Friday, 3 February 2017

On Ancestry and The Future In Far North Queensland

On Thursdays I go with Geoff into town. Geoff, through the charity Petford Wellness Association, rents Room 17 of the Old Primary School on Mabel Street in Atherton. There’s always a large handful of Tablelanders requiring treatment. Regulars, word of mouth, community. Some with health problems that take up pages of notes. I sit out front making tea and chatting about soil or diatomaceous earth (ground down fossilised skeletons which are great for soil or body), or B12 or some other topic, or I’m in with Geoff and the clients. I might be shining the phototonic light to relieve inflammation, grabbing a book for a client, or hearing about their diabetes and foetal-life and liver disease and toast for breakfast, as Geoff continues his in depth enquiry into peoples’ ‘history, history, history’. He said to me as we drove away yesterday, ‘if you listen, people will tell you themselves what is wrong with themselves’. 

Here's a photo of the phototonic light being used a horse. And a photo of a diatomaceous earth mine.

And then there’s the Petford Wellness Association meetings, which happens on Thursdays in the same place. And they’re informal and some stuff gets done and some doesn’t. It’s a group of disorganised do-gooders coming together for a chat and to support the man that inspires them weekly, Geoff Guest. I always leave with over a page of notes to follow up.

And we do home visits. And some people’s homes are rounded with lawn trimmed to the millimetre, and some people’s homes are shacks covered in banana trees, crowded with gear covered in cobwebs, with inches of space for movement between the bed, the fire, the sink. And I hear about aquaponics and drug busts, affairs and dementia, growing taro in Papua New Guinea and stories of political wheeling and dealing that make my heart sink low.

Geoff operates beyond the political spectrum. And if there’s diversity in the people that Geoff sees, then there’s also strong commonground. Apocalyptic shaking of heads. Grave concern for the direction and health of the local and global communities. At first I thought it was just the people of FNQ, or the people that we bump into, or maybe my move up here corresponding with Trump’s election. But I think it is indicative of a global trend. There is a lot of anxiety, a lot of disempowerment and people are not prepared.

I’m finding myself, often classified as a Melbourne inner-city greenie, nodding heads with people well familiar with the folk in the One Nation Party. They’re talking about localised jobs, and production, and trade. They’re talking about

community support and skills of resiliency. Some of them are informed about the revolving doors of government and industries (mining, medical, agricultural), informed about cover-ups and assassinations, informed about media control. Some of them are worried about being overfed and undernourished. They are worried about being lied to. To summarise: they share with me a deep concern for land and for people.

This is a photo of Peter Rogers, the One Nation Party candidate who lost his position after making claims that the famous Port Arthur massacre was faked. This may be an odd aside, but I do not think this is a story that we have heard the end of.

And so I come forth with my permaculture evangelising and people nod their head back at me, affirm me. These people whose racism, earlier in the day, grabbed me and threw me head long into the culture shock corner. Whose fear for their own white welfare hurries them away from the open circle of compassion. Whose fatigue at the racial wound stops them from fronting up and asking for healing.

Here is a photo of the Queensland Native Police force, established in 1859 with the sole aim of killing Aboriginal people. To learn more read L. E. Skinner's book Police of the Pastoral Frontier: Native Police 1849 - 1859 (1975).

And so I call in those reinforcements of good will, - those people who are like a handy card in my deck when I’m confronted by folk pained and disbelieving in good health - I say that I am part of a community of people who are not addicted to alcohol, who care about growing food and spending less and living more, who want to work together on land with people of any ancestry. And I say that and on a good day, when there’s a bit of hope still left in the heart of the person in front of me, they might say back to me ‘well bring your community up here then, this is where we need them.’

And I want to.

Because up here, on this plateau far north of the politically correct language games played in the high density bubbles of Port Phillip Bay, there exists a people who feel their history and their land deeply. These people know the force of their parents’ racism. And they know how much worse the racism was the generation before that. And they know the hardships and the glories and the fireside stories of these people’s lives too. The cultural amnesia that I have been amongst in the city is less strong here.

If Melbourne’s inner city social buzz is too fast for folk to remember the stories of their own white or black ancestors, then FNQ’s rural social buzz is much farther back from the end of that spectrum. There is much to be exchanged.
I told Geoff that my ancestors were the famous Australian soap manufacturers, Kitchen & Sons, and that another ancestor on my mother’s side started the Ballarat gold rush. That is to say, that both sides of my bloodline contributed greatly to the main industrial forces that have stripped much of Australia of its natural wealth. This ancestry I’ve known for a long time, but only recently have I begun to step up to it. To be proud of it. To realise that learning about my ancestors in no way stops me from helping myself and today’s people move beyond racism, or abusing the land that they are a part of. To recognise the resiliency, generosity, courage, and visible in my family even now – determination – of these people who bore my name before myself. In my bloodline there were peasants, farmers, murderers, philanthropists, hunters, gatherers, rapists, side-of-the-road births, musicians, jokes, healers, dreamers, debaters, businessman, builders, cooks, cloth-makers, carers, cleaners, lovers. Amongst other groups, amongst people who have been classified with other labels that might divide us, these activities were practiced as well. 

Here is a Port Melbourne candle-factory built by my forefathers.

Geoff delighted in these anecdotes and shared them with multiple people. He, like many older Australians, knows the name of Kitchen Soaps, and used their products. I have been deeply inspired by his constant insistence that we learn about our past deeply and process it, and that we don't forget to move on to the future.

It seems to me that our classifications, in race or politics, are so often needless. That the common ground found through a dip into ancestry, can be healing.

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