The sorrow of failing to give our first peoples a voice, and the art of Boxing

On this sad day on which many of the people with whom I live in this vast country Australia have decided against giving a voice in parliament to our indigenous people, my cheeks are flush with shame. 

Yesterday as I took my place in the queue outside our polling booth noticed a man whom I have often run across in the dog park. A friendly man with a Jack Russell with whom my daughter and I compare notes as we wander around Fritz Holzer Park together. A man around my age, maybe a few years younger, who looks to be retired as he walks during the day on weekdays and has plenty of time to chat with the locals. 

There he was unashamedly advocating for people to vote against the voice for indigenous people and shutters went down on him in my estimation. I will never look at him in the same way. I will never be fooled by his ostensible kindness. I will never look upon him as a friendly person. He has dropped in my esteem, and I can’t see him clawing his way back. 

Not that he would try. Not that I would expect him to. I will not speak to him of my disappointment. No point. But I’ll not spend many minutes chatting with him in the dog park, however civil I might be. 

And much as I’m appalled at my sudden dislike of this man for his conservative and to my mind narrow politics I am appalled at how quickly I can lose esteem for another person. This is the stuff of the polarising effect of politics. The way government decisions can estrange tribes of people and make us enemies of one another. 

I’m as bad as the next person.

It was easier when I was little before politics entered my mind, though I knew my parents were concerned about issues like getting government aid to Catholic schools. I did not understand when they joined the Democratic Labour Party, the DLP, a conservative group that broke off from the Labor Party in 1955 to form its own tribe, largely with the support of anti-communist Catholics. Mainly because of the demands of their religion to get help to fund their schools. And from fear. The DLP has little traction these days, but my parents once admired them. 

The DLP was led by the formidable Bob Santamaria, a conservative self-seeking autocrat if ever there was one. But how were my parents to know? I did not participate in politics until the 1970s when the It’s Time slogan hit our airwaves and Labor rose to ascendance at last after more than two decades of Liberal party rule. My first taste of the joy of your party succeeding with all those hopes for a better future. 

The cyclical push and pull of life. The way political parties, if they do not take over as dictatorships can swing from right to left, from progressive to conservative over a decade all based on how they’re perceived to perform by most people who pitch their own vested interests against one another. 

I wore fuchsia coloured gym pants, close fitting, a type I have not worn before to my first day in a gym. I chose them from a variety of gym clothes not only for their bright colour but also because the young woman at the Bonds store who was helping me suggested they’d be right for the occasion. 

The occasion being my first ever in a series of classes I will attend over the next eight weeks called Left Write Hook, where I will learn the art of boxing and also have an opportunity to share my story with a group of other women, all of us carrying around a sack full of trauma from our pasts, some sacks heavier than others, but all of us suffering a type of disconnect from our bodies, which we developed as a way of coping when we were small. 

Yesterday, after we first met one another and shared snippets of our stories in an initial warm up we had time to write to various prompts. Short moments of writing, for four minutes only, and then we shared our writing if we were comfortable after which Maryanne our boxing teacher took us through our paces. 

A remarkable process whereby the shift from head and mind to body was palpable. When you learn to box, when you learn to raise your fits, well-padded in readiness for the gloves into fight position to protect your face, and you enter a different zone. It took me a while to adjust to the various movements: jab, cross, hook and upper cuts. To me a new language for ancient movements from decades gone by enjoyed by men but now anyone can try. 

I had thought it might be good for me. I had no idea how good. The business of doing something together with a bunch of strangers, all of us relatively new to the activity, all of us rusty except for our teacher and facilitator, and all of us bonding in a way that went beyond my expectations. 

Although I felt I had no right to be there given I had topped the age limit they recommend, I chose to put myself out there in my fuchsia leggings so that I might grow stronger in my body and not simply in my mind.

On this sad day when the Australian people have failed our first nations people in the most contemptible of ways, by failing to give them a voice, I have begun to find another voice, not one that comes from my throat, tongue and mouth, but the unspoken voice of movement. The voice of my arms able at last to express some of the feelings inside packed tight and let them fly.

They clinched it with this one. This bringing together of people with shared experiences of disempowerment as children and as women and aligned their experiences with an opportunity to share our voices, written and spoken and then to take our place on the floor, two or three centred around the vast black bags which we punch, those bags, the opposition of our lives. 

For the first time we can give voice and fists to all the inner energy pent up inside, and we do so at own pace. Swear, curse, and breathe. All in one as we make our way out of stiff frozen bodies into a state of movement that allows for growth.