Walking Alongside As Equals

Mr and Mrs White with some of the Carrolup boys and the Peet family. Back row: Barry Loo, Mr. Peet, Noel White, Adrian Allen and Mrs. Peet. Middle row: Lily White and the three Peet girls. Front row: Parnell Dempster, unidentified boy and Reynold Hart. Photograph taken in 1949. Noel & Lily White Collection.

Mr and Mrs White with some of the Carrolup boys and the Peet family. Back row: Barry Loo, Mr. Peet, Noel White, Adrian Allen and Mrs. Peet. Middle row: Lily White and the three Peet girls. Front row: Parnell Dempster, unidentified boy and Reynold Hart. Photograph taken in 1949. Noel & Lily White Collection.

In my last Healing blog Do Things With Us, Not To Us: Chris Sarra, I posted the words of one of the country’s leading educators talking about the interaction between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Here are three key paragraphs:

‘I can assure you that we as Aboriginal people want to be on a journey with you. This journey however, must be one that enables us to be the best that ‘we’ want to be, not a journey in which we are forced to be who ‘you’ want us to be. Let me assure you that as Aboriginal people we have an interest in being the exceptional people that we can be and often are. None of us aspire to be downtrodden, uneducated, disempowered and dysfunctional…’

‘If you stand beside me well intentioned, but in this relationship feeling sorry for me, as if I have to be rescued, the relationship is contaminated from the start, leaving us a few degrees out from each other and destined to become parted in the long run. 

You might come to the relationship assuming that I must change my ways and become ‘like’ you in every way, emulating your way of existing… assimilated if you like. In this circumstance you assume you are superior to me and I am inferior to you. With this as our starting point the relationship is again contaminated and we calibrate our compass in a way that gives us no chance of taking an honourable journey together…’

These paragraphs are so relevant to what occurs in the story of Carrolup. When ‘helping’ Aboriginal people, most staff employed by the Department of Native Affairs were working with a perception that they were superior to Aboriginal people and that the latter needed to be assimilated into the superior white society. Some of the government documents I have seen are written in such an arrogate manner!

However, the other form of ‘helping’—the genuine form of helping—where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people walked alongside each other as equals, was also clearly evident in the story of Carrolup. There are a number of examples of this form of helping, and not just with the main non-Aboriginal characters, schoolteachers Noel and Lily White and 71-year old Englishwoman Florence Rutter.

Frank and Myrtle Amos, members of the Native Rights and Welfare League, looked after two of the Carrolup boys (one was Claude Kelly) during the Carrolup exhibition at Boans department store in October 1947.

The Amos’s visited Carrolup in November 1948 and then asked the Department of Native Affairs if they could organise a holiday camp for the children of Carrolup. This took place at Swanbourne Military camp, next to a beautiful sandy beach, for eleven days from the 15th of January 1949. The trip was a great success for all those concerned. [You can see a newspaper photograph from the trip here].

Parnell Dempster and Reynold Hart spent time living with Frank and Myrtle Amos, starting in 1953. It’s very clear that the Amos’s loved the two boys and treated them like sons. In fact, they applied to be legal guardians of Reynold and Parnell, but their application was turned down as ‘there was no precedent’.

Frank and Myrtle Amos, along with Mary Durack Miller, helped the two boys find jobs. Frank Amos visited Revel Cooper in Fremantle prison in an official capacity.

In late 1954, Reynold Hart wrote to Mrs Rutter in England, saying of Myrtle Amos:

I enjoyed the week end very much with Mrs Amos because she is like a second mother to me, and I have a lot of time for her.’

Other non-Aboriginal people who ‘walked alongside’ the children of Carrolup ‘as equals’ included Charles ‘Sammy’ Crabbe, Charlie Cook, John Stokes, Bill Gordon, Vera and Gordon Hack, and Mary Durack Miller. More of these ‘characters’ in future blogs.

I’ll finish this blog by reminding you of one of our primary aims with this project:

We wish that many more Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people walk alongside each other on equal terms to help create a society where people have an improved wellness, are more respectful, caring and empathic towards their fellow man, and more protective of our planet.

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