Aboriginal Reconciliation 1-0-1

Posted on June 29, 2011


Colin Darcy and I are the same age.  We are both young professionals.  We like the same music.  We were both educated in the city. My single girlfriends would probably ask me to introduce him at the pub.  We are both wearing cool sunglasses.

It strikes me that Colin and I live startlingly similar lives as we sit sipping lattes at an inner city café.

Yet our journey to trendy sunglasses and lattes has been markedly different.

An Aboriginal childhood

Colin grew up in poverty and without ever knowing his father.  His mother had children at a young age, never worked and died of heart disease – a common killer among Aboriginal people – when he was 15.

His brother also succumbed to the same illness a few years later and he was taken from his hometown of Whyalla to Adelaide to live with relatives.  He found school in the city a challenging and alienating experience.

While I was busy watching Degrassi Junior High with my brother; building go karts with my Dad and practising my Indonesian with mum before a home cooked meal, Colin was in trouble with police and exposed to drugs and alcohol from an early age.

He tells me about his anger and frustration at growing up poor and his constant fight against feelings of hopelessness.

Racism in sport

Sport became his saving grace and he began a promising career in AFL.

Despite the god-like status of Australian athletes, on his way to footy games with his uncle, white people would hurl racial abuse out of car windows as they drove past.  On the field he was constantly denigrated because of his race.

Today he still gets nervous when a police car pulls up next to him at traffic lights, unsure if they’ll pull him over on suspicion of car theft.

Colin has been denied entry into pubs and clubs because he is Aboriginal and ethnic taxi drivers tell him not to give them any trouble.

As he sits across the table telling me this in a very detached, emotionless way I feel slightly confused.

We are the same age.  We live in the same city.  We go to the same pubs.  We are normal, clean cut, tax paying, ray ban wearing, iPhone carrying young adults.

Why is this happening to him?

“Stereotypes of Aboriginal people are the most damaging thing,” Colin says.

“We are constantly painted with the same brush.

“I wish the media would take some responsibility for the way they portray Aboriginal people.”

Colin is matter-of-fact when I tell him what I saw inVictoria Square a few months earlier.

“Look, that happens and it’s awful; But it’s ridiculous to conclude that every Aboriginal person is like that,” he said.

“Unfortunately, some Aboriginal people are caught in a vicious social cycle and they need need help with it, but people also need to be willing to help themselves and to try and break the cycle.

“No amount of money or Government policy will make that happen. It’s about individuals wanting to make their lives better for themselves and their children.”

A major roadblock to reconciliation for Colin is a perceived lack of empathy from the white, middle class community.

“White people think saying ‘I’m not racist’ solves the problem.  It’s much deeper than that,” he said.

“The biggest frustration I have is that people don’t understand or want to understand Aboriginal culture and history.

“They don’t want to know why many of us struggle and many people simply don’t believe us when we talk about our life experience.

“It just seems easier to look the other way.”

As feelings of indignation and frustration rise in me against my less empathetic, middle class counterparts, I suddenly realise I am one of them.

I wear the badge of reconciliation, but really haven’t bought in to the cause beyond lip service.

I have adopted a socially-acceptable, politically-correct and detached level of sympathy – a far cry from true empathy.

I ask Colin what I can do.

The solution

“It has to be a grass roots thing,” he says.

“Every single person in Australia from school to university to professionals should all have to undertake Aboriginal cultural awareness training.

“This is how we can constructively help people to understand our culture, our social challenges and help bring about a change in attitude.

“It’s also about doing whatever we can to highlight positive Aboriginal role models – particularly for the kids – which is where the media can really help.”

Throughout the interview, Colin is balanced, considered and clearly weary of the negative stigma associated with his Aboriginal heritage.

But he’s making it count.

Aside from his work with Native Titles, South Australia, Colin – AKA Caper – is an emerging hip hop talent.

When we meet, he is fresh from recording a video clip for Sight For All with Andrew McLeod and other indigenous footballers to help Aboriginal kids understand key health messages about nutrition and eye care.

He is also a subject of keen media interest after Facebook banned his latest video clip ‘How Would You Like To Be Me’ because it was too racially offensive.

“White people were getting upset at my lyrics,” he said.

Colin is from the Narungga tribe of Port Pierce on Eyre Peninsula – one of the ‘Butterfish Mob’ as the Aboriginals call them.  He has retired from footy due to injury and now works as a field officer for Native Title, South Australia.  His new EP will be released later this year.

Check him out on myspace and Twitter or become a fan on Facebook