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Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.
Ron Bradfield Jnr blogs as Belongum. I discovered his wonderful blog via Cellobella, another fabulous WA blogger, who I met at the Perth Writers Festival last year. See sometimes you can discover fabulous blogs via real life. Amazing, innit?
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Ron Bradfield Jnr is a contemporary Bardi man because he has to be. His mob come for the tip of Cape Leveque, north of Broome, Western Australia. He was born and brought up, away from his Country and worked extensively through remote and rural communities all up and down WA. He works with visual artists (via Artsource) and it’s been said many times before in his presence, that herding cats would be a darn sight simpler! In his spare time, he writes. Mostly that consists of blogging, although he is also guilty of publishing in various related work-related magazines as well. It all depends on the two little people in his house and their fantastic mother. Family always gets squashed in there somewhere. All in all, Ron loves what a good yarn can do. Sharing our respective cultures in respectful and healthy ways is the key. Poking people in the eye with it—just makes for a bad experiences all-round and has us remembering them for all the wrong reasons. Our respective cultures make us the richest species on the planet—yet we don’t celebrate this in any way that helps us connect well to each other. Ron’s crossing his fingers in the vain hope that it’s all not too late and that we continue to share. You can find out more about the world he lives in on his blog.
It’s All English to Me
You’ve undoubtedly heard . . .
. . . the phrase ‘lost in translation’. It’s a phrase I see confirmed on many levels here in Australia. All irony aside, most Australians born and living in our English speaking country, probably don’t realise the trap that our familiarity with the English language brings: it leads us to assume certain things, based upon particular meanings. It fails to acknowledge other associated depths to a word—spoken or written—especially those relevant to other cultures. Most particularly—mine!
I am of two worlds. I have a foot in two culture camps here in Oz: that of the Aboriginal peoples (Bardi Mob in particular) of this country and that of the Irish who were brought, or settled here. I have lived a pretty varied life so far; it has seen me fail my early ‘schooling’; learn and work in my trade; sport two military uniforms for this country; work extensively with isolated and damaged young people; assist Aboriginal communities and now—I get to yarn with some of Western Australia’s most amazing visual artists.
My journey into the arts has allowed a fantasy of mine to come true: it’s given me a perfect excuse to write. I’ve always wanted to—I was just never allowed to explore this kind of opportunity as a kid. In general, our education system didn’t invest much in Aboriginal kids when I was young. It was just the way it was here in
Australia in the early 80’s. Thankfully though; at an early age, I discovered books.
They took me places my education couldn’t and allowed me sneak-peaks at worlds I didn’t believe existed. They showed me very early in life that words had an amazing power and they raised questions in me—I was reading of other people’s experiences—but none of them were mine.
Let me correct that some; none of them, were of my Mob. Not too many of these wonderful books brought me the Aboriginal meanings I had come to associate with certain English words. I recognized similar notions in other cultures that weren’t English based and only because the depth associated with the word was often accompanied by descriptions that took my mind along other paths to build the picture I needed. Rather than tell me a concept, my favourite writers showed me. In doing so, I was allowed the room to let MY cultural notion of the words exist without constraint. My understandings of these words were included and—as most people of another Culture in this country already knew—this was a rare experience indeed.
A simple example? Well, in my Mob (and for that of most Australian Aboriginal and Islander peoples) we call all our birth mother’s sisters, ‘Mum’. This is the translation in English of course, although each of the differing nations or language groups have their own term for this, but essentially—the notion of the word ‘Mum’ or ‘Mother’ in English—tends to fit. It’s not as limited in its use within our communities though. We don’t have only ONE Mum—we have many. Yep, I know, we’re just greedy that way.
The English word ‘Aunty’ just doesn’t fit here either and, should it be used (as it often is in other Aboriginal and Islander communities more impacted upon by our backward past policies of taking our children away), it’s used as the word’s actual meaning defines it—but the underlying cultural context—tells you a completely different thing entirely. Past government policies have managed to break our families apart, exterminate so many of our languages and cultures and almost rendered us lost to today’s Australian society—but it has NEVER squashed our own sense, of ourselves.
I know this to be true, simply because when I use the words Culture and Country—they take on a completely different meaning for us, than it does for the vast majority of those who live here. Please understand that I don’t say this to NOT include you dear readers; just to highlight a point. If anything I believe that if you call this Country your home – than you should understand these concepts as part of your own Australian heritage (despite what some people will tell you—you’re actually welcome to do so) and culture. Country is where I come from, what I’m
connected to and it defines who I am (to others). Culture is what connects me there; it feeds my centre and keeps me whole. I can’t explain it any simpler than that. It’s something I’d need to show you—as it can’t be captured completely in English.
