Bring The Sun Out EP
"Land rights is a load of crap," says Kaylah Truth. They are not the kind of words you'd expect to hear from a radical, politically-savvy Indigenous rapper. But Truth, of militant Murri hip-hop group Impossible Odds, says she has learnt from bitter experience to pursue sovereignty instead.
On the band's album, Against All Odds, she raps:
I no longer need my fists to fight
I just write whenever those emotions do arise
I'm 23 and I just got my land rights
But that was recorded two years ago. "When I wrote it, I wasn't educated about sovereignty," she tells Green Left. "But that line in that song, I won't change it because it still represents an important event in my people's history. It brought a lot of people back together again."
Back then, the Quandamooka people had won native title recognition over most of Stradbroke Island. Truth's relatives came from all over the country to celebrate. But the Brisbane Times reported: "Existing usage remains unaffected."
As land rights activist and historian Gary Foley puts it, "native title is not land rights". But Truth says her people should move on from land rights, to sovereignty.
"I'm definitely grateful for all of the past generations who did go through that land rights movement and bring us to where we are today so that now we can think about the next step," she says.
"But it's our turn to educate ourselves on what's next. Younger people, especially in my generation, are becoming more interested in learning about what sovereignty is. A lot of people think that sovereignty is about kicking everybody out of our country and living the way that we used to - but it's not about that at all, and it's not a black issue. It's for everyone, to just learn how to become self-sufficient without living under a government that does nothing for us."
The band's founder, Fred Leone, says: "We've sort of figured out that migloos don't have our best interests at heart. Two hundred and something years, bro, they've had control over us. It's killing us. We're dying out at an extreme rate. If we were an animal, we'd be on the endangered species list."
Yet it would appear the odds are stacked against sovereignty. As the "father of international law", Lassa Oppenheim, put it, sovereignty "has never had a meaning which was universally agreed upon”. But Thomas Hobbes' definition, which said a state could not be thought of as sovereign if it did not act in the best interests of its own citizens, resonates. The modern nation-state, in which totalitarian corporations direct supposedly democratic politicians to lead the human race towards an uninhabitable future, is hardly sovereign in the sense of having people's best interests at heart.
Indigenous sovereignty, which was never conceded in Australia, looks a far more attractive proposition for everyone - and governments know it. In 1998, lawyers advising the Howard government wrote: "The issue of domestic sovereignty is set to dominate future international discussions of indigenous rights. [It] could potentially change the map of this country. Australians tend to take their sovereignty for granted. That sovereignty is now being contested. We must become more aware of the issues, the players and be prepared to defend our sovereignty if we are to maintain it."
Aboriginal Tent Embassy founder and sovereignty campaigner Michael Anderson has his own interpretation of that legal advice to John Howard. Anderson says it meant: "Be very careful of what you're doing, because the Aborigines are coming after us."
The odds for sovereignty may seem impossible, but Impossible Odds are used to playing against all odds. Leone says: "For Indigenous males and females to make anything out of whatever, the odds are just impossible. I don't know that people in the wider community can understand, or get a grasp on, exactly what we're going through as a race of people to even just be able to work a nine-to-five job, live in a house, to try to excel in music, whatever we're doing, we're basically facing impossible odds."
The band are beating the odds. They are sitting in the grand lobby of their plush Cairns hotel, having just played the first date on their "Bring The Sun Out" tour, showcasing their own record label. It's not cyclone season in Cairns, but when the band rolled into town, it seemed like this Far North Queensland port had been hit by a tornado. Fred Leone - also known as Rival MC - was the eye of the storm. Kaylah Truth held in her power like tightly-packed explosive, occasionally blowing up the mic and spraying the crowd with lyrical shrapnel. But Leone leapt all over the stage, a whirling dervish of pure energy, a manic comic, electrifying dancer and magnetic emcee.
After the show, he was still whipping about like a willy-willy, sweeping people up in his effervescent energy and spitting them out, leaving a dizzy, diminishing trail of thrilled and exhausted people all the way back to the hotel lobby. Kaylah Truth walked a small distance apart, the constantly connected activist, tapping away at her smartphone. I pointed at Leone and said to her: "It's like following a whirlwind." She grinned and replied: "He's always like this." Now, back at the hotel, Leone sits, spent, in a deep, wide seat, quietly and pensively reflecting on why hip-hop resonates so well with his people.
