What I learned from an Aboriginal street brawl

Posted on June 22, 2011


Racism - alive and well in Australian op shops

The other day I was walking from my office to a cocktail bar for a cheeky post-work mojito when a violent commotion materialised out of nowhere in front of me.

It was a drunk Aboriginal man chasing a drunk Aboriginal woman around with a large stick.  He was shouting at her ‘You bloody woman, I’m the boss over you, come here and learn your lesson.’

The stick was as thick as my forearm and when he eventually caught up with her at a bus stop he began hitting her over the head repeatedly until it broke.

All the middle class white people, including me, were frozen on the pavement.

I’d like to say I was brave, but I wasn’t.  There was no way I was going to try and wrestle an intoxicated, violent man to the ground.

I remember thinking at the time ‘I wish my Dad was here’ because he would have been in there like a shot.  Whereas me, not being a former rugby player or male, decided to cop out

At one point the man briefly lost his balance and the woman used the opportunity to escape across the road, not realising that a bus was pulling in at that exact moment.

She was nearly killed, but miraculously the bus was able to stop in time and she ploughed on – unfazed and barefoot – into oncoming traffic.

Not knowing what to do and with my heart still hammering, I stood completely still until the man had wandered off – still screaming obscenities.  Once the adrenaline subsided, and at a loss to know how to respond, I just kept walking.

About 30 minutes later I was safely ensconced up the road and half way through an overpriced cocktail when the same Aboriginal woman appeared out of nowhere.

She began walking up to the table where my friend and I were sitting.

She stank.  She had a bloodied face.  She was asking people for money.

I felt like such a jerk sitting there in my Cue dress, sipping a mojito with my trendy friend in the sunshine.  I was so horrified by the juxtaposition of my life and hers that instead of doing something helpful, I started to cry.

Way to go, Hawkesy.

As she trundled away, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she’d just been violently assaulted, I wondered what on earth I could possibly do to make things better for her and, to be honest, was it even worth me trying?

I wondered: Am I racist?  Am I just plain middle-class selfish? Or, am I a rabbit caught in cultural headlights?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that NAIDOC week is almost upon us – an annual celebration of Aboriginal culture inAustralia.  I also know that the March for Reconciliation is happening on July 8 and I know that I’ve just been appointed to the Aboriginal Reconciliation Sub Committee.

So as I am being thrust into the thick of this complex issue, I have decided to dedicate my next three posts to understanding what Aboriginal reconciliation is really about.

Yours in white, middle class ignorance,


Posted in: Talking Frankly