I am a Yugambeh trans person from south east Queensland. I grew up in Victoria, on Wadawurrung country, and I live in Narrm, or Birraranga, or Melbourne.
In January, I read a piece from Wakka Wakka and Wulli Wulli Brotherboy Kai Clancy. Brotherboy is a relatively new, English language word for an old way of being. It is a culturally specific word created within the community to describe Aboriginal transgender men, which recognises both their resistance to colonial gender norms and their connections to country and place within the community. Kai’s piece speaks about the experiences of being a brotherboy and living in rural Queensland. One line stands out: I am isolated. The sun is out but a part of me feels dim…isolated and far removed from the rest of the world.
I read Kai’s words again during the COVID-19 lockdown, and they hit differently. I’m more able to recognise some of the loneliness I’ve felt throughout my life. I think about how isolation is, for us, nothing new, but our lives are not tragedies. We are creative, and we have always found ways to survive and connect.
I read Kai’s words again during the COVID-19 lockdown, and they hit differently. I’m more able to recognise some of the loneliness I’ve felt throughout my life.
In June, after the killing of George Floyd in the United States, there was a Black Lives Matter protest organised by Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance in Narrm. You’ve probably heard about it. It was misrepresented, as most Black protest is, but thousands of people came, and they gathered peacefully and safely in honour of all Blak people killed by police. Many of the Blak people attending have seen police brutality or had it impact their lives in some way. Some have lost family to the so-called justice system. Some have been protesting for years, some had never come to a protest before.
There were a few undercover police there, looking to find trouble, to make trouble, or to capitalise on trouble. They were dressed as their idea of what a protestor looks like; sportswear and a bumbag, and then the dead giveaway; some combat boots that look expensive enough that you know only the state could have paid for them. Boots that look made for violence, that make you realise they’re probably concealing a weapon under the Puma windcheater. Like PSOs in plainclothes, you just know them when you see them. They are easy to identify in crowds like this because they’re alone. They’re isolated.
On the day of the rally, I travelled into the city for the first time in months, with two friends. I say to one of them, a Gumbaynggir woman, before we set out, 'I’m not sure if I can handle this. We haven’t seen anyone for months, and now, we’re going to see everybody'. She stays with me the whole time, and when I have to go home, she takes me. When we pass the line of police cars, the temporary border between protest and city, we speed up. We hold our breath.
For Aboriginal people, these protests, and white people’s anger over having their movements limited, are somewhere between funny and scary.
Since the lockdown began, white people have been protesting, often violently. They protested for control over their lives, over their movements, over their rights. The word sovereignty even comes up sometimes. For Aboriginal people, these protests, and white people’s anger over having their movements limited, are somewhere between funny and scary. About six months into the isolation, me and a non-binary Trawlwoolway friend are laughing about this together, over video call. They say, serious for a moment, “Haven’t they had to wait for anything before? Haven’t they ever had to be patient?”
For now, we’re both sharing this feeling, waiting for the opportunity to cross the state borders and visit home. When we can, we make time to see each other for walks around the Queen Victoria Market, the site of the unmarked burial ground where Tasmanian Aboriginal warriors Tunnerminnerwait and?Maulboyheener were buried after their execution in 1842. My Yugambeh? ancestors maintained their connections to each other across bodies of water, hinterland rainforests, hundreds of kilometers, with no internet, no money, and no real legal freedoms. They did it all under continual threat from social and legal violence, and suffocating government restrictions on their movements. They travelled on foot, in secret, in miraculous ways, to remain connected and to keep connections alive for the generations to come. I’m a long way from country, and I won’t be able to visit for a while, but I think of them. Our connections to our ancestral lands, and to each other, are enduring and timeless.
Maddee?Clark?is a Yugambeh writer and researcher living in Narrm.
National NAIDOC Week (8 – 15 Nov 2020) celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Join SBS and NITV for a full slate of NAIDOC Week content. For more information about NAIDOC Week or this year’s theme, head to the official NAIDOC Week website. #NAIDOC2020 #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe