Dr Woolombi Waters

Dr Woolombi Waters

It’s the weekend and I am at Nudgee College to watch my son, Ngiyaani play his first game of Rugby Union for the school. He is there on both an equity and rugby scholarship after making the Brisbane Junior Rugby Union development side last year. He’s just turned 13 years old, is bigger than me, faster than I ever was and plays rugby as well as anyone in his age group.

He has been involved with high performance league and union programs since first being identified as a talent when only 10 years old.

I also have a nephew playing, Jake Tighe. Jake has come through the same type of programs as Ngiyaani but Jake instead plays Aussie Rules, having played for his State (NSW) and also represented at the National Schoolboy Rules carnival in Melbourne.

Both boys represent the future of Aboriginal Australia.

I also have a niece, Ruby Wharton who attends St Hilda’s College down the Gold Coast. Ruby is an excellent student and comes from one of the strongest-cultured and most respected families in the Brisbane Aboriginal community. Her Grandmother was Aunty Beryl Wharton and her father is Uncle Wayne (Coco) Wharton.

When I say kids like this are our future I don’t mean because they can play footy or attend an exclusive private school. What makes these kids special is not only are they making the most of the opportunities they are being given, they remain aware and respectful of the past and the sacrifices made for the opportunities they have today.

First and foremost these three kids are Kamilaroi (the two boys) and Kooma (Ruby) their First Nations Mob, language, culture and dance remain integral in their identity.

Each come from supportive, hard-working families who love them dearly and have made great sacrifices to ensure these children now have the opportunities they do through education.

Jake’s Mother, Jeanette, or Missy to friends and family, was telling me about how after not having phone calls returned from Nudgee when she was putting her application in for Jake, she would drive from across the border and humbug the school.

Not once or twice but as many times as she had to. Missy is a working single-mother who does what she has to in order for her children to reach their potential.

Now Missy is a Craigie and like all the Craigie girls I have known throughout my life she holds herself with an elegance and quiet determination. You only have to look at Aunty Cathy Craigie as an example – the family is well-educated, highly-focused, hard-working and political.

This is the same family as Uncle Billy Craigie, one of the original Tent Embassy fellas. Aunty Cathy is a living inspiration. She has spent her life working for our community and has coped with all the financial pressures of raising an extended family in Sydney – yes, an extended family with dignity, hard work and pride.

We have a number of families very similar to this Craigie family within our mobs. In fact when you think about your own mob look through the family tree and I bet, almost guarantee, the majority are hard-working, dignified, family men and woman who love their children unconditionally. But it takes hard work, sacrifice, self-belief and faith.

And it’s our woman who hold these families together. That’s why its important to recognise the beauty in our woman, not just physical, which they are – there’s nothing more beautiful than Aboriginal women – but also the nurturing and holding together of families as one generation of matriarch takes over from another.

I remember one afternoon at Uncle Dennis’, Uncle Coco’s brother, and Ruby cooked a roast, set the table and made us all sit down to eat a meal together. We all even had to wash our hands before we were allowed to come to the table. She was about 12 years old at the time.

There was a strange mix of emotions as Missy and I spoke together, reflecting upon our own personal journeys and yes, the struggles of our grandparents which led to this day when both our boys pulled on that Nudgee jumper.

We talked about chores we gave our boys when they was still only little fellas, the strong discipline in our family homes and the setting up of an environment that was favourable to their success.

My Uncle Marshall who passed away used to call it grannie-friendly homes – that what we need are homes that are friendly to our grannies, filled with noise, colouring books and activities for the kids.

He would never let us growl the kids either and always had fruit ready for them when coming home from school. Aboriginal people are good people – hard working and loving … we need to return back to the old ways.

I left the mob to watch the boys from the sideline as I like to follow the ball, the whistle blew and the game was underway.

A woman asked me which was my boy. I pointed to Ngiyaani taking the ball up through the middle of the ruck, pushing kids away like tenpins, remember I am fair – not my son. He is black and beautiful like my Grandfather, Len Waters.

And then with the same pride I acknowledged Jake playing in the centres. Like my boy, Jake is obviously Aboriginal.

The woman just turned very slightly turning her back to me – didn’t acknowledge either of the boys and slowly just dismissed me going back to her conversation with others. Many of our Aboriginal readers will know what I am describing. It happens to our mob all the time and it takes great self-control to not say something.

Sure enough it wasn’t long before my boy Ngiyaani beat four, five tackles running one off the ruck and planted the ball down, scoring next to the post. The White Aussie boys, Samoan, Maori and Tongan boys with him on the field came from everywhere to hug him and slap him on the back. Sometimes we can really learn from our kids if us parents just got out of the way.

But I couldn’t help myself. I had to let that woman know it was my boy who scored first and within five minutes he had scored again and then Jake scooped up a loose ball just on the halfway line, beating three tackles to run away and score under the post.

