The Virus is a representative story. Though names and some of the details have been changed for narrative purpose, it is a true story.
I have updated the original blog post in response to the SBS series First Contact
The Virus. An Australian Story
I was 5 or 6 years old a migrant child of parents who were swept away from the sooty chimney towns of Britain’s working class north by the promises of a bright new life in a young country. A country brimming, spilling and erupting with outrageous opportunities for people, white people, who dreamt of owning their very own land. Australia.
We were the ten pound package , government assisted chance of a life time Brits who flocked in their thousands to these shores and landed like sparkling white seagulls that squabble amongst themselves as they fly in kindred form. Noisy chattering seagulls on the look out for the best morsel they can find.
Some have said seagulls all look and act the same…
Poms they called us, the latest flock of new arrivals following in the footsteps of the convicts and our sea faring ancestors who came to seize new territory in a land that was not young at all.
Big skies, wide streets, pupil dazzling light Brand new asbestos houses far removed from the tall sooty terrace flats cramped side by side back Home.
We staggered wearily, eagerly into government issue houses that nestled expectantly in the middle of tiny little paddocks. Neatly sliced quarter acre blocks that beckoned the new arrivals to seed a brand new life and sow a future far removed from the misty grey land where the sun rarely shines.
This was The Lucky Country and we thought that we were very lucky indeed! There was much to learn and many new things to see and for awhile my migrant child’s world was consumed with more space new friends, big school, new sounds, interesting sights and beach time delights.
In fact we were so immersed in our new life we were utterly, completely, mind numbingly oblivious to the Land where we were living.
That is when the virus struck.
I remember the day it happened.Unlike those silent viruses that sit invisibly on taps waiting to hitch a ride on fingertips that brush past lips this insidious, relentless, sickening parasite travelled effortlessly upon the breath transmitted upon invisible sound waves elusive in their source, the destination always the same.
It was very hard for young children to escape a germ such as that! I was standing by the milk shed when the virus struck.
Its current host was a plump red freckly boy called George. He was no doubt named after a king, an uncle or grandfather back Home .
The kids called George names like dot-face and carrot top.
Giggling and laughing, George entertained us by pulling faces and joining in the fun. His best friend stood with us, Peter Green, an Australian boy who was fond of saying “we go back 6 generations“, even though he didn’t really know what it meant.
His father said it all the time so it must have been important.
Peter was teaching George the real Australian way
We were standing in the cool shade, a rare find across the sweltering expanse of the asphalt playground when the virus emerged and the first cross infection occurred. In a loud voice that announced his cockney origins wherever he went, George sang out four words in the mocking tone of a confident child: “Dirty coon, rotten baboon” Four words that speared my consciousness and left a tender wound, a vulnerable space to host a virus that I was too young to fight.
Georges words invoked contempt a voracious contempt that swept through the crowded school yard as quickly as it took to catch one another’s breath. I followed Georges eyes and saw the object of his loathing.
Curly haired Lindy and her little brother Jimmy the Aboriginal kids. The Blacks
Lindy and Jimmy stood out from the sea of white faces. Shiny black birds surrounded by vicious seagulls. They stood holding the eyes of their attacker whilst holding tightly onto one another’s hand. Jimmy leaned towards his big sister terrified that the big kid with the flaming red hair was about to lunge and squash him then and there.
They were the outcast kids the Abo’s who were never ever invited to play our games. Peter smiled at George approvingly and one or two others snickered our way the virus twisting itself across children’s faces annihilating the anti-bodies of innocence feasting upon the collective enjoyment of someone else being teased.
This particularly robust virus had its own language.
After coon followed different words boong-boong –that’s the noise they make when the bull bar hits them. Before long other children joined in the heckling until a bubonic plague of racist torment swamped us all in its vitriolic grip.
That was the day I learnt a new A, B C. The uniquely Australian alphabet. A. B. C.
This was the alphabet I was infected with as a child.
In the lucky country. A magnificent land older than the mountains with secrets winding back through time. Something terrible occurred. A virus was unleashed long before our little family travelled to the down under shores.
What became of Lindy and Jimmy? Innocent children who were called half castes, treated as out casts.
Removed from their Mother, kidnapped before her very eyes.
Thanks to the power of forgiveness and decency and common sense, strong medicines for curing the malaise of toxic tongues and the virus that leaves many deaf and mute and blind, Lindy and Jimmy and I became friends.
Precious friends and together we are all in recovery from the virus that strikes so many innocent children down.