"I bang on about this a lot, but there's four elements of hip-hop," he says, gently. "Breakdancing, deejaying, graffiti and emceeing. And in our culture, to me, it's just a natural progression that we pick this tool up and use it, because hip-hop has breakdancing, we have shake-a-leg; hip-hop has a deejay, we've got a didge player; hip-hop has an emcee, we've got a songman; hip-hop has graffiti, we've got the oldest graffiti in the whole world with our artwork. So it's only natural that we just pick hip-hop up, gel with it, and be able to use it as a tool to voice our opinions today."
Yet there is a fifth element in hip-hop that is often forgotten - knowledge. Most Indigenous rappers have it in spades, but it is sorely neglected in so-called "Australian Hip-Hop". Fed and watered by capitalism, the genre has branched out so far from its righteous roots that that Leone has rapped: "First release I went political and freaked people out." To what extent were Australians freaked out by politics in hip-hop?
"People were coming up to me and saying, 'It makes me feel uncomfortable - when I listen to music, I just want to have fun,'" he says. "And I was, like, 'Well, sadly this is reality and you have to hear what is the reality of this country."
The release that "freaked people out", a song called "Laugh It Off", was born in everyday Australian reality. "These young fellas who were living in the house next door invited me round to have a drink," says Leone. "So I said, 'Yeah, I'll come over and have a beer.' Rocked over and had a beer, there was a few people there, and one dude lets rip.
"What he said, was, 'You're cool, like, for an Aboriginal, but those others man, they just stink and they just don't work and they're lazy and they just... Man, I hate Abos, eh. But you're all right, you're cool.' I've just gone, boom! Pounded my hand on the table and said, 'Brother, you're lucky you didn't meet me 10 years ago, because I would have knocked you out. Never mind, I'm gonna write a song about you!
"He just stared at me as if to say, 'How could I have possibly offended you?' I said, 'You don't know me, you have no idea who I am, you don't know my past and I'm just THIS far away from smacking you. I actually feel sorry for you. I feel sorry for you and I feel sorry for your parents, who taught you how to behave like that, who taught you everything you know. I feel sorry for your grandparents, because you just brought shame on your whole family. That's ridiculous, man.' I got straight home, walked in, and just started writing."
LEONE HAS THE LAST LAUGH
With "Laugh It Off", Leone had the last laugh - national radio snapped it up, along with another Impossible Odds song.
"Triple J put it on dual rotation. So 'Hey People' was on spot rotation while 'Laugh It Off' was on high rotation and then it went on Qantas International in-flight radio all around the world and I was getting all these messages on Facebook. It suddenly went from, like, 100 friends to 2000. And I was getting comments like, 'that first release made me really uncomfortable' and even friends were like: 'I listened to your release and we never talked about that stuff, growing up, so it made me really uncomfortable. It's so catchy, I just can't get the tune out of my head, but what you're talking about makes me so sick because I know that you're just relaying something that goes on every day, you know, to Indigenous people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.'
"I said, 'Yeah, it is what it is.' I thought I'd just put it in a song, but make it so catchy that people couldn't ignore it, they'd just go 'Whaa-oh, whaa-oh, ya dit-de-dit-de-dit-de Laugh It Off!'. I think a lot of blackfellas do do that, laugh it off, because if you don't just laugh things off, if you don't have a good coping mechanism, it's game over, you're in jail, because you just dropped somebody, you know?" Leone laughs a small, mirthless laugh. "One punch can kill," he says, quietly.
In the song, he raps:
Hey boys and girls, here's a bit about me
Fred Leone, nowadays known as Rival MC
Back in the day growing up I got teased just because
Could never put a finger on just what it was
Till I was told one day, it was because of my skin
'I mean, you're all right, but those others, they're just lazy, smelly and whinge'
I cringed, thinking I should knock this fella's block off
I kept my composure and just decided to laugh it off
Last month, Aboriginal lawyer Larissa Behrendt wrote a comment piece in the Guardian titled "Aboriginal humour: 'the flip side of tragedy is comedy'". Laughter, she said, is "a powerful antidote to the trauma, harm and hurt that comes with racism". She ended the piece with the following anecdote: "Once, when I was asked what nationality I was, the kindly Australian response to my Aboriginality was 'don’t worry, you can’t tell'. I tell it as a funny story. And it sort of is. And sort of isn’t."
