We hear it all the time that ‘’age is just a number’’ but how do Baby Boomers really feel about that sentiment particularly indigenous people? Do they view ageing in the same way as the non-indigenous population? For this episode, Booms Day panelists join forces to share their insights regarding the issue of ageing among the indigenous population.
Wayne Bucklar: You’re listening to Booms Day Prepping, our regular weekly podcast having a look at issues that concern Baby Boomers. And today, we’re joined by our regular panel – Bron Williams, Glenn Capelli. We’re also joined by a special guest, Robert Henderson. Robert can introduce himself shortly, Drew has got some questions for him and my co-host Drew Dwyer is here as well. Drew, good morning to you and would you like to lead us off?
Dr. Drew Dwyer: Good morning everybody, welcome today’s special podcast. We’ve chosen this subject today interestingly because I want to bring to the table of the podcast and the discussion the ideas, influence, suggestions, and thoughts and feelings about ageing when you are a person of indigenous background or indigenous culture. And is it a contrast? Is it the same? What is different and how diverse and how do we feel, the difference between cultures when we look at ageing and how people age and experience growing older? So I welcome our guest and I’m really interested to have this conversation today. I want to open the panel discussion by having a general discussion. Is it an experience that ageing is universal and is it the same for everybody as human beings? And if it is not, what makes this different or feel different and what difference does age have in relationship to culture and diversity? So there’s my first question and I’m going to ask Glenn Capelli to open up the floor because Glenn has invited our guest along today. From a Western and wide-cultured background, what your expectations and experiences is in this question of ageing and probably being white more or less, Glenn?
Glenn Capelli: More or less, Capelli with an I so Mediterranean background. But let me start off by saying my mate Robert Henderson, Hendo and I have known each other for a long time originally because we’re both members of the Professional Speakers Association and Hendo was putting together the youth conferences for professional speakers organisation and I just love the work that he was doing. And then sometime later, I had the joy for a number of years to be working in the lands. Now the lands are some of the most remote communities in Australia. In fact, there were 14 communities which makes them some of the most remote communities in the world. And I was going out working with the elders and working with the potential young leaders and they called me at one stage and said, “Listen on this next trip, we’ve got a guy coming in from Brisbane. An indigenous chap who does some art. He’s an artist and his name is Robert Henderson. You reckon that’ll be okay.” And I went, “Hendo, he’s fantastic!” So what we learnt from the lands is something I’d love to be able to get into but I’d also sense that you as an individual are sort of like as we all are a “microcosm of the macrocosm” and you’re part of the bigger picture of all indigenous but you’ve got a unique story yourself. But some of the things you’re doing with your life through your art, through your business, I’ve also got some perhaps potential solutions for some of the areas of what’s happening in life itself. But one of the things to just start with is when we are on the lands and the indigenous connection to land, the indigenous connection to the place that they are in to me is something that will help all of us with our health. But at the same time, it becomes a huge challenge in that some of them are losing their land and there’s even been political quest to move them off the land because it’s not paying its way. And I think that contributes to some of the ill health of any human being when they’re not literally grounded. But one of the things that I saw and knew in the land is a sense within myself to just that love of the red dirt, the love of spending time. And when a world gets really, really busy, city life really, really, really busy, I’m not sure that that is hand-in-hand for the health of the indigenous communities and some of the folks that we were seeing in the lands, when they didn’t get dialysis treatment and had to leave their space and their place and that wasn’t contributing to their ongoing health. So share us memories first of all mate of the lands and what it teaches us and maybe what we can learn from indigenous.
Robert Henderson: Thanks Cap. Yes, it’s complex. I can only speak for myself I guess here, but it’s a bit of a commonality. We’re not separated from the land, we are the land, their ancestors are with us, they’re not separate to us. And it’s a part of our well-being rather than health that we have that connection. In connection to country, so to give you like an example of the complexity, again I’m Wiradjuri. So Wiradjuri goes from Dubbo, roughly a bit north of Dubbo out to Lithgow in the East and then out past Condobolin in the West. I wasn’t born on country, I’ve never lived on country but when I go back there especially around Bathurst and Cowra, everything goes 4D like the clouds. I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. But you know when you’re on country because you feel it. You’ve got a different connection and it’s not in those small way adds to you and puts more than the snap in your shorts. It’s nurturing, holistically nurturing. I’m suffering at the moment because I haven’t been on country, I’m in touch with my elders on a regular basis which is one sort of way of continuing that connection. But I really need to get there and get a bit more than a recharge, it’s a reinvigoration, it’s a recharge, it’s a reconnection. It sharpens everything up I guess. It kind of focuses things because a lot of our communications in another kind of realm, it strengthens that as well. And that was really strongly present when we’re out there, the wave of colonization broke in the East first, Wiradjuri was the second wave, out in the middle and then when we went out there with, that’s a little fellow of mine. He’s nine now. But I was sitting with his mum and having that yarn in the orchard there, she couldn’t speak English. Well it was like a 9th language for her or something like that but she spoke very little. But she was one of those girls that came out of the desert in the 1950s so that’s when colonization was apparent then. We talk about the dialysis and that, in this is his sugar in the diet sort of thing, we got a raging sweet tooth and Sugar Bear that’s hard to get. It’s made of honey and that’s hard to get, we don’t process it well and when these old fellas or young fellas are on dialysis, when they need to go on dialysis often, that’s the last time that they’re on their country and for them to die off country is, I don’t even know what the adjective is strong enough for it is.
