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A loss without anything to focus on

Wesley Enoch on loss for the Indigenous community.
LAURA JAMES: Wesley, this reminds me of the story of Eva Maynard who got so little of her sons’ possessions. Both of them died at war. And I was wondering, do you think that this sense of loss, is there a difference with indigenous communities?
WESLEY ENOCH: Look, I think that there are universal stories of, you know, and how much you’re going to– how can you measure what’s enough to get back? It’s very tricky. But I think for indigenous families, there’s a sense also of cultural and spiritual loss, the sense of, well, you’re never able to do those ceremonies. You can’t to go through this grieving process that’s articulated in culture, you know. The information that that young man may I have in terms of dances or stories that have been passed on to him, who do they get passed on to? There’s so many complicating factors here. I guess the thing for me is, yes, there is the– you’re not going to get the watch.
Or there may not even be a diary or letters. Who knew, they–
LAURA JAMES: The material possessions.
WESLEY ENOCH: There may not be material things. But as the others– the sense of the stories and the loss, which are pretty universal. But also, the idea that indigenous– let’s say, the mother in this case. Her ability to travel and do a pilgrimage and go to these war graves is almost impossible. They’re not citizens. They don’t get passports or able to travel, can’t get enough money to do it anyway. So even the sense of even hoping that one day you could is never going to be there. So that it’s a loss– a loss without anything to focus on. I think that’s why sometimes these letters are so cherished.
Or the medals are so cherished because they’re the only material thing that they can ever have hope and attach hope to and have this connection and maintain this connection with their loved one. So I think it is magnified for indigenous Australians.
LAURA JAMES: Which is why it’s so sad when you’ve got Alexander McKinnon’s mother whose medals– she wasn’t even allowed to have them.
WESLEY ENOCH: It’s tricky stuff. I mean, what’s fantastic nowadays, though, is that there are new ceremonies coming into being. And talking about Rufus Rigney, again, and his family out of Raukkan, when I went and visited the grave of Rufus Rigney, I went to Belgium and I immersed myself in the memories of that place. And I remember going to the war cemetery, and I was with a Belgian guide. And he went over to look up with a little piece of paper where Rufus Rigney’s grave was. And I said, no, no, no. I can see. I can see it. Just over there. He said, what, what, what? And there’s this aboriginal flag that’s kind of taped to the side of it.
And you get close, and there’s flowers there. And there’s little certificates. And there’s a picture of him that’s been laminated and stuck onto that. And you get a sense that there’s this real connection. When I went and talked to his family in Raukkan, there’s this whole programme called Connecting Spirits, and that they will go over with either a group of school kids or their own family members as well and go over and do a ceremony where they take some dirt from his ground, his land, from Raukkan, they take that over, and they put that on his grave. And they take some dirt from his grave. And they take it back to his country.
And they sing into the grave site both through didgeridoo and through singing. And they do a ceremony as a connection of that spirit so that he can find his way home. Now, I guess 100 years ago, aboriginal people didn’t have that option. But now, you see their descendants with great sense of pride, both cultural pride but also pride in their service– in this case, Rufus Rigney had. And that sense of connection for the next generation is amazing.
REBECCA WHEATLEY: Wesley, you talked a little bit about before the distance that we’re now at, that we can perhaps recover the stories that have been marginalised or forgotten and were perhaps too uncomfortable previously. Have you found the Indigenous community open to bringing these stories up again? Because we found with the One Hundred Stories project, the public is quite enthusiastic to hear their stories. And do you think there’s sometimes stories that can’t be brought up? That there’s some that need to remain hidden away?
WESLEY ENOCH: Look, I think the keepers of those stories, well, they’re responsible for it. And maybe that’s the case in point that a lot of indigenous knowledge comes with responsibilities. And why should they tell the story to someone they don’t know, all that kind of stuff? That it’s not just the right to these stories. They are are sometimes very personal– personally held stories as well. And when we were doing the play, we would try to go, ooh, do we tell one person’s story? Or do we actually create, if you like, an amalgam of the truth to tell the story? And that’s what we end up doing.
We went to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and looked at their definitions of “truth.” Well, they talk about a personal truth, the truth you believe to be true; a forensic truth, the truth that can be proved through documents and science; a sense of an official truth, the truth that was told to you by others, by government, or by official sources; and this idea of what they call a healing truth or a community truth, the truth you tell to bind people together, and that, sometimes, the personal truth and the healing truth have some separation that your personal truth might be one of trauma and pain.
Why should you have to share that with people if you don’t want to? But you can sometimes share it because it is going to be healing for others to tell that story. And so for me, 100 years on, there is pride in that service. There’s real pride in that sacrifice, and that the pain has not dissipated, but it has been passed on, is able to move from a personal sense of pain to one of true healing and healing for others. And if anything, the story of Indigenous Australians in World War I is one that heals us all, and I think is a story of ambition, a sense of “how can we return to the things that we have forgotten?”
LAURA JAMES: Thank you so much for joining us today.
WESLEY ENOCH: Oh, it’s been great. It’s been fantastic. Thank you so much.
REBECCA WHEATLEY: We couldn’t discuss all the stories we featured in this week’s module. We have given priority to those powerful indigenous stories– stories that aboriginal playwrights and historians, like Wesley, are doing so much to recover. If you would like to view any of those stories that we’ve prepared, the full contingent of the “One Hundred Stories,” you can visit us online.

Watch Wesley Enoch discuss loss for the Indigenous community.

A list of supplementary readings from the interview with Wesley Enoch is available from the Downloads section of this step. We hope you find it useful.

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