Kick the Tin, by Doris Kartinyeri.
Kick the Tinn, by Doris Kartinyeri. Spinifex Press (2000), Paperback, 140 pages.
A painful, often angry autobiography by an Australian Aboriginal woman from the Lost Generation, who was taken as an infant from her family.
Doris Kartinyeri has taken for the title of her book Kick the Can, a game she often played with the children at the orphanage where she was raised. Like the tin can of their game, she has been kicked around by others who had little real interest in her. When her mother died because of complications from her birth, she was taken away from her family to be raised in an orphanage. None of her family’s efforts brought her back to them. On their rare visits to see her, they seemed like strangers.
For her first seven years at Colebrook Home, the orphanage was run by two women, known as sisters although not Roman Catholics. Despite her absence of family, Kartinyeri describes those years as perhaps the happiest of her life. The women who ran the Home were loving to the children, who in turn loved them. The children had both good care and the freedom to play and invent their own activities. Although from a wide range of Aboriginal groups, they bonded closely and even developed their own language. After the sisters left, however, everything changed at Colebrook. Overly strict, ever-changing administrators took over and forced a rigid Christianity on the children. Abuse by the staff, including sexual abuse, took place. In the face of these changes, the children depended on each other.
At fourteen, Kartinyeri was taken from Colebrook and put by the Aboriginal Protection Agency with a series of white families as a domestic servant. At first she received no money for her work. In one family she was abused by a man who claimed to be an extremely devoted Christian, a fact difficult for her to comprehend. Eventually she worked for pay in a nursing home and began to have a life of her own where she met other Aboriginals. She had no purpose or direction and drifted into pregnancies and marriage. The government did little to help her get established in the world beyond the orphanage. As she tells her story, her need for family intensified as she reached adolescence and had no support in finding a place for herself in the adult world which she encountered. Finally, she returned to her family’s home region and attempted to join the community there. Lacking the skills and even the language of others in the group, she was still an outsider. Then she began to have severe mental problems and was repeatedly hospitalized.
Gradually Kartinyeri regained her composure. Perhaps the medical care or writing about her life helped. Maybe she finally found community, both with extended family and with those who had attended Colebrook with her. At the end of her book, she and others are involved creating monuments on the site of their old school, commemorating their time there. With them and with her children and grandchildren she seems to have found joy again.
Kartinyeri is a strong person who writes will a strong voice. Her anger at those who removed her from her family, and the Australian government which allowed them to do so, is certainly justified. Stories told by Sally Morgan and Rita Huggins confirm that her experience was not unique. Her story is a forceful statement about the pain caused when colonizers seek to control native peoples.
I recommend Kick the Can to those interested in Australian Aboriginals and to all willing generally to face the complexity of the world we have created.