Alice Keath and Margo Neale with music by Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, produced by ABC Classic, 2021
ALICE KEATH: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners are advised that the following program contains depictions of people who have died.
MULTIPLE VOICES: This is us.
LEONARD GRIGORYAN: A bike.
MARGOT NEALE: It's like those prisms – depends on which angle you hold the kaleidoscope or the prism – what colours you’re going to see.
ALICE KEATH: That's Margo Neale, Head of the Centre for Indigenous Knowledges at the National Museum of Australia. She says that objects can be like portals to multiple histories to help us understand the past, reflect on the present and imagine the future. Just like this object, a bright yellow Swansea bicycle. It's a heavy cruiser with those great retro upright handle-bars, a wooden box on the front for swimming togs and a fishing rod; a leather seat and lots of room on the back to dinky the kids.
It's the kind of bike my parents rode when I was young. You might have had one too, and this bike was owned by a man called Darryl Hick.
MARGOT NEALE: I’ve seen a picture of him with his wife and two children mounted on this bike in the 70s – no helmets, no footwear or anything like that. It's a heavy yellow cruiser with no gears and he bought at a garage sale in the 1970s, and it earned the nickname ‘hernia’ because they – [Alice laughing]. Did you know about this subject?
ALICE KEATH: No
MARGOT NEALE: It was called ‘hernia’ because that's what you got when you road it on the hilly rolly inclines of Rottnest Island. There's a story about how a quokka which is a wallaby species that’s synonymous with the island got caught under his pedals.
ALICE KEATH: [laughing] Oh my goodness.
MARGOT NEALE: Cycling along and he's got a few scars – well he’s since past now – but he got a few scars to prove that. What's interesting about this to me is that this is about on the surface of Rottnest Island today. It's a popular holiday resort and there’s this lovely yellow bike and everyone’s sort of enjoying the island. But the irony is it’s so like the history of this continent. There's a hidden history. It's been overlaid with the British, Australian and other histories whilst lurking below the surface, subsumed below the surface, this tragic deep – well it’s a tragic history in even relative recent times. But there's deeper, deeper time even below that. Clearly was an unacknowledged history, certainly in the 70s.
Rottnest Island as you know had a prison, and there is a camping ground [that well as many burial sites] was truly a brutal disease-ridden, overcrowded incarceration site for boys and men, and there's some horrific stories about what happened there. As often what happens in prisons out of sight, out of mind and out in the sea, but clearly that history’s been uncovered, acknowledged and there's a whole lot of Aboriginal people involved in that. The camping ground that was discovered to be a burial ground is now close to recreational news.
ALICE KEATH: So how does this object help us understand and recognise that history?
MARGOT NEALE: The fact that this – by comparison almost frivolous yellow bike with holidaymakers on it was like let's celebrate and enjoy all this stuff we have now and not acknowledge the tragic paths which are being ridden over by the holiday makers, the visitors. This lovely yellow bike can become a portal to multiple other histories. One history doesn't have to deny another. We can own them all together and share responsibility together.
ALICE KEATH: That’s Margo Neale and here are the Grigoryan Brothers with a piece called Hidden Past.
[‘Hidden Past’ played by Leonard and Slava Grigoryan]
ALICE KEATH: ‘Hidden Past’ written and performed by the Grigoryan Brothers. I’m Alice Keath and This is us: A musical reflection of Australia was commissioned by the National Museum of Australia to mark their 20th anniversary. Head to the ABC Classic website to view the objects, find out more and buy the Grigoryan Brothers album featuring all of the music in the project.
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Date published: 09 March 2021