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  • from Benang
  • Kim Scott (bio)

Many Nyungars today speak with deep feeling about this wild, windswept country. They tell stories about the old folk they lost in the massacre and recall how their mothers warned them to stay out of that area. One man describes how Nyungars will roll up their car windows while passing through Ravensthorpe, and not even stop for food or petrol. The whole region has bad associations and an unwelcoming aura for them. It is a place for ghosts, not for living people.

Eades and Roberts, 1984, Submission to the Seaman Land Inquiry

The modern world has many problems to face. The half-caste is not one of them. He (or she) is merely a passing phase, an incident in history, an interesting event in what we call 'progress', a natural transmutation in what we know as cultural evolution. He will solve himself and disappear. That much is certain; it is not problematical. The only problem that enters into it, though it is a palpable misuse of the word to call it that, is how long it is going to take. A few centuries maybe; perhaps much less.…on the ground alone that he is a nuisance to us, we should hurry on his disappearance.

"The Half-Caste: Means of Disappearance"
West Australian, 22 July 1933

The black will go white. It is exemplified in the quarter-castes, and by the gradual absorption of the native Australian black race by the white.

The position is analogous to that of a small stream of dirty water entering a larger clear stream. Eventually the colour of the smaller is lost.

"Black May Become White: Work of Elevating the Natives"
Daily News, 3 October 1933

From the Heart

I know I make people uncomfortable, and embarrass even those who come to hear me sing. I regret that, but not how all the talk and nervous laughter fade as I rise from the ground and, hovering in the camp- fire smoke, slowly turn to consider this small circle of which I am the centre.

We feel it then, share the silence. [End Page 112]

Of course, nothing can stop a persistent and desperate cynic from occasionally shouting, "Look, rotisserie!" or "Spit roast!" But no cynicism remains once I begin to sing.

Sing? Perhaps that is not the right word, because it is not really singing. And it is not really me who sings, for although I touch the earth only once in my performance—leaving a single footprint in white sand and ash—through me we hear the rhythm of many feet pounding the earth, and the strong pulse of countless hearts beating. Together, we listen to the creak and rustle of various plants in various winds, the countless beatings of different wings, the many strange and musical calls of animals who have come from this place right here. And, deep in the chill night, ending the song, the curlew's cry.

Death bird, my people say.

Obviously, however, I am alive. Am bringing life.

People smile at me, say:

"You can always tell."

"You can't hide who you are."

"You feel it here?"

And, tapping their fists on my chest,

"Speak it from the heart."

* * *

But it is far, far easier for me to sing than write, because this language troubles me, makes me feel as if I am walking across the earth which surrounds salt lakes, that thin-crusted earth upon which it is best to tread warily, skim lightly…


The first thing is the first thing is that we always knew it was not the best way, but that there was no real choice and we had to keep moving if only to get past the bad smell of it all…

And it is thus—with a bad smell—that I should introduce myself; even if such an aroma suggests my words originate from some other part of my anatomy than the heart.

Sadly, I can begin only so far back as my great-great-grandparents, for it is they—Fanny, Sandy One Mason, and their boy, Sandy Two—who limp by the government water tank, trying not to breathe at all rather than...