By Sid Prise
Key Themes: schizophrenia, australia, love, revolution
This book centers on a young Australian man named “Wallaby” in the early twentieth century. Though he is white, a “Balanda” boy, he was raised the first six years of his life in an Australian Aboriginal camp, until the government of Australia stole him and all the other children from his adoptive family, and raised him as a “white” child in Darwin. He leaves his home there at the age of sixteen, to seek his love, Mary Delilah, who has been sent away to a convent in Sydney. His journey to find her takes him to America, where he seeks her out for the next ten years. Along the way, Wallaby discovers the Industrial Workers of the World, a revolutionary union movement, to which he pledges his life. As a person “in between” black and white, Wallaby always sees American civilization as an outsider, even as he battles to make his way in it. Before he can find his love, he discovers many things about himself and the civilization he’s trapped in, and dreams much of its possible revolutionary future.
About the Author
Sid Prise is a writer and activist born in 1972 in Chicago. Sid was diagnosed with Undifferentiated Schizophrenia in 1997, following a prolonged mental and emotional crisis culminating in hearing voices, which he deals with to this day. He has been writing seriously since 1994, and published his first novel, True Faith, in 2003. More of his writings are published online at www.smallaxebooks.com. He resides with his partner, Kathy, and their friends in a collective house in Chicago.
My name is Wallaby. That’s the only name I can be sure of. I was an orphan, back in the days when people took kids in, just like that, without all this formality that later generations imposed on it all. They had to name me, when I was a baby; that bit of formality was observed. But my Granddad, who was not my blood but mine all the same, played a little joke on them all down at the home offices. He named me after two cities, Sydney, and Darwin, because he thought they weren’t real names, either, since he remembered the times before they were even there. Before the Balanda came, before all these white fellas and their women came and started having Balanda babies like me, to spread their filthy Christianity and their filthy diseases and all their filthy ways to the Yolngu people, the Aboriginal people, before all that, yeah, my Granddad was there. Or so he told me.
So my name for the records is Sydney Darwin, but I prefer Wallaby, or if you need a more “proper” name, Wallaby Syd. That’s the name I was called once, and took again. It’s my real name, and I take it proudly, because it’s important to know your name, if you ever want to do anything in this world. So I take Wallaby.
I never made the mistake when I was young to think things like the government of Australia, or the government of Darwin, or the government of the Northern Territory, was anything to be confused with the real Australia. The real Australia is full of dreaming. Places are alive, mate, and they’ll tell you their stories, if you can shut up and listen. So many Balanda don’t know how to listen. They’re deaf, and blind, and they think stupidly that it’s this deafness and blindness that’s what makes real sight and real hearing. Only when they’re really, really drunk, maybe, can they sometimes learn to listen, if they’re out in the bush alone, or on top of a high hill and watch the sunset, or the sunrise. But that’s the time white fellas everywhere laugh and roll to sleep, to forget about everything the next day but their hangovers. Nasty stuff, the Balanda medicine.
No, I never confused the government of Australia with the real Australia, and I find it queer that the people in America confuse their government with their country. I think it’s very queer that anybody does that, no matter where they’re from, but that’s just one of those queer things that nobody understands. There’s a lot of those things in this life. But, like my Granddad said, often and often he said it, the greatest knowledge is to know you know nothing. Some philosopher said that also, I believe. I’ve heard men in suits and ties talk about him, but they never really believe what they learn in all those books they read. Leastwise they never get any the wiser for it. Yeah, some philosopher said it, too, but I think my Granddad said it first.
Despite not knowing anything, my Granddad was called a “clever man” by the other Aboriginal people in that camp where I was left, foundling that I was, in a basket on his doorstep. That is, he could talk to the spirits. Dreamtime spirits, you know. He’d been taken up as a lad by those spirits, and brought into their world, and they gave him knowledge that was far more important than any book-learned variety the white fellas in their universities brag about knowing. He tried to teach me to talk to those spirits, too, but they took me away before he could teach me.
They took me away. They took all the little children away from the Aboriginal people in my village. Yeah, one day they just barged into camp and took us, to be raised in their schools, and learn their ways. They came without warning, and they left as fast as they came. I remember crying and reaching for my Granddad, but he was stony, like a statue, not looking at me, just looking to the horizon as I was carried off. I was angry at him for years, thinking on that. But those white bastards had guns, and they had numbers, too. I know now that there was nothing the old man could have done, and I’ve long since forgiven him. Forgiven him? It’s not really my right to demand an apology, and I know he could never have offered one. I remember how he kept staring at the horizon, as if waiting for death to come from the west, to carry him and the other old ones away. He did not cry. I was mad at this for a while, too. But I understand now that he must have been weeping horribly inside, but thought he should be strong for us kids. Either that, or he just didn’t want to give those Balanda bastards the satisfaction.
They gave us all new names, my brothers and sisters and me, and taught us to forget our old names. They told us they were “rescuing” us, redeeming us from the slavery of ignorance and savagery. They promised we’d soon like it in our new homes, soon like our new names. That’s when I learned I was called Sydney Darwin, and almost forgot the Wallaby my Granddad called me as a baby.
My brothers and sisters, see, they were all black, so they took them to the schools in Darwin, to be “educated”—that is, to be made to hate themselves. As I was a white child, and not a black one, I was given to a family called the Whitfields, to be raised “among my own kind.” I couldn’t have been seven years old yet, which the churches they took me to said was the “age of reason.” I never did quite figure out what they meant by that, and I don’t really want to know, but all I knew was they could beat me without any guilt, because I was finally capable of “sin.” I guess I’d always been in sin, never baptized or any of that rot, not until I was seven or so and stayed with the Whitfields. That’s what they told me in Sunday school class, that God in His Mercy had given me Original Sin, and that I could be cleansed of it, provided I not enjoy myself ever, and feel generally rotten about any thought, desire, or feeling I ever had. And I did just that for a time. Till I fell in love.
Her name is Mary Delilah, and she’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Her hair is long and black, her eyes are like some gentle, wise, and little frightened animal, like a doe, or a koala. Her skin is pale, like the ivory Mary in the church I was brought to. Indeed, it’s really that statue that I focused on when I went to the church, because it seemed the most beautiful thing I ever saw, at least in that holy rot of a place. Yes, Mother Mary was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, until I saw Delilah.