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.
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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.