Not knowing how to advance, A tiny home just above the river level In a steep-sided crevice, She flows in seven directions. Heart beats tuned to a lifetime. A life of quivering possibilities In time. Promising a potent return; Promising a raucous levelling of extreme heights For someone she isn’t. Promise me an avalanche.
A memory just beyond the rock-face Uncoils in shocking contrast. I will not be an old photograph on a wall, I will not be a distant memory, One day, I will not be here at all.
I walk this earth with a gaping hole in my heart the size of ten men. I come from an ancestral line that I was born to without the human right to ever know. I was a bastard child made legitimate by the process of adoption. There is no way for me to answer questions about my ethnic or cultural ancestry with any degree of accuracy. According to the state I am a white person. All cause or occasion for my distinctive “coloured” appearance have been erased from official documentation.
I say coloured because this was my adoptive family’s considered response to my being bullied and discriminated against for being a black child in a country that had official policies regarding the race and appearance of their citizens – “You are not black, you are coloured. You are a half-caste”. I tried it out as a response and, of course, it resulted in much hilarity from those who were ridiculing my appearance in the first place. To them, to be coloured was an even bigger crime than being black.
I have listened to many stories through the years, yet the story of my lineage is incomprehensible to me. It has many variations, all arising from a similar source. Each version of the story includes a number of racist or bigoted statements that directly impacts the way those stories are processed in my mind. Invariably, I continue to summarise the entire story of my birth as – I have no right to family or heritage because I am black and adopted. There is contention on this conclusion. It upsets people, so much so that it has now become an untruth despite the first story I was told containing sentences like “My parents did not want any black children in the family.”
I’ve been African, I’ve been Australian, I’ve been Aboriginal, I’ve never been called Irish, occasionally English, due to the extent and articulation of my vocabulary. I’ve never been called Tanzanian. All these things may or may not be elements of my ancestry, how would I ever be sure? At best, I am considered a migrant, yet I still cannot answer the question, “From where?”
In later years, I also discovered that I’ve been privileged due to the physical location of my birth and the “lightness” of my skin colour. Obviously it came as quite a surprise that I have now simply become the very lowest category of person in the pecking order of any society today – with no effort on my part whatsoever. No biological change prompted this transition from being despised generally to being despised for my privilege. I know that light-skinned privilege is absolutely real against the background of an entire community of black people in a white system. Yet, there is no classification of blackness here in this country except those ideas put forth from migrants and avid followers of US politics.
We do not have an established black (non-indigenous) community to compare my experiences with and see, yes people who look like me get a far better deal in Aussie society (compared to whom, there are so few). Even if we did, I am excluded from any kind of fledgling African Australian community due to this privilege – or so I’ve been repeatedly informed. Not being a migrant is relevant here also but I can’t figure out whether it’s good or bad to people who give me a hard time on this point. I just know I am wrong, and I have never gotten over the disappointment of the attitudes people delivered after waiting my whole life for the first wave of migrations from Africa in over 50,000 years to eventuate. In retrospect it’s hilarious that I was looking forward to it.
I’ve encountered racial discrimination in every area of my life, in every month of my life, from every category of human in life, with such consistency that it is impossible to imagine a life without these aspects. As far as I know I am biologically unacceptable to every “group” of humans I have encountered so far, families notwithstanding.
There is always an exception to the rule. I was at the Invasion Day March in support of First Nations/Indigenous/Aboriginal community on January 26, 2020. (Australia Day, which also coincides with the invasion of Australia by British migrants). Walking through the city I noticed these two distinctly opposite experiences:
Quite a few Aboriginal (blackfellas) recognised me on sight as belonging and called me “Sissy” with welcoming and respectful smiles – I had never met any of them before.
A white lady was attempting to pat me on the head and saying my hair was fuzzy whilst congratulating herself for overcoming her inherited racism by attending the march, yet at no point was it possible in her mind that I may be aboriginal. She spoke about her empathy at length to the Palestinian friend I was marching with. I was neither welcome nor invited to the conversation.
