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North Perth, WA, 6006
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Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Racial Tensions in Kalgoorlie: RIP Elijah Doughty

Andrew Ryan

A few nights ago I had a sleep over at my grandmother’s house after she had a minor surgical procedure.

My grandmother, known to her grandchildren as “Omi”, migrated to Australia from The Netherlands as a teenager during WWII, and has been here ever since. As she gets older, she told me she experiences more and more post-traumatic stress symptoms (my phrasing, not hers), like when a helicopter flies over her house, and she freezes in terror, momentarily brought back to The War.

She and my “Opi” raised my mother and aunts in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, before moving to Perth when the kids were grown up. She was a nurse in Kalgoorlie, and the only things I can remember her saying about this time was that spinal surgeries were awful back then, and that “black people stink”, because the Aboriginal people she dealt with as a nurse at that time were often living in horrible conditions.

I’ve always felt uncomfortable about this predilection my grandmother has towards a racially defined view of the world. I mean, I love her dearly, she is a kind lady, she volunteers at an aged care facility even though she turned 80 this year and all that - but she seems to have never come to grips with how this sort of Othering can negatively impact society. When she talked about her nurses at the hospital, she referred to some as “Negroes”, and sitting above the bed I slept in were a pair of Golliwogs, which she also referred to as her “Negroes”. She’s like a less abrasive, less funny, much more kind-hearted version of Uncle Pete from “Horace and Pete”. https://youtu.be/rBx-10c752U

I spoke to my mother about her time growing up in Kalgoorlie in the late 60s/early 70s. She described Kalgoorlie as being quite racially segregated. She said most Aboriginal kids were in separate school classes, and that she and her friends were quite scared of “blacks” because they beat up white kids occasionally. I didn’t ask her how often whites beat up black kids. She said the segregated groups didn’t socialise together, that there was a complete lack of cultural understanding. The white kids were taught in school that Aboriginal people lived in mia mias, threw spears to hunt kangaroo, and went walk about. That’s it. Which is only a little less than I was taught in school in the 90s. The Aboriginal people they mostly saw were the “full blood” “bushies” who sat in the park drinking, camped on the outskirts of town. Did the white kids see them hunting kangaroos with spears? I doubt it.

She said there was not a lot of animosity, just separation, and avoidance. But that tension bubbles, and every time I've been to Kalgoorlie, I've felt it, seen the massive inequality between the different coloured members of the Kalgoorlie community.

40 years later, today, Kalgoorlie experiences a “riot” in its city centre, in which police cars get smashed, the court house windows get smashed, and police officers are injured. That's what was reported in news media. Why did this happen? A 14 year old boy was found dead in some bushes, with a stolen motorcycle by his side. A man was arrested and charged with manslaughter, but was not locked up. Family and friends protested outside the courthouse, and the protest turned violent.

 The boy was Aboriginal. The man accused of manslaughter is White.

Cue the negative racial stereotypes against Aboriginal people written by White people all over news media facebook comments sections. White people with little to no compassion claiming it’s the boy’s own fault for stealing, that the protestors/rioters are animals, claiming that it isn’t a racial issue, whilst also giving shit to “dole bludging” “blacks”.

Never mind that there Is documented evidence of white people talking about running over black kids on Kalgoorlie social media pages. Never mind that the Western Australian reports on the riot in terms of the court house windows getting smashed being the most important issue, not that a CHILD was killed in what is seemingly an act of vigilante justice. Never mind the history of racial tensions in the area. Never mind the countless examples of horrific examples of Aboriginal deaths in custody all over Australia. For more information, read this New Matilda article. https://newmatilda.com/2016/08/31/the-kalgoorlie-uprising-a-rational-response-to-another-black-death/

Those bloody blacks, always complaining, always hung up on the past, always looking for an excuse to get angry, right White Guys?

Fucking hell.

The community around this boy are grieving. This boy was the third death in one family in the last month, and what appears to anyone with all the facts to be a MURDER, is being trated as manslaughter. The accused man was not held, despite manslaughter charge, while Aboriginal people around the country are detained for UNPAID FINES. No wonder 200 people protested outside the court. No wonder people were angry. This kid shouldn’t have died.

And let’s not forget the history of racial segregation in Kalgoorlie, home of the Super Pit that has its own fucking micro-climate - no doubt that boy’s adult family members were subject to that same segregation my mother described, as well as countless other experiences with Australian Systemic Racism, something White People rarely have to think about, let alone experience, and the young people are fucking angry about this shit, all of this shit, their friend is dead, no one should be killed for stealing a bike, though some are doubting he even did steal a bike, and goddamit those screengrabs of white dudes saying they’ll run the black kids over are horrific.

The situation is fucked. The reporting is fucked. The charges are fucked. The ignorant commenters are fucked. Some of these commenters cry “TOO PC, TOO MUCH SENSITIVITY” but there is such a big line between my grandma and Uncle Pete’s kind of non-pc old person word usage, and the kind of overt, hateful racism on display here; and FUCK, the shameful ignorance of the media in focussing on the riot instead of the awful situation that lead to it only furthers White Denialist Cause by giving an excuse for racial vilification. White Australia loves an excuse to racially vilify, ready to counter with “REVERSE RACISM” or “BUT MY FREEDOM OF SPEECH” when anyone calls them out on being insensitive assholes.

“Well, he’s never going to steal again, is he?”

No, he’s not, if he ever really did in the first place. A 14 year old boy is dead, and yet another Aboriginal family is in mourning for a death that shouldn’t have happened.

In a violent colonisation, the colonised have no choice but to respond with violence against the colonisers. For more on this, please read Frantz Fanon's "Concerning Violence". http://www.openanthropology.org/fanonviolence.htm