayer is that he will allow Jesus into his life before he too passes on.
Some early experiences
On the Sunshine Coast I got an occasional racism taunt when very young. My family was one of the respected families in our community of South Sea Islanders and Aboriginals. I do recall at primary school in Nambour, I was teased for being the colour of "poo" and my skin being "dirty". I recall ending up in the girl's toilet or behind a classroom wishing and wishing in my heart that I could be "white".
One time I was told to take the same tablet Michael Jackson took to become "white" and then I could be friends with all the other kids. I told my Pop. He said not to worry but I couldn't not worry because it hurt me.
When ten, my Pop wanted me to have a woman role model as I was getting a little older and since my mother was never a mother to me, I was sent to my mum's eldest sister in Mount Isa. It was a huge change from the lovely cool Sunshine Coast to a hot and stuffy mining town. I was nonetheless thankful to uncle and auntie for taking me in. Auntie was a nurse and Uncle a Police Officer.
They worked hard to give their own children and me a good home, and looking back on my five years with them, racism was never far from the door. Some examples, one occasion, my cousins and I were on our push bikes to the corner store to buy lollies, we were eleven and nine. We had a squiz at some magazines followed by purchasing the lollies, went to our bikes in the bike rack, and a man came running at us screaming and yelling racist slurs. This huge man thrust his hands into both our pockets looking for stolen lollies but found nothing.
My cousin and I were shocked and scared, we got on our bikes and high tailed it home in complete silence. We didn't know why he did this and we never went back to that corner shop. Another time, when 13, my best friend Becky and me were in a large super-market type store buying flip-flops and checking out other items us teenage girls were interested in, lining up with seven people ahead of us, they all went through without a problem, but we were black. We had to show our small bag and purse and the woman snatched the bag right out of my hand. She frantically searched, even unzipping the small empty compartment.
Becky was very annoyed and told me to take my bag back and that we were not spending money in that store. I walked out and never returned. I realise it may have only been that "one woman" but it left such a nasty sour taste in our mouths. That woman's face was filled with that look, that said I was a bad egg. She really wanted me to be thief and proving her wrong, in our view, made her even more aggressive.
Another example, I had a school art assignment where I required some gold and silver paint, my auntie took me to the "cheap store" but we could not find these items and we enquired of the man in the shop. He leads us to the rear of the store to a locked steel cupboard which houses the paints.
These were tins and I simply explained my need, a small tube. Then out of nowhere he asks: "Are you going to sniff it?" I was young, I had come from the Sunshine Coast where I never knew about "sniffing" and I did not know how to answer the man. He continued, "I have these locked because of you people." Now, all these years later, I realise it was a good idea, but to accuse every indigenous person that seeks paint for a school project of "sniffing" was a bit much.
My first job
My first job was working at a Chinese Restaurant and after my first two weeks the owner and my employer asked me if I hand any friends that would also like to work. "Yes" I said said excitedly, and his response nearly floored me, "They need to be lighter than you, you are too dark." I finished my shift and never went back. This devastated me. In my view it is OK to tell an employee they are too slow or you need to improve table manners and the like, but not that you are too dark.
I relocated to northern New South Wales in my later teen years to Crystal Creek, back to my mother, whether she might cope with a teenage girl, but in the end that didn't work out. High school there was mostly fun, but I was called a 'nigga', 'coon chick' and the worst of all, "Abo'.
To counter this, after some tough lessons in Mt Isa I would return fire with fire and this shut some of them up, when, they in turn got called "nasty names" but I ended up in the girl's bathroom crying. I could not comprehend why so many were so nasty and racist because the colour of skin is black.
God made me the colour I am. The Lord never said I was too dark. He made me this colour for a reason. I believe God does not look at the skin colour, rather what is in the heart and more specifically my heart.
Next month, I'll continue this story.
Tisha Williams is an indigenous home maker and mother on the Gold Coast / Tweed. He husband Edward is an indigenous painter, training to be a carpenter and teaches their children his language and dream time stories which have parallels in the Bible.
Tisha Williams' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tisha-williams.html