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Hear Our Voice

Ron Bradfield

Ron has a chance encounter with a stranger and is led down memory lane into the multicultural heritage and harmony of Broome in the 1950s.

What does it mean to have your voice heard – truly heard? Why is it important that our communities are the heart of decision-making and leadership for outcomes that will affect us? This October 2023, Australians will be asked a simple question: should we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our national constitution? As we head to the polls and the campaign heats up, we wanted to ask both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people why they will be voting Yes. In this collection, diverse storytellers came together to share their personal and real-life experiences that is motivating their support for the proposed Voice to Parliament. No matter what happens at this referendum, whether a majority of Australians vote yes or no – their voices continue to be a call for change. A call for a better, more just future… For an Australia that celebrates and recognises Indigenous sovereignty. 

This story was shared by Bardi storyteller and navy veteran Ron Bradfield. Ron’s story is about how a chance meeting with a stranger led to a trip down memory lane into the multicultural heritage and harmony of Broome in the 1950s.

This story was recorded at the Chinese Moon Lantern Festival in the Scarborough Community Hub, September 2023. It was translated into Mandarin by Luoyang Chen. You can download and read the Mandarin transcript here.

More about the storyteller…. Ron Bradfield Jnr is a saltwater man from Bardi Country, north of Broome but grew up in Geraldton, Western Australia! He now calls Whadjuk Boodjar (Perth) his home. As the CYO (Chief Yarning Officer) of Yarns R Us, Ron facilitates cultural conversations across all levels of our communities, helping Australians to revisit and explore their own personal stories – so as to better consider their own connections to this place – their home! Ron is also a storyteller and a maker of things; he has worked in and around the arts across remote, regional and metropolitan Western Australia for 15 years – often supporting the development of artists – as they explore the ways in which they can grow and share their creative practices. 

Hear Our Voice was made possible with funding from the Australia Communities Foundation. Thank you also to the Chinese Dance Academy for supporting our involvement in their event.

Liked this story? Donate to support our future storytellers here.

Copyright © 2023 Ron Bradfield

Photo by Pranay Singh.

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

View Story Transcript

RB: Mr Wong, thank  you.  As an Aboriginal  and  Islander  man,  I  too  wish  to  pay  my  respects  on  this  country,  but  I  also  wish  to  pay  my  respects  to  your  ancestors  and  your  old  people, your  elders,  because  without  these  things  we  would  not  have  our  stories  in  this  place.  So,  my  respects.

It all  started  like  this. You look  like  a  man  I  used  to  know.  This old  man,  this  old  white  man  had  walked  up  and  down  the  Fremantle  Mall,  High  Street  Mall,  and  had  gone  past  my  family,  sitting,  having  their  lunch  between  the  old  bookstores  there.  He finally  got  brave  enough  and  stopped  at  the  table, and  he  lent  over  and  said,  excuse  me,  but  you  look  like  a  man  I  used  to  know.  And that  old  man  went  on  to  explain  that  in  the  50s, the  1950s,  he  used  to  work  for  the  man  that  was  his  boss,  the  man  who  ran  the  team  that  he  worked  on, was  this  tall  man  who  looked  like  my  uncle  sitting  at  the  table.  And  my  uncle  just  looked  at  him  and  smiled  and  said, that  man?  That  man  was  my  father.  And  that  old  man’s  face  lit  up  in  a  big,  big  smile,  you  know,  like, because  that  old  man  hadn’t  been  back  to  Broome  since  the  1950s.  And here  he  was  in  2012  sitting  and  stopping  at  the  table  with  my  uncle  and  my  auntie  and  my  cousins  and  just  having  a  moment  of  memory.

That old  man  went  on  to  reminisce.  He  said,  you  know,  Broome  in  the  1950s  was  an  amazing  place.  So many  different  cultures, so  many  different  people  all  coming  together  and  living  in  a  place  far  away  from  the  rest  of  Australia.  He said, I’ve  never  had  an  experience  like  that  as  a  white  man  in  this  country  before.  But one  thing,  one  thing  he  remembered  and  he  remembered  with  regret  was  that  in  the  1950s, in  the  mid-1950s,  there  was  a  big  cyclone  that  came  through  the  town  and  in  fact  knocked  over  and  destroyed  many  buildings  and  actually  killed  a  lot  of  local  people.

He remembered,  as  he  was  talking  to  my  uncle,  rushing  out  of  his  house  over  to  the  house  that  had  collapsed  next  door,  where  this  big  building  had  come  down  and  as  he  was  fishing  through  the  rubble  and  pushing  things  aside, that  old  man  discovered  a  body.  And  as  that  old  man  started  to  pull  things  free  so  he  could  get  to  the  body,  he  found  another  body  underneath.