Dr. Drew: Hendo, can I ask you a question? Has your connection to land as an indigenous person got greater and stronger as you’ve aged? Is it the same when you were young for you and is it growing stronger as you’re getting older and where do you see this connection in the future of you getting much older as an indigenous man?
Robert: I only got 9 years to go, on the national average, I’m 55, I’ll be dead when I’m 64. So you know, tick-tock. Look, it’s hard to explain, I just spent two days in the rainforest up North and I’ve been reinvigorated. But it’s nothing compared to going to your own country. Like I said skin wise I’m Wiradjuri, land wise on the border of Wangal and Cadigal. I was born in Balmain in Sydney so my land responsibilities sit there. So I also have a connection there and then because I was so young when we moved up the Sunshine Coast, the Kabi Kabi land, I’ve got a connection there but it’s more of an emotional one than anything else. It’s not my country. I live on Yagura country and I guess the importance here for me is that I’ve approached the two senior Yagura elders, it’s who was the National Art Gallery of last year and Uncle Eddie Rasfir and I’ve asked them both permission to live and prosper on their country. So I don’t know, it’s Wiradjuri, big on manners and big on protocol. So yes, we attend to all that where we can on our way through. Sorry, if I’m not answering your questions.
Dr. Drew: No, that’s okay and that’s good. I ask, will you make a decision for yourself as you get older? And my advice as a gerontologist is to stay away from the coke because that’ll put you in the grave faster than you think.
Robert: Powder or liquid?
Dr. Drew: The liquid. But is it going to be a choice for you do you think? Will you become more focused at the end stages of your life not knowing where they are of course? But will you be wanting to move to country that is more connected to you or are you going to be happy to finish your life off in living in a country or what you call country that isn’t natural to you or where you’re from?
Robert: I don’t know is the short answer. It depends leads into the long answer. The further I go along, the more I need to connect back to my country but that’s probably because of the work that I’m doing and when I say work, it’s kind of business more than work. This is just for me personally but I find the need to recharge and reconnect. It’s shortening in intervals whereas previously when I was probably a bit less focused culturally, it was probably happening but I didn’t realize that I was depleting. So yes I guess, and as far as dying is concerned, I’ll probably get hit by a tennis ball or fall under a taxi or something like that and that could be anywhere. So the amount of times I’ve had the close calls and all that’s that sort of thing, I’ve got no idea mate, it’ll be something odd though and I don’t know when it’ll be.
Glenn: Hendo, with saying 64 is the age that in Australia, is that the indigenous male age of death of average?
Robert: Yes Cap, a mate of mine, real good mate of mine who is three years younger than me, looked fit and all that but had stress and had been sweet tooth and all that, he dropped dead about three months ago in Rocky, sitting on a sofa, having a having a cup of coffee just massive heart attack, dropped dead. And the further you go along, the younger your contemporaries are dropping. It’s just happening over and over again. I’ve got another fellow out from prison, he’s been happily, he’s been granted compassionate parole which is brilliant. He’s actually in a palliative care now, he’s sort of cancer in that. But he’s my age and he’s a little older than me maybe. And this non-indigenous people get cancer in our age too but it just raises up rapid, it really does. And it’s old people’s diseases and younger people are dying.
Dr. Drew: There’s a lot of science and epidemiology around these factors which are very interesting if any of the listeners have an interest or concern to have a look at why and why the impacts are on indigenous people. And I use the term “indigenous” broadly, you see the same statistics in Indians, in African Americans, in indigenous Australians and it’s quite a common occurrence. But the interesting factor is that science itself and the health professions have gotta focus in it and trying desperately to work out how they can ameliorate some of these factors to make life better. Hendo I have a question in regards to respecting elderly and how elderly people are perceived in the indigenous culture. As I know in the White culture, we’re fastly losing and have been losing for a long time in certain sectors of the culture, the respect that we have for our older people. How is the respect for older indigenous tribes? How does it look? Is it still as strong as it used to be? Is it falling away and where do you see it changing or remaining the same in the future?