Kaylah Truth, whose father is white, can relate to that. "When I tell people that I'm Aboriginal, they say, 'you're too pretty to be Aboriginal', which is like the biggest insult," she says. "Now I just say, 'well, obviously you don't know many blackfellas'. But they say, 'you must be something else'. You know? It's like they're interested in every other thing."
Leone agrees. "I've picked this up for years," he says. "I'll introduce myself and people will say, 'What are you... where are you... what's your background?' 'Oh, I'm Aboriginal and South Sea and Tongan.' Almost every time, if it's an Australian person, they'll go, 'Oh, Tongan?' You know, and they'll just ignore the rest. 'Nah, but I mainly grew up with all blackfellas.' 'Ah, OK, yeah.' And they switch off and that's it. I just want to have a conversation about it, but they just avoid and avoid it as if it's going to get political or something."
THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN SILENCE
Australian anthropologist WEH Stanner dubbed Australians' wish to avoid any Aboriginal issues "the great Australian silence". AFL player and Indigenous record label boss Nathan Lovett-Murray has told Green Left that he finds interest in Aboriginal people is stronger abroad than it is in Australia. Radical Indigenous artist Vernon Ah-Kee has said the only time he feels like an equal is when he goes abroad.
Fred Leone agrees. "Oh, yeah," he says. "Just the fascination and the directness. I went to New York. 'Where you from?' 'From Australia.' 'You're not from Australia are you?' 'Yeah.' 'You don't look Australian.' 'Well, what does an Australian look like?' 'Well... you must be from Africa or something.' 'I'm Aboriginal, bro.' 'An Aborigine! Woah, I thought you were extinct!' And then it's questions galore, but it's like, they're actually interested, they just want to know the ins and outs of everything.
"It's cool, you start walking around different. We were staying in the Bronx and I was saying to my mate, 'Something's weird, bro, I just feel real good here man, I walk with more confidence, I just feel real at ease, I dunno what it is.' And he turns around and goes, 'You're in the majority, homie. You're not in the minority.' And that's what it is!"
It doesn't help that the mainstream media malign minorities. "Yeah, I can't watch the mainstream media," says Leone. "I can't watch. Just growing up, if all you see is a negative portrayal of your people every time you turn on the TV then that's all you're going to think is your future. They can brainwash you in a way. Even now, it's so frustrating to just hear the rot that they're just spewing out. It's just hard to stomach, so I don't bother turning it on, it's just crap. I just tune out, do what I want to do, pick up whatever I want to read, and find out from whatever sources I can."
On "Take This Message" he raps about the media:
An instrument of hate when in the wrong hands
Freedom of speech can poison even the best of men
I can't watch the news because of all the lies and misconceptions
And misrepresentations of anyone willing to make a stand
But as Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote, when interpreting philosopher Voltaire’s views on freedom of speech: "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it."
"Well, that's true, too," says Leone. "It's a double-edged sword. You can't control it, it's an instrument of hate, when in the wrong hands. When I say that, all the journalists on the right will be like 'aaaagghh', but when in the wrong hands it can be a powerful tool for destruction. Everybody has the right to express themselves, but at the expense of other people, it's weird, it freaks me out. I don't know how people can do it.
"There's nothing like a bit of ego or bit of power to make people suddenly think, 'Well, you know what? That's inappropriate, but I'm gonna say it anyway. Because I am who I am and nobody can tell me what I can and can't do.' They could have a good heart, but if it comes out of your mouth, that's what comes out of your mouth. At the end of the day, that's what will be left in the history books, 100,000 years down the track."
Leone talks in epic scales: thousands of years of his people's history; thousands of generations into the future. Yet as Australia is torn apart for its iron, uranium, oil, coal and gas - threatening the future of the planet - he admits the future looks bleak. On "Identity" he raps:
In the past they called us warriors
Now we're militant lyrical activists with intelligence
I don't want your mining millions
And there's no way that we're selling this
We've been living it ever since my great great grandfather's times
He signed with an X and he didn't understand the complexities
Genocidal effects that would happen to today’s generation
"Yeah, it's just about when my great great grandfather came in contact with non-Indigenous people," says Leone. 'What's your name?' Couldn't have his name. 'What's your name? We need a first name.' 'You don't know what I mean.' 'Sign with an X.' They didn't realise what they were getting themselves into by having to conform to what was being presented to them, instead of going, 'You know what? I'm going to fight this.' If only our old people knew actually what was happening, if they could see what was happening today, they just would have said, 'You know what? Take it and get out! Go!'
