I have just re-watched a film, after 37 years, called Manganinnie. I have a strong memory of seeing this film when I was in Grade 6, in 1980 and my sister in Grade 5; my mum kept us from school to take us to see this movie. It was the story of an Aboriginal woman whose tribe is driven from the land on which they lived in Tasmania. She was the ‘fire-keeper’ of the group, she transferred the fire from one to the next. Not knowing how to make fire, they had to keep a fire-stick going. Manganinnie finds a little white girl with red hair, Johanna, after Manganinnie’s tribe has been ‘disappeared’ (driven off and murdered) and Johanna follows Manganinnie into the bush. It appears to be many months that Johanna lives with Manganinnie in the bush, learns the language and custom of the ‘singing river people’ and in the end, Manganini returns Johanna to her own family and leaves to die. The way that Manganinnie rolls over and dies in the film has troubled me. How convenient… the Aboriginal woman has ‘realised’ the time of the ‘singing river people’ is over… and she dies. The end. There was so little mourning for her, except by Johanna, and certainly nothing for her people. The whole fact of the murdering of Tasmanian Aboriginal people is glossed over with off-screen violence, a couple of gun-shots and the unanswered question of what really happened to Manganinnie’s tribe. Perhaps the optimistic viewer might decide that they got away, phew! (Got away = driven off land, by the way. Hardly a good option.)
It has mystified me, as an adult, that my mother took me to see this film. My mum was no activist with regard to Aboriginal rights or health or ANYTHING. For my mum to take us out of school for anything was simply unheard of. In fact, I remember only one other time going to the cinema as a child and that was to see Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday. The cinema was not something my family had spare money for. But, somehow, this film warranted our time and attention…and money. I seem to remember Mum feeling that this was something that the school should have taken care of, exposed us to, initiated the conversation about. But, we never, EVER has this conversation at home. Not once. Never.
I was reminded of all this the other week when I dropped my daughter at a friend’s home and I met the parents for the first time. We stood in their front yard and chatted about the schools in the area, since our daughters went to different ones, and they spoke about how much they liked their chosen private Christian school, where they were happy she was ‘learning good morals’. This conversation also included not wanting to give their money to the “Chinese people” who had the local Fish and Chip shop, because “why should they?”.
Are they hoping their daughter will not learn this racism from them? Is this one of those ‘morals’ they were talking about? Or, were they just talking about the skirt length of the uniform as opposed to the state school’s… because that came up in conversation as well.
This idea that the school is supposed to be teaching something that somehow we’re not able (??) to teach at home is hitting me between the eyes. We hope our kids will not be arseholes… I’d be mortified one of mine uttered the words “I’m not a racist, but…” but for crying out loud! It’s up to US. Not the school.
So, I’ve got the DVD of Manganinnie now, and I’ll be sitting with the kids to watch it and telling them that people who looked like them and me did these awful things. My school didn’t tell me that. My parents didn’t tell me that. I don’t want the same for my kids.