“Before you do any business or discuss
something there is reason to connect”
As part of the Brisbane Festival, connecting with local stories created an opportunity to connect with local people. The locals Troy Casey and Amanda Hayman, hope to raise more awareness for the case of the Aboriginals. A campfire story about Australia’s forgotten past…
Troy Casey and Amanda Hayman, both local Aboriginals and curators of indigenous culture, invited visitors of the Brisbane Festival (2019) for a storytelling session at King Street. Telling stories plays an important role in Aboriginal culture.
Storytelling plays an important role in Aboriginal culture.
Together with a handful of other interested people, we sit down around an imaginary campfire. “Before you do any business or discuss something there is reason to connect”, Troy starts. “Finding connection makes you feel more comfortable in making connection”, he continues. So we all introduce ourselfs and make connection.
“Finding connection makes you feel more comfortable in making connection with others”
After a short introduction round, Troy and Amanda share a story about their family history. Both stories are about the search for identity.
Troy’s grandmother lived on a mission near St George in Queensland. She was 14 years old when she got pregnant from the missionary’s son. Eventually she ran away and gave birth to Troy’s mother in Brisbane in 1963. The baby was put up for adoption. Troy’s mother wouldn’t know who her real mom was until 35 years later. By that time Troy himself was already twelve years old. It turns out that Troy’s grandmother was the daughter of an Aboriginal woman. Her indigenous mom had been afraid to put her family background on the certificate of birth, because she thought that if she did, nobody would adopt her child.
Amanda’s grandfather was born on a station. He and his family were the last Aboriginal people on the ranch before they moved everybody off. The family was put on a train to Ipswich. In Ipswich they were moved to a mission. There they wrote the chief protector, who managed all the missions, to raise attention. Eventually a contract was signed which stated that they were no longer Aboriginal people and that they could freely move alongside white people. The contract also allowed them to live in suburbs around Brisbane, as long as they didn’t make any trouble. So the family moved there.
“Where our stories go is that it is very uncomfortable for someone to have difficulties in identifying who they are and who their children are”, says Troy. Like Troy and Amanda and their families, many Aboriginals struggle with this matter. “It’s very sad for the future of the country”, Troy adds. Both stories leave a big impression on the group.
“It is very uncomfortable for someone to have difficulties in identifying who they are and who their children are”
Back in the days Aboriginal people were not seen as equal human beings. The Protection of Aborginals and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act was applied in 1897 and is better known as the Opium Act. Officially the act intended better protection and care of the Aboriginal and half-caste inhabitants of Australia and to regulate the use of opium among indigenous people. Instead it limited the freedom of Aboriginals severely. Chief Protectors were established to control the indigenous population. Many local Aboriginals where moved into reserves. Eventually these reserves became reservoirs from which Aboriginal contract workers could be drafted to white employers in rural and urban areas. Their employers would then abuse the legislation to exploit the Aboriginal workers by removing their basic rights. Many had to work long hours for little money. On avarage an Aboriginal was paid only 3% of what a white guy would have earned in a similar role. Woman were often sexually abused. Basically, the Aboriginal workers were treated as slaves.
“Back in the days Aboriginal people were not seen as equal human beings”
In 1967, four years after Troy’s mom was born, Australians voted overwhelmingly to amend the constitution alteration (aborginals) act, which would allow the making of laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the cencus. The legislation finally gave the indigenous Australians the status of human beings. It was a major culture change, to see Aboriginal people as people. Aboriginal slavery finally ended in 1970.
“It was a major culture change, to see Aboriginal people as people”
We end our evening with a walk past the “Evening Lights“, a series of artworks inspired by indigenous culture and projected by laser beams on the sidewalk of King Street. The Aboriginal artist and curator Elisa Jane Carmichael was responsible for the project. Through her expressions she honours her cultural heritage. “I think it’s important to share my family’s stories, life and other cultural aspects with others so they can gain knowledge of the past and celebrate our ways of life”, Elisa Jane Carmichael (quote from www.brisbanefestival.com). Her project Evening Lights is inspired by the poetry of Aboriginal writer Oodgeroo Noonuccal. It explores dusk and the element of fire as well as her own cultural identity and heritage. In Aboriginal culture, fire playes an important role as provider for food, warmth and safety. A bushfire was also the place to gather, to connect, to dance and to share stories.
“I think it’s important to share my family’s stories, life and other cultural aspects with others so they can gain knowledge of the past and celebrate our ways of life”, Elisa Jane Carmichael (quote from www.brisbanefestival.com)
Unfortunately Carmichael isn’t with us tonight, so the story is told by Troy and Amanda. The series starts with a projection of the the transition from day to night. “It’s sunset and while the sun goes down, the appearance of the moon and the stars become visible. It’s time to gather the community to cook and to prepare for the night” says Troy while ‘coincidentally’ the sun goes down behind Brisbane’s skyscrapers. The image below shows the first projection. Clearly visible are the moon, the sun and the stars.
In the meantime the sun has come down and it’s almost dark when we walk further to the second projection. Troy: “While it gets dark, it’s time to gather the materials for a campfire. People go into the woods to collect wood and chaircoal. They bring the collected materials to the camp to prepare the fire”. The picture visualises the preparation of the firepit. The pit is filled with wood and chaircoal.
Troy: “When all materials are collected, it’s time to light the fire. Flames come out in full force, providing warmth, light and safety”. The flames in full force are clearly visible on the projection.
Troy: “Now the fire burns, it’s time to start cooking. The preperation of the food started already during the day, around lunch time, 8 to 9 hours ago. When the food is ready it’s time to eat and to share stories”. With some imagination you can see on the photo below that the fire is ready to cook on. It’s like a BBQ, when you just light a bbq, the flames are big. They heat up the chaircoal. When the wood is burned, the flames disappear, and the glowing hot chaircoal remains.
Troy: “After dinner, people stay around the fire to relax. A lot of beauty is attached to the mesmarising, dancing and flickering flames. It relaxes the people. There is time to dance and to tell stories. The sky above is filled with a thousand stars”. In the picture you can see the fire with its dancing flames, the moon and the stars.
Troy: “When time passes, the fire loses its strength. It’s like knocking on the door, waiting for someone to come in to say ‘bedtime’. Everybody settles in for the night. There is time for a last dance and a last story while the flames slowly go out”. The last projection shows the extinguishing fire. Goodnight, sleep well… :)!
We would like to thank Troy and Amanda for sharing their stories during the Brisbane Festival.
Troy Casey is co-founder of Blacklash, a project that curates positive experiences that celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
Amanda Hayman has keen interest in contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual art and is part of the Blacklash collective