Caught Between Worlds – Kiara Sutton, Year 12 Student

The following is a memoir written by Year 12 student, Kiara Sutton.

As I look upon the horizon and watch the sun slowly set, as I’m drawing shapes in the sand, my nan begins to talk about my great grandfather. She talks about the complex fabric of his life at the Roper River Mission, his building of St Andrew’s Anglican Church, and his Anindilyakwa language. But she also talks about when he was taken to the unknown land, disorientated, isolated, abandoned. And how he could hear his mother screaming, begging, despairing, while the missionaries stole her children, ripped them away from her, away from their land.

When my great grandfather was sent to the Emerald River Mission on Groote Eylandt, he had arrived in an unknown place where they had spoken to him in an incomprehensible language of guilt, redemption, and salvation. And so my great grandfather’s displacement led to my family’s displacement then my displacement. His story is the ghost that follows us around. See my family is not recognised as a people. We are Wrong Skin. We are displaced. We are Mara people on Warnindhilyagwa land.

In 2020, I’m currently in Year 12 at a boarding school in Sydney, seeking to take advantage of the opportunities that my family would have never dreamt. Rewrite a story where it was always white versus black, and white was the winning majority, black the uneducated loser. While it was hard being away from my community, coming to Kambala helped me to discover the persistent need for change for me and the future generations of Aboriginal people. To create a world of multicolour fabric, not just black and white.

But moving to a big city like Sydney has not always been easy due to the majority of people having a lack of understanding about the complexities of our displaced heritage. Every year my school dedicates one assembly to the celebration and recognition of my people. A chance for others to “discover” the past and work towards a future where non-Indigenous and Indigenous people can be a part of an inclusive community. However, it is somehow during these times that I am reminded of how sporadic this recognition is and how little people understand about the ramifications of the ironically titled Aborigines Protection Act 1909-1969.

Because, you see, I am caught between two worlds and in both, I am displaced. While our culture is all about making connections and ties to the land even within the country that I grew up in I felt displaced. At home, I was an outsider looking in, but it wasn’t just me, my whole family was affected by this. People think that culture is closely related to your skin colour, and at home, to the people there my family and I were not dark enough and we would constantly be referred to as ‘half-caste’ (which hurts even more as it is a derogatory term used during the stolen generations).

So I write this to begin a dialogue.

A dialogue that tells of always being taught to be proud of my culture and Aboriginality. A dialogue that speaks of my great grandfather whose ghost remains a big influence, even though he was a part of the Stolen Generation he created his own identity that embraced the displacement.

A dialogue about growing up on Groote Eylandt and how there was always something missing. Once my nan told me the story about my great grandfather I understood why.

A dialogue that speaks to our ongoing connection to place and people. Because as I look upon the horizon and watch the sun slowly set, I don’t see black and white, I’m drawing shapes in the sand, as my nan begins to talk about my great grandfather.



Yalari respects our Elders, past and present, and acknowledges that our office is on Kombumerri country within the lands of the Yugambeh language group

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