"No amount of cash is going to bring those sacred sites back. They might build one on my grandfather's land, on our land, Westmoreland Station - uranium - and it's gonna happen, probably. We've gotta try and stop it, but I live in Brisbane. I barely get up there, so what am I gonna do? It's so frustrating. And the elders know, but when they put it to you and pretty it up the right way, take it to the right people in the community, the lines sort of blur.”
As if to illustrate Leone’s point, the ABC’s headline on the story reads: “Uranium mine near Mount Isa could create hundreds of jobs”.
Leone shakes his head. “I just think the land will never, ever be the same," he says. “I want my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandkids to go up to that country and see where their great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather's from, know all those songs that that man or that woman passed down, all those generations, thousands of generations. I want them to be able to go there and feel that spirit of that land. Not turn around and there be three-eyed fish and a big rusty metal thing sitting there in sacred places and just killing it. It's a quick buck, it's a quick fix. And sadly I don't think it's gonna change."
The odds don't look good - but sovereignty, rather than land rights, may hold the key, says Kaylah Truth.
"I don't think we really need to be fighting for our land back because we're still here and it's still our land," she says. "We just need to use the tools that we've learnt growing up in this society to take more control of it. Beat them at their own game.
"A lot of people think that blackfellas are disadvantaged, but I think it's the total opposite. If we educate ourselves in everything that we need to know about this society today, and we also have that connection to our land, then we also have that spirit inside of us that Westerners don't have for this land. Those two things together are such a powerful thing..."
She breaks off. Kaylah Truth and Fred Leone are being beckoned by their bandmates to catch up. We say our goodbyes and I order a taxi from their ritzy residence to my modest motel.
When I get in the cab, the taxi driver says: "Did you get taken to the wrong place or something?"
Puzzled, I ask: "What do you mean?"
"This place is called Rydges Tradewinds, but you're staying at Tradewinds Apartments."
"Ah yeah," I say. "There is a bit of a difference isn't there?"
The taxi driver laughs hard.
"Just a bit," she sniggers.
Taxi drivers: the world's social barometers. It hits home just how far Impossible Odds have come, by some measures. If they can beat those sort of odds, then Indigenous sovereignty might not be so impossible, after all.
Listen to the band’s album here. Download a free book on Aboriginal hip-hop, featuring Kaylah Truth, here.
Below, Impossible Odds talk about the use of the term "Abo", the album's artwork, Fred Leone's connections to Mulrunji Doomadgee and Ned Kelly, and more...
How do you think the show went tonight? I thought you might be going through a manic phase on stage...
Fred: I just want people to feel...
Feel the energy...
Fred: Yeah yeah yeah yeah! And make them laugh. My mum always says, 'You should have been a comedian or an actor'.
Tell us about the artwork on the sleeve of the new album.
Fred: That was, like, against all odds. Basically I said to Steve, who did thee artwork, 'I want something that says Against All Odds, that no matter what gets thrown at you, I want people to look at it and the picture to relay it.' And then he goes, 'Hold up, I think I've found it, bro.' And I was like, 'Ah that's it, bro.' A little plant shooting through the concrete, a little crack in the concrete.
How did you and your producer, James Vincent aka DJ Returnagain, meet?
Fred: In 2007. Mulrunji Doomadgee, he was my cousin, when he passed away, we played a benefit concert and somebody suggested James because I'd sort of split up with my old band member DJ and James came in and he was just down for the cause. He listened to the music and he was like, 'Ahhhh, man, I grew up listening to Public Enemy and I have my own set of beliefs and this just gels with what you guys are talking about and if you want to proceed with it a little bit more, let’s just see how it pans out.' And it's panned out ever since. He started co-producing and then engineering the album and he did all of the mixing as well.
On the album you sing "first release I went political and freaked people out". Tell us about that.
Fred: For some reason it makes people uncomfortable but I think you've just gotta talk about it, you know.
Kaylah: That's what hip-hop was made for.
