Pacing the floor as I’m wont to do when facing a problem, I stopped in my stride at the shrill of the house phone. It was HIS secretary. Clutching the phone, I willed it to be good news.
I had earlier rung the Aboriginal Land Council and told the secretary my woeful story. The story of being a student who had tried time and again to find someone to interview and how my time to submit my work, was running out.
My university assignment criteria required I interview someone of Indigenous ancestry and I personally, at that stage, knew no one of aboriginal descent who worked on or were involved with current issues facing the original people of Australia.
Although I was given the assessment about five weeks earlier, I struck problem after problem in trying to find someone to interview.
A dear friend, who worked with Indigenous women as a social worker and teacher in a country area, gave me two mobile numbers. One was of a Sydney University graduate, who had received the Charles Perkins Award for outstanding study. She was currently working at the Benevolent Society at Campbelltown Women’s Health Centre, and more importantly, was about to launch an Indigenous Women’s Leadership Program. Happily thinking I had my assignment sewn up, I had little inkling at that stage, that this was the beginning of many avenues I would need to venture through.
The graduate returned my call while on her way home and suggested I ring her at her office at 9 am the following day. Ringing promptly at 9 am, I was dismayed when there was no answer. I left a message, and then another the next day but never heard back. I then recalled my friend warning me before she gave me the contact numbers, that Aboriginal people and communities felt tired of being used or ‘studied to death,’ without receiving anything in return.
My next option was to then ring the other number. This woman worked as a Family Support worker at the Women and Girls’ Centre at Waterloo where she would write up the case work between the Department of Community Services (DOCs) and aboriginal women. She spoke in vague terms and suggested I come to watch the women having lunch on Wednesday of the following week. My efforts at partially interviewing her over the phone, gave me some inkling that I would receive little else at the lunch.
A relative then gave me a contact at the Worker’s Union but nothing eventuated from that. My third dead-end! My time was beginning to run out.
Checking on and offline news, I discovered the Sydney Writers’ Festival site which was in full swing in Sydney and was relieved to find there would be talks from several writers of Indigenous Issues. Unfortunately, many of the tickets to these events were sold out long before the festival even started. Trudging through the site, I finally managed to purchase a ticket for a Sunday lecture by Sarah Maddison, the author of Black Politics, and it was being held at the Wharf area in Sydney.
A law professor from a prominent university, who was also a barrister, was to publicly interview the writer after the lecture. The floor was later opened to the audience and a retired lecturer from the same university as the indigenous law professor, jumped up and said that many Australians were tired of money being poured into Indigenous affairs, education and welfare while never hearing the outcomes of these endeavours. To counteract the negative perceptions and to promote the positive results, she, along with likeminded committee members planned on setting up a website entitled, ‘What’s Working.’
She was echoing my exact sentiments! Many is the time I’ve passionately spouted about the fact that the general public, being fed a constant diet of problems within the Indigenous communities, knew little else or rarely questioned the stereotypical images or stories being spread. Furthermore, successful, Indigenous public figures, such as Stan Grant, Yvonne Goolagong Cawley, Christine Anu, Karla Grant and others, could do more to raise the positive images by acting as role models and spokespersons for the next generation and thereby influence the publics’ negative view for the better.
After the public Q & A, I approached the retired lecturer and was dismayed to see her walking out with a bunch of people. Thinking quickly, I asked for her business card and promptly emailed her when I got home. I requested a phone or personal interview with regard to the new website and mentioned also that I had limited time left for the interview.
After no response for five days, I did a search for the law professor and emailed her for a direct number for the retired lecturer. I took the opportunity and asked the professor if I could interview her on the festival lecture, hoping that if she granted me the interview, I would then have two reports to consider as opposed to my current situation of no interviews at all. The professor emailed my query to the lecturer, carbon copied it to me but did not respond about the requested interview.
I then received an unexpected phone call from the retired lecturer. Before I could express my praise for the website idea, she launched into a bitter criticism about high-handed students always wanting immediate help with late assignments and how dare I approach the professor and what right did I have to bother her with my problems.
Shaken by the attack, I tried to intervene but she kept on the barrage for some minutes. I quickly told her that I was genuinely impressed with the new website and wished the committee well on the project. Continuing as though I hadn’t spoken, she persisted with her attack. I then told her that I had tried several avenues before finally attending the lecture and learning about the website. Adding that I myself had often felt that the Indigenous successes needed to be promoted and broadcasted, I threw in my idea of Indigenous celebrities airing their successes and acting as mentors.
She must have been one angry woman as she then launched into the, by now, well-worn cliché about Aboriginals being sick of being used by white people and never getting anything in return. I suddenly got irritated and stated that it was rather hypocritical to use that angle when they weren’t prepared to give back in return to those who were genuinely trying to help them. I surprised myself and fortunately, it took the wind out of her sails, as she backed down and started to converse in a civilised manner with me.
Although she eventually apologised for her attack, she gave me very little, and cited that the website was still in the planning stage and nothing was as yet concrete. Another dead-end and the beginnings of panic on my part.
In desperation I contacted the law professor twice via phone and email but once again, no response. In despair, I remembered the Director of the Aboriginal Land Council who had chaired the lecture and interview at the festival. This was the call I had mentioned at the beginning of this post, that I had been anxiously waiting for. Yes, it was his secretary on the line and she very kindly told me that she had tracked him down and that he was boarding a helicopter to attend a meeting on an island. This lovely lady quickly spoke on my behalf and he promised to ring me after his meeting.
By this time, I was in a nervous state! Would he even ring, or would he be like all the other potential interviewees, just ignore me?
Imagine my surprise and delight, when he rang me about 45 minutes later! This kind and generous man told me that he had been away on vacation with his family but had returned to Sydney solely to assist in chairing the lecture at the festival and had then rushed back to his family after. He was still currently on vacation but had known about this prearranged, scheduled meeting on the island. On landing, he found he had twenty minutes to spare and made the decision to ring me prior to the meeting.
After we spoke, I thanked him most profusely for his generosity in helping a student in her time of need. He concluded with an offer to contact him at any time in the future so I told him briefly about the interview problems with the various people and ended the list with the law professor. He then quietly and gently told me that the law professor was his wife.
A postscript: The law professor emailed me a few weeks later with an apology for not returning my calls.
© Wendy Robinson
There are no gains without pains. ~ Benjamin Franklin
Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal. ~ Henry Ford