It took all of my emotional resources to come to terms with the idea that I may be Aboriginal, it was one of the earliest things my mother said to me when I met her. Now upon seeking clarification last year, I find that I am not Aboriginal any more according to her. I am humiliated by this. My entire ancestry has now become African (whatever that means as a distinction from every other human on the planet). So it was with much gratitude and surprise to be reminded that Blackfellas (including me) don’t see things in Whitefella terms unless their skin is already as white as the driven snow. As far as my experience so far shows, if they are able to pass for white, then that is the prevailing perspective upon which they consider all the humans around them; white supremacy – eugenics – percentage of human versus savage/native/indigenous. I am proud to say I have never passed for white a single day of my life.
In addition, I have never understood this propensity for people disadvantaged by the White Supremacy system to legitimise the classification game against themselves. As a child I tried to take it on board, but the idea rejected me just as much as I rejected it. It held/holds no logical or rational basis. It has nothing to do with the truth.
At a performance in a Moslem school a few years ago, I received a shower of hugs from the young girls there when I told them my best answer to the question of racial identity or makeup… “I am 100% Australian, I am 100% African, I am 100% Aboriginal, I am 100%, Tanzanian, I am 100% Irish, I am 100% English and whatever other categories you want to add in. I am 100% human. There is no part of me that can be separated.” Still, in my heart I wish I could have said for sure, you know, my father’s family was such and such and my mother’s grandmother was such and such, from this or that place, and I have second cousins in blah blah place, but I have no way to get concrete answers. No right to them because of how/where/when I was born.
I do not apply my conclusions to individuals, it’s a collective summation of my experience, a broad brush viewpoint. People are people and regardless of how they present or the disparity of attitudes they display, I take them all as I find them with as much patience, compassion and acceptance as I can. So for every group that has rejected me there is always at least one person who accepts me in the most beautiful way, even if only for a moment. I treasure these contrasts, they offer the smallest glimmer of hope that somehow, someday perhaps, there will be a tiny group of people I can become acceptable to; and glory of all glories may they be as colourful and diverse as this gorgeous earth intended us all to be.
As it stands though, right now there is only me. If you are also deprived of your ancestry or your dignified place in this world, may we walk beside one another knowing that our loyalty and fortitude have been tempered in the fire of never belonging. We, the unclaimed, do not reap the fruits of the destructive force that’s been sweeping the globe for centuries, leaving a trail of devastation in it’s wake. We are instead, the future.
Some claim to know the will of heaven.
Today, I'm waiting for the rain to fall.
Dense clouds fly in from the west to leaven
Dysgenic populations, so they're called.
Fettered by settler colonisation,
Midst appeals for the right to remain free.
The world responds in tergiversations.
Old man casts his oranges to the sea.
Mineral rights, land theft and free water,
Lusts that raze earth 'til young lives cannot fruit,
Displace generations with blood-drenched tears.
The sorry legacy of men in suits.
Foes in torrents doth wield prevailing force.
Pre-emptive strikes simply par for the course.
This poem is my response to a recent podcast interview on local radio with Australian Palestinian, Nasser Mashni. His stories recounting personal experiences of life growing up in Melbourne are skilfully interwoven with bewildering depictions of daily life for Palestinian inhabitants of the occupied territories and the continually-expanding Israeli state. Even with a map, it’s impossible to comprehend the situation via the populist diatribe that floods our media. For clarity’s sake, I highly recommend a listen. https://www.3cr.org.au/radicalaustralia/episode-202002121600/nasser-mashni
The old man throwing oranges into the sea appears in a story told by Sara Roy in her 2007 book, Failing Peace. Her idea of de-development to describe the impact of Israeli occupation over generations has impacted my thinking on this topic for almost a decade.