Robert: You’ve got a couple of different dynamics there. There’s people that are old, people that are elders and there’s people that call themselves elders. And in the Eurocentric kind of dominant paradigm scheme of things, the government puts inverted commas our elders groups together to attend to, get out of prisons or whatever and then they may contain elders but invariably, they contain people that have just got a few years on them. So in our cultures, as far as first nations in this country are concerned, regardless of whether they’re German elders, regardless of whether they’re kind of put in to do a job by the government, you still give respect. Well let’s say I guess that’s the other thing too, age, chronological age doesn’t denote whether you’re an elder or not. One of my go-to elders is younger than me, Uncle Bill Allen is my go-to elder and there’s somebody that just levels you out, there’s somebody that has knowledge, is that okay if I give you a quick for instance?
Dr. Drew: Yes, absolutely. That’s interesting conversation because I do wonder and I know many in the Queensland Health Department but as you say some of them are quite young people and I’ve got a good sense of humor, I don’t mean to be prejudicial to anyone but I do laugh and think, Elder? How does that work when they are young people? It must be tribal because they’ve been around longer or they understand more that’s why I asked this question.
Robert: It’s kind of what information you carry, it’s how you carry yourself. In Wiradjuri culture, our central law is Yindyamarra. Yindyamarra means, it’s basically how you carry yourself in eldership, regardless of whether you’re an elder or not in my opinion. It means to be gentle, to be kind, to behave honorably, to be slow, to consider, to not be critical and in times I mean, with us, like I said we’re the second wave of invasion, we were the second sort of hit from the frontier wars. But violence or physical encounters are the very last thing, the absolute last measure that we’ll ever go to. We’re always about sitting down and talking about things. So just in my day-to-day living, my challenge is to embody the attitude and the mindset of eldership regardless of whether I’m an elder or not.
Dr. Drew: Hendo, are you an elder or considered an elder by other indigenous people?
Robert: It depends who you ask. I would say a bit of myself no, but you find most elders will say that too. Like it’s one of those things, the last person you want to be a politician is someone that aspires to it really. If you just do your thing and it’s more about being focused on others than it is on yourself. You’ve got a cultural responsibility so the embodiment, I guess, of my cultural responsibility, a part of it is to spend every Friday in prison. I do that to sit with the brothers out there, to offer an ear, or a word, or some ideas or whatever it is. I don’t consider myself an elder in doing that. I just consider myself to be doing what it is that I’m meant to be doing. It’s a responsibility.
Dr. Drew: Can I ask your age?
Dr. Drew: You’re a Baby Boomer Hendo.
Robert: Yes, I’ve been told that earlier. I was hoping for Gen X, but you know, whatever.
Glenn: Hendo, you might remember when we were right out in the middle of the gun barrel highway and there was rain coming in everywhere and we’re working away with some groups that was just sensational, one of the elders there was probably the quietest elder or person I’ve ever met, didn’t really spoke in the room. And then we were out on a break from the curriculum that we were teaching, if you like, and there was a group of youngsters 200 meters away from us and this elder whistled a certain whistle, made three hand gestures when they looked towards his whistle and then all the youngsters went. So he is quiet but his authority was from this range of whistles that he would do and these range of little gestures and everybody would instantly understand him and get it. This whole idea that leaders have to be the charismatic people with funny hairdo as opposed to this beautiful man showing a quiet leadership. So again, I think there’s something we can learn from the lands and from the middle of Australia.
Robert: Yes, I recall that moment Cap, and signs are so strong out there that verbal language is really kind of the second language in a lot of ways. But I think it’s that respect that you spoke of. I suppose my experience, I work with people like Archie Roach who I always refer to as Uncle Archie Roach. I call Archie, “Archie” because we talked about it on the way through and we’ve got this mutual kind of respect for each other. But then there’s Uncle Jack Charles and Uncle Jack I would always call like I wouldn’t even ask because Uncle Jack, he spent his birthday up in the gallery here last year, his 74th birthday. He’s in boys’ home, he was in prison, all these amazing things that he’s endured and thrived through. And now his thing is, it’s ceramistful, ceramister? It’ll come to me, but he’s a ceramicist inside prison. All he wants to do is get back in prison, teach culture, sit down, look to the current generation and how they can learn from his experience and that’s eldership. And Uncle Jack actually speaks overtly about it. It’s his eldership that is the expression of his aboriginality, in his words not mine. And he exudes it. It’s not an announcement, or a badge, or a title, or a webpage or anything like that. You know when you’re in the room, where know even when you say not a lot. I’ve never heard such a big noise come from such a little man.
Dr. Drew: So Hendo, we have conversations on this panel for our listeners and one of the topics we discuss is spirituality and connection as we grow older and how particularly when we do get older, a lot of older people start to connect more heavily with religion or culture and with spirituality. Now I’m going to ask Bronwyn who is our resident spiritual person because she’s very heavily educated and in the spiritual space. She’s a salvo, of course our listeners know that ex-salvo, she’s Christianly orientated. And as a female and as a white person and as a spiritual person herself, Bronwyn have you got a question for Hendo that relates to the listeners and their thinking of spirituality and indigenous ageing?
