First impressions of Black Australia (2)

This is part 2 of a chapter titled ‘To have a dream’ in my book ‘Hidden Footprints of Unity.’  This chapter was headed thus:

“It is a great shock … to find

that, in a world of Gary Coopers,

you are the Indian”.

– James Baldwin

“The first Aborigine I talked to seemed to be a tradesman. It was in the 1960s. He confused me by asking about my colour. I felt that he lost interest in me when I explained that I was an Asian immigrant. I never saw him again — not surprisingly, as this bar was becoming popular with public servants. The latter, having recently risen from the working class, are normally very fussy about the company they keep, especially as they move up their career ladders. One should never be seen to socialise with anyone below one’s level.

I then met the redoubtable Charlie Perkins, a recent graduate. He addressed a group of university graduates, and impressed us with his enthusiasm and vision, as well as with his plea. He asked that the Aborigines should be given the opportunity to adapt to modern society, to control their own lives and finances, even if they made many mistakes during the learning process. He received a standing ovation. When I met him again, I was looking for a job at senior executive level, and he was the head of the Aboriginal Affairs Department. He had changed. I sensed a certain arrogance. He may even have suspected that he had been fast-tracked as part of the government’s window dressing. All his senior advisers were white. His official life could not have been easy. I did not obviously appeal to him.

A few years later, I was a member of a committee deciding a promotion appeal in that department. A young Aborigine was the appellant, against the promotion of a white officer. I realised then how tough it would have been for a young Aborigine, with ambition and his own vision, to make progress in a department dominated by whites, and where the government might have its own concealed agenda.

Somewhere along the line, I set about trying to help Aborigines in the public sector in Canberra to improve their skills, thereby raising their confidence and presentation. I offered training in chairmanship and public speaking (skills shown to benefit everyone); and on their own terms. They could have their own Aboriginal club within Rostrum, an Australia-wide organisation well regarded for its training capabilities, and whose graduates were in senior positions in both the private and public sectors. Or, we could provide training in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, there being no indigene employed elsewhere. Or, they could train themselves in that Department under our expert guidance. We had the skills and the will.

There was, regrettably, no interest, in spite of my trying to persuade the highly-regarded Captain Saunders (ex-Army and an indigene), and the Department’s senior management that what I offered was valuable. So, that was that. Since it would have cost the Aborigines nothing, except a little effort to learn and to practice …!”

As a former colonial subject, and as one who believes in having, and displaying, self-confidence, with pride in one’s cultural ancestry, I was sorely disappointed that Australian Rostrum’s free gift to the Aboriginal members of the federal public service in the national capital was rejected. Progress in any endeavour requires the acquisition of requisite skills.

My colleagues and I taught public speaking (especially making impromptu speeches) as relevant training in being able to present one’s view at meetings while seated.  That Rostrum training had assisted many to reach senior positions in both private and public sectors was well known.