English Dictionaries will tell you a completely different thing and that is an absolute shame. The English language is a tool. It shouldn’t govern the meaning you place upon your written words to the N’th degree—not like that. You—or should I say WE—as writers have a huge responsibility placed upon our shoulders. We have to convey actual meaning (real living and breathing meaning) to our readers and we have such a limited language with which to do it.
Think I’m exaggerating?
Ask those who have already contributed here their thoughts on how the English language constrains the notion of other people’s Culture. It’s a mark of their skill (and yours) as writers that they can bring their world into this one—the one you’re reading right now—the world of English.
My hat’s off to you all and I mean that sincerely, because achieving that, is no mean feat!
Coda: A Few Words on the Word ‘Mob’
Mob. There has been a tendency to use the word Tribe when describing each of the different language groups that exist in Aboriginal and Islander peoples cultures across Australia. This is actually incorrect. If anything we more closely represent family Clans (not all that different to Celtic and Gaelic ones). Language groups in distinct areas—broken further down to smaller family clans—better able to survive across harsh country—coming together at set times in the year—to trade goods and marry. Or at least this was the case a long time ago—when it was
Instead of the word Clan, we tend to use the word Mob. Aboriginal and Islander people will say “Which Mob?” or “Who your Mob?” when trying to narrow down who you belong too. It’s an important question—it tells another Aboriginal or Islander person where you come from and who you’re likely to be related too. This determines how you should be addressed and who might be responsible for you—laying down the groundwork for a complex protocol system that nearly all Aboriginal and Islander children know backwards by the time they are 5 years old.
There are over a hundred language groups still surviving in our country. All of us have different cultural bases—yet all of us are similar in particular ways. This website doesn’t do a bad business of explaining this further—as my explanations are very simple.
And here is a map of how Aboriginal and Islander Language groups or nations looked (and to a degree still do) in it’s simplest form. Lastly some government statistics.
END of Message
(Sorry Military past intrudes haha—old habits!)
Posted by Justine at 23:59, 2 March 2010 under Guest post, State of the World, Sydney/Australia, Words & Language | 9 Comments »
Are there a lot of Aboriginal authors in Oz?
Can Aboriginal characters easily be found in Oz fiction?
Last question -Can the defintion of Mob you gave be found in the dictionary?
Thanks so much for the links. I know I will find a few answers there.
March 3rd, 2010 at 2:45 AM
Well – when you say a lot – no… Aboriginal and Islander peoples of Oz only number around 3% of our population now (although this is slowwwwly rising). We have a few authors – probably more now than we did 20 years ago. It is increasing – as more Aboriginal and Islander Peoples learn to embrace another medium to share their point of view and (as Anita Heiss – ‘Chick Lit’ author “Manhattan Dreaming” – said at the Perth Writer’s Festival) the arts is probably one of the only ‘clean’ platforms we have to actually be heard from.
A veteran author – Archie Weller – wrote “The Day of the Dog” probably 30 years ago. This was made into a movie called “Blackfellas” and Archie would have been one of the first (certainly here in West Oz) to challenge Australians with a slice of Australian life from a harder Aboriginal point of view at the time.
WE have other outstanding Aboriginal and Islander (Indigenous) writers – a quick Google search will uncover them for you. Sadly though – very few people are including Aboriginal Peoples in their stories – as very few people feel confident enough to portray us (and our Culture) well enough. On the whole – main stream Australians still know very little about it’s own Aboriginality.
English is still a second or third (even forth) language for people living in remote Aboriginal communities away from built up urban areas – hence this post. Language is meant to be a ‘carrier’ of culture right? I guess it been my experience to find that English doesn’t carry other peoples culture all that well.
March 3rd, 2010 at 6:36 PM
Thanks. I live in U.S. and I don’t know much about Aboriginal and Islanders. I understand the limits of the English language. Though I do think all languages limit authors who speaks a different tongue. Since the author is forced to used words and definitions different from their own.
I think readers have to respect and beaware of these differences and that it doesn’t mean better or worse just different.
March 3rd, 2010 at 8:06 PM
I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing it.
March 4th, 2010 at 12:44 AM
Hey Belongum – great post.
I’d love to hear your explanation of skin groups sometime.
March 4th, 2010 at 10:14 AM
Thanks Delux… very kind of you to say so!
Hey CB – fancy meeting you here Skin groups is a whole other discussion that – sadly – I don’t think I could ever do it justice! So much caught up in that business – and so little of it known… it’s such a shame!
March 4th, 2010 at 10:46 PM
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