I grew up speaking a foreign language.
A language brought to Australia on convict ships more than 200 years ago. A language imposed on my ancestors as they were pushed from their land, massacred, and stricken with disease.
In the 1830s, martial law was declared on my people, the Wiradjuri of Central West New South Wales. My ancestors could be killed on sight. British settlers formed raiding parties to hunt down and round up Wiradjuri people.
The remnants of these frontier wars were pushed onto Christian missions and reserves. Speaking their language, practising their culture or performing ceremonies was often banned.
My people, like the languages they spoke, were expected to die out.
“Aborigines” were deemed a dying race. Settlers spoke of “smoothing the pillow of a dying race”.
When Australia became a nation in 1901, one of the founding fathers Alfred Deakin forecast that within a hundred years: “Australia will be a white continent with not a black or even dark skin amongst its inhabitants. The Aboriginal race has died out in the south and is dying fast in the north and west ….”
An Aborigines Protection Board was established, a body that exercised a fearsome power over Indigenous lives. The board oversaw restrictive segregation policies and could determine where my family lived, who we could marry, or whether we could keep our children.