I wish every human being understood that the colonisations are still underway across the world, nowhere is immune, no categorisation of people who can’t be defined as expendable, no matter how many times we lament this or that previous outcome. If there are resources, if there is land, if there is water, you can be sure that over-the-top prestidigitators waving big guns in the faces of civilians will be used to control whatever they think you have until eternity.
If we want the prevailing force to be otherwise we have to demand it.
This is a bit of an odd post for me, and quite long, so I won’t be offended if poetry readers skip it. Mostly it is published so I/it can be there for myself if it happens again.
Last week I had the distinct pleasure of a totally new and profound experience of hunger. Of course, at first I approached it like a problem requiring an urgent solution. You know, do something, anything, I’m used to overcoming problems.
I tried to take my little bit of money to the usual grocery stores but the buy-in price for something nutritious was so much higher than my available dollars, not even one thing that wasn’t junk food could I really afford, except perhaps milk.
Real food (the GST-free stuff) is ridiculously overpriced in this country lately. So-called fresh food is often shipped in from the USA so the quality is as terrible as the prices are high. Before anyone gets offended, a lemon that is shipped from the USA and made available to consumers here in Melbourne cannot have been anywhere near a tree for months, but it will still usually cost you nearly $2 and you would be lucky to get more than a tablespoon of juice out of it, naturally. They generally taste horrible (not actually ripe and never will be no matter how long you wait) and it would be a miracle if such an item still had any nutritional value. It seemed stupid to waste the little I had on fake food that might not even get me through a single day.
Yes, I reached out to a friend or two, but they were totally unconcerned. For them my situation was impossible to comprehend. I live in a first world country, nobody should ever be hungry for long without the means to correct it.
Still, after a few days of just drinking litres upon litres of water, I couldn’t take the hunger any longer and my mind switched out. I was no longer in a familiar state, the demands of my body were so intense that decision making was becoming increasingly complicated – the more I tried to “think”, the harder things became. I did a bit of crying and stressing out, but then I noticed that behaviour produced such an intensifying of my discomfort, hormones or something, that I had to force myself to stop. Every standard behaviour used far more energy than I had available so I had to drop it all.
After a couple of days I was already dizzy, vague, shaky and very nauseous, not to mention the hunger pains and various other aches and stiffness all throughout my body. Low energy was probably an understatement.
So I waited. I was scared. Not thinking, not moving, except for just enough to get the occasional glass of water. Eventually a different mind took over, highly alert but in repose, knowing that to do or think anything that wasn’t going to immediately bring the nutrition I needed was simply wasting my limited resources. Awareness of even the most basic of bodily processes became finely attuned, I no longer had subtle urgings, instead loud and insistent demands, much like the intensity you experience when you’ve waited too long for the bathroom, except this intensity was for everything I needed: air, food, water, safety and even more surprisingly for me, physical contact with other humans.
It is not so easy to imagine this feeling unless you have experienced it. Thankfully it’s only happened a few times in my life, but never for this long and never with no prospective income on the horizon and the subsequent brain crash. Unfortunately, about half of the world’s population lives like this for most of their lives, first world or not.
There is no question in my mind that I am irrevocably changed by this experience. I can honestly tell you that all ideas about morality, social considerations, planning for the future, taking actions according to one’s will, etc… simply don’t come into it from such a state. You cannot morally judge a starving person’s actions and expect any message to be heard through their ears, other than “I would rather you starved to death.” If you bring them food, they will probably eat it but they will not hear your words nor be particularly grateful for your moralising, only for the food. At best they will act in a way that encourages you to bring more than they need right now so they can eat again soon. At worst, you will be trying to throw them in jail because of their behaviour.
I want you to really know that it doesn’t matter how the situation arose. Most of us would think that knowing how it happened and forming opinions or making suggestions on what could have been done to prevent it is relevant here, it truly isn’t. There is nothing theoretical nor hypothetical about such an overwhelming experience of physical reality.
