IN THE COURSE of an average Australian lifetime, a white lifetime, face-to-face communication with Indigenous Australians might be fairly limited. In my own case, five fairly talkative decades have yielded only three brief conversations. The first was with a sister and brother, Esther and Terry, students at an outer-Melbourne high school where I taught in the 1980s. They must have thought my earlier attempts at engagement a bit tedious because they rolled their eyes when I approached them in the playground. I spoke about the need to eat something a little more nourishing than lollies for lunch. ‘Like what?’ said Terry. ‘Like a salad roll, maybe.’ ‘We did.’ ‘Oh. Well, that’s good.’ Esther offered me a jelly snake and off they hurried, wishing to be where I was not.
The second conversation took place in the early 1990s outside the supermarket in Smith Street, Fitzroy, when a man by the name of Mickey with a fabulous sense of entitlement demanded a hundred dollars for his autograph, which I hadn’t requested. I said no. Mickey said, ‘Better idea. Buy me a flagon. Can yuh?’ I bought him a flagon of Seppelts from the supermarket’s bottle shop and he sauntered away singing the chorus of ‘The Gambler’, his trademark tune.
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