I know very little of Australian literature. Apart from the splendid autobiography of Janet Frame, some novels by Elizabeth von Arnim and the splendid book that someone had sent from Australia in one of Expatclic’s literary rounds, The Secret River by Kate Greenville, I can’t tell you much.

Recently, however, I came across My Place by Sally Morgan, a famous Aboriginal writer. My place is the story of her life but also of the lives of her family.

The narration, in fact, begins and continues with Sally for most of the book, but ends by giving voice to her mother, her grandmother, and her grandmother’s brother. They all speak of a reality Sally hadn’t heard of growing up. Why? Because Sally’s family is Aboriginal, and always tried to hide this oppressive inheritance from her children. Sally and her brothers and sisters, in fact, are confused about the meaning of “where are you from?“, murmured around school. Of course, Australians, but from where really?

This is the question Sally asks her mother one day, explaining that some children claim to be Australian, but also Indian, Italian, and Dutch. “Say we’re Indians,” her mom hastily dismisses the issue. And this leaves Sally even more confused.

While the first part of the book focuses on Sally’s dad’s illness and the state of sometimes extreme poverty in which the family is, in the second part the question of identity emerges brutally. What Sally does is to unravel a tangled skein, made of allusions, sensations, tangible things and others never said. She patiently undoes the knots of maternal silence and grandmother’s elusiveness, in order to reconstruct a story that emerges in all of its violence.

The story of Sally’s family is the story of all Aborigines. A people who have been robbed of their land, enslaved, forced into a life of racism and discrimination. Reading it, I felt like watching a movie that I know by heart, because their injustice is the same as that suffered by many, too many peoples in the world.

The difference, however, is that very little is known about the Aborigines. At least, that’s my experience. I was outraged in reading the story of Sally Morgan, I felt once again under the skin the frustration that comes from this type of injustice. And solidarity with a people living in a country that no longer belongs to them, which is managed by those who built its history on lies and violence.

I conclude with a beautiful sentence from the book:

I like to think that regardless of what we become, our spiritual bond with the land and the other unique qualities we possess somehow will weave into future generations of Australia. I mean, this is our land, after all, surely we have something to offer.

 

Claudia Landini
March 2020
Main pic: Jason H on Unsplash