Mel Armstrong

So many mob are in the position of trying to find out where they come from, who their people are and the evidence to back this up. Sadly, this can be an ongoing hardship of disappointment. Many feel the disconnect and an internalised isolation caused by a severing of identity. On my journey through the family lineages, I met a vast number of people who knew they were Aboriginal, yet felt that they didn’t have the right to identify as they couldn’t prove it, and, didn’t want to disrespect the First Nations People, in case they had got it wrong.

Walking the country of where my people came from, reading documents, making endless phone calls, many trips away to be on various parts of the country was a journey that needed to happen. To walk where they had been, speak to the local people, find our mob graves and pay respects to them was a very important part of the understanding that needed to occur. 

Being raised as it is referred to in kinship care, with my grandparents, I had much of their wisdom, with some points that were left out, such as identity. I knew the family names, the stories, well, most of them, yet felt the undercurrent of something pulling a certain way. As my grandmother aged and became unwell, my caring role increased, becoming difficult with her diagnosis finally confirmed. Although I knew, the confirmation gave me a timeframe to put certain parts right as best I could before she passed away.

Supporting another to heal brings your own healing in a round about way. Rather than driving it for our own gain, the purpose exposes itself as you move through the challenges of what you find. Showing that the importance is beyond anything your mind could fully grasp as you set out.

The privilege of taking my grandmother back to her country some 82 years after she left it, so she could connect to the land, ceremony, language, culture and her people was something to witness. It created a change in her, and the family, that was never possible until that time. Imagine living that life, holding that within you, the fear of being found out, cast out again, and the pain of unsaid goodbyes among other things.

There has been ridicule because action wasn’t taken in the 20 plus years of my search. What those don’t understand is, it wasn’t my place to create more suffering. It needed to be something that pulled at her heart and soul, where she felt safe to be and to acknowledge. With her feet on country, ochre on her face, smoke on her clothes, she got to farewell her family in person in the segregated cemetery. A bitter sweet witnessing, and so very humbling.

Many steps I walked across country physically alone, with the ancestors guiding the way. Creating the space and the energic support for the time that she could step on the dirt, and allow it to be.

We each face our own shadows in this way, we each walk our own journey. A handing over of the batten at the end of the life of the matriarch is something to treasure and respect. We need to know that when that time comes, we have given our old people the very best we could, in support of their journey that they walked, so we could be here to do the same for those that follow us.