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|The Stolen Generation: The Story of Two Paintings by Gloria Beckett as told to Julie Kearney|
In this picture there's a Serpent Lady representing my Aboriginal homeland, a Serpent Lady with a pair of breasts, and instead of having her children in the belly I have painted them in the heart. The Aboriginal people feel this way. We belong to the land and the land belongs to us. We are part of the land.
The person on the right is a figure since colonisation, the Aboriginal Protector. The crown represents the British colours and the many blue eyes are the eyes of our Aboriginal Protectors. They are the eyes of the Government searching for Aboriginal children throughout the land. The colour blue throughout this painting represents the Government. The Aboriginal Protector is smiling and happy to take the children away. His heart is all cracked and broken. To me, the Government pretends to be sad about our children but that's only a front. That's why the heart is all broken up, but under that surface they were very hard in their feelings. They didn't care about the family staying together. They didn't care about our relationship to our culture and our land, and our relationship with our people.
The Aboriginal Protector is ripping out the children from the womb of the Serpent Lady, and the womb is in the heart. The umbilical cord has been ripped out of the womb, taking the lives and beliefs away from our culture, causing the other end of the cord to bleed, because we were dying. At the time that's what we believed, that we were a dying race. Four of the Serpent Lady's children are sitting on the Protector's arm, black, brown, white and yellow. There is a full blood baby, a brown baby, a half caste baby and a part Chinese baby. All these children were taken away.
Behind the Serpent Lady are the many children who are hidden by their families. These are the eyes of the little children peeping behind trees and bushes, boxes and beds. Yet they're strong in their own culture and are untouched by the Government. the hand represents the strength of the culture and the ribbons of colours also represent our culture. These children are untouched by the Government and still remain in their traditional lifestyle. On the right side of the painting are people who have been assimilated into white society but still feel very much afraid of the system, knowing that their exemption can be revoked at any time. Their children are still hidden away due to the fact that they could still be taken away and also put into welfare institutions.
Under the nose of the Protector are many Aboriginal people caught up in the Government system who are afraid to speak against their treatment. The Government has full control of their lives as they must conform to the rules and regulations of the Government system. They fear reprisals of imprisonment or removal to another penal settlement. At the bottom of the painting are people who grew up and were sent out to work at a very early age doing menial work for the rich people, slaving for long hours seven days a week. The Government had full control of their wages and those wages still remain in the Queensland Government's coffers.
The figure with two sides to his face is the police officer. The white side, being bigger, represents the white viewpoint, the Queensland Government. He is a Native Police Officer who with others patrols the dormitory, an institution for Aboriginal girls who were taken away from their parents. He is like a puppet of the government system whose strings they can pull any which way they want to. He exercises discipline, escorting the `inmates' to the pictures, the doctor's, the shops, the church. These police officers would escort us, one at the front and one at the back, just like prisoners.
The smaller side, the darker side of the Native Police Officer's face shows he's crying. He's crying blood because deep down in his heart, which is shown by the symbol of the lock and the Murri-colour heart, he's crying for his people. Because he's hurting, he's hurting for his people.
The oval shape of the painting is the shape of an embryo. To me the embryo represents the beginning of life. Now, the beginning of life is how this system was created by the Commonwealth Government. Aboriginal people were locked into a government system. The white slender serpent with the two breasts is the institution matron, her crown is representing the British colours of colonisation. You'll see the blue eyes of the serpent. She's got a light, an x-ray light, she's able to see the agitators. She's on the lookout for the agitators, the radicals who are disrupting the system and trying to get out. At the end of the serpent woman is a scorpion's tail which to me is a metaphor of pain and anguish suffered by the women and children and young girls.
In the middle of the painting is a prison-like construction, a prison for women and girls. The figures here are the spirits of the thousands of women and children who went through this system. I was remembering that. I didn't want to leave out the girls who had passed on.
The metal configuration is the K-wire. That's the name of a special wire which was built to lock us in, entrapping us as prisoners. There were children, little Aboriginal children, tiny kids five years and up. Next door there was a babies' quarters for the babies, and from there they were sent to this dormitory which is for girls from 5 years old and up to 80 or 90. They were there for years, and they were classed as homeless but they weren't homeless. They were just taken away from their land.
The reasons given for being taken away were quite a few. One reason given was that we were fair skinned children with an admixture of European blood (`admixture' was the word they used), which they felt meant that all the half caste children had to be taken away because they didn't want us to be growing up in the Aboriginal culture. They believed it to be occult, a devil worshipping culture. They didn't want the fair skinned children to be part of that culture. But it was not only the fair skinned. They took full blood children away too, for other reasons, you know, to educate us in a white way. And also another reason was because we were an embarrassment to the government. They didn't want black marrying white. The government segregated black to stay with black and white to stay with white.
