KASAMA Vol. 14 No. 1 / January-February-March 2000 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

the walls cast a long shadow

at Kinchela and Cootamundra

and history has a tale to tell.

oh little child, how they imprison

you still, your little hand-to-mouth

figure horrifies the UN halls

as did the British Select Committee

in 1837, 'protection, seclusion,

salvation', the outcry of the day,

so people wonder why

in the year 2000 could we,

enlightened citizens glorify

mandatory sentencing still.

it's Dickensian, barbarian,

Australian! i shudder, i shiver

at the long hand of the law,

i hear footsteps echoing in my mind,

see images of yesterday's hunt -

heavy steel boots surrounding the humpy,

alien troopers bent on

stripping native identity away!

words reverberating...


mirroring past policy:

'protection' or dispossession;

'assimilation' or annihilation -

words crumbling, truth disintegrating.

back track, fast forward,

a case study now in view:

aborigines from the country

scattered away; jobs in the city

is why they wanted to stay

so first they squatted,

then they were evicted;

next they were arrested,

then they were rescued -

conscience tickled,

land grant offered,

self determination's showcase

not too long ago and

hope was revived,

home at last, or what's left of it,

movie of that time:

'Bringing them Home!'

that dream nearly in tatters,

with the rat holes and broken walls,

taps with no water,

lamps with no lights -

some goons smashed toilets and

staircases to scare tenants away,

some were bribed,

others were lured to designer homes

and a swimming pool to boot,

if they promised to leave the 'hellhole'

of their house,

'black against black',

an elder once warned

(influence of 'assimilation'?),

and caught in a moment of weakness,

some tenants hurriedly fled,

brochure in hand

and children in tow,

but loneliness beckoned

them back to 'the Block'

but the door was locked

and the passage was blocked:

'no room, no room, go back!'

the landlord declared, so sadly,

on the bare ground they lay,

looking pensively

at the bright stars above,

dreaming of the night

when the air was free and light,

when they roamed around,

when they cared and shared...

and now, it's the red herring

and the scapegoat

being used to win the day -

the used needles,

the shivering, shrivelling young shadows

to-ing and fro-ing in the back lane,

trading or injecting, living and dying

in the only place they could call home:

'the Block'!

(white pushers are there too!)

despite the tragedy,

oddly there is still community

who could laugh at this circus,

though their soul is invisible to us,

they are flesh and blood too:

they cry, hug, scream, loot, kiss,

sing, dance, make up,

talk 'round improvised campfires

in the dead of night,

others dream about open country

over 40,000 years ago

while they nurse their damaged pride

and broken dreams

inside their battered house,

their meandering thoughts occasionally

disturbed by sirens blasting,

men in blue running,

taking people away,

sounds grim, you say,

but no matter, on 'the Block',

they want to stay,

if only we could all bring back

the dream of yesterday.

sadly, the Olympics is near,

the Koori company is here,

and it wants everyone to hear,

get this message loud and clear:

'the poorest of the poor

we want to clear away but

only those who can afford

the new rent can stay!'

deborah wall

'The Block' bounded by Eveleigh, Vine, Louis and Caroline Streets in Redfern, Sydney is a housing project funded by the Australian Commonwealth Government

About the Author: Deborah Ruiz Wall is convenor of the Filipino Women's Working Party, a SPAN member and a regular Kasama correspondent.