So after just a few days of not having access to enough food, the fear is intense and real, the ability to process high level abstract concepts becomes extremely limited, instinct for survival is at the forefront of everything I do.
If I did not systematically and strategically go to each store I could find until I discovered a shop with reasonable prices on the basics I think I would have stolen food and I would be in the (in)justice system right now. Early morning deliveries to shops just sit there on the pavement tempting all kinds of very hungry folk like me and it took a bit of convincing myself not to just walk off with at least one of those loaves of fresh bread. If I had dependents I am sure I would have done it (and then perhaps got myself shipped off to a new penal colony on somebody else’s land where sooner or later we ended up hunting the natives for sport). As it turned out I could manage no more than two outings per day to scout around and I learned that on an empty stomach, three glasses of water in quick succession gets me about 40 minutes of walking around for each outing.
After much deliberation, I managed to get some food for about $3 first, then another $6 worth using coins that I found around my flat. The shop assistant was mystified by the process of counting coins as though she had never seen such strange tokens nor learned arithmetic, and I felt ashamed. The African bloke behind me smiled and said, “Yes I know it, you have counted out what you can spend.” I could tell by his shopping and his attitude, he was or had been in the same situation. I admit I was a little jealous of his beef strips and mountain of frozen veggies which was more than my budget at the time. He was right though, it took me ages of checking out the price of almost everything and adding up on the calculator and counting coins from one pocket to the other before I made my final purchases. My brain was so sluggish but nutritional value for money was the only thing in my mind. That food has kept me going. I don’t remember any meal I have prepared before this period as being so satisfying.
I will admit I am still at a loss as to how to get regular vitamin C on this budget though.
This week I have a little bit more cash, through some unexpected good luck for which I am eternally grateful. I have to tell you how much fun I had planning out my next food shopping with this new awareness. Body speaks. Must eat.
It still took about three hours and four trips to various places to get all these items. If I’d gone to my usual stores I might have spent over $100 to get a similar volume of food, but there’s no way it would have been this coordinated and calculated to maximise nutrition and would have required a second or third spend later in the week. You can see how I used my $49 budget below if you’re interested.
What I bought and prepared
lots of chicken drumettes 5
lots of very ripe tomatoes 4
fava beans 3
frozen spinach 0.9
frozen pastry 2.3
olive oil 8
brown sugar 2.5
Things I still had left over
Today is advance cooking day
You have to know how glad I am that I know how to prepare delicious meals or I would find this entire experience depressing. However, I also know how much energy being depressed actually uses now so I am doubtful that depression would be considered a viable response to very many situations in the future. (No I didn’t know it was optional until I was starving.)
This morning I prepared the sauce for shakshuka. Some I will use with eggs and some with the remaining chicken drumettes.
The fava beans are soaked and ready for ful mesdames which will slow cook all afternoon. Will eat with bread, olives, tomato and a parsley, lemon and garlic dressing.
With the pastry feta, carrots and spinach I will make two types of pastry parcels (carrot/feta, spinach/feta).
Some stuff will go into the freezer until I need it. If there is any yoghurt left and I can track down some mint, I will also make cacik with a donated cucumber I have.
That last capsicum is yet to find a purpose so I will probably grill, peel and store it because they usually cost me $3-$5 each, but right place-right time last weekend to get a couple for $2.
I had dinner with a friend yesterday, puttanesca pasta with a kind of garlic bread the day before, half a dozen roasted chicken drumettes the day before that. I still have yoghurt and apricots left for early in the day until that runs out. Over the weekend I made breakfast coffee cake with oats, brown sugar and five spice and that took me 5 days to get through. So yeah I had oats and flour plus a load of spices at home when I was super hungry but I couldn’t figure out how to prepare them without other ingredients.
