“Hurry up, get your Opal card out, the train is coming”, I yelled at Mum as we hurried down the steps at Panania station.
Mum cried “I think I left my Opal card at home. But don’t worry Ange, just get on. I’ll buy a ticket when we get to Campbelltown and change trains”, she said.
“Bloody hell Mum, you are so blasé. You might get fined”, I said as we boarded the train.
Mum at 84 years old, was a seasoned train traveller. She was cocky too.
We sat upstairs in the carriage and got settled for the ride. We were on our way to Picton to visit my sister and her two sons. Mum was excited about seeing her grandkids.
At Glenfield station, I noticed four NSW Police Officers board the train. Next thing I knew, a police officer was standing next to Mum and I asking us to produce our Opal cards for checking.
Ha! Let’s see if Mum is so cool now, I thought.
Mum – ever so confidently – apologized and explained what had happened, and ensured the Officer that she would get a ticket when she changed trains.
The Officer smiled at Mum, gave her a warning. No fine.
Mum turned to me and raised her eyebrows as if to say “See, I told you it would be alright”.
I replied, “Just because you’re a sweet, little old lady doesn’t mean you are above the law. You’re lucky…this time”.
A few minutes later, Mum and I heard the raised voice of the Police Officer. He was questioning a couple about their Opal card, personal identity, concession cards, and whereabouts.
I was shocked. I said to Mum “Can you believe the way the Officer is speaking to this couple? It’s horrific. His loud voice and questions are so humiliating. I feel so embarrassed for the couple”.
The man under question acted calmly. His voice was low, but I heard him say to the Officer that he and his wife were from the North Coast and had come to Sydney to see their granddaughter perform in a dancing concert.
It was then that I noticed that the couple were Indigenous Australians.
My heart sank. I was witnessing explicit racism. My mother had received different treatment for breaking the law.
I couldn’t hear or make out the offence committed. But I heard the Police Officer tell the couple they would need to get off the train at Campbelltown and go to the nearest Centrelink office to sort out their concession cards.
When the couple said they did not know where the Centrelink office was located, the Police Officer replied that he would escort them.
I felt sick in the stomach. I remained silent.
When the train pulled into Campbelltown station, the Police officers, the couple, plus Mum and I alighted. I told Mum to wait as I hurried to catch up to the Police Officer.
I asked him – politely – why this couple were questioned so thoroughly and loudly for all to hear and were forced to get off the train.
He replied – calmly and with authority – that he was simply following the law and had done nothing wrong.
I was chicken. I did not question him as to why the law was applied differently to my Mum. Why she did not suffer the same humiliation as those grandparents.
I knew the answer. For 232 years, our society and culture have condoned racism against Indigenous Australians.
And…Mum and I have benefitted from those laws, systems, attitudes, and behaviours.
And so too Mum’s grandchildren. They have not suffered intergenerational trauma, systemic removal, and discrimination. Nor are they at risk of higher levels of incarceration, depression, and suicide.
That was four years ago. I continue to learn about Indigenous Australians and our history. I still know very little.
Today is National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day – established in 1988 – to celebrate and empower children. The 4th of August was chosen because during 1910 – 1970 when Indigenous Australian children were forcibly removed from their families and put into institutionalized care, their birthdays – many unknown – were given and celebrated on the 4 August.
I ask you to consider why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children account for 65% of children aged 10 – 14 years imprisoned in gaol?
Why Aboriginal people are in grossly disproportionate numbers, compared with non-Aboriginal people, in both police and prison custody?
The answer is racism. It’s pandemic and it kills. And the blame lies with me….and you.
But we can change…..