ALLY CARTER | REGULARS
I stare at the face of the woman standing in front of me. She has hazel eyes, high cheekbones and dark hair from her father, light freckles from the sun, mixed skin from the blackness of her Aboriginal father and whiteness of her mother, and light lines that come when she smiles. This is the face of my mother. The face represents a strong, resilient and driven woman who has overcome hardships but has always been too stubborn to give up. A face that belongs to the woman I admire most because even after everything she has experienced, she can still give me the love and support a young woman needs. Growing up, I always thought I couldn't be more like my dad if I tried, but now I realise I also resemble the strong woman I call Mum.
I stare at the face of the man standing in front of me. He has big blue eyes that he got from his Swedish grandfather, high cheekbones from his father, dark skin from his parents, hard lines from hardships, and a big smile he's always got for his grandbabies. This is the face of my Aboriginal grandfather. The face represents a strong, proud, and stubborn Gamilaroi man who grew up on a station where he often had to hide to avoid being taken away. A face of a man who was not provided with the same opportunities that I've been given. It's the face of a man who always tells me to be proud of being Aboriginal. A face that looks down at me with admiration and pride.
I stare at the faces of two Aboriginal women in the photographs in front of me. One of the faces is dark with big lips and brown eyes she got from her old people, lines that come with age, and she's wearing a headscarf which I've been told she always wore. This is the face of my great-great-grandmother. It is a face that belongs to an Aboriginal woman who married a Swedish man, the same man who gave my great-grandfather and grandfather their blue eyes and big ears. A face of an Aboriginal woman who grew up on Pindari station, the only reserve in the New England region until it was turned into a station in 1910. The ‘Aborigines’ Protection board managed Pindari station, controlling my great-great-grandmother's life and earnings. It's the face of a woman who was forced to work when she turned 14, as was the rule on the station. The other face has light Aboriginal skin, kind eyes, and a small smile. This is the face of my great-grandmother, whom I am named after. This face belongs to a woman whose story I do not know but someone I know who many people adored because of her kindness. The face of someone who had to hide her children so they wouldn't be taken away. This face is an Aboriginal woman who died in her forties before she had the chance to hold her first grandbaby. These faces belong to two women who I know would be proud of the person I am.
I stare at the faces in the photograph in front of me from my 21st birthday. I stare at my uncle, a proud Gamilaroi man, and his young daughter, who gets her pride from him. I stare at the face of my brother, eyes mixed with blue and green, dark hair, and big lips. The face of yet another proud Gamilaroi man who fights non-stop for our people. A face that I used to hate (in a sibling type way, of course), but now, it is one that I turn to seek advice, have a classic Ally rant, or just to chat. A young face that was the firstborn of my parents when they were just teenagers. A young face whose parents worked so hard to provide their children with an upbringing they never had and from this, is the first person in our family to graduate from university. A face that cops the same ignorant racism that I do, such as “Oh, what percentage are you?” – “You can't be Aboriginal; you have white skin” – “How far back does it go?” – “You're not a real Aboriginal.” A face that somehow inspires me but also still annoys me, especially when the bedroom door is left open upon exiting.
These are only a few faces of my Aboriginal family.
I stare at the face of the man in front of me. The face has blue eyes from his father, tanned skin from the sun, an intimidating stare he got from years of being tough, a beard he's got because he doesn't like shaving and a slight smirk from making himself laugh after saying one of his classic cheeky comments. This is the face of my father. A face that belongs to a hard-working man who came from absolutely nothing and provided his children with everything he didn't have growing up. A man who inspires every young male to whom he tells his story. A non-Indigenous man who raised his two Indigenous children to be proud of being Aboriginal and took their journey of Aboriginality with them – learning their culture, stories, and history as they do. A man who didn't finish school but got dressed up in his nicest striped shirt and chinos to help me with my interview at the all-girls school I ended up going to for years 11 and 12 because he wanted to provide me with the best education and experience. The face of a man who I always turn to because I know he'll do anything in his power to help me.
I look at the face in front of me. The face has blue-green eyes like her big brother, a smile like her dad, freckles and straight brown hair like her mum, ears that poke out a little like her pops, and a face that is often deemed intimidating, which she also got from her Dad. This face is my reflection as I look in the mirror. The face of a young woman who once struggled with her Aboriginal identity in primary school. A young girl who did not see her Aboriginality as powerful because her non-Indigenous peers told her otherwise. A young girl who was too nervous to go on Aboriginal camps because she thought she wasn't blak enough. Someone who every year, on school photo day, would return to class from the photo they took with the other Indigenous students and face the questions: “Are you really Aboriginal? You're white,” and “What percentage are you?” without them knowing the extent these questions affected my identity.
As I stare at my reflection, I think about the complexities of my identity and how much I've grown as a person.
I see a young woman who is proud to be Aboriginal and a part of the world's oldest surviving culture. I see a young woman who no longer struggles with her Aboriginal identity because of the colour of her skin as she knows that being Indigenous is about connection to culture and Country, two things she's proud to have. A young woman who no longer retreats away when someone questions her Aboriginality or says a racist remark but instead now stands tall and confronts them. She is a young woman who will always support the Indigenous people around her and constantly hype them up to know their worth and strength. Most importantly, I see the face of a young woman who is proud of her Gamilaroi culture and heritage and grateful to know her lineage.
I hope when you look at the face of the next Indigenous person you speak with that you don't question their identity, history, or lived experiences. When you look into their eyes, I hope you respect that Aboriginal identities and experiences are complex, multifaceted, and valid. I hope you listen to the stories and experiences of mob from all walks of life, such as the ones who attended university and those who didn't; the ones who are single mothers and fathers; the ones who grew up in poverty; the ones fighting for their community; the ones who experience everyday racism; and the ones whose Elders taught them culture and those who have been deprived of this due to historical treatment and events. We need to listen to these voices that broader Australia silences.
I hope you now understand that Indigenous people's experiences, struggles, and stories are diverse and that I have only offered a small glimpse into mine. Importantly, next time you're looking at the face of an Indigenous person, I hope you see and feel the 65,000 plus years of power and strength coming from their ancestors that always stand behind them.