Friday, February 19, 2010

in her own words: Kim Kath...

This is a picture of one of the largest parks in Toowoomba, Australia. It was taken in September (springtime) during the wonderful Carnival of Flowers. It was provided by Kim Kath, author of A Box of Chocolates. Kim was kind enough to open up regarding her life and the diverse culture in Australia during an interview earlier this week. I do hope you enjoy the following account and join us in conversation.

Greetings, my dear friend. Could you please introduce yourself and give a brief description of your blog?

Hi my name is Kim Kath. I am an Australian, born in 1961. My mother immigrated to Australia in 1948 as a 10 pound pom, an initiative of the Australian and English governments to repopulate Australia. My father was born in Australia to Aussie parents. I have been married to the same wonderful man for 28 years this March, I have 3 daughters, my eldest, who is married, is 26 in April and I have 20 year old identical mirror image twins.

My blog, A Box of Chocolates, started mid 2009, after a family tragedy left me feeling so low. I had begun writing a blog to work through the treatment and loss of our grandson and felt I needed a happy place, so A Box of Chocolates began. My thoughts were from the movie Forrest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get". I have met some of the most caring and wonderful friends there.

How long have your lived in Australia? and in what region?

I was born in Brisbane, Australia which is the capital of Queensland, one of the 6 states, one of which is an island and 2 territories. The region I live in now is called the Darling Downs. It is on the Great Dividing Range a long mountain range, so our weather is quite different from Brisbane which is now approx a one and a half hour drive south.

What's the weather like there? and what is the main basis of commerce?

Because we are high on the mountain range the weather is much cooler. We are known as the Garden City and our town's annual carnival is the Carnival of Flowers, a celebration of all things flower, plant and garden. Many of the towns citizens plant amazing flower gardens and people flock in bus loads to walk through them. The region of the Darling Downs is mostly farming, but recently we have had large coal mines buy out small towns and mine them, I think it is terrible, but the government is making loads of money so it won't stop anytime soon.

There is quite a lot of media coverage in our local area of another mining firm wanting to open another mine nearby and the land is some of the most fertile farming land around. A huge travesty if we let it just be dug up for coal. This is ongoing so we will have to wait and see what decision will be made.

Could you please describe the racial and cultural composition of the Australian population?

In 1787 at the landing of the first fleet, the population of Australia was 100% aboriginal, now the populations ratios is approx 75% solely or partly Anglo/Celt, 20% other European, 4.5% Asian origin and 1% aboriginal.

Today well over 20% of Australians were born in another country, of whom more than half came to Australia from non-English speaking countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America. Combined with their Australian-born children, they constitute 40% of the population. The scale of immigration to Australia in the last forty years has been enormous, accounting for about half of our population growth.

A large number of refugees, African, Asian, Middle East have been accepted in Australia in the past few years. This has been accepted by some of the population and not so well by others.

When did you first learn of "Aborigines"? What is the historical significance? How many lived in Australia initially and how many remain today? Have you had any personal interaction with any Aborigines?

My memory of learning about Aborigines is in the early years of school. We were taught about the impact of the landing of the first white people on the indigenous population, how correctly at the time is a question now. We learnt about the tools, housing, hunting that they did.

The population of Australia is estimated to be 22,154,788 as of 16 February 2010. Australia is the 51st most populous country in the world. Its population is concentrated mainly in urban areas. Australia's population has grown from an estimated population of between 350,000 and 1,000,000 (aboriginal) at the time of British Settlement in 1788 to its current population, due to further migration during the period since.

Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands, and these peoples' descendants. Indigenous Australians are distinguished as either Aboriginal people or Torres Strait Islanders, who currently together make up about 1% of Australia's population.

The Torres Strait Islanders are indigenous to the Torres Strait Islands which are at the northern-most tip of Queensland near Papua New Guinea. The term "Aboriginal" has traditionally been applied to indigenous inhabitants of mainland Australia, Tasmania, and some of the other adjacent islands.