And unfortunately,  the  two  adults  in  that  house  had  been  killed  by  the  collapsing  of  that  building.  And  as  he  moved  them, he  heard  noise  underneath  them.  And he  pulled  aside  the  wife  and  the  husband.  And there  he  found  a  little  boy  trapped  underneath  them  as  the  parents  tried  to  protect  him. And underneath  the  little  boy  was  a  little  baby  girl,  also  protected  by  the  parents  and  her  big  brother.  That man  took  aside  the  children  and  took  them  off  to  safety  and  put  them  somewhere  where  they  could  be  looked  after.

Then  that  man  came  back  to  the  house  and  he  took  the  parents  and  their  bodies  out  of  that  house  somewhere  where  they  could  be  treated  with  respect  and  properly  buried  and  identified  later. And  as  that  old  man  was  just  musing  on  this  at  the  table,  he  was  just  caught  in  a  moment,  a  moment  of  an old  memory,  in  2012.

And he  just  sort  of  blurted  out  loud,  I  wish  I  knew  what  happened  to  that  baby  girl.  I hope  she’s  done  okay. And  my  uncle  sat  there  smiling  through  this  whole  story.  And  he  looked  at  his  wife,  my  auntie,  and  he  looked  at  his  children  and  everybody  seemed  to  nod, you  know?  Yeah.

And my  uncle  looked  up  at  that  man  and  put  his  hand  on  his  arm  and  said,  well,  why  don’t  you  ask  her  yourself?  She’s  sitting  right  in  front  of  you. My  auntie  was  part  of  the  Chi  family  that  was  in  that  house  when  it  collapsed.  And the  only  survivors  on  that  particular  day  was  my  uncle  Lucky, we  call  him,  and  my  auntie,  Stella  Chi.  My  uncle  married  my  auntie  well  into  the  60s, and  whilst  they  didn’t  have  their  parents  about  them,  other  families  and  Aboriginal  people  in  that  community  of  Broome  helped  look  after  and  raise  those  children.

That old  man  took  one  look  at  my  auntie, and  of  course  he  just  burst  into  tears,  right  there,  just  burst  into  tears,  and  sobbed,  sobbed  until  he  couldn’t  sob  anymore, and  my  uncle  got  up  and  my  auntie  got  up  and  gave  him  a  hug.  And  the  old  man  was  lost  for  words,  he  couldn’t  think  of  anything  else  that  he  had  to  say,  but  he  felt  like  the  moment  had  been  had, and  he  said  his  goodbyes,  and  he  left.

Through  my  relatives, the  Chi’s,  the  Fong’s,  and  many  other  Chinese  families  and  Aboriginal  families  across  the  top  of  Australia, what  many  white  Australians  do  not  understand  about  the  Constitution  that  is  being  presented  to  us  in  this  day,  is  back  in  1901  when  this  nation  became  the  Commonwealth  of  Australia,  the  Constitution  had  a  special  clause  in  it  that  actually  controlled  the  lives  of  Chinese  people;  first  at  a  national  level,  as  part  of  what  was  then  started  as  the  White  Australia  Policy.

And in  this  state,  in  1905,  the  state  government  brought  into  power  an  act  called  the  1905  Aborigines Act.  And it  was  to  look  after  and  control  the  welfare  of  native  people.

But  again,  what  most  white  Australians  don’t  realise  in  this  state  was  that  act  also  had  a  very  specific  chapter  that  just  was  about  controlling  Chinese  people.

So in  the  start  of  this  nation  and  how  our  stories  have  gone  together  in  this  place,  there  are  two  very,  very  questionable  pieces  of  legislation, if  you  like,  that  have  controlled  both  Chinese  members  of  our  community  and  Aboriginal  and  Islander  members  of  our  community  for  a  very  long  time.  And somewhere  into  the  60s, when  Australia  stopped  being  paranoid  about  what  they  believed  the  Chinese  people  were  going  to  do,  it  changed.  And  that  clause  in  the  Constitution  stopped  affecting  Chinese  people  across  Australia  and  was  put  on  Aboriginal  and  Islander  people.

Do I  believe  that  this  Constitution  has  to  change?  Yes,  I  do.  And  I  believe  that  has  to  change  because  the  nature  of  who  we  are  as  a  people  in  our  stories  coming  from  where  it  is  that  we  come  from  with  a  long  line  of  good  and  healthy  ancestors  and  elders  that  guide  us  in  our  culture  and  the  ways  in  which  we  respect  and  care  for  each  other  in  our  communities  is  something  that  this  nation  needs  to  treasure  and value.  And I  would  like  to  do  that  together  with  you…  so  say  yes [to the Voice]. Thank you.

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