Bron: I’m not sure that it falls directly in the realm of spirituality. But as I was listening to you Hendo, I was just aware of, like you said, you were born Wiradjuri, have lived in other lands and you seek commission. And as someone who house sits and doesn’t have a home of my own, I feel a sense of disconnection. Often I’m looking for a place, a place to call home. And my question was given that you’re born Wiradjuri, you’ve lived in different places, you’ve moved as a child, you seek permission to live in someone else’s lands, do you feel a sense of disconnection or shattering in this sense in which you pulled in different directions in terms of home and place?
Robert: If I may, I’ll answer in two ways. The sense of disconnection, Cap knows I’m not broadly travelled. So my first overseas trip was a couple of years ago which was to Thailand and it was disconcerting in a massive way for me because I couldn’t feel the ground. It felt like I was walking on a sponge above the ground or something like that. I just couldn’t feel the connection to it full stop and it was really disconcerting. Once I got in the water, it eased but probably for the first 6 days, I must have been look like one of those, when the cats got the sticky tape on their feet which I don’t recommend, but that sort of thing. I couldn’t feel the ground under my feet and it was really challenging. In regards to the other aspect, I’ve never felt at home until quite recently in my life and I think mainly, I spent a lot of time in the streets, I spend a little time hitchhiking and I spent a lot of time homeless when I was a young fellow. But I think the important thing is that for me, although I’m quite sort of prominent in the local community here, I’m not from here and that’s my kind of proceeding attitude towards anything that I do here. This is not my country. I am not from here. I ask for permission, I offer my respect and now Cap got me to do an opening for the national speakers fairly recently. To do that as an example, I contacted my elders and asked about wearing a sacred white ochre and also some red and speaking in language and for us to do it right, I had to contact Uncle Eddie on behalf of our elders, I asked permission to wear the ochre and to speak in language and then to offer him a gift of white ochre and if none of that came together, then that wasn’t going to go ahead. I’ll be speaking English, I wouldn’t be painted up, etc. So I think this is why acknowledgement of country and as a preference of welcome the country by our traditional owner is to go because it reminds people of whose country it is, it reminds people of the deep or intrinsic connection to the history, to the space. It’s like a statesman kind of aspect, you care for the land and the land cares for you, you are the one thing. So yes, I always offered my respects and take it as a responsibility. If I hear any acknowledgement of country that I take is tokenistic, I’m up on my feet straight away and say, “Listen, you’re not getting why you do this. It’s about that respect and about acknowledging that this land and these people have been here since the beginning, etc.” But nowadays, it’s a personal thing I feel at home wherever I am. Sometimes a little too comfortable but having said that, there’s nothing like being on country when I’m on country that the rest of the world is if you had your color TV knob and yet you just bring everything down about half a slide compared to being on country. I hope that helps.
Dr. Drew: I can understand this. Hendo, I’m a columnist. My family, unfortunately came to Australia 200 years ago on the first fleet in chains as prisoners. And recently, I took my family back to Ireland, I’ve just had my DNA done specifically and of course 90% Irish background and 10% English. But I took my teenage children back through Ireland and I can honestly say, I and my children actually had a very deep connection with being in Ireland and feeling “Ireland” as you say, under your feet in the ground. And it was a bit of a shifting moment because Australia is my home and I come from Australia and our family of course has been here 200 years but it’s a very short time. It’s like a speck of sand on the beach. But I do appreciate it for the first country’s people and appreciate that stance. But I find as we age as older people and I consult and talk to my older patients, many of them have a connection to something else other than what is them as Australians and yet they still have a very strong sense of home and being to Australia depending on how long they’ve been here. My question is do indigenous peoples recognise this in non-indigenous peoples and what is your thoughts on non-indigenous people who like for myself I know nothing else except my family has been here in Australia for 200 years?
Robert: I don’t know what it’s like to be a non-first nations person so it’s difficult to comment on that regard. The thing is, and I mean this with the greatest respect, as black folks we sit around and yet over and over again, like I live on the sunny coast. I’ve been here for three generations, well oh yeah? Even for a couple of thousand or tens of thousands, how many it is. So it seems incongruent to to attach importance to such, it’s a geographical, It’s just my opinion I don’t mean to be disrespectful.