It all started off with putting Aboriginals on missions to force us off the land. The Government were giving pastoral leases for a pittance. When the white people started settling here, mainly sheep grazing, and started fencing the land, the Aboriginal people retaliated and they were shot down. They were put on missions, on isolated unfertile land where the people weren't able to go around in their nomadic ways. They got hungry and they stole sheep. So the white man began to give rations and that's when they started poisoning the water and the flour. But that didn't work. We were still around, so they brought in the reservation system. The Churches began to take children away and sent their mothers and fathers out to work to get money for the missions. When the Government discovered that the Church was taking a lot of money they decided they'd do the same. And that's when they brought in the Queensland Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Acts on the 15th December 1897 which lasted till 1934, and after that the Aboriginal Protection Regulations of 1936.
At the back of the painting is the red, black and yellow, the Aboriginal colours of the flag which signify unity, strength and power, fighting for justice. A ribbon is coming from the background attached to a key in the Murri colours which unlocks the first lock. This is the first step in freeing us, in unlocking us from the system. Under the arm of the police officer, under the wire, are rolls of paper representing the permits which the girls needed to visit relatives under the escort of the police, and below that are all the pennies which were the Aboriginal wages being syphoned into the State government's coffers. We weren't allowed to handle our own money and we had to get permission, we had to write away so that they could send us a voucher if we wanted to buy even a toothbrush. Our money was kept in what they called the Queensland Aboriginal Welfare Saving Fund and it still remains there to this day.
|The History of Hecate|
Hecate's twenty-fifth birthday is almost upon us. And we have an adopted sister, the Australian Women's Book Review, ten years old this year. Hecatebegan in 1975. It seemed like a good idea at the time; it was International Women's Year and we even got some government funding Federal that is, there was no likelihood then of any from a State government controlled by the Nationals, given that we were printing articles on the squalid history of race relations, didn't demonstrate any ostensible support for good clean family values and were not even in favour of Russ Hinze's proposed blow for women, legal `casteration' for those convicted of rape.
A group of us in Brisbane had done an issue in 1973 (number four) of Refractory Girl, that had started in Sydney, and proposed to them that we edit alternate issues. They were slightly wary of our taste, particularly in graphics; though stopping short of censoring a cartoon called `New Uses for Old Tools', they thought we were a bit uncouth and weren't about to entrust us with half the magazine.
There was room for another journal anyway, and so after brief debate about whether we should have feminist collective consensus for decision making, Merle Thornton decreed that we should have an editor and the present one should be it. (She's been stuck with it ever since.) The name was the next problem. After much reflection we decided upon Cauldron, and found a nice medieval etching of women stirring things on a blasted heath suitable for the cover. Then the editor got a call from Kate Jennings. I've heard about your new journal, she said. Oh, good, she said. No, it isn't, she said. We're starting a women's art journal in Sydney and it's called Cauldron so you can't call yours that. So we scrabbled and thought a bit more and came up with Hecate which worked fine for a while until the 1980s when the goddess movement got going in the States and we occasionally got strange mail from groups who sat around sipping each other's menstrual blood on mountain tops in California. Janet D'Urso wrote a stirring account of who Hecate was, in case people didn't know, and the first issue came out. Black on yellow, since surveys showed this was the most `eyecatching' combination. The women's studies network in the United States was especially good for subscriptions in the early days; they came out of the blue from all over. Most still subscribe, despite a 1980s flurry of imitations.
Back in the 1970s, magazine editors in Australia were seen as a bit of an asset instead of a liability. On one occasion a whole gang of editors, meeting in Adelaide during the festival, churlishly invaded a Literature Board meeting with their grievances including hard to believe now that a businessman (some sort of car dealer!) was a member. Hecate was always in a lowly second class group behind the heavily funded Quadrant, Meanjin and Overland, but the Board kept dishing out bits of money that kept us going. We also kept going by slaving over production with our pretty basic technological skills. The old carbon ribbon IBM typewriter at Women's House was the height of sophistication in our circles in those days, and access to it a jealously guarded privilege. If you made a mistake you had to type the word again and cut it out and stick it on, lining it up with half a compass. Whiteout was another key part of the operation, to paint out the bits you hadn't cut the new words to cover. We also had a store of flaking letraset; if you look at early issues you can see the wonders we performed with that. If you ran out of a particular letter it could, with great ingenuity, be made out of other ones. Don't sneer, we might have to do it again some day, in a cellar (or a cave in the hills like the one in which the Communist Party produced the Guardian in the early 1940s), and some of us know how.
Editors had to do most roles back then. Good for training, but time-eating. Some say all journals will be electronic in five years time. But as Jordie Albiston has commented, you can't curl up in bed with a computer. They're not much good in the bath or on the beach either. And there's still a classaspect to computer and internet access. Maybe this object in your hand is not entirely outmoded yet.