Fred: Now it's all about booties and this and that. If younger people knew what it was originally about, and a lot of second generation hip-hop fans will do their research and realise... For some reason, Australians can't relate the hip-hop movement to us being Indigenous with our struggle, yet African-American dudes will come over and they relate to us when they come. Public Enemy hang out in Redfern and come to Musgrave Park, Snoop Dogg, Salt N Pepa, all those people. But in Australia people, disconnect with Indigenous hip-hop because they'll go and stand up for the cause and the struggle for black people abroad - for example, Public Enemy, Dead Prez or Immortal Technique - but when the same message is articulated over here and it's Aboriginal people or Torres Strait Islander people or minorities - and most of the time we're using hip-hop, we're not trying hard to be anyone but ourselves, and most of us are using our own accents and our own stories - but it tends to make White Australia uncomfortable, it's too close to home. It's easier if it's somebody else that's non-Indigenous talking about Indigenous issues, in a way, because it's less confronting for them. I personally think that most Australians detach themselves from our shared history because they can’t deal with it. It’s easier to say. “Stop Whinging!”, “Look at what we’ve given your people!”, "You’ve got it so good!” or the most common saying, “It’s all in the past, stop living in the past!” Yet I’ve never met a White Australian who would want to trade places with me or my mob living in urban or remote areas.
There are a lot of theories as to why hip-hop has been commercialised in that way. What are your thoughts?
Fred: Ah, definitely to water it down. People in power just thought, 'no way, we will put our money into stuff that's just going to perpetuate the cycle of the downward spiral', you know. That's what I think anyway, that's why the big, the negative stuff really gets pushed. That's just my opinion. But you do get a lot of old skool dudes from the States, from all around the world for that matter, that just be persistent, just keep it going, they tour, they build their following and build and eventually become legends.
The first thing you did when you came on stage was introduce yourselves by your identity. Tell us about your Tongan, South Sea and Aboriginal roots, how you celebrate those roots, and how they mix together.
Fred: I grew up Murri, so I grew up with predominantly blackfellas in Brissy, and Tongan brothers, but didn't really feel accepted because I couldn't speak Tongan. I dunno, my dad had an accident so had mental health issues, so he sorta just stopped taking us to do that Tongan stuff, so we just grew up as blackfellas predominantly, but a lot of mob called us "Tonga-Ridgines". My mum's Aboriginal and South Sea, so we grew up in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Brisbane, that was our mob. So that's who, when I talk about stuff I relate to, that's my identity. I can relate to the South Sea side and the Tongan side, but I grew up with mainly the Murri community. I grew up with my mob, you know, and that's the side I talk about. Same as Kaylah, you've got South Sea?
Kaylah: Yeah, I've got a whole lot of everything, but I definitely grew up as a Murri.
Fred: I've got nieces and nephews, white, blonde hair, blue eyes, who some say, 'Ah, yer, they're not Aboriginal, they're not Indigenous.' But it's not about the colour of their skin, it's the blood within, because the blood that's in that individual's veins, society tries to make them feel less than equal or inferior, and perpetuate the old White Australia policy mentality. People want to perpetuate that, even I used to hear it in high school and the teachers would say, 'Ahh, well, they say they're Indigenous', and I'd say, 'What? Well, I know their last name, I know their whole family.' They'd reply, 'Well, they don't look Indigenous.' 'What do you mean they don't look - that family name alone is one of the strongest family names around.'
It's like the assimilation policy, where they just wanted to breed people out.
Fred: Yeah, and they don't realise that blackfellas, we don't care if you're like one one-hundredth Aboriginal, if you've got a blood connection, we know your family name, we'll do our best to link you back into your community and talk about it and bring that back for you, yeah.
Many people don't realise until it's in their face that you can have one black parent and one white and have a white kid, or vice versa. And your wife is white, right?
Fred: There, now, looks can be deceiving! She's Murri! She's Murri, from Straddy [Stradbroke Island] and out Chinchilla [a town in the Darling Downs region of Queensland] way. [He gets out his phone to show a photo of his family.]
And your kids look really Murri.
Fred: Yep, yeah.
And they can look really different.
Fred: Yeah, one's got straight hair, one's got curly hair. And the curly side is from Nat's side. People go, 'Ah he's got your hair.' 'Nah, that's Nat's hair, when she was a baby, have a look at her baby pics.'
That's interesting. So tell us about your Fraser Island mob.
Fred: Yeah, so we're Badjtala on that side. Badjtala and also Ngullangburra, which is top part of Fraser, or Kgari as we call it in our lingo. Then Garawa and Waanyi from Boroloola down to Doomadgee and Burketown way.
