‘The Rally Is Calling’: Dashiell Moore Interviews Lionel Fogarty

By and | 1 February 2019

DM: When was this Lionel?

LF: This happened 1974, and maybe five years before that. I don’t know the exact date. Johnny Koowarta took me under his wing, taught me traditional things. I didn’t know he was involved with the Higher Court trying to get recognition for his people in Aurukun. I think I was put in touch with him by the traditional people because I was facing those charges at the time. He had a silent talk. Actions speaking louder than words. He spoke language of course. I didn’t know it. A few words. ‘How you going?’ all that. But at that time, show me what I knew of the painters when I small – showing me when I was small. Showing me the net over it, to go fishing and things like that. To cut the story really short, well I have to cut it really short because so much happened. I need a secretary. Anyway, I went up to Weipa, and they arranged me to go up to Mapoon, and organised a book tour. A good experience really, Kevin Saunders, Kevin Smith, Saunders was a part of the NAC, National Aboriginal Consultancy, and Saunders was part of the Basically Black television show based in Sydney. He was my brother at that time.

The old people told me, ‘we heard about your story, we want you to write it, where you come from’. So I started, but most of it was scribbles, hard to read. Cheryl kept all of that. That was when she moved down Melbourne, started the Black Resource Centre. In 1976, she didn’t fall pregnant straight away, but we had a collective of people in Roma, created a collective of people, maybe fifty people, coming from Reserves down south, wherever, lots of people. I was pretty active then at that time, well before I met Cheryl, I was given by Denis Walker to go stay at John Garcia, and at that time, I read Franz Fanon, and I wasn’t a very good reader, I used to dab in bits and pieces, but I read Wretched of the Earth, Black Skin White Masks, and the Autobiography of Malcolm X. At the collective, I used to express those things. I think that boosted my confidence in speaking my opinions, not through a Negro eyes, or African eyes, but as an Aboriginal, coming from the Kimberly, and other places too.

DM: When you said you took inspiration from Franz Fanon, what were you looking for when you were reading those books?

LF: I think I was looking for intelligence. I was starting to hate the white man, even the white men married into our families. You wouldn’t say I was a racist, but a product of the troubles of the time. I despised everyone. What that reading did was boost my understanding that there is more to the picture than hatred or violence at the time. You had to produce something wise. It boosted me to look for wise elders, the elders who picked up the fight on Land Rights. Land Rights in those days, by the way, meant earth rights. Not the backyard, but earth rights. That’s what it meant. But today, everyone thinks it means Native Title, but the philosophy and real meaning of it is lost. That’s what I learnt when I took up the resistance fighters. That’s how I understood the aggression and violent outspoken people in rallies. I couldn’t understand the emotion of the people when they spoke out. I realised the emotions had to have some sort of a braininess about them. It was difficult because no justice was coming anywhere, not much solutions until I got involved with the Housing, the Legal Service, the Medical service. Then I started to see a little bit of justice, a bit of positiveness. But most of the time this was all talk, going to the marches every week you might as well say. Going through the conspiracy charges, that gave me a buffer zone to understand what is illegal, what is legal, what is a prison, what is not a prison, what is the mentality of the prison, what is the provocation of what makes you go to prison. And it let me to understand what suicide is. When I was a young boy, they had fifty prisoners in the jail they made there. The key was lost. Someone lit a fire and smoke was everywhere in the prison. I experienced that happening. I had to get the keys from three kilometres away to get them, while everyone was coughing. A couple people died at the time. The records don’t show that. But when I was small that happened. I had to watch that. I grew up with that.

When I went back home, when I wanted to go back home like my own community in Cherbourg I got kicked out for being known as a black power shitstirrer, being involved with Denis Walker, all these radical black people. Soon as they found out you are involved with them, they get the message back to the council, you were banned. If you don’t have a piece of paper from the director, you get either six months in jail, or maybe a 200-600 dollar fine. We had to sneak in the back of the community, come in for the night, and then go out. Sleep out in the bush. This was how we saw our families because they banned black militants.

DM: How did those experiences align with your reading? Did you note any commonalities between over here and over there?

LF: That was just books. Right? When I ran into African people who’d experienced South Africa and Rhodesia, Jim Beruski who I met in Melbourne and he then came to Cherbourg. He said it reminded me of home. He gave me a good idea of the closeness of what they were going through at that time. This is not a book by Franz Fanon. This is not a book about someone writing about the struggle, this is a real human being telling me about familiarity with our struggle. And it’s the same with … in 1976, I think I was off the charges by then, and Cheryl took the opportunity to go to America, and we met up with a North American treaty council which was set up by the Lakota people in South Dakota, run by Dennis Bates Russel Means, Clyde van Delorous, he writes some incredible books about Native American history. About two days before that they were going and shooting up Native American people. Same thing as with Station Master Jackie coming to the mission having fun shooting at the Blacks, the same thing was happening in Roebuck reservation. They were going out and shooting them. So they influenced me a lot the Native Americans, wasn’t so much the Black Americans. They only influenced me on the basis of politics when I was in the Black Panthers Party.

DM: With the civil rights movement?

LF: Yeah with the Pete Newton, Bobby Seale, solidaire brother, George Jackson, his books really influenced me a lot. I used to read his letters to connect with him, a pan-African thing. When I saw the Native Americans, they influenced me spiritually. They influenced my spiritual intelligence to continue the fight and the struggle. I don’t feel stolen, you know what I mean? I felt coming from a reserve and knowing about people being taken away and things like that, I always felt like most of my families that I was connected to (would say) ‘ah I know where I come from, I just can’t get there’. When I was young, driving in cars very young, with older people travelling Country, we used to say we can feel our ancestors here, but I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. They felt ancestral wrongdoings when they were travelling. Later on I was looking into the facts, when I knew it was a massacre area we were travelling through that were covered up. That was when I wanted to dab into political writing. But I can’t write a political thesis. I can’t write something intellectually about the history. I have to take bits and pieces of that, in the format of poetry, which really was how my own family were resisting by writing letters, to the mission manager, bailiff managers, to find out where their children were taken to, either jail, or another place. So a lot of children were taken away, but never came back, and families used to write. These writings weren’t kept of course, and the authorities wouldn’t have kept it anyway, the station master was thinking in a hundred years he could get implicated here, so either burn it, flame it, or hide it away. This was what influenced me in how to write.

DM: You’ve brought up in other interviews that you’re a mosaic reader, taking bits and pieces and putting them altogether, is that true of your writing? Taking bits of other books, archival records, headlines, and putting them together?

LF: Yeah, but I wasn’t copy-catting! I was creating my own ideas and style to understand those factual things that were happening. I didn’t read as much as I should have read back then. If I did, it would have influenced my style of writing more. I am glad that I didn’t read as much as I should have, it left me the space for my own creativity. I look back and when I was writing some of those stories or poetry, ‘Housing of All Times’, ‘Unforgotten’, I needed to find my own space, my own creativity, my own thought, not copy-catting someone else. That’s why I found that this feeling or flow gave me the sense of creating an intellectual thought-wave to give to people. I didn’t feel like I was creating egoism, it’s all about me you know? In some cases, I wrote one poem about my son, but I wanted to put into the perspective of earth, and the perspective of a world understanding of family care. Of course, this kind of thought in my writing attracted the anarchists at that time. Word was going around about me and it wasn’t going into the formal university …

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