Uncle Jack Charles is a survivor. He is an incredibly open and honest man, happy to chat to me, a stranger, about his life and his experiences. What I found was a man who has lived a tough life that is reflected in so many of the stolen generation like a thousand shards of a broken mirror, but has found his place as an elder, a teacher and a healer. Perhaps not only for himself and his family, but for all Australians.
As part of the Australian governments assimilation policy Jack was stolen from his mother at less than a year old and sent off to a boys home to be raised as a white fella. He didn't meet another aboriginal person until he was in his late teens. Only now at 67 he is reconnecting the pieces of his culture and family together. How does a person reconcile that loss? How can anyone expect a child to grow up "normal" when he or she has been stolen and another identity implanted upon them? To expect a positive result is in my mind optimistic at best, and utterly misguided.
Jack ended up as so many of his generation did, living a life of crime and drugs. He tells me he was a failed cat burglar, and although some of his colleagues had a respect for his 2nd story abilities he was caught over 20 times, and he jests at his own ineptness for this type of work. in the early 1970s Jack and his friend Bob Maza opened the 1st indigenous theatre in Australia, Nindethana, and his talent for acting took its rightful place ahead of his talent as a cat burglar. The entertainment industry is full of all the stereotypical humans; broken, insecure, egocentric, talented and wonderful, many of them searching for identity in an industry where identity is often falsified. For Jack however, it seems his career in the arts has helped him to reconnect, to find himself. He has walked the long way round. A self described "raging heroin addiction" was a coping strategy, and while probably dulling the pain for a short time it doubtless was a double edged sword, one that led to incarceration. Today, Aboriginal Australians make up a large percentage of the people in prison, another bleedingly obvious sign of how badly the "assimilation" has failed. The pain is only worsened by white politicians still currently calling the shots on a treaty, constitution or recognition of the historical (some would argue current) genocidal agenda of the Australian government.
Jack's story all too familiar for Aboriginal people in Australia. The policies of the colonial government were specifically designed to breed out the aboriginal population. I for one am very happy that it failed so spectacularly. We could have learnt so much from a culture that has been in Australia for at least 50,000 years, and we are only now 200 years after white fellas arrived, beginning to understand the depth of this amazing culture of our country. For the stolen generation they have a double dose of this missing link, they are the people who are missing the pieces of their own jigsaw. Piecing that together is difficult as the genocidal policies of the government broke the chain, took their families, their culture, language and their stories.
Jack asked me how he knew me. I replied that he didn't! I simply contacted him after a friend suggested I do so when I was inquiring about him with the aim of meeting and photographing him as he has the right look for my portraiture, one of those faces that tells a story. It is highly likely however that our family members knew each other many years ago at Coranderrk, one of the missions set up in Victoria to resettle the indigenous people of Melbourne. Jacks great great grandfather John Charles lived there, and my great great grandfather Charles Rolfe was known to frequent the mission and reportedly had a house next door. As a white fella visitor though, there are no records of my relative at Coranderrk, but when i visited 20 years ago the old aunties, then in their 80s, remembered "old Mr Rolfe" fondly from when they were young girls. I would love to know more, but suspect there will be precious little for me to find. I need my own "who do you think you are?" team.
During our chat Jack tells me of a documentary made by Ameil Courtin-Wilson called Bastardy and of how he took Ameil and his naive film crew to his heroin spots for them to film him shooting up, the thought of which makes him laugh. They followed him everywhere for 6 years. It is this openness that really struck a chord with me, he is so real, so raw. And this from a man who lived a life that would have broken most others. Today Jack is a busy man. Still operating from his humble flat, he is the movie star of the housing commission, his mobile phone chiming away constantly with messages from people who all want a piece of his time. He was meeting up with an old mate from the Box Hill boys home after our meeting, a man he hadn't seen for many many years, all part of the healing. As well as the movies and TV, Jack has been asked to speak at prisons all over Australia, the black fellas request a visit from him and all line up to shake his hand after his speeches. Why do they listen to this old man? Having an elder visit who has been there, done that and survived must give them a sense of hope that they too can rise above the odds and achieve something positive for themselves. Jack pulls no punches. No doubt his honesty would have some of the white fellas concerned as he talks of the injustice of the system both historical and current, but my belief is that Australia needs to know just how racist it actually is before it can heal as a nation. While there is a blind spot, there is no healing. The tide is turning, it is taking some time, but it is happening. It takes the strength and love of a person like Uncle Jack to bridge the gap.