Dr. Drew: No, it’s pretty hard to offend me mate. I’ll give you time. I find these interesting conversations and generally conversations that people tend to stay or steer away from. So to take the opportunity to hear an indigenous man’s point of view in such a space because many of the elderly that I do work with and I do have the privilege of working with some indigenous elders when I go to Cherbourg and places like that. But mainly for Anglo-Saxon Witan and other diverse cultures, there is a sense of connection as we age stronger to where we come from. And I find as a counselor that this is something that I do end up counseling with my patients. So my question was, do you think and do you feel, because I’m interested and I know our listeners will be, do indigenous peoples ever give a thought to the fact that, “Yes, we are very short timers here, however, many of us do still feel a connection to what you call land and what we call Australia?” Australia is my home and I can’t think of another home but as I said, I did experience a connection to Ireland and do you think that is the same with you as an indigenous person? Was I connecting with my heritage and my tribe and where I actually do come from down the long lineage of blood?
Robert: No, I’m not end of blood. It’s a eugenics kind of foci that is perilous and it’s really the antithesis of what we’re about here. The Nazis had a predisposition towards eugenics so blood doesn’t really interest me. I’m about culture. Everything we do is about culture. I happen to produce works of art that are visual but if you put the gossamer type of the arts and you drape it down across our culture, you’d nail all the Eurocentric favorites plus some, and I guess as far as the culture is concerned, I’d give you the example. My longest probably standing mate, not chronologically the longest, but Wayne Weaver is our business partner. He gets blacks. He in no way pretends to understand what it’s like being black but he gets it. He spent time in Bhagavad prison from 84 until it’s shot. His best mate was Teddy Watson and Teddy Watson’s marry fell from around here and they made some significant changes. He really understands black fellows but he doesn’t have the connection and I don’t know what connection white fellows would be talking about, I really don’t because like with black fellows, the land is us, we’re not separate to it. With white fellows, the lands aren’t you. So you’ve got something going on and I applaud you for it but I don’t know what it is. And my recommendation would be to spend time with black fellows and spend time developing a relationship because I don’t know what a longing, I actually don’t know what it is. I’ve got no idea what it would be. I think, going back to Ireland, that’s your culture. Maybe in my opinion, you’re Australian, but look I don’t identify the Australian, I identify as Wiradjuri or first nation. Australia is the construct that got put out as a bit of propaganda 230 years ago. It’s not our country. It’s something that’s been put up by the Europeans.
Dr. Drew: I do have some good black fellow mates so I might try and spend some more time with them.
Robert: Some of my best friends are black fellows, I was waiting for it.
Dr. Drew: I went to school in Griffith, I was born and raised in Griffith in New South Wales. Tell me as a black fellow, does death fear you and when you get older Hendo, is death something that the indigenous populations think about and discuss and talk about or is it a taboo subject?
Robert: It depends where you’re from. Up until Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations, a note to your listeners, that wasn’t an apology to black fellows, it was an apology to the Stolen Generation and warranted as well. But as far as you know, death concern, mate, we have no separation, I know the people that are dying in custody, I know the family they all awfully got baked in a police stand in Western Australia being transported. I worked in palliative care for a while and it’s a good way to find out a bit about yourself.
Dr. Drew: Did you do that, may I ask? Did you do that Hendo with indigenous patients or mixed?
Robert: No, I was an equal opportunity provider. I didn’t ask but doing sorry businesses, I think that might be what you’re trying to ask about it but doing sorry business is a very different thing about death. That’s how we process grief and unresolved grief is a killer, that’s the thing that’s killing most people, most black fellows in Australia is unresolved griefs, why people are swinging from trees on a daily basis. We’ve got a charity together called the “Wayne Weaver Foundation” which actually just that the main thrust of what we do is to provide funds for prisoners to be transported to and from funerals. You mentioned Cherbourg, there’s three to four to five days a week there, either in community or people that are from that community. From Rockhampton South or even from Maryborough South, that’s 12 facilities. Men, women and children are being directly impacted three to four to five times a week without being able to attend the services of family and community members. So the unresolved grief presents then behaviorally as a mental health presentation, etc. So people are doing longer sentences than they need do, they’re coming out more damaged than they went in which is kind of a thing in prison anyway.
Dr. Drew: In regards to dying naturally, is it a fear and what is the fear? Because many white people, when I deal with them in a palliative approach, it is a sheer fear of dying and it is the sheer fear of what they’re leaving behind or what death will be like as an experience. Is it the same for you as a black fellow or is it a different experience to think about death?
Robert: I think you get desensitized, it’s just what it is. But it’s quite similar with birth really. It’s running in reverse in some ways. It’s still an unknown quantity, you are still uncomfortable. But it is what it is and if you had families that dye in your arms, is there a better way to go? I don’t think so. If you don’t know what that’s about, I reckon you’d be fearing mortality and all that sort of jazz but I don’t know about other black fellows, I can only ever speak accurately about myself and then sometimes it’s weird too. But I say that I’ll be back. So my whole aim, I don’t care if I don’t see the outcomes of the work that I’m doing, this is a black thing. Your aim is to be lying down the ground for your grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids and if they see the benefit, particularly when we’re working around trade or being recognised or unbroken sovereignty to be recognised, etc., I’m not going to see the outcome and that I’ll be long gone by then but the work will continue. So it’s, you know what I mean like, it’s a given.