This was Jake’s first-ever game of rugby and gee he did them old people proud.  Once again I let that woman know this was my little nephew. She then turned to me saying “It’s a team game love …” with a smile on her face that looked like her face was about to crack.

True god you just wanna tell them they are just rude and ignorant and it’s been happening all our lives. People like that woman can be so bloody condescending – but yah can’t.

I honestly get those Murri’s charged up on the trains and buses on Youtube abusing fellas – I really do. You just wanna tell people how rude they are when they are smiling at you but with no idea what you have been through and the obstacles you have faced in your life – but you can’t.”

Because if you do you become the one alienated and your kids are the ones made to feel shame and isolated. White fellas have never been able to deal with an emotionally charged Blackfella telling the truth.

I knew I was provoking the situation to that point but I was angry having been dismissed but I knew if I did start on her I would be seen like all them “drunken blackfella’s” on the bus and train that seems to delight so many Aussies on Youtube – again you Blackfella’s know what I am saying.

I hate those videos and there’s always some self-righteous dick who feels they gotta jump up and become Dr Phil telling these poor bloody Murris who are obviously hurting how to behave.

So rather than becoming the “angry Black man” I decided to go back to the mob and tell them instead of letting my frustration out on her and become some sideshow for others who have no idea what is happening.

So I get back to run down this woman but by now the yarn had changed from how deadly are our two boys to Warren Mundine.

“So what do you think of him, nephew?” asked Jake’s Grandfather, Sid Craigie.

“Don’t like em,” I replied. “He’s doing a lot of damage,” I said.

That’s when old mate said it – one of my respected Elders from Moree who was there to watch his grannies make their debut for Nudgee – he said I could write the article but didn’t want me to say his name.

“We should ‘Sing the bastard,’ the Elder said. There was a short silence, ‘can’t do that…’” I said.

“No fu** e’m … he wanna start on sorry business and ceremony, we’ll give him sorry business alright,” the Elder said.

Again there was a silence.

Let him see how it is to be unwell and no way to get better teach e’m proper how it feels to have no one and be sick.”

Now this is serious business. You don’t take such conversations within our mob lightly. It highlights just how angry our mob has become with Mundine. A leader is meant to inspire a people, to bring them together.

Mundine is the exact opposite. Not only is he no leader, he is not particularly well-spoken with cursing common when both speaking and in his numerous accounts on social media. He is divisive, highly opinionated and quite frankly I don’t think he is very intelligent.

I had read an article in The Stringer, a digital news and current affairs website edited by our own Gerry Georgatos, and by Jenny Kaeshagen, its producer, only the day before where Mundine was suggesting an additional $600 million can be cut from Indigenous funding. Indigenous Advisory Council member Dr Ngaire Brown has disassociated herself from the comments saying she would not support such a hit after having a difficult time coming to terms with the $534 million already taken from us in this latest Budget.

But what about the others on this Advisory Council? What does it take for them other fella’s to start speaking out?

Mundine went on to say there are services on the ground “that won’t notice”, more cuts and that what has been done already through the budget is not enough and the Government can and should go further.

He’s talking about the very services that have helped in getting our two boys to Nudgee College – Indigenous health services and education opportunities have played a major factor in both these boys development.

Young Ruby has also benefited from extra tuition and support through such programs. How many of our families are also employed within the delivery of such services?

I looked at my old Uncle and you know there was part of me that agreed with him when he said “we should ‘Sing’ the bastard”.

Gerry then explains that a ministerial source said Mr Mundine has been misunderstood and that he meant $600 million further of existing funding can be reassigned to “eliminate waste” and not that further “cuts” can be made.

Gerry’s source said the Prime Minister and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs have no intention for further hits on “Indigenous disadvantage spending”.  Which again just shows how limited Mundine is in his articulation.  He just doesn’t speak very well and his deficiencies continue to be exposed.

My old Uncle must have seen the look on my face because he then added, “wouldn’t be hard to Sing e’m, yah know because he has a weak mind and already he hates his own mob so he’s very susceptible to that proper law business, yah know.”

Then Missy’s father, my Uncle Sid spoke up. “Did yah see that young fella (Michael McMahon) put it to e’m on the front of the paper there nephew? … your rag the National Indigenous Times. Gee he was deadly that young fella.”

We all then looked over at our boys, it was half time and they were surrounded by their new brothers all whom represented different cultures, races and people – all smiling and accepting. “Yeah,” I said, “his name was Michael McMahon, I think he was from Darwin.”

I then looked over at my cousin Missy. She had moved away from us and was just staring at Jake with so much love and pride in her eyes. She told me she had just taken his allowance off him because he was spending too much bungoo on tuckshop. It’s that love and discipline that’s going to save our mob.

Not bloody Mundine, perhaps my Uncle is right, maybe we should ‘Sing the bastard.’


Dr Woolombi Waters is a Kamilaroi language speaker and writer and is a lecturer at Griffith University. He writes a weekly column for the National Indigenous Times. E-mail: woolombi.waters@nit.com.au