As a young child our family would take a young girl into our home, during the school holidays. She was from a state run children's home called Opal House. All the children there were Aboriginal. I cannot remember her name, but I do remember that my mum made my sister myself and this little girl, pretty blue dresses with a big pink bow on the front. We wore these dresses to the big exhibition show that was held once a year in the city. This little girl found a ten dollar note that she bought a huge bunch of bananas with. It was enormous the whole big bunch straight from the tree and she took it back to the home with her to share with all the other children. At the time I was not aware of what is now known as the stolen generation. I believe this little girl was probably one of the children taken from their family by our government and church's and sent to live with either white families, where many became servants or sent to state run homes. Children were taken from 1869 to 1969 but some were still being removed as late as the 1970's. We didn't have many aboriginal children in our schools or in our neighbourhood.

Can you tell us where do the Aborigines reside in Australia? and under what conditions?

The Indigenous Australian population is mostly urbanised, but a substantial number (27% as of 2002) live in remote settlements often located on the site of former church missions. The health and economic difficulties facing both groups are substantial. Both the remote and urban populations have adverse ratings on a number of social indicators, including health, education, unemployment, poverty and crime. The rate of infant deaths per 1,000 births for the total Australian population ranged between 7.8 in the NT to 3.5 in both SA and WA. The aboriginal people tend to gather together in certain residential areas, these areas seem to be where there is available government housing, which greatly reduces the cost of rent. Without wanting to generalise, these areas then become known to be less desirable to live in due to the many disturbances that occur. Recently the police force has employed police liaison officers and they are to help with the disturbances that arise within the aboriginal community. Though the police force is employing these same officers in other cultures also. Also the remaining Aboriginal elders have recently begun an initiative where some of the crimes can be tried in an Aboriginal council court. There have been a disturbing number of aboriginal deaths in custody in years gone by and the prison system is changing to hopefully lessen this occurrence.

Could you please explain the term "Stolen Generations"? and its the societal implications?

Forced removal

The forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families was official government policy from 1909 to 1969. However the practice took place both before and after this period. Governments, churches and welfare bodies all took part.

The removal policy was managed by the Aborigines Protection Board (APB). The APB was a government board established in 1909 with the power to remove children without parental consent and without a court order.

Under the White Australia and assimilation policies Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were ‘not of full blood’ were encouraged to become assimilated into the broader society so that eventually there would be no more Indigenous people left. At the time Indigenous people were seen as an inferior race.

Children were taken from Aboriginal parents so they could be brought up ‘white’ and taught to reject their Aboriginality. Children were placed with institutions and from the 1950s began also being placed with white families. Aboriginal children were expected to become labourers or servants, so in general the education they were provided was very poor. Aboriginal girls in particular were sent to homes established by the Board to be trained in domestic service.

The lack of understanding and respect for Aboriginal people also meant that many people who supported the child removals believed that they were doing the ‘right thing’. Some people believed that Aboriginal people lived poor and unrewarding lives, and that institutions would provide a positive environment in which Aboriginal people could better themselves. The dominant racist views in the society and government also means that people believed that Aboriginal people were bad parents and that Aboriginal woman did not look after their children.

No-one knows how many children were taken, as most records have been lost or destroyed. Many parents whose children were taken never saw them again, and siblings who were taken were deliberately separated from each other. Today many Aboriginal people still do not know who their relatives are or have been unable to track them down.

The generations of children who were taken from their families became known as The Stolen Generations. The practice of removing children continued up until the late 1960s meaning today there are Aboriginal people as young as their late 30s and 40s who are members of the Stolen Generations.

I took the above information from as I didn't want to lessen what has been a terrible blot on Australian history. As I mentioned before I am sure that the little girl we had in our home was most likely taken from her family by force and at the time I know that as a family we would never have supported this knowingly.

