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Authors: Sally Morgan

My Place

BOOK: My Place
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My Place

‘Can't you just leave the past buried? It won't hurt anyone then.'

‘Mum, it's already hurt people. It's hurt you and me and Nan, all of us …'

In 1982 Sally Morgan travelled back to her grandmother's birthplace. What started out as a tentative search for information about her family, turned into an overwhelming emotional and spiritual pilgrimage.

My Place
begins with the experiences of Sally's own life, growing up in suburban Perth in the fifties and sixties. Through the memories and images of her childhood and adolescence, vague hints and echoes begin to emerge, hidden knowledge is uncovered, and a fascinating story unfolds. It is a deeply moving account of a search for truth, into which a whole family is gradually drawn, finally freeing the tongues of the author's mother and grandmother, allowing them to tell their own stories.

Winner of the 1987 Australian Human Rights Award for Literature and the 1990 Order of Australia Book Prize,
My Place
is an Australian classic.

Sally Morgan was born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1951 and grew up in suburban Manning. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at The University of Western Australia in 1974, majoring in Psychology. She also has postgraduate diplomas from the Western Australian Institute of Technology (now Curtin University of Technology) in both Counselling Psychology and Computing and Library Studies. She has three children.

My Place
is Sally Morgan's first book, and upon publication it immediately achieved best-seller status. It has since sold over half a million copies in Australia, and been published in the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Malaysia, Italy, Indonesia, Japan, Germany, France, Switzerland and Holland.

Her second book,
Wanamurraganya: The Story of Jack McPhee
, was published in 1989. She has also written five books for children:
Little Piggies
Pet Problem
Just A Little Brown Dog
Dan's Grandpa
In Your Dreams

As well as writing, Sally Morgan has established an international reputation as an artist. She has works in numerous private and public collections in Australia and the United States of America.

Sally Morgan is currently Director of the Centre for Indigenous History and the Arts at The University of Western Australia.

Some of the personal names included in this book have been changed, or only first names have been included, to protect the privacy of those concerned.

First published 1987 by


25 Quarry Street, Fremantle 6160

(PO Box 158, North Fremantle 6159)

Western Australia.

Reprinted 1987 (three times).

This edition first printed February 1988. Reprinted thirty-nine times.

Copyright © Sally Morgan, 1987.

This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. Enquiries should be made to the publisher.

Consultant Editor Ray Coffey.

Printed by Everbest Printing Co Ltd, China.

National Library of Australia

Cataloguing-in-publication data

Morgan, Sally, 1951– .

My place.

ISBN 978 0949 206 31 2.

I. Morgan, Sally, 1951– . [2] Aborigines, Australian — Biography. 3. Women, Australian (Aboriginal) — Biography. [4]. Aborigines, Australian — Social life and customs. I. Title.

944 0049915

To My Family

How deprived we would have been

if we had been willing

to let things stay as they were.

We would have survived,

but not as a whole people.

We would never have known

our place.

The hospital

The hospital again, and the echo of my reluctant feet through the long, empty corridors. I hated hospitals and hospital smells. I hated the bare boards that gleamed with newly applied polish, the dust-free window-sills, and the flashes of shiny chrome that snatched my distorted shape as we hurried past. I was a grubby five-year-old in an alien environment.

Sometimes I hated Dad for being sick and Mum for making me visit him. Mum only occasionally brought my younger sister and brother, Jill and Billy. I was always in the jockey's seat. My presence ensured no arguments. Mum was sick of arguments, sick and tired.

I sighed in anticipation as we reached the end of the final corridor. The Doors were waiting for me again. Big, chunky doors with thick glass insets in the top. They swung on heavy brass hinges, and when I pushed in, I imagined they were pushing out. If it weren't for Mum's added weight, which was considerable, I'd have gone sprawling every time.

The Doors were covered in green linoleum. The linoleum had a swirl of white and the pattern reminded me of one of Mum's special rainbow cakes. She made them a cream colour with a swirl of pink and chocolate. I thought they were magic. There was no magic in The Doors, I knew what was behind them.

Now and then, I would give an awkward jump and try to peer through the glass and into the ward. Even though I was tall for
my age, I never quite made it. All I accomplished was bruises to my knobbly knees and smudged fingermarks on the bottom of the glass.

Sometimes, I pretended Dad wasn't really sick. I imagined that I'd walk through The Doors and he'd be smiling at me. ‘Of course I'm not sick,' he'd say. ‘Come and sit on my lap and talk to me.' And Mum would be there, laughing, and all of us would be happy. That was why I used to leap up and try and look through the glass. I always hoped that, magically, the view would change.

