A personal take on racist language 87



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I’ve never told anybody this story before.

61 years ago on the veranda of the Infants’ Class Room at Tambellup School, I called Valma Eades ‘a black boong’. I remember the year precisely because the Infants’ (Year I) Room was separate from the rest of the school, and I sought out Valma on the veranda. This veranda was up two steps from a bitumen path. I was a skinny five-year-old white boy, and Valma must have been seven. She loomed over me.

But where on earth did I find the expression ‘black boong’? It was not a term that our family used. I think I had heard the town kids whispering it, and I wondered what the reaction would be if I used it directly on an Aboriginal person, so one play-time, I sought out Valma Eades and I called her ‘a black boong’. Her reaction was instant and strong. Her fist landed under my jaw and lifted me off the veranda into the air. I landed on my back on the bitumen path.

In that instant of painful encounter first with Valma’s fist and then the hard bitumen path, I learned that Valma was right and I was wrong. Even though I was only five, I learned that it was wrong to use racist names against Aboriginal people. Even though issues between children should not be resolved through violence, in this case, Valma was right to give me a swift, sharp lesson.

You see, I lived on a 4,000 acre (2,000 hectare) family farm that until 100 years before had been the summer range of Valma’s great-grand-parents and their family group. On our farm was a freshwater lake that we called Lake Toolbrunup. Each year for 40, maybe 50 thousand years until just the end of the 19th Century, large groups of Noongar people had gathered at Lake Toolbrunup at the end of summer to enjoy its water, bountiful fish and cool shade. Now it supported our sheep.

How this farm had come into the possession of our family, and the white people from whom we had bought it, neither Valma and I had any idea.

Valma, on the other hand, lived with her parents and brothers and sisters in a canvas tent, 6 foot by 4 foot, on a reservation on the edge of town. A trough at the end of the line of tents boasted one cold water tap between two tents. Their only heating in the bitter Tambelllup winters was an outdoor wood fire. To keep warm, kids burrowed into the sand near the fire. Valma’s mother cooked over this fire.

There were Aboriginal children at the Tambellup school who camped with their families on our farm, as on other farms. They lived in tents and brush shelters. Their diet was kangaroo, sheep and damper. We knew, vaguely as six-year-olds, that the feared Mister A.O. Neville, Protector of Aborigines, had prescribed the places where Aboriginal families could live and who they could live with.

However this exchange of land had taken place, Valma and I were brushed with this history. There was unfathomable sorry business between us. And this history was, and is inscribed on every Australian girl and boy. None of us can escape the fact hat we live in the shadow of a gigantic land swap.

White Australians booing Adam Goodes is always wrong, just as calling Valma Eades ‘a black boong’ was always wrong. And if Adam Goodes is strong enough to stand up and fight back, it hurts, just as Valma Eades’ uppercut hurt. So it should.


Share your thoughts below.

Ted Witham

Ted Witham lives with his wife Rae and energetic Jack Russell dog Lottie in a Retirement Village in the beautiful south-west corner of Australia. His articles on Australian music teachers have appeared in Limelight and Insight History, and he enjoys writing short stories and poetry. He is currently attempting a novella and receives great encouragement from his writers' group.


  2. The first step is to admit wrongdoing. Thank you for this simple expression of support for Adam Goode. He deserves it.

  3. Ted Witham, than you for sharing that experience and I must admit I teared up reading it, my heart aches for Aboriginal people who have not had all the advantages in life and are treated unfairly. They are people just like us and it is so unfair and cruel to treat them as if they are not. thanks again I will read that again today

  4. I don’t know that it was a land ‘swap’ but rather a theft. This is so beautifully written. Thank you Ted.

  5. I was brought up in a town where we had an aboriginal orphanage, so I played with the kids. We weren’t racist, I didn’t know that word. However I remember mum saying I wouldn’t be able to bring my friend home to play with me. Not sure why? But think about that a lot.

    7 REPLY
    • I also found out about 10 years ago that these kids were part of the stolen generation. It made me feel sad.

    • because she was black….that’s why & you don’t have to use the word racist to be one….your parents thought they were better than the aboriginals so you were not allowed to associate..

    • No don’t think that Shelley. More like my mum was naive, lack of understanding. She was a beautiful loving person.

    • There are plenty of beautiful loving people who are racists. Racists are not obvious monsters or the like. That’s one of the conundrums. There are also plenty of racists who don’t believe their actions or words are racist.

    • Racism needs to be called out for what it is but I’m the first to admit that’s not always easy, especially when it’s likely to cause angst, arguments, upset at an inconvenient time. But until we do, we won’t defeat it.

  6. Thank you for sharing that. I am ashamed of how we have treated the Aborigines. I don’t know how to fix it. But sure hope we learned something from the vitriol that came out of some people’s mouths against Adam Goodes. I stand strong and tall beside Adam. He is a champion – and even champions are vulnerable. Through all the brouhaha on social media against Adam I made a really nice friend whose mother had experienced similar to Adam’s mother. I feel very sorry our ancestors have treated the original inhabitants of this country so shabbily. I stand with all Australians that are against racism. I pray for strong leaders and have little respect for the current lot. Nonetheless – i am now vocal against racism here in this country.

    7 REPLY
    • I think the people who complain about Goodes has little to do with his culture , more that they don’t like him as a person .
      That is their right . We don’t all have to like someone just because they are indigenous .

    • There is always an underlying current, experienced and seen it. Walked away from it as was taught to me by my beautiful Mum.

    • I just can’t stand Adam Goodes not because of his skin colour but his attitude. It doesn’t matter what country you come from there is always some small minded people who are racist.
      You cut yourself we all bleed red blood.
      Not black, yellow, brown or white.


    • Adam Goodes incites the crowd with his war dance and the crowd retaliates. Not because he is black, but because he is arrogant attitude.

    • That’s your choice JanStewart, have you met? My choice is to embrace people and see what makes them tick I have learned so much. There is always a good side to people. I prefer to look at the positive rather than the negative and it has held me in good stead so far.

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