Im glad he survived.
Hello everyone and anyone who got this far!
Over the past few weeks I have been engaged in producing a video for my final folio in my Bachelor of Photography. It will bring to an end 5 years of school.
It also is tying in perfectly with my life and journey of self.
The video is about my search for some balance in this world. I am creating it to fulfil my desires as much as any need for school assessment, and is just the beginning on a new path for me. I used to tell stories in song, still do a bit but I also love to be able to tell a story in with an image or in this case a video with stills and movie, as well as a killer soundtrack by my good friend Ganga Giri.
In doing this video, I also have had conversations with 2 people who are very dear to me, Damian Lannigan and Sifu Dana Wong.
Both of these people are walking the path of their own truth. Both of them treat themselves and others with kindness and compassion. They are conscious beings.
In both conversations we discussed all manner of things to do with the system we live in, the way it conforms people to be robotic, "a perfect citizen" who plays by the boundaries set out in the ideal of the system we are born into. I asked if they thought geographic location plays a part in ones development of self, a nurturing of self consciousness. The thing right now I see from these conversations and my own thoughts is just that, we are guided from birth to fit into the ideal, given the illusion of choice (cars, clothes, whatever). How the individual chooses to respond to their own circumstances is up to them, we are limited by the situations that we find ourselves in, but we are not limited in the way we deal or respond to them, and there I feel is a great opportunity for everyone. In my conversation with my Sifu he expressed his feeling in that the system we live in is geared towards the opposite of growth, it forms you into the robots that will fit the mould. It is the antithesis of self enlightenment.
So, how do we find that balance? Is there a balance at all? I can only tell you how I do it, I cannot do that for you, but my journey may help others.
I have an example of mine that I am right in the middle of. It is seemingly a small matter that I could dismiss instantly, but I am choosing not to as I think there is something here, the timing is immaculate.
I put up some business cards in an empty space at the supermarket in Ocean Grove yesterday. It was one of those card holders along side a large notice board. there were cards in the holder on the right, empty on the left. All good. This morning, literally moments after speaking to Sifu I received a text message, accusing me of throwing away someone else's business cards to make room for my own. This i most certainly did not do, it is not the way I act. When I spoke to the person he was feeling aggrieved, and he would not believe me that I had not removed and thrown away his cards as he had only put his there the day before. How is it possible that 10 cards could vanish overnight only to have mine sitting in their place? This i cannot answer, perhaps there were 10 people who wanted his card! At first I felt anger as I was being unjustly accused and sent a follow up text saying so, as he had hung up on me. I could feel, and still can now feel the fight or flight response building in my system. Very quickly however, I realised that this could be a lesson for me. I sent a 2nd text to say we could meet and discuss this, and anything else that comes up. Why bother? I did ask myself that question. The reason I would bother to meet and talk to this person is that he has immediately judged an action and pinned it to me, therefore judging me as a person without ever having met me. His cards were gone, mine were there. Simple It must have been me that removed his cards.. So often we do this, we are conditioned to judge. Judgement has its own uses for sure, like deciding whether a shark in the surf is a threat; if there is a large shark there I would judge that it I am in immediate danger. Get out of the water. Pretty useful thing to be able to assess. But judgement of others for things you think they may have done? I think this negative behaviour is a symptom of the ills of the system and society we inhabit. So many people will lie, steal, and basically live their lives in a selfish manner as the system has taught them to be. Everyone talks about love and kindness to children, and bullying in schools, but so many people do not live this. Bullying is rife in adult life. Why I wonder? When we tell our children not to lie or steal, be honest, all the while acting in a completely opposite manner towards our fellow human beings we are being hypocrites. I think that the selling of the Australian Dream is a lie, it ties us to debt, keeps you working to buy the items we "need" to survive. it creates an environment of competition and fear. Why do we have so much hatred in the world? Same reasons. Judgment based on fear or misunderstanding. Judgement placed on as in this particular instance, value. Do I value myself over any one else ? Are my business cards more important than anyone else's? No and no. I believe we are all equal. I believe we should work together to nurture real truth, not assumptions based on fear or negative judgement. I ask myself why I judge others? I had done so until a realisation and clear understanding of how very wrong it was to judge. I cannot say what any situation does for anyone else, that is theirs alone. For me right now, I am seeing the world with a new compassion, learning how powerful it is to accept the things in my life, take on the lessons given and learn from them whether they be difficult or not. There is no good or bad lesson. They are all equally opportunities for us to learn. It may be a seemingly very negative lesson to learn, but if you can extract the lesson, then you will learn from it. It is not good or bad, it just is.
