Festival Readings: The people who shaped me by Veronica Heritage-Gorrie

Here at EWF, we’ve selected some of our favourite pieces that were originally performed at the 2020 digital Emerging Writers’ Festival, to publish over the coming weeks. We hope you will read and enjoy them as much as we did!

First up is Veronica Heritage-Gorrie’s incredibly moving piece,  first performed at Amazing Babes. Here, she remembers her Nullung, and reflects on the amazing babes who have helped shape her life.

Wumnan njinde ngetal makthar Ronnie.  I am a proud Kurnai woman.

I pay my respects to my elders, past and present. I would also like to extend my respect to the elders past and present on all nations you are all on. Sovereignty has never been ceded. Also, I am quietly confident that Gunai/Kurnai is the only nation that has snow and ocean.

Before I can speak about who shaped me, I feel it’s important to mention what shaped me and continues to shape me. My Aboriginality. To say that I am proud to be an Aboriginal person is an understatement.

From an early age, as a small child, I knew I was Aboriginal. I have always known. When I was in primary school, I thought it was so deadly being Aboriginal, I actually felt sorry for the white kids. I used to think that we were the majority and they were the minority. Little did I know?

So, all my life everything I have done has been as a direct result of my Aboriginality: to prove people and the system wrong, no matter how far they move the goal post. And yes, I have made huge mistakes and errors of judgement.  One huge mistake I have made was becoming a police officer.

I joined the Police in 2001 and by the end of my career in 2011 I was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression due to a couple of jobs, but mainly as a direct result of being in an institution built on racism, misogyny, bullying and systemic racism.

The day before my discharge, I began writing. It was the 3rd of November 2011. The reason I did this was because of the traumas. I had loss of memory and became very forgetful. Some people who suffer from trauma have the ability to block out their bad shit but the bad shit is all I remember. Vividly. With this said, I started documenting my life and eventually I had a book worth of memories.

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Now for who has shaped me in my life. My father’s mother, my Nullung. As I shifted to writing and wanting to tell my story, I needed to tell my Nullung’s story. Nullung was stolen from Lake Tyers Aboriginal Mission on the 11th of the 11th, 1941. She was only 8 years old. So while gubbas pause for a minute’s silence for their remembrance day, I don’t, I reflect on the day my grandmother was torn away from her family, stolen from her kin and Country.

I know a lot of you are probably thinking, we’ve heard this story before. But you haven’t heard my Nullung’s story. It’s important for me that I tell it because if I don’t, it will be forgotten. And I never want my Nullung or her story to be forgotten.

When I was young, I never really got on with my Nullung. She was staunch, she was fierce and she was a force to be reckoned with, and looking back now, I guess she was shaping me without me even knowing. It wasn’t until 20 years after she passed, when I gained access to her wardship files, that I fully understood the reason why she was the way she was, and that she had to be like that in order to survive. The only regret that I have is that I will never be able to show her how much I appreciate her and her strength.

So at the age of 8, she was taken to the Royal Melb depot for unwanted children in Parkville Melbourne and from there she was placed in several orphanages and institutions where she was employed as a child slave labourer, including at the Abbotsford Convent. All without pay. Nullung escaped many times (or according to her police charges, she absconded) and each time she was found, she was in Fitzroy. She went to a place where other Koories were. A place she felt safe.

At the age of 16, she had her first and only child, my father, at the Royal Women’s hospital in Carlton, Melbourne. Soon after giving birth, my father was snatched from her and placed in an orphanage. If you think this is atrocious, what happened next is more shocking. They sterilised my Nullung without her consent or knowledge and she was never able to have any more children. My Nullung was a ward of the state until she turned 20 and was told that she could not get her child back unless she was married. So with this information, she returned back to the mission and married my grandfather to gain custody of her child. I don’t think they married for love but for the sole purpose of getting her son back, but they grew to love each other and were married for over 40 years.

I have a few good memories of my Nullung, but one stands out more than the others. At Christmas, Nullung would sing the Christmas carol silent night all in Gunai/Kurnai language, her language.  She sang it so quietly that we could barely hear her sometimes. We found out the reason she sang it so quietly was because she was frightened that if anyone heard her using language, she would be tied to a tree and flogged, which is what they did in her day.

So like myself, my Nullung was also a writer. Only her writing was of a different kind. She wrote many letters to the Board of Protectors – she wrote letters to complain about her work conditions and other injustices that were happening. She also wrote letters asking for permission to go visit her only living sister who was living in Ararat with an old white woman.

My Nullung was granted holidays and after she gave birth to her son, the old white woman allowed her to come live with her and her sister.  This arrangement didn’t last long as the old white woman continually wrote letters to the board complaining about my Nullung.

In one particular letter that the old woman wrote, she mentioned that my Nullung’s sister Aunty Myra is well known and respected in Ararat, but two of the same colour in Ararat would be a different proposition. The old white woman was asking if the board could place an ad in the newspaper to ask the citizens of Ararat to be sympathetic toward Nullung and extend their same friendly feeling toward her as they have with Myra. This was denied and my Nullung was eventually run out of town. My response to Ararat: Fuck you Ararat.

My Nullung’s final letter to the Board of Protection was written on the 28th of September 1953, and it reads, Dear Sir, (typical), I was married on the 17th of August to Carl Turner with whom I am residing with at the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Station and hereby apply for the custody of my son born on 10th March 1950.  My husband is in full agreement with this application.  Yours faithfully, Linda Turner formerly Linda Gorrie.

The outcome of this letter was that she was given back her son, who she fought tooth and nail for. By now he was 4 years old.

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Now for the other people that have definitely shaped me in more ways than one. My children. Everything I have ever done is for them. They all inspire me to be better. They also inspire me to write and to be creative, but there is one who encourages me more and that is Nayuka. Nayuka is my oldest child, the keeper of my memories, my mentor and my best friend. When I get knocked back or rather when I have setbacks, it’s Nayuka who tells me, ‘Mum, if it’s important to you, keep writing’.

For those that aren’t familiar with Nayuka Gorrie, let me tell you how amazing they are. In saying that, I will try to be brief, but their list of works and achievements are endless. Nayuka is a writer, a television writer and an actor, whose works include Black Comedy and The Heights. They also write for NITV and The Guardian. I told you, brief. Their most recent role and probably the most important role is Nayuka parenting their twin babies Wani and Yeeri. Nayuka is an amazing parent, an amazing mother and I know that like they have done for me, Nayuka will inspire and shape their babies to be just as amazing as they are.

Nayuka, I thank you for encouraging me to be a better version of myself, for always teaching me and for being you, and just like your great grandmother’s writings before you and I, to keep writing because our stories need to be heard.

Thank you, Yarabee