I am taking some time today to mourn something more than another Aboriginal death in custody. I don’t know the man, or his family. I will simply dwell on some of the names that are part of telling his story.
I read of an ‘altercation’ at Yatala Labour Prison. The name ‘Yatala’ led me to the Kaurna people, the Traditional Owners of the land of the prison, where the violence occurred, and the hospital, where he died. Respect to the Kaurna people, and their Elders, past and present. Respect to the grieving family and all their mobs.
‘He was taken to the Intensive Care Unit at Royal Adelaide Hospital.’ Queen Adelaide’s death in 1849, roughly coincides with the end of a time when the Kaurna language was a day-to-day language of the people of the ‘Adelaide Plains’. As Queen of England, Adelaide ruled over the destruction of innumerable of languages. Kaurna language is ‘coming alive again.’
My virtual journey to the hospital, to offer my respect to the grieving and to register my objection to the official brutality took me to Frome Road. Edward Frome was the third surveyor-general of South Australia. The mapping and sale of land legitimated the invasion and theft of Kaurna land and consolidated the imported legal system. The lethal injustice of this system continues to be disproportionately delivered to the Traditional Owners across Australia.
English Language – come alive
The upcoming protests and outrage associated with the death of this man are going to coincide with a significant memorial in the English-speaking world. The 14th of October, 1066, marks the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, which was the last successful invasion of England. It was documented in the Bayeux Tapestry.
Maps of Australia are our equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry. This includes street maps of cities and towns as well as maps of the whole country. While the narratives memorialized in the street map are sanitized and hidden, they are not entirely inaccessible. Place names, such as the Royal Adelaide Hospital on Frome Road in Adelaide, South Australia sound so innocent, so acceptable. Yet they are bursting with references to invasion, legitimized violence, battles and dispossession, including the dispossession of identity. Australia’s English-speaking culture is dominated by the suppression of the details of violence against the Traditional Owners. Like the hundreds and the thousands that have gone before, this death challenges us to invigorate, support and sustain a specific discussion about violence against the Traditional Owners in Australia.
Black deaths in custody need to be stopped. We don’t have to know the details of each tragic incident that comes to us in the news media to be part of bringing them to an end. It is the responsibility of the entire population to find ways to speak to each other about the violence of our current systems. If you can’t think of a way to do this, then simply beginning by discussing the familiar place names we use is a good and relevant place to build these skills with the people around us.
In the mean time, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family.