1982 was the year the Courier-Mail tried to knock us off. (As Ian Syson's latest issue of Overland, 153, documents, they still do periodic search and destroy missions for Reds or Poona Li Hungs under the beds.) The editor was summoned to see the Vice Chancellor because [...] and [...] (the latter sharing a name with the author of innumerable Ways With Mince, who is not the same person as the Campus Review Weekly thinks), had decided they were the dots in an immensely daring article called `Women, Workers, Ladies or Chicks: How the Courier-Mail Sees Women' which documented how tiresome it was when boys would `comment on your nice pair of legs or something.' A woman, [...], was keen to get in on the act too, if they sued Queensland University for libel. In the end we had to pull all the copies apart and put in some new pages with a few more dots. The editor considered returning the favour several years later over an article called `Queen of Protest Holds Court', but was pretty sure no-one thinks the Left can be libelled or, even, that any attempt along these lines would all turn out as it did for Chef in South Park.
Hecate has had to walk several tightropes since its foundation in 1975. It had the mix of critical/cultural commentary and `creative' writing that was the norm for Australian journals (like Meanjin and Overland) but, in a new incarnation that made women central, found this balancing between generic styles a congenial challenge. Another hurdle was our speculative in-depth articles being read as heavily `academic' or wilfully difficult or, contradictorily, as lightweight, all one could expect of women's (studies) magazines rather than serious intellectual contributions in their area. (As Feminist Studiesobserved in an editorial some years ago, we were among the first anglophone publications to try to give some account of `French feminism' but this was material that could be put at will into either of these boxes.) Claire Moses comments on the construction of `French feminism' along the lines of some of the problems with the hegemony of Psych et Po that our authors posed in Hecate II.ii (`Made in America', Australian Feminist Studies 11. 23, 1996 andFeminist Studies, 24.2, 1998). Crossing boundaries of fields (interdisciplinarity) in relation to content or methodology wasn't fashionable in the mid-1970s, and the journal wasn't let in to the academic club. The choice of a political cast perched on the left pinion of the `feminist' wingspread was a further irritant to many of those who treated Hecate with what Susan Magarey described as `patriarchal rudeness and silence' (Australian Book Review 107, December 1988), on any or all of the above pretexts.
One stereotype of earlier second-wave feminism that is still around is that it has rarely been seriously concerned with race and ethnicity. We have been one of the main journals in Australia that has consistently published a lot of material on these issues, particularly in the last fifteen years, but earlier as well, and by as well as about those positioned as racially or ethnically marginalised. Back in 1971, in a new preface to her 1962 novel The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing suggested that the concerns of feminism looked `small and quaint' if separated from the huge surrounding issues that could sweep them away. It is not a modest version of feminism that we have been interested in for 25 years but one that immodestly talks about real liberation. A recentFamous Reporter review (17, June 1998) suggested that our editorials (in venturing into drugs and the One Nation Party, for example) don't seem to be confined to what one might expect. The far Right or fascist ideas that are now taking a more substantial hold in, for example, France, are the enemy of women's liberation, as well as giving new life to ethnocentrism and racism. Hard drugs, especially amphetamines, are not only surrounded by brutish profiteers, but are mind-shrinking in a much more widespread way in being conducive to concern about or for nothing in particular. Addiction frequently compounds and reinforces oppression. Mainstream parties of all persuasions lack the political will to combat these slouching beasts. A narrowly defined feminism is not adequate to fight for women's freedom amid all of this.
Several years ago the Literature Board cut off the funding we'd been getting for twenty years. We still don't know why. We are delighted that they have just reinstated it, though we don't know why. We are also delighted that ABR continues to be funded so generously (though not that Quadrant's cast-off editor is now chair of its Board), since they have sometimes given us glowing testimonials, such as:
Without wanting to sound churlish about such encouragement, we not only had `women in India' and Japanese sex workers in our first volume in 1975, but also (a few) men writers though we don't fraternise with the boys from Quadrant or Scripsi. One of the latter praised one of the former a while ago in his column in the Australian for getting around to discussing the disagreeable Hanson in depth. He hadn't been reading us to observe that we had done this in an editorial a year earlier.
There seems to be an idea around that everybody else is doing quite enough about women now, so you don't need something archaic like a journal by and about them. You encounter this quaint notion in Universities too, that everybody is `doing' gender so women's studies is expendable, especially since all the men are (more or less) feminist now, and the few Marxists who used to quibble about Equal Opportunity merely making everything look nice now find themselves defending it to defend it against Howard and One Nation. (For the current state of women's studies in Australia, see AFS Vol. 13, no. 27, and in the United States, the latest Feminist Studies.)
As our regular readers will know, the Australian Women's Book Review, which Hecate took over at the end of 1997, will keep the same editor (Barbara Brook in Melbourne), and appear once yearly in an expanded format in November along with the second number of Hecate for that year. Please continue to support the two magazines in their tenth and twenty-fifth years. As Janet D'Urso remarked in our first issue: `Hecate is mythologically represented as a bitch' (as well as a witch) and there's some life in the old bitches (and their familiars) yet!
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