Our entry into the ward never failed to be a major event. The men there had few visitors. We were as important as the Red Cross lady who came around selling lollies and magazines.

who's here,' they called.

‘I think she's gotten taller, what do ya reckon, Tom?'

‘Fancy seeing you again, little girl.' I knew they weren't really surprised to see me; it was just a game they played.

After such an enthusiastic welcome, Mum would try and prompt me to talk. ‘Say hello, darling,' she encouraged, as she gave me a quick dig in the back. My silences were embarrassing to Mum. She usually covered up for me by telling everyone I was shy. Actually, I was more scared than shy. I felt if I said anything at all, I'd just fall apart. There'd be me, in pieces on the floor. I was full of secret fears.

The men on the ward didn't give up easily. They continued their banter in the hope of winning me over.

‘Come on sweetie, come over here and talk to me,' one old man coaxed as he held out a Fantail toffee. My feet were glued to the floor. I couldn't have moved even if I'd wanted to. This man reminded me of a ghost. His close-cropped hair stood straight up, like short, white strands of toothbrush nylon. His right leg was missing below the knee, and his loose skin reminded me of a plucked chicken. He tried to encourage me closer by leaning forward and holding out two Fantails. I waited for him to fall out of bed; I was sure he would if he leant any further.

I kept telling myself he wasn't really a ghost, just an Old
Soldier. Mum had confided that all these men were Old Soldiers. She lowered her voice when she told me, as though it was important. She had a fondness for them I didn't understand. I often wondered why Old Soldiers were so special. All of these men were missing arms or legs. Dad was the only one who was all there.

I tried not to look directly at any of them; I knew it was rude to stare. Once, I sat puzzling over a pair of wooden crutches for ages and Mum had been annoyed. I was trying to imagine what it would be like being lopsided. Could I get by with only one of my monkey legs or arms? That's what I called them. They weren't hairy, but they were long and skinny and I didn't like them.

I found it hard to comprehend that you could have so many parts missing and still live.

The Old Soldier rocked back on his pillow and I sneaked a quick glance at Dad. He was standing in his usual spot, by the side of his bed. He never came forward to greet us or called out like the other men did, and yet we belonged to him. His dressing-gown hung so loosely around his lanky body that he reminded me of the wire coat-hangers Mum had hanging in the hall cupboard. Just a frame, that was Dad. The heart had gone out of him years ago.

Once Mum finished having a little talk and joke with the men, we moved over to Dad's bed and then out onto the hospital verandah.

The verandahs were the nicest place to sit; there were tables and chairs and you could look over the garden. Unfortunately, it took only a few minutes for the chairs to become uncomfortable. They were iron-framed, and tacked onto the seat and across the back were single jarrah slats painted all colours of the rainbow. When I was really bored, I entertained myself by mentally rearranging the colours so they harmonised.

As Mum and Dad talked, I sniffed the air. It was a clear, blue spring day. I could smell the damp grass and feel the coolness of the breeze. It was such an optimistically beautiful day I felt like crying. Spring was always an emotional experience for me. It was
for Nan, too. Only yesterday, she'd awakened me early to view her latest discovery. I had been in a deep sleep, but somehow her voice penetrated my dreams.

‘Sally … wake up …' Even as I dreamt, I wondered where that voice was coming from. It was faint, yet persistent, like the glow of a torch on a misty night. I didn't want to wake up. I burrowed deeper under the mound of coats and blankets piled on top of me. In my dream, they were heavy and lacking in warmth. I wrapped my hands around my feet in an attempt to warm them. Sometimes, I thought coldness and thinness went together, because I was both.

Every night I'd call out, ‘
Mum …
I'm cold.' And then, to speed her up, ‘
Mum … I'm freezing!!

‘Sally, you can't possibly be.' It was often her third trip to my bedside. She'd lift up the coat I'd pulled over my head and say, ‘If I put any more on you, you'll suffocate. The others don't want all these coats on them.' I shared a bed with my brother Billy and my sister Jill. They never felt the cold.

I'd crane my head over the moulting fox-fur collar that trimmed one of the coats and retort, ‘I'd rather suffocate than freeze!'

Nan had only to add, ‘It's a terrible thing to be cold, Glad,' for Mum to acquiesce and pull out the older, heavier coats hanging in the hall cupboard.

Now, sitting on the hospital verandah, I smiled as I remembered the way Nan had rocked my sleepy body back and forth in an attempt to wake me up. It took a few minutes, but I finally came up for air and murmured dopily, ‘What is it? It's so early, Nan, do ya have to wake me so early?'

‘Ssh, be quiet, you'll wake the others. Don't you remember? I said I'd wake you early so you could hear the bullfrog again, and the bird.'

BOOK: My Place
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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