What Is It Like To Be A Fair Skinned First Nation Australian?

I am a fair skinned First Nation Australian. I was ten years old when my Mum said: “Guess what, you…

I am a fair skinned First Nation Australian. I was ten years old when my Mum said: “Guess what, you know how you have been asking me about what you were, well I can tell you now, you’re Aboriginal”. Mum’s skin is darker than mine and I was starting to get taunts from other kids at school, such as: “Your Mum is an abo’, your mum is a wog, etc.” This confused me a bit at the time. Mum was just “Mum” to me; I did not know she was any different to anyone else’s Mum. This had led me to start asking my Mum “what are we?”

Mum said I was not told about my heritage earlier as they (Mum and my Grandmother) wanted to wait until they thought I was old enough. Apparently they were concerned about me not being sensitive enough, to not say something that would upset my Grandfather. Up until then, I did not know that the man I knew as my Grandfather was not actually my biological Grandfather. They need not have worried, I loved the man so much, I would never have dreamt of saying or doing anything to hurt him.

So now I know I am “Aboriginal”. What does that mean? Well for a long time, I had no idea. Living in the western suburbs of Sydney I had little contact with other First Nation Australians, “fair skinned” or otherwise. I did make friends with a Goorie (a term used by First Nation Australians, of the Far North Coast, when referring to themselves) boy in kindergarten, but that friendship ended when I was moved to another school. It was not really until moving to Brisbane in the middle of the eighties, when I was nineteen that I started to get some idea of what it meant to be a First Nation Australian. I had started working at the Queensland Museum and studying anthropology and archaeology at the University of Queensland. My first impressions were: “It is not very good to be a First Nation Australian in this day and age.” We were (and in some situations still are) one of the most oppressed people in the world.

So how did I feel being a fair skinned First Nation Australian, learning of all the atrocities committed against First Nation Australians by white people, only to look in the mirror and see a “white face?” Where did I belong? The majority of white people could not understand why I would want to identify, instead of hiding my First Nation Australian heritage in shame. For some black fellas, I was not black enough. You end up with a chip on your shoulder, blaming everybody and everything else for your predicament in life. Why did the Europeans have to invade Australia?! Why am I so fair skinned?! Why did Mum have to have relations with a white man, instead of a black man?! I have often heard it bandied about: “It is always the fair skinned ones that are the most radical.” I think it is because many of us fair skinned Goories are the most upset and angry for our life’s circumstances. This is why we want to rattle peoples’ cages, wake them up to the sadness, hurt and pain most First Nation Australians feel as a result of Europeans invading this country. Look at what has happened to us. As a nation, Australia needs to own the history of how its First Nation people were treated by the so called enlightened colonists when taking our land. Only then can we heal the sadness, hurt and pain and move onto a better future, for all Australians, not just some.

Most white people do not understand why I would want to identify as a First Nation Australian. But why was it that the black fellas did not understand my predicament? Surely they have some fair skinned mob in their family? It is extraordinary how upsetting not knowing where you belong can leave you! Thankfully, I had some wonderful Elders who mentored me. They told me things like: “It is not what is on the outside, but what is on the inside that counts” and “Goories come in all colours.” They also said: “We are going to need people like you in future.” I did not know it at the time, but I was to eventually realise I had a special role to play, that of a “bridge between cultures.”

So here is where I have ended up. A fair skinned Goorie, finally able to come to terms with that which I am, but who or what is that? I have Goorie, English, Irish, Scottish and continental Indian heritages. Which of these heritages represents me and can I be all of these things at once? What I came to realise, is I am all of these things and none more or less than the other. In other words, if I am in the bush, I tap into my Goorie heritage. If I am out at sea, I might tap into my English heritage. If I am playing the bag pipes, I might tap into my Scottish heritage. So if I see all these heritages as making up who I am, why do I so strongly identify as First Nation Australian? For me it is firstly, because First Nation Australian culture and lifestyle feels to be most in tune with my “Authentic” self. Secondly, an obvious reason would be, because I live in Australia. Thirdly, being so passionate about my First Nation Australian heritage, I want to share my experience with others. It is this passion, the same passion I witness in others. The passion most people demonstrated when finding out that they have First Nation Australian heritage. They really want to understand what this means. It is this passion that makes me and others like me, the best bridges between First Nation Australian and non-First Nation Australian cultures.

Author Shayne Rawson is a proud First Nation Australian and a valued member of the PHaM’s Team at CHESS. Shayne works closely with his community to provide cross cultural awareness and to help support people living with mental health issues. Shayne wanted to share his perspective with us on What Is It Like To Be A Fair Skinned First Nation Australian. This is Shayne’s unedited and personal point of view.