I also made snagball pasta late last week from marked down sausages and canned tomatoes and shared it with my friend who donated the funds — would have come in handy when I was really struggling but he didn’t hear anything I said until I had restored enough energy myself to recount the whole story. That was $5 of beef sausages, $2 of canned tomatoes, onion, chilli, garlic and $0.65 pasta, so about $9. I can hardly believe how many meals that created, it makes you so full and satisfied. Snagballs is my name for meatballs made by frying chunks of raw, skinned butcher sausages which is cheaper and quicker than doing it all from scratch.
Drop a note if you would like to know how to do any of these meals or if you are local and want to know where I found the bargains. I am sure there are Facebook groups for this kind of thing, but you need a lot of energy for all that scrolling, and seeing as nobody plans ahead for how they will handle the threat of starvation, it’s most accessible when you don’t need it.
The experience has created a simple rule for me. If someone is hungry near you, including yourself, give them food or help them get it. Never mind setting up a plan to eat next week or next month, filling in forms and waiting for approval, this is how the government and charities work. I didn’t qualify for any of the free food around except possibly dinner once per week and at the time I found that out, I couldn’t wait another 5 days for it. Many places still need you to pay even after you qualify, so if you are homeless (how would you prove this so you could qualify?) and can’t find any coins, you are up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Nothing else can be done until a person has enough food. Everybody needs it. Social welfare programs repeatedly fail to understand this if I am being kind, but it’s rather obvious that you are punished severely for falling below the poverty line, or any other line, in our society, regardless that it seems the system is designed to get more and more people into a desperate state of need rather than less. And don’t get me started about those who will feed you God and/or shame with your dinner, hunger exists prior to religion or morality. The only saving you need at that point is the kind that puts food in your belly, sinners or not, we all need food every day.
To me, it says a lot, to live within a social structure that requires people to pass all kinds of tests repeatedly, to get fed. Excuse me, but our Mother, the Earth, already provides. How much extra work and overwhelming stress do you put into getting yourself fed properly in this system? We have been sold on the convenience of our current system, but is it convenient? Ask your body. If you really listen you will be surprised.
I have since noticed that a large part of my long term dissatisfaction or challenges in life are simply this basic problem in one form or another; difficulty getting my basic needs met. It’s been a significant challenge since the day I was born judging by the stories from my adoptive mother of how at 10 days old when she took custody of me, I had huge boils in various places and did not bother to cry any more when I needed something. You gotta love a system that leaves newborns to self-manage because they are too black for the country’s assimilation policy.
Also, nobody really wants most of the types of jobs on offer these days, they don’t suit conscious human beings and it’s only that we must do them if we are able or we may not survive. Even when you do have a job or other kind of income, getting the essentials is not a given and frequently just moves the problem around. Particularly when you try to follow the social dictates but you’re not able to be conforming enough to make it into the privileged class (more people than is ever acknowledged).
Whether you have lots of money or not, whether you are in this or that social class, I bet most of you don’t have the time because it’s still a bit complicated and stressful to get good wholesome food that keeps you healthy unless you are living in a situation where you can grow/forage or exchange with others and your job is awesome and not stressful at all and doesn’t take all your time and attention and you aren’t bothered by the news and, and, and… I can hardly believe I used to go on diets when I was younger, what kind of absurd mind trick is that?
After months of trying to survive on very little I still feel a bit guilty for eating more than one meal per day at the moment, but my body tells me I am too depleted to sustain such a stupid idea in the first place. I also still feel kind of weak so it’s tough to also feel very confident about the future at the same time. Thus I eat now and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
What makes me happiest about this entire story is now I try to share more meals with others without obligation. I know that whether or not they express gratitude, eating well is one of the most important prerequisites in the world for a human being to thrive; as grandmothers and mothers the world over have been showing us since the beginning of time. It’s also the simplest and purest expression of love I think anyone can offer – I want you to survive – please eat!
Much love to you all.
Shout out to Leah Potter at Sunset Soup Kitchen who shares food with long-grassers in Darwin every night, no questions.