Dr. Drew: So Hendo I’m was asking you, as an indigenous fellow, do you think about retirement? Is retirement an issue – savings, pension, Supers, and the standard space for retirement for Australians? As an indigenous Australian, a first Australian, is it something you give a thought to now as a modern man or is it something you just don’t even think about?
Robert: I’m not indigenous Australian, I’m a Wiradjuri.
Dr. Drew: Right. You have to take my ignorance of not being a Wiradjuri, I don’t understand. So the question is just broadly offered.
Robert: I’m getting used to it. I’ll tell you the reason I keep saying I’m only answering for myself because what tends to happen is that audiences that aren’t first nations tend to go, “Oh, there’s a black fellow talking, and now I understand black fellows.” Well, you actually don’t. But this is why the likes of Warren Mundine and others get up on a regular basis and make problems for quite a few of us.
Glenn: Hendo, four Jewish elders got together and had 19 opinions, so it’s very similar I think sometimes.
Robert: Look, the idea of retirement for me, I’ve just blown an investment property and I don’t know when the last time I drew a wage was because we’re putting together a business that attends to the every representation of first nations people in any system you don’t want to be a part of, but basically in this one, we’re looking at corrections because we want to attend to reducing the residuos rate. And so our main focus, business is something we just don’t get paid for. So if I was particularly worried about retirement, I don’t know that I’ll be heading in that direction. The other thing I think is the socio-economic hardship of many of my countrymen. I mean you hear about this black middle class and it is a thing. But gee, physically underneath that black middle-class, you’re walking into not hard times, you’re walking into abject poverty with reduced opportunity to prosper, with bias, with bigotry, with a whole range of different stuff, plus health issues. I don’t know any black fellows of the plane. I do, I know one black fellow that’s planning on retirement, Uncle Adrian Padmore, he’s a social servant, public servant. He is the most connected fellow you ever want to meet on the planet, if you want to find out anything. He’s been a public servant as a career man and so he’s planning a retirement but it’s because at some point, I think he is now in his very like 60s, he’s working, I don’t think he’ll actually leave because of the good that he can do in what he does. So I don’t know, a bit of a foreign concept to me, I can’t speak for other fellows. I don’t know anybody, I really don’t know anybody that’s planning on, unless you talk about politicians or people that work in the mines or something like that. Maybe. You said that’s a socio-economic kind of aspect I guess that makes the difference.
Dr. Drew: It’s a Western thinking, it’s a construct of Western societies. We know and we absolutely talk about that in our podcast. But tell me, do you have children Hendo?
Robert: Depends on who you ask. Black fellow, I’ve got two sons actually, I’ve got five now. I just picked up three recently. A really good mate of mine asked me as a senior person to take on these three boys in the next part of their life which is culturally what you do. But no, I don’t have any biological kids but I got two young fellows who have been in each other’s lives for 18 or 19 years now and they’re in their early 20s.
Dr. Drew: And as a Baby Boomer, how does that bring a factor to your life? Is that a responsibility that you take on in a real concerning way as the same as a normal parent, grandparent would of a younger person?
Robert: I don’t know about the normal ones, but with me, what happened was I started a relationship with their mother and then at the same time, so I began a relationship sick-legged unit and that’s just sort of how we hit it. And I think prior to that, I was working with Kids Helpline, our culture really is about storytelling, it’s about parenting, it’s about a whole lot of other things on the way through. But as far as parenting is concerned, you don’t have to be the inseminator to be a genuine parent. I think in a lot of cases, if you turn them up and if you look at the Eurocentric kind of angle of it I guess, if you don’t have the biological responsibility and you continue to turn up and you continue to, what is it summer and winter the whole thing, you’re probably stepping up a bit stronger. That was the making of me, as soon as I didn’t have any profits based or time anymore and got through that. But look, I got brought up in a particularly violent family. We had loaded weapons pointed at us all the time. I was sort of brutalized right through until I could get out of the place. So having to learn who I am in that regard, having care and the responsibility for young people has really been the making of me because it’s nothing about the parenting that I grew up on there is useful or healthy.
Dr. Drew: I want to move a question if I may. I’ve just recently come back from Broken Hill which I called the “Planet of Broken Hill” but I spend some time out there means of health services, got to media and connect with some really good first nations people and they gave me a book and the book is about dementia and it’s the story and the explanation from the aboriginal point of view on dementia and the book is called “The Eagle Who Comes and Takes.” And I don’t know if you’re aware of these stories, probably doesn’t come from your tribe but I ask the question because when I go through the book, the aboriginal picture and the artwork, it’s gorgeous. But it tells the story and explains the story for indigenous health workers and other health workers how to communicate with dementia with a first Australian. And that is their story is the Eagle that comes and takes the memory from the mind. Is this a usual concept of storytelling to explain things that we know like dementia? Hendo, do you do these types of stories and can you tell us a bit about this?
