Murphy listened with intent, as the man on stage spoke. The topic was Aboriginal Education, and the speaker knew his stuff first hand. Murphy listened, and took notes. He had much to learn here, and he didn’t want to miss a thing. He reflected what he knew of this man’s life, and the struggles he had overcome.
Kim had been an orphan. He had been the last of fourteen children his English parents had chosen to adopt. All his brothers and sisters were Aboriginal as well, from different families. Growing up, the parents encouraged him to explore his own culture, as well as embrace life in the wider community. That had also meant embracing the reality of racism.
The bus driver had refused to allow Kim and his siblings to board the bus. Too many blacks were bound to cause trouble, he had told Kim. One of the other kids left the bus, and knocked him to the ground. He had gone home in tears, and the bus driver had laughed. They had all laughed. After that, he had ridden his pushbike the ten miles to school every day.
His brothers and sisters had the same problem, so he took some comfort knowing it wasn’t just him. They rode their bikes together into town, figuring there was safety in numbers. The town saw it as a gang of blacks out to cause trouble. Kim and his siblings just wanted to go to school.
Murphy had met Kim when they worked together on a remote Aboriginal community in Central Queensland. Kim brought six years high school teaching experience with him. Murphy had never taught in a high school before, and found it difficult. He found the culture shock hard to deal with as well.
Murphy recalled the first week that they had started working at the school:
It was eighty kilometres from the nearest town, and two hundred kilometres from the nearest city. The community had almost two thousand people in it, and only twenty-three non-Aboriginals, including Murphy.
Kim and Murphy had formed an almost instant friendship. Both recognised their need for support in dealing with the hard task ahead of them over the next year. They acknowledged each other’s professional skills, and the benefits they could offer to each other.
Kim seemed introverted when they first met. Even in his late thirties, at the beginning of the new millennium, he still found it hard to adjust to the prejudices that exist in society. His previous school, in western New South Wales, had been a bad experience for him. He believed his skin colour to be the reason for his non-acceptance by the other teachers there. He had decided to come to the community, where he felt better able to fit in.
Murphy soon learnt that Kim had a playful side. At the end of the first week, he had suggested that Murphy accompany him, and a few of the other staff, to the local social club. A few beers after work sounded good, so Murphy had agreed. As they walked into the crowded brick shed, the other three, including Kim, walked off in three different directions.
Taken aback, he realised they were having a bit of fun with him. It dawned on him that he was the only white man in the building. It also became obvious that he was the focus of attention from everyone there. He cast a quick look at each of his three workmates, and knew they were testing him. They all wore wide grins, and watched with interest to see what he would do.
He smiled, appreciating the practical joke they were playing on him. He walked without changing pace to the bar, and ordered his drink. He moved to the end of the bar, and sipped quietly on the beer. A man he’d never met before walked up to him. This man appeared extremely drunk, and spoke to Murphy in a loud and aggressive slur.
“This pub’s not for white men,” he said. For the first time, Murphy felt a little alarm. He saw that everyone had gone quiet, and were all looking at him. He felt scared, but tried to keep a calm appearance.
“I’m sorry. I just came down for a few beers after work with some friends,” he said. The drunk man seemed angrier. He leaned in close to Murphy and spoke into his face.
“You’ll be even sorrier when I finish with you,” he said. Murphy felt fear surge through him, and recognised the potential danger he faced. If this crowd turned on him, he was dead. Or so he thought. Kim and the other two came back to Murphy’s side. Kim spoke to the drunk man.
“It’s OK, Campbell. He’s passed the test,” Kim said.
Campbell laughed, and put his arm around Murphy’s shoulders.
“It’s OK, brother. I’m not really drunk,” he said, ‘We was just havin’ a bit of a lend of ya.”
After that, Kim had taken him around to meet the people in the club. Murphy felt relief at the friendliness they showed, and the appreciation they had for the teachers trying to help their kids. It was the first of many such tricks that Kim had played on him. All of them had an underlying lesson.
Murphy came back to the present, and perused his notes. He had learnt a lot from Kim during that year. He had learnt a lot about Australian Indigenous cultures. Kim had taken him to community functions, where he had learnt a lot about the problems facing Aboriginal people.
Few people knew the special achievements Kim had made. He had overcome the racism of his youth. He had completed a Diploma in Agriculture. Later, he had become the first Indigenous Australian to complete a full degree overseas, studying education through an Australian university in Fiji. Now, ten years later, he was sharing his experiences with others, who recognised his expertise.
Murphy never forgot that first lesson in the social club, where he had received a small taste of the fears that many indigenous people go through every day. He had seen Kim was the guest speaker at this seminar, and accepted the invitation.
Kim finished speaking, and came over to him.
“A few of us are going for a beer at a pub over on the west side,” he said. “Meet you there about five?” Murphy wondered what he had up his sleeve this time, and accepted. He was always happy to catch up with Kim. They shook hands, and he walked away smiling.