How was the formal historic apology by the Australian Prime Minister in February 2008 received by the Aborigine population? non-Aboriginal population?

In the 1990's all other states in Australia made apologies to the Aboriginal people taken from their families. Even the Canadian government, in 1998 apologised for the physical and sexual abuse suffered by the Aboriginal children taken and sent to special Christian boarding schools called ‘residential schools’ in Canada, again in 2008 the Canadian Prime Minister announced compensation would be paid to victims and their families and apologies were given.
There was much concern in Australia that if the Prime Minister offered an apology there would be many compensation suits taken out against the government. The speech even contained the statement that no compensation would be offered by the Government. Kevin Rudd was apologising for the mistakes of the past government in removing the children from their families. Many people opposed the apology saying that the government and churches involved at the time thought they were doing the right thing, so the apology while accepted and applauded by many was quite a contentious issue.

The news coverage of the telecast apology to the Stolen Generation by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd showed hundreds of aboriginal and whites crying together. For the most part I believe that the apology was honest and heartfelt, how it was received by the majority of Aboriginal people is hard to know. The people interviewed on the news were very appreciative of the gesture and many said that felt they would be able to move forward now. I hope in some way it has helped them.. Many still do not know where family is or even who they are.

What improvements, if any, have you seen since then?

The government at the time of the apology Prime Minister Rudd said he was committed to enforcing programs to raise the health and living conditions of the Aboriginal people, personally I cannot see any changes as yet. Unfortunately many of the people suffer mental and health issues related back to the removal from their families. Many are unemployed and there is unfortunately the general thought in the white community that most will not work well. Many have become well educated, more not. So the work sought by many of the men is labouring and they find it difficult to find work. This starts the cycle of alcoholism and unemployment and crime that engulfs many. The children are often branded badly behaved and I have seen large groups gather together at shopping centres and food outlets and run amok. This is why the introduction of the elders and liaison officers is so vital. I volunteer with a refugee support service and many of the African refugees are treated badly by the Aboriginal people, I am not sure why this is. There are entire suburbs in New South Wales that house Aboriginal families in Government housing and these neighbourhoods are often on the news because of the crime and violence that occurs there. I find it very sad that as a white race we came to this country and displaced and demanded that this wandering, nomadic, culture change to fit into our white ways. I just don't think culturally that works well for all the Aboriginal people.

Have any reparations been made to the Aborigine people? What are your hopes for Australian society in the future?

No compensations have been made to the Aboriginal people by the government. Though there are many services, available to Aboriginals that are not readily available to white Australians. There is access to face to face tutoring at university for off site study, I was not able to access this at all. Some time ago there were special bank loan rates available only to Aboriginal people, I am not aware that this has changed. But unemployment and alcoholism, and abuse is very high amongst most communities.

As I have mentioned I work with people from all over the world who come to live in Australia to give their families a better life. We are a large country, very dry and arid in the centre and very short of water, so I don't know how much longer this will continue. But our country is only a little over 200 years old as far as white population is concerned. We are made up of so many different cultures who mostly get along together very well. I do think that a lot of very good, very caring white Australians are a little racist though. They are hesitant to employ people from other cultures, especially black skinned people, including Aboriginals and it is easy to see the fear and nervousness felt when they find themselves amongst a group of Aboriginal or different peoples. Unfortunately some of this fear is warranted so in the short term I don't see a lot of change happening. I think it will still be several generations before the average white Australian readily accepts and employs and mixes with people of other races and colours easily. I think it is such a shame as the families I have met have become good and firm friends and I love my contact with them. There is much healing still needed for the Aboriginal people; a lot of forgiveness on both our sides needs to be given freely and then maybe we will see some change.

One love.


patty said...

i have a dream of travelling to australia-i don't know where it came from. when i met my husband, i had a round trip ticket to australia... which i sold back to be with him, and a promise that we would get there together one day.
we are married almost 20 yrs, a couple for 23. i made the right decision, but i still dream of australia.
i never knew about the stolen generation. thank-you for increasing awareness.