Do you go over to Fraser much?
Fred: Been over there a coupla times, yeah. I'm gonna start going over and take the kids over, when they're a bit older. But that goes back to my great, great, great, great grandparents, old Jacko Morris and Carol Martin, they were born and raised on Fraser and they were taken across to the mainland and they had four kids and one of the kids was a 'cleverman' on Fraser Island, sort of like a witch doctor. He got taken - that's my great, great, great, great, great grandmother's brother - he was one of the four trackers that tracked down Ned Kelly, so when they couldn't find him they sent up to Fraser and they got him and one other fella from Badjtala country and they went down and tracked down Ned Kelly in Victoria. He changed his last name to Noble, after the fella who was advocating for him, a police officer, who was advocating for the black trackers to be paid. All the white police got paid, they didn't get paid. To this day, they throw it back and forth from state to state.
In "Fireproof" you say you "kicked the booze/kicked the weed". Tell us about that - is that about Indigenous plants, because they are fireproof?
Fred: Yeah, yeah.
Fred: Nah! [Laughs.] I just feel that I've been through so much that I can't be burnt down. I've learnt so much from life. If I didn't learn it, we wouldn't be here today, doing what we're doing. Teaching kids, doing music and hip-hop in the music industry, working with youth, facilitating change So, yeah, "Fireproof"'s like, well, fireproof. [Laughs.]
In "Take This Message" you say you can't watch the news, because of all the lies and misconceptions and misrepresentations of anyone willing to make a stand. Tell us about that.
Kaylah: That's why I started the No More Lives Lost campaign, because the media just went crazy on the city that I'm from, Logan. There definitely are some issues that need to be faced, which has been like we're trying to face it ourselves, but there were just so many things that were full of crap - it was like stereotypes and they were playing footage of some things that had happened like five years before and presenting it as if it was happening right now. Totally negative. The media's got a lot to answer for.
Fred: It eats away at you, like, to turn it on and watch it and read it every day.
Tell us about sovereignty versus land rights.
Fred: If we don't have true sovereignty and true ownership and power over our who we are as a people and where we're going to go, then recognition is a joke. To think migloo, just think you can throw somebody in there and just dictate how we are to do it and we're just gonna jump through the hoops and do it - that's why it's killing us. But we're more savvy these days, I would hope and think, because of the technology that's out there. 'You know what - why are people pushing this? Why is this certain part of the community that's not our community pushing for a certain way for things to happen then putting millions of dollars into marketing it and making it palatable for Indigenous people to want to push? Wait a minute - that's not right. I'm reading, I'm looking, I'm here listening to the community, I'm watching what's going on in other communities and it's not right.' We don't get a voice - they don't get a voice, through the mainstream anyway - but there's other ways. I just don't think we should all automatically jump on board the recognition train without researching to whom it is actually an important issue or what the actual long term effects may be in terms of Treaty. Last I checked migloo fullas had us by the scruff of the neck backed into a corner. What’s changed?
In "Identity" Fred raps: "We've been living it ever since my great great grandfather's times/he signed with an X/and he didn't understand the complexities/genocidal effects". Tell us about that.
Fred: There's other ways to interact with people that isn't so 'it's my way or the highway'. We're very sharing people, even today, we invite people in and that's it - if you're in, you're in - that's it. If you're a brother, you're a brother. So in a nutshell we, the original people of this land, have and are being taken for a very sinister ride.
"My Girl" is a love letter to your wife Natasha, who appears to be non-Aboriginal, even though she is Murri. Tell us about that.
Fred: Yeah, she gets it from both angles, because blackfellas can be harsh too, you know. It's a double-edged sword.
Kaylah: I don't know how, though, because of her last name and if you're a blackfella you know that name's a black name. Unfortunately our own people have become victims to that mentality.
Do you find with overseas visitors to Australia, there is a different attitude to Aboriginal people?