So, back to the business cards. What to do with this situation? I could have let it drop, I could have told this person to go take a long walk off a short pier. Neither of those responses appeals to me, so i have set up to meet this person and have a chat. Why? No doubt we will discuss the actual situation and there is a drive to clear my name, but i think that there is a bigger picture here. I am right now exploring the topic that looks at both the greatness of our world and the ills of society and I have this situation literally handed to me! I will go and meet this person. I have no idea where it may lead. I would like for him to see that not everyone is caught up in the small mindedness that pervades our society, maybe that will help him in some way. I really can't say, it is his choice to learn from this situation, or not. My lesson? haven't quite worked it out yet. I did nothing wrong. Perhaps I should have just let it go, but I don't like having any situation in my life where I feel that there is a problem, especially in a small community. I have lived here for over 12 years now and only in the last year have lessons such as this been coming up. They create a tension that is not pleasant. I would like to deal with that. So I go perhaps for selfish reasons after all! Haha! ah the irony.
I do not have the answers, Im only just beginning to work it out for myself. Hopefully what ever comes of this current situation it can be of some use. I keep thinking "it could be good" but then I think, good for who? me? the other person? Both? Neither? Good or bad is judgement. I will go and meet with this person and we shall see what happens.
Peace and love.
PS. The meeting never eventuated as the man in question never got back to me "after work" as he said he would. So, I do not know what conclusion he arrived at. No point in even guessing really. For me, it was good to be honest, speak my truth even when not believed. I tried to sort it out, and am happy that I stood up for myself and didnt get angry or start with the blame etc. If the other party is not ready to accept/hear the lesson, that is their journey, not mine. :)
I have a love/hate relationship with big industry.
The current system means that we rely on coal predominantly as a means of getting power, thankfully that is shifting but without much help from the politicians.
This is a world issue. we need to stop seeing Australia as our world bc we are everything and everyone. what we do to our selves and our home we do to the world.
I am drawn to wide open spaces, i love the sounds, the feeling, the wind and sun on my skin. I also love to photograph these open spaces, but often find some closed up ones too. Fences dont keep me out for long, nor do the security signs. I am there to take photos. i dont try to photograph the worst of industry and name and shame, i dont need to, most of them do that quite well all by themselves! If the company has nothing to hide...
I look for beauty amongst the destruction, colours in the oil spills, cracked and withered land forms. Some may not agree that this is the best way forward, but i like it. i like seeing the beauty and photographing this way makes it more pallatable to the audience, and if they need a bit of honey to sweeten the spoonful, then so be it. Better than it not being seen at all.
There are other people around the world who have already walked this path, I'm doing it here, not copying, but emboldened and encouraged that people like Ed Burtyinsky have made a career from similar ventures. The town closest to my home is an industrial town, Geelong. It is slowly dying as new tech takes over from the old, and now we see a community freaking out about the future. Ford and Alcoa have long been part of the landscape here, who can miss the Alcoa plant at point Henry? it sits on a very important bit of (Ramsar listed) salt marsh, right next to the old Cheetham salt refinery. What will happen to this land? good question. At the moment i can't get in due to big fences and over zealous security guards, but i will get there eventually, even if it is to document the last piece being removed from Alcoa in 20 years time...
We need world change.
Be the change you want in your community.
So here are 3 lovely friendly people I met last night at PSC.
I am currently doing a final year of study to complete a Bachelor in Photography, and it worked out well for me to take some shots at the PSC symposium for exchange of print credit. Excellent. Printing is very expensive.
However, the people here are 3 VIPs of the photo world, not a good one to mess up!
One the left is Susan Van Wyk, the curator of photography at NGV.
Centre is Daniel Boetker-Smith here is his small list of achievements :