The lessons Stan Grant hopes to pass onto his sons
When he came out, he said he would never speak our language again. He saved it only for when Dad was with him, out where no white man could hear him. Your Pop spent a lot of years just surviving. Just putting food on the table. For Blackfullas, life was hand to mouth. One day at a time, one town after another. One backbreaking job, then one more, and one more.
Pop has got scars all over his body: scars of survival. Scars from the boxing tents; scars from the sawmills; scars from the coppers. Then there are scars we don’t see; scars he keeps hidden. Scars of the soul that don’t heal. Your Pop is scarred from Australia.
There have been times he has been angry. As a boy, I saw that anger – and sometimes I felt it, too. I don’t blame him now. He had to save me from the life he’d been forced to live. He had to make me tough and get me ready for the blows that were surely to come.
Other times Dad – your Pop – was just sad. I saw that deep well of pain behind his eyes. They were black eyes, dark pools of history. So much history, so much anger, so much hurt. And all we have left is us. Just us, holding ourselves against the world.
You never got to see that. Life has been easier for you. And I’m glad for that. I am so glad that you boys don’t know what it is like to not know where you will live from one week to the next. You don’t know what it is like to be hungry, or to watch your mother go to the charities and ask for help,
for food. I’m glad you don’t have my memories. And I’m glad I don’t have my dad’s memories.
You have seen the best of your Pop. You’ve seen a softer side of him. Isn’t he beautiful? By the time you came along, he didn’t need his muscles any more. He didn’t have to shape up to the world, he had survived and he’d found a way to speak back. His way. His words. Our words.
“You don’t know what it is like to be hungry, or to watch your mother go to the charities and ask for help,for food. I’m glad you don’t have my memories. And I’m glad I don’t have my dad’s memories.”
Your Pop has given you the most wonderful gift. He has given you our language. Because of him, Wiradjuri is protected and preserved forever. He’s written it all down in the Wiradjuri dictionary. A whole generation of people speak our language now because your Pop saved it. That’s what keeps him alive. That’s what the Garru said to him when he was sick. It wasn’t his time yet.
But we are losing him. I know we won’t have him forever. And I’m scared, boys. I am scared because I’m not ready. I am scared because I’m not man enough yet to live without him in the world. I need him to fight just a bit longer to give me time to grow.
When he is gone, I will have to take his place. I will have to plant my feet in our soil and pull all of our strength from the earth. I will have to stand under the stars and speak to Baiame to ask him to make me a man.
We spend our lives preparing for this, my boys. Remember when you were young and we would drive from Sydney to Nan and Pop’s house? Remember those long drives? We used to stop at Yass to get petrol and have lunch, not just for the food but because it marked the start of Wiradjuri Country: your Country.
Remember how I told you about the land? You would look at the rocks and the hills. I told you how the land dipped into a valley and rose on the other side: that side was home. You watched how the sun hit the trees and how the earth flattened out and how creeks cut across it like blood veins.
Home, boys. You have only one home in the entire world. One home that has always been there and will always be there. One home and a family: our blood in our Country.
This is how the world turns, my boys. We are born and we learn and we live and then we pass on. We learn from those who have come before us. I spent time with my grandfather when I was young. I used to help him inside when he came home drunk. I’d collect all his loose change when it fell out of his pockets and keep it for him. Then I would give it back to him and he would take me for an ice-cream.
I wish you had known him. My grandfather – my Pa – was the most important person in my life. He wasn’t Wiradjuri, he was Kamilaroi. My mother’s father, my mother’s people. You have strong Kamilaroi blood, too.
My Pa has been gone a long time. Sometimes it is hard to remember him: his smell, the touch of his hands, his voice. I imagine him now more than I remember him. But he’s always with me.
Like me, boys, you will have to live a long time without your Pop. You will lose that sense of him. He’ll drift to the back of your mind. But he will always be with you. When you see the Garru, you will see him. When you speak his words – our words – he’ll be with you.
You will live in a big world, my boys. You already do. You will love and you will have your children and I’ll try to be to them what your Pop has been to you.
We don’t know where the world will lead us. I left our Country, I left our family, I went to other countries. I’ve seen war and suffering; I’ve seen people beaten down and seen them endure. I’ve looked into the eyes of people who have lost everything and seen the eyes of my grandfather and my father staring back.
“You have a place in the world. You have a language that is yours. And you have your Pop – my father. His spirit will never leave you, boys, it will never fail you.”
It was hard for you in those years. Too often I wasn’t there. I missed a lot but I had a job to do. And you will have your jobs to do and you will make your choices and live with your regrets.
But remember, whatever happens, wherever you may go, however far from your country or your people, remember you have a home. You have a place in the world. You have a language that is yours. And you have your Pop – my father. His spirit will never leave you, boys, it will never fail you.
Fight on, Dad. You’re not done yet. I’m not ready to be the man you are. Look at your Pop, boys. Isn’t he beautiful?
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