Kaylah: Definitely, definitely. Pretty much everyone that I've met that's from overseas, they are genuinely interested. They do ask some really naive questions, but they're open and they're willing to, like, learn and if you say 'that's a bit offensive',, they're like 'oh, really?' and they take it in. Whereas if you say that to a white Australian... you can't really say it, you know what I mean? It just doesn't go down well. But growing up in Logan, there's over 200 different cultural groups and nationalities just in that city, and there's just over 400,000 people, so there's a lot - it's like the world crammed into one city - and that was awesome. The white people are a minority where I grew up. But when I would meet Samoans or New Zealanders who had freshly come over, even though they were close, like Kiwis, they would still say to me, 'Oh, what nationality are you? Oh, you can't be Aboriginal. You don't look Aboriginal. I thought there wasn't any of you left.'
Fred: And again, this goes back to mainstream media, who only want to portray Murris as a black man in the bush, painted up, they don't acknowledge that we come in all colours... it's 2013, get a grip...
Kaylah: Yeah, and they think that every black person plays the didgeridoo and they all wear ochre and they're all painted up, because that's what the media shows whenever there's festivals on or just tourism ads, the only black people you see are the ones that are playing the didgeridoo or painted up, so that's the only image that they get of Aboriginal people, you know. Unfortunately not a lot of the boys actually know how to play the didgeridoo or know how to dance or anything, because it's really only our generation now that are seriously going looking for it. That's another thing that people aren't educated about, they don't know about the genocide and everything, well, they think that we don't exist, so of course they don't know why we don't have our culture and all that kind of stuff.
Yet I've found the attitude towards racist, white Australians from Aboriginal people is not anger, but more like they pity them...
Fred: Yeah, I do, I feel sorry. I feel real bad that the mainstream don't have that connection to the land like I've got. I can go to any state, link up, start talking about people's mob and then find some connection to mob and then they take you in, and then that's it, you're in, you're family. It's hard for non-First Nations people to get their head around. But in a way, I feel sorry that there's not that culture. I hear a lot of non-Indij mob say, 'Ah, that’s not my aunty, that's my uncle's wife', and I'll say, 'That's your aunty, that's your cousin, that's your brothers.' Our approach as First Nations mob is wholistic when it comes to family or tribal connections.
Kaylah: That's just in my direct family I have that issue. Like, because my dad's white and I'm the only black person in the family and on my black side I've got aunties and uncles and cousins that go for days and days and days and some of them aren’t even related to us, but they're aunties and uncles, yeah. And then on my dad's side, I've got people who are related to me, but that's my 'fifth cousin' and all this shit, you know? Whereas...
Fred: Yeah, second cousin twice removed or something, you know, it's just your cousin!
Kaylah: Yeah, like, 'What the hell?'
Fred: That's my cousin! When they're coming to town and they're staying at your house, bruz! That's how it goes! [Kaylah laughs.]
Yeah, it's a completely different mentality about family isn't it?
Kaylah: Oh, definitely... just last year I was with my dad's family just having dinner and one of my uncles who I've known my whole life - we had Teppanyaki and they were throwing the rice at us and you had to catch it in the bowl and none of them caught it except me and my partner, who were the only black ones there, and my uncle goes, 'Oh, bloody Abos, they're so good at anything physical.' And I was like, 'Did he just say that?' So i just ignored it. I was like, ‘No, he couldn't have just called us Abos.' And then for something else later on, he said it again. And my dad's wife looked at me like she was gonna jump the table. I'm normally somebody who will pull people up and I've got an opinion on that and I won't stand for that, but I was so, like, 'Did my uncle, who I've known my whole life who grew up in Acacia Ridge with black people just call me an Abo and think that it was OK?' And that's what I'm dealing with at 25 years of age with someone who's known me my whole life. We just left it and afterwards, my dad's wife and my dad said to me, 'Are you all right?' Because my dad didn't actually hear it, it was just his wife. I just said, ‘Don’t worry about it.' It was my birthday not long after and we were sitting around having drinks and he said it again and even then I still couldn't pull him up, I just looked at him, I was like... [shakes her head]... But yeah, and that's my own family, that's what we're dealing with, NOW.
Do you think that word can be reclaimed, 'Abo'?
Kaylah: Hell, no.
Fred: A couple of people have tried to, but...
Indigenous rapper Provokal uses it.
Kaylah: Any black person who even tries to reclaim that word needs to be slapped in the head, because for starters, 'Aboriginal' doesn't even describe who we are, it's not our word. 'Ab', if people understand the English language, which is what we all talk, 'Aboriginal' is 'not original' - it's saying we're not originally from here. I don't even want to be known as an Aboriginal, let alone an 'Abo'. So all you black people, wake up to yourself.