Thursday, 16 May 2013

Old mate

It was impossible to know who was listening. Our footprint was so large I could be in a shearing shed, a supermarket or warbling in the background while some kid was insisting he was too sick for school.

Everymorning, without fail, old mate would ring me. More likely after the third song, definitely before the fifth, and sometimes I’d be only one song deep into the breakfast show and he’d be on the blower. 
That song reminded me of when…
I liked that song ….
Did you know that song was written by… 
I didn’t know this bloke. I knew someone who knew someone who was related to him. The bushvine reported he was a bit of a loner, and he’d told me himself that he lived in a wooden house out of town, on the river.

Old mate would ring for a yarn, and I’d be keeping one eye on the clock. Radio is divided into seconds and I’d practiced so I could talk over the intro or the tail of a song without buggering up the singing part of the song.
I can work out exactly how long it takes to say ...
Gee, I didn’t know that ...
That’s a great story ...
Thanks for sharing ...

and ended always with my standard...

Thanks for calling, have a good one mate. Seeya!

All uttered pretty much down to the second before I was back on air.

I think because I didn’t sound rushed, he took that to mean we were cool. And we were cool. He didn’t ring me to bang on about politics or the shire council, or environmentalism or pretty much anything ranty. Songs were his entry into our brief morning yarns, and very occasionally after hanging up I’d keep the yarn going, on air.

….and old mate on the river letting me know that Creedence Clearwater Revival grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and he’s wondering if they were Born on the Bayou. Thanks for the call. The time is …

Months of this went on, until one morning he didn’t ring. Or the next day, or the next. After a week of no show I heard on the bushvine why I wouldn’t be hearing from him again.

I never shared any stories of my country with him. 

If he had been a countryman I would have asked about the river he camped beside, asked whether the fish were good for eating, and what animals did he see come down to drink. That’s normal every day conversation out that way. And for sure if someone is suffering we’d have been going through genealogies and talking about our country, about the old people and the old stories.

I wondered afterwards if I was the only person he had spoken to in a long time. Even the last. Though that could just be me with an inflated sense of myself.  Even though my instinct was to share the stories that nurture and sooth, the society we lived in didn't invite us in to talk about ourselves or share how we lived in our world. Instead old mate got the public radio me. 

He might not have been as isolated and lonely as he sounded. He had a phone. He could have been ringing distant relatives, counselors, help lines, or old girlfriends he’d looked up from high school.  

And now that we are here, these days I’m resisting being dragged into “Religion Wars” where my spiritual beliefs - my Indigenous worldview - are picked over and dissected. But these days I would share a yarn or two with old mate on the river.

We don't need to keep all our secrets anymore. We can let some go. The repercussions of asserting our Aboriginal identity are less brutal, less punitive and on those few miserable occasions we’ve needed to, we even have effective legal recourse. But who can blame us for not being keen to enter the fray.

If we hadn’t been in survival mode without the freedom to talk about ourselves for generations of misunderstanding and lies with fathomless contempt to counter, asserting our identity wouldn’t be as confronting to those individuals who don’t know us, or comprehend the diversity amongst us.

Don’t know us, don't know our stories, our lives, our feelings or our aspirations. Or are suspicious of our motives, or simply just suspicious of us. If the world we lived in didn’t want us to speak or appointed others to speak for us, it’s hardly surprising that some individuals have a problem dealing with the freedom we are encouraged to believe we now possess.