Ann Marie said...

my dad lived in australia for a couple of years before he married my mom. i've always wanted to go. thanks for this interview...makes me want to go even more!

Darcel said...

Another great interview. We watched a documentary on the Aboriginal people a while ago. My heart breaks to think of all of those children who were taken, and siblings being forced apart. I can't imagine that happening to my children.
It's also so sad that so many of these people are now adults, and have no way of getting back to their roots.

Racism is everywhere. So very sad. I often wonder what the world would be like if there were no racism, social classes, and such.

My husband has always said that he wants to move to Australia. It is a beautiful country from what I've seen.

Tracy said...

"Stolen Generations"... That could well be the title of Australia's autobiography... The separations and divisions among the peoples of Australia and complicated history are heartbreaking. It will take many years, several generations even to heal the wounds... Thank you, Kim for sharing your story! Wonderful interview, Se'Lah Happy Weekend, my friend :o) ((BIG HUGS))

margie said...

great interview. educational and informative. i love seing and learning what i don't know.

Connie said...

Interesting and Informative post!
the very sad thing about the aborginal children is that the people removing them sincerely thought they were being helpful.

My Castle in Spain said...

I love those interesting, Se'lah...I really want to see the day when the color of skin doesn't imply discrimination. And i want to hope...
Lynne's interview was great too...
Thank you..
Have a great week end, Se'lah!

Angie Muresan said...

These interviews you do are utterly fascinating! I have long dreamt of going to Australia. Perhaps someday! A blessed weekend to you, Se'lah.

Gayle said...

Se'Lah and Kim, thank you for such an interesting interview.

susanna said...

This is an interesting interview, Se'lah. Yes, unfortunately there are similarities among Australia and Canada and the U.S. regarding our how the colonists treated the aboriginals/First Nations. I lived in the arctic when I was a kid and remember the residential housing which was next to our school. I didn't know about the history behind the residential school system until I attended college and heard accounts from the children and grandchildren of those who were physically taken from their families.

I'm glad that the Cdn government acknowledged that shameful practice in our nation's history although I'm not sure what compensation has been given since.

And I was quite proud to see the Canadian First Nations perform in the opening of the Vancouver Olympics. Anyway...

Thank you for such an interesting interview, Se'lah and Kim.

Connie said...

Se"Lah, thanks for pointing me to the Time article. After I read the comment I posted I realized it didn't really express what I meant!
I guess I was thinking people always think they know what is better for someone that lives differently than they do and many think they are making an improvement. Unfortunately it is often brutal and cruel. As you say Love will show the way. I hope in our lifetimes we can see an end to other's pain and just accept and be accepted. It starts with one and ripples out. as you say, one love...thanks again for the article.

SE'LAH... said...

I learn so much about the human spirit through so many of you on this blog. I enjoy reading your comments and appreciate you sharing your perspectives, even if they are unpopular or the subject matter is not the most comfortable to deal with. Thanks so much for always lending your voice regardless.

sending lots of positive vibes and love your way.

Thanks again Kim for sharing your life experience and giving us an open view into your world. My knowledge of Australia has surely increased as a result of your candid responses during this interview.

one love, my friends.

flwrjane said...

I knew nothing of this until I read this interview. Thank you for opening my eyes and heart to a bigger world. I have read this interview twice and will probably be back again. I can't quite wrap my head around it. We need you.

Cam said...

I too, was in the dark before reading this! I can't wait to read it to my family & open up a discussion about it!

Thank you both!!

sunnymama said...

That was a really interesting and informative interview. Thanks to you both for sharing this with us.

vchelle said...

What incredible insight! I felt like I just had a much-needed history and world geography class with a stamp of objectivity and peace.

Tracey said...

That was like 'watching' a PBS special! (LOL!) Great interview; I'm going to look that info up. Informative & sad.