"I don’t live far from Lightning Ridge, a place where 41 children were removed from their Aboriginal parents. In some parts of the country, Aboriginal children are 10 times more likely to be put into care. As an Aboriginal mother, these numbers are horrifying. As an unemployed single Aboriginal mother, these numbers are terrifying.
Neither of my children would have missed days at school (except if sick of course) had there been programs in place that would have helped me. A simple lunch program for disadvantaged kids. A school shoes payment plan for low income families. And on the odd occasion, a bus pick up for scorching hot or pouring rain days. Instead of addressing the problems that arise with poverty, the government has now put in place an initiative that employs truancy officers in Indigenous communities, at a cost of $24m.
What if money again becomes so tight that shoes, uniforms, excursions, lunches or transport – issues that I don’t have to worry about when I’m working – become issues that keep my kids from turning up at school on occasion? What exactly is the scope of these truancy officers? Do they give my kids lunch? Buy them uniforms? Will my name be added to some department of community services list somewhere? Will there be a mark upon my name that gives rise to visits from people who can remove my children from my care?
I spoke honestly and frankly with my mother about my worries. She was amazed that this is still happening, after all the trials Aboriginal women have been put through for generations. We spoke of her own mother’s obsession with cleanliness, which sprang from her fear of the dreaded “welfare man”, a government employee who could come to your house and demand to be let inside to ensure your house was clean, that there was adequate food available, that the children were going to school.
She then went on to tell me about her own fears when she was raising me and my siblings: the absolute terror she felt when she had to collect food vouchers of some nameless person swooping in to take us kids off her because she was facing hardship after my father passed away. The tremble in her voice as she recounted this broke my heart.
Aboriginal women have been told for the better part of two centuries that they are neglectful and not fit to raise children. Policy after policy, we have borne the brunt of racist and cruel initiatives enacted purely out of ignorance and the unwillingness of decision makers to listen to what Aboriginal women think is best for their very own children.
There are broader issues at work here. I am seeing all the telltale signs of respectability politics at play. Politics that are othering black women, shaming them for their economic status and for the colour of their skin. Politics that point a damning finger at Aboriginal women who exist outside the margins of perceived respectability.”