A small but important new book is doing the rounds of western suburbs readers interested in Indigenous lives.
Noongar Man, the memoir of 68-year-old Clive Morrison, follows his life from living in a tent on a reserve outside Narrogin, where a mischievous boyhood led to an unruly adolescence. Clive ended up in children’s homes, reform schools and, eventually, prisons.
He counts himself as one of the Stolen Generation, taken from loving grandparents who brought him up, and incarcerated in institutions for misdemeanours including skipping school.
“I was pretty good at school work, but we hated going to school because the white kids used to call us boongs and niggers and say that we stank,” said Clive.
“Well, we probably did. We had to chop wood and light a fire to heat the water to wash ourselves and our clothes – by hand – and often we just couldn’t be bothered. Our clothes were mostly old and ragged as well, so it was hard to hold your head up when you looked and smelled awful.”
Clive documents his heartbreak and loneliness as “the Welfare” sent him to missions and reform schools where he suffered harsh treatment at the hands of missionaries and custodial officers.
When he was home on the reserve, he saw adults taking refuge in alcohol, so he too started drinking, from a very early age.
From the age of 11, he faced 111 usually minor criminal charges, mostly alcohol-related. And he spent, in total, nearly seven years of his life in prisons.
There are big chunks of his life he can’t remember. Alcoholism has robbed him of many of his memories.
But, along the way, he married, fathered a band of kids, returned to education, worked in schools and medical services as an Aboriginal liaison officer, bought and sold houses. But always, alcohol was waiting for him to fall into its trap again.
In 2019, Clive gave up alcohol for good.
And the person inside that drunken law-breaker was allowed to shine.
He now lives in over-55s housing in Fremantle, which he loves. And he works part-time with Indigenous men in Midland, helping them to turn their lives around.
He plays guitar, writes his own songs, enjoys his grandchildren and has a growing bunch of friends, many of them the people who had helped him turn himself around.
Noongar Man is a slim volume (fewer than 90 pages) but it encapsulates what is probably a typical life of a Noongar man.
If you’re wondering how to vote in the coming Voice referendum, this little book may help you find the answer.
To purchase a copy of Noongar Man, $25, email email@example.com