Robert: Something more likely to be told and to be honest than to tell them. The eagle is common. So in Wiradjuri culture and there’s a lot of different things and then down south it’s a different name again. And then a friend of mine who’s the senior song man for “The Bachelor Mob” and his grandfather’s country’s up the Gulf and I applied didge up there. And when you applied didge, I had one water and a vinegar but you do sort of breathing in it and when you do that particular part of your burden, you’re letting the old ones know that you come in the way that the eagle came and bought the didge down and it’s the interaction, it’s the song or the interaction between the spirit world and us or our old ones and us. I think a lot of black fellows would resonate with the notion of the tale of the eagle coming down and doing whatever because in my experience, we love eagles. I mean there is that thing down Gippsland and a whole heap of them would kill, just abominable, how can you do that? But as far as other stories are concerned, it’s I’m more of a listener and although this podcast probably wouldn’t support that but I’m really in favor of the ratio of ears to mouth and using them in the ratio that they were placed there because it’s not an accident. So use your ears twice as much as your mouth and so you get told a lot of stories. But I think that’s brilliant, just that little part that you’ve told about working with dementia and using our stories to bridge that gap then, great.
Dr. Drew: It was a great thing. I was presented the book, I have it on my shelf at home, it’s a beautifully presented book, small book but the artwork, the story, the way it tells it is just fascinating and as I said they do use it to communicate with first Australians with dementia to educate their families and other health workers to understand this is the way that the story is told so that we can understand dementia in a first nations’ way. And I just find that fascinating.
Robert: I suppose that’s the angle on that to educate the providers.That’s brilliant, good stuff.
Glenn: It resonates with me in terms of that really deeply spiritual song where the eagles, the West Coast eagles. There’s a part of every brain I think that learns by metaphor, that learns by story, that learns by song, and movement, and visual and that sort of art that you’re creating. And again, I think it’s something that indigenous people across the planet, the Maori get it – movement, music, metaphor, story and if we lose this and if the Western mind doesn’t develop this, then we lose the real connectivity of us as human beings I think so. And that whether it’s educating medically or however it is Drew, I think that they’re beautiful approaches for all human beings and I think the indigenous message really strengthens that and what we can learn from it and learn to it. So with your own art Rob, I know that you tell stories through that and it’s absolutely brilliant, and beautiful and dynamic. People should know the “Henderson Gallery” is in Brisbane and it’s worth a visit. If only for a coffee, if you don’t want to look at the art, it’s a great cup of coffee they make. But tell us when you’re creating art, I think it’s that true flow. It’s almost something, where does it come from within you? Is it the story from age old or what?
Robert: Well I think firstly with art, I don’t know what I’m doing and it’s very liberating because I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not arguably without talent or without skill but that all comes about from remembering the mistakes I’ve made. So it’s how you remember the mistake you made that looks good then do it one more time, forget it then move on, continue to do that. With the first 16 pieces, as you know Cap, I had a difficult experience as a young fellow around winning an art contest and I never did it again until 2012. And up between 2012 and 2014 or 2015, I produced the “43 face work collection.” The first 16 of them in particular, I suppose the first 9 or 10 of them, were stories from my mob from Wiradjuri around Bathurst, 18, 23 to 27 which was around the time that Martial Law was in place there which meant that the colonists could take land as long as you don’t have any black fellows on it. So there was significant massacres. Now I started painting these things and I was quite disturbed and in some cases, just physically ill. I’ve been producing these works but I didn’t consciously know the stories. And then was my elders that verified the stories. In one case, I painted something it was a really disturbing look. For some months, it was really just a horrible, it was finished but it was just a horrible feeling to it and we ended up to try and get a grip on what it was. We put the photo of it and made of black and white because it’s got white sort of spots on it, it ended up being a night sky in black and white, it was a night sky. And we sent that image to a researcher friend who’s an astrophysicist in Sweden with just the image and the words Central Southern New South Wales 1923 to 27 naked eye night sky. And that was the whole and I didn’t want to lead it anywhere and it came back pretty much straight away of Milky Way, that’s what you’d see looking up with the naked eye then in around Central Southern New South Wales or Central Western New South Wales. So people say, “You must be proud of what you do.” I’m actually not, what I am is particularly pleased that I’ve arrived at a place in my life where my ancestors feel that I’ve got what it takes to be able to handle the information and be able to handle the attention and manage myself in a recent sort of fashion and then the responsibilities of that platform, the responsibilities of what you do with that. But yes, it’s all about stories, like people make a mistake with art. The aesthetic is important and no doubt but it’s the lesser. Compared to story, it’s the lesser aspect – it really is. So it just becomes decoration without it. You know what I mean? Like it’s just a work. So I haven’t been on the brushes for a while but hoping to get back on before much longer.
