Sorry Day is the anniversary of the event when Australia’s Prime Minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, officially apologised to the Aboriginal people of Australia for the “Stolen Generations,” and many other terrible injustices the invaders have committed.
To celebrate this anniversary, here is a short story about one of my favourite people. This story is one of a bouquet from my new project: Lifting the Gloom: An antidepressant primer of short stories.
The name on me birth certificate is Jarrod, but that’s a bloody whitefella name, so I’m Jarro, see? And tell you what, it’s bloody awful, being an Abo in the white man’s world. Oh yeah, there’s all that political correctness bullshit, on the surface. But check out the facts, mate. I looked it up. We usetta care for all this land. Now we’re 3.3% of the people in Australia. For one thing, it’s ‘cause we got killed off with bloody smallpox and measles and flu. They even usetta give smallpox-infested blankets to us. And arsenic in waterholes and other fun and games. One of me great-grandfathers was killed on a buck hunt. Like, “Run you black bastards,” then the gentlemen rode after us with bloody rifles. What fun!
OK, that was back then. What’s it like now? Look up bloody “australian aboriginal proportion of jail statistics” and you get “In December 2019 the rate was 2,536 prisoners per 100,000 adult Aboriginal population, compared to 218 prisoners per 100,000 non-Aboriginal population. More than 30% of all Australian Aboriginal males come before Corrective Services.” We’re not crims. It’s selective stuff from the cops. What gets a look the other way for a white bloke gets all too much notice for us. And also, how do people deal with anger and hopelessness?
Bein’ a jailbird includes me all right. I’ve done 18 months, and let me tell you, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.
See, as a young fella, I was eaten up by hate. Youse stole our country, did your best to exterminate us like vermin, and now all we get is either hate or disdain. Like, I was top of me class every year in school, but the only jobs I could get was bein’ on the handle end of an idiot stick. And if you don’t know what that is, the other end is a steel blade you dig into the ground. Got it? Yeah, a spade.
Sure I coulda gone to uni, was offered a scholarship, but shit, sitting indoor all day, all sorts of crap stuff I had no interest in back then, right? And I wanted to stay near home, and there everyone knew me for a troublemaker, which, tell you the truth looking back, I was.
I usetta dissolve the pain in grog. I went into a pub one day, and this bloke shouted, “Hope you wash the glasses well, I don’t wanna drink from the same one as a filthy Abo.” So, I picked him up and threw him through a window.
Bein’ cut off from country is the worst thing you can do to an Abo, and I was put into jail in Beechworth. I’m Wurundjeri, and that’s Yeddonba country, see? It’s as if you was a Yank and they put you in jail in Mexico. Only, it’s incredibly worse, youse whitefellas can’t even imagine what being outa country is like. In the old days, bein’ banished from country was a death sentence.
And I had no grog. Had to dry out, and that was pretty bloody awful at first, but I got through it. Then I had nothin’ to do but think. And what I thought of was what the Magistrate said to me before puttin’ me away: “Mr. Barnett, it was wrong for Mr. Montelli to say that. Hate speech is against the law. You had every right to stand up for yourself, but you had no right to assault him. Two wrongs don’t cancel out but add up.”
This Magistrate was a grandmotherly old lady, and part of me culture is respect to the old, so I listened, like.
Two wrongs don’t cancel out but add up. Right. I got it, though it took me a while.
Y’know what? I ain’t hurt no one since I’ve come out, regardless of what crap they were doing. What they do is their shit. I won’t stand for no abuse or unfairness, but refuse to do the same back. I do what’s right, and that’s to work for a better world so no one is treated worse than anybody else.
So, as I said, bein’ put away for 18 months is what changed me life. Not as punishment, but as forced thinkin’ time.
And in me heart, I bless that old grandmother Magistrate.
Who is Jarro?
One of my favourite friends, that’s who, even if he only lives within my computer, until my Doom Healer series finds a publisher with sense enough to know that its hero, Bill Sutcliffe, has the potential to join Harry Potter. Well, that’s my unbiased opinion.
In past lives, Jarro has been various famous people, including Plato, King Solomon, and John the Baptist. This time, he was born Australian Aborigine, because he needed to learn the lesson he described, and because he needed to join up with Bill.
Bill and Jarro are current incarnations of two among twelve spirits who have travelled together through the ages. Their task is to save all complex life from extinction, in our times.