Image credit: Jess Saxton.
Our little white girl.
This is how I became known for the better part of two years, living in the communities of the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) in far north Queensland.
In the communities, you will hear people refer to themselves as black or white skinned. It’s generally not meant in a derogatory way, but simply as a straight-to-the-point way of speaking, common to the region.
One of the most beautiful descriptions I ever heard was ‘bright skinned’.
People would often describe someone by pointing to my skin, saying ‘like you’ or to their own, ‘like us’. It’s not meant as an insult, simply a description.
It seems that through our own political correctness we have attached these stigmas to personal descriptions that disable us from identifying race in polite conversation. Not here. Some of the descriptions I heard here will stay with me forever.
One day, I was speaking to Aunty Agnes Mark (who took to affectionately introducing me as her daughter, and gave me the name of little white girl) at the arts centre in New Mapoon. She was explaining a relative who she had seen after some time, as having ‘white man’s neck’. I didn’t understand what she meant, was his neck white? Was it sunburned?
She meant that his neck had wrinkled as Caucasian Australian’s skin does when we age. She said that white skin, like mine, looked fragile to her. She was afraid to touch it, not because she disliked it, but because she felt as if she might damage us.
I held out my arm to her, palm up and she pointed to the blue tinge under my wrist where the veins could be seen. “It’s so fragile,” she said, looking at my arm but holding her own, “I feel like it would break if I touched it”.
At one event I was standing with some young girls on the sideline of the footy field, photographing the game. They watched me cautiously as I moved about taking photos, so I pointed my camera at them too and they began to giggle and pose.
With the ice broken, they came over to see the photos I’d taken, sparking another round of giggles.
As they grew more familiar with me, they started to stroke my jeans and shirt, and as I knelt down to show them the photos, they began stroking my face and hair, twisting their fingers through my curls asking why it was curly and red. I pointed out that they had curly hair too, and they laughed, but kept hold of mine.
As they stared at my skin, my freckles and strangely curly hair, they noticed my eyes were blue. One of the girls gasped and came close, peering into my eyes. Gently, she put one small hand on my cheek and pushed my face toward her friend, “look sissy, she has sky in her eyes”.
That’s a description I’ll never forget.
Read more of the Red Dust series here.
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