Dr. Drew: Are you getting better at it Rob?
Robert: I got no attention span at all unless I’m particularly engaged. And so what I tend to do is I learn things quite quickly and then I try and make them do things they shouldn’t do and that usually ends up in disaster. But with art, it’s kind of the thing. I haven’t had any sort of education around it aside from cultural education but I don’t know if I’m getting better or not but I love that I’ll never learn it like that really keeps me engaged. My thing is not to do anything twice. So I find it a compliment to say like people can tell my work nowadays I guess but what I really like here and stored, you see a room full of my stuff, there’s 15 pieces and it looks like 15 different artists. That’s kind of my thing.
Wayne: Now Robert, time is drawing in on us but Glenn mentioned your gallery and I wonder if you could tell us where it is and where people can find it because I’m sure there are listeners who’ll be interested to track you down.
Robert: Brilliant, thank you. We’re at 92 Ernest Street in South Brisbane, we’re tucked away. Don’t be afraid if you can’t see it straight away. It freaks people out apparently when you see a whole heap of artwork and the person is standing in the room is the artist. Apparently, it’s meant to be somebody else, I don’t know what it is but we have a great pleasure in showing people through, telling them the stories. If it ends up in a purchase, it ends up in a purchase but that really we’re about relationships.
Dr. Drew: Is it open everyday Rob?
Robert: Yes, seven days a week, we’re seven o’clock start now and we knock off at three. But we will have a wine bar before too much longer.
Dr. Drew: Nice. That’s the way to do art.
Robert: I didn’t want to be the black fellow selling grub because I don’t drink myself but anyway apparently, I’ve got to let people make their own decisions about that – I’ve been told. So we’ll do the wine bar thing without too much.
Dr. Drew: It would be nice to have the choice.
Robert: Yes, absolutely.
Glenn: And Hendo, you’re just now down the South Bank I think in Brisbane or fairly close?
Robert: Yes, we’re about 25 meters sort of west of Merivale Street which is the Western sort of boundary of South Bank with the TAFE is there.
Glenn: So the cafe is already set up and running and good food and good coffee and say the art is an exploration and an adventure. But it’s also a deep connect, it’s not like just go and watch to an art gallery, it’s some other experience.
Robert: Thanks Cap. You’ve been awhile since you’ve been up. Most of the menu now is first nations so we’ve got crock roux, we’re making our own jams and supply and I think the core group is picking up some plum, rosella and bit around chili. You get people coming in who want to try a roux and it’s funny watching, it’s really good actually but we’re starting to get known for that menu.
Wayne: Now Robert, we need to wrap up but can I say thank you for giving your time today? It’s been fascinating to sit here and listen to you. As we record the podcast, I’m sure that our listeners will find it equally fascinating to hear it when we broadcast it. And I hope many of them decide to pop in and check out your jams and menu. I have to say crock and roux are always on the list of good things to eat for me. And thank you for sharing so honestly and openly with us.
Robert: Thanks for putting up with me, I really appreciate the opportunity. It’s lovely to meet you all, thank you.
Wayne: It’s been our pleasure. And for our other panelists, we might forsake our last comments because we’re running over time. But Glenn Capelli and Bron Williams, thank you for being with us today. Drew do you have a last word for us?
Dr. Drew: It’s been fantastic to have Rob on the show and it’s been nice, everybody now understands, I love culture and I like to use, and teach and counsel around culture in the elderly clients that I deal with. So it’s nice to have an indigenous touch of paint across the canvas today and hopefully we can get Hendo back to do some more of that stuff with us.
Wayne: You’ve been listening to Booms Day Prepping of the Baby Boomer podcast where a bunch of Baby Boomers get together and well basically, talk about being Baby Boomers. And today, our special guest has been Robert Henderson who’s joined us to talk about his perspective as both the Baby Boomers and the first nations man and an artist and it’s been a pleasure having him with us. If you’re listening to us on social media, down the bottom of the screen there are all those buttons – there are smiley faces, there are frowny faces, there are likes, shares and subscribes. Please click the buttons, we like to know you’re listening. I at least for myself have an ego and need to know that I’m not just talking here to my headset for the purpose of talking to myself. So please let us know you’re out there, please let us know you’ve been listening. And please if you’ve got questions either for Robert or for any of our other panelists, pop them in to any of the social media channels in the commentary, we monitor them all and we’ll either pass them on to Robert for his attention or if they’re for us on Booms Day Prepping, we’ll respond directly. This is the Baby Boomer podcast, Booms Day Prepping. My name is Wayne Bucklar.