Frank and Rosalyn

The first time I met Frank and Rosalyn, few words were exchanged.  I was an outsider observing their peace.  They were asleep together cradled into each other like spoons under the shade of a large tree, on a blanket with another draped over themselves.   The lawns were being misted by sprinklers.  It was 7am.  I was walking Tessie before work.  She pulled me toward them…and gently roused them from their sleep.

People tell you to watch out, to be frightened and alert.  But, I felt drawn to them….thier life looked so peaceful.  I could see why Tessie was keen to meet them.

The man was friendly with Tessie; he smiled at me and gave her a cuddle.  All I could muster was very timid “Hey”.

I wanted to say more but I was afraid I was being rude, I was technically entering their home.  Tessie led us off in another direction and following after her I said “Bye”.

Frank and Rosalyn are Aboriginal Australians and they live in the streets here in Perth.

Before today I had seen them together lying in the shade of the large tree a few times, always looking content and relaxed.  I was having my lunch break when I saw them again today under the same tree.

I’ve lived in Australia for 3.5 years.  They are the first Aboriginal people I’ve ever met.  Which is sad, it’s why I want to speak with them…and help if I can.  Segregation unfortunately, is alive and well in Australia.

This time there were three people.  I spent a mere moment thinking about it…and decided.  I approached slowly.

“Hi, I am Holly.  I was wondering…well I, I was, I have seen you a few times here and I always think you look peaceful.  And I was hoping maybe we could talk some time? I have questions.”  I was so nervous that I was stumbling over myself.

The man and woman both agreed.  “Yes.  That’s ok”.

The third woman turned to me “Is she a gunjie?”

“Wait, what’s a gunjie?”

The couple start smile and laugh.  They tell me it means police.

“No….haha, definitely not”.  It was rather funny.  I was wearing a long sleeved, navy shift dress with heels and sparkly earrings.  I definitely did not look the part.

The females discuss something privately, and Frank introduces himself.

I said I had questions that I’d like to ask them about their life, about the way things are.  I asked if they would be there later in the day.  They would.  I told them I would finish work, and bring them some food.  They seemed really nice.  We all shook hands and I made my promise that I’d return in a few hours.

I finished work in the afternoon and began to worry that they might have been put off and maybe they were just being nice to me.  I realised there was a chance they might not be there when I returned.

I rushed home and changed into jeans, and a simple shirt as fast as I could.  I dashed to the local shop and purchased three chicken kebabs.

They were added to the lot:  canned tuna, cashews, apples, oranges, bananas, cookies and crackers (a friend at work helped me collect this food and also supplied me with a donation, Thanks Su!).

I collected a note pad and briskly walked to where I had seen them last.

When I couldn’t see them, I started to doubt that they stayed…

Ah, but they had moved a little and were there, under the shade of another tree, cuddling and dreaming.

Placing the box of goods gingerly on the ground I crouched close enough to whisper their names.  Rosalyn’s eyes open, and I actually startle her.  I feel bad for waking her this way, and still feel as if I am intruding.  She props herself on her elbow and looks at me directly.   I ask her if it is alright to ask her a few questions while Frank is still asleep, I will ask him some when he wakes up.

She says that’s ok.  I tell her whats in the box, and hand her a (still very warm) kebab.  She looks at it, and thanks me.  Frank is rustling in the background still deep in sleep.

She smiles at me “Franks’ really hard to wake up!”.

Rosalyn is 27.   She looks much older.  Her face has scaring, and her teeth are worn down to the gums.  She was born in Kalgoorlie and moved to Perth with her family at 9 months of age.  She has been homeless since the age of 14.  She has one son.  He was taken into custody by a sister under a restraining order, she has not seen her son since he was 3.  He is 11 now.

“I just got out of prison”.  (I’ll admit this did make me slightly nervous at first).

“What happened? Why were you in prison?  How long were you there for?”

“I  was with this other guy for 13 years.  During that time he “bashed” me a lot, and so to stop it I gave him a warning.  And stabbed him in the shoulder.  That’s why I was in jail for a year.  People in jail they knew me, they knew not to mess with me.  If you went to any place in Perth and said my name, they would know who I was.”

“Fair enough.  If someone did that to me, I’d probably do the same thing, you have to protect yourself.  I’m sorry he was bad to you.”

Her mum left her and her siblings when she was 6 years old.  Her mother had postpartum depression after finding the youngest dead from sudden infant death syndrome.  She has seen her mum on and off over the years.  They are not close.  I tell her I can’t relate exactly but I do know what it’s like not to have a mum around, as mine has been out of the picture since I was 14.

Her father was not to be seen until she was 16 years old.  She shared a drink with him for 30 minutes and that’s all she knows of him, she’s never seen him since.  I asked her how they found each other, and she told me “we found each other on the streets. He is homeless too”.

She tells me she is from the combined (verbatim) Igibarrni – Nagi – Mulba tribe.  She does not know the history and culture of her people, she was never taught it growing up in Perth.

She is not close with her family, I ask her why.  She tells me that she was sexually abused by her uncles, and hates her family.  I can understand that.

Frank is beginning to stir in the background.  Roslyn hands him her kebab and he digs right in.  At one point he exclaims that it’s really good.  And I’m glad, I wanted them to enjoy some good food.

I ask her how she met Frank.  “I met him on the street.  I stay with him because he is good to me, and doesn’t drink.  He’s sober.  Sometimes I’ll have a drink every so often but I like to drink alone”.

Frank is 53.  He has kind eyes, and flashes me a grin for a smile.  His black hair is speckled with white.  He is from the Wadgeree (verbatim) tribe, and has only been living in Perth for 18 months.  He has 17 kids all scattered around, and has moved down to Perth from Geraldton.

I ask him why he moved to Perth, and he tells me “I wanted get away from Geraldton, and get my bond back with the kids.  I wasn’t there for them when they were young.  I had a falling out with my youngest son, who is as big as me.  He knocked me around pretty good, but now he’s in jail.  I was in jail too.  On and off for 20 years”.

“Why were you in jail?”.

“I was with my woman, and I would drink and get angry and bash her.  She was also an alcoholic, I found her cheating a few times and would bash her”.

“Wait…. WHY? Did you keep getting back together?” and they laugh a little.

“The kids”.

“It’s funny what we put up with for the sake of the kids.”

Franks mum was a cook on a station and his dad was a bush ranger up north.  “They were together like the old days, when you were with only one person”.  Dad and mum passed away within two days of each other.  His mum from a broken heart.  (It wasn’t clear what the father had died of).

He knows he is a violent drinker, he openly admits this to me.  When I speak to him now, he is calm and happy…very present.  It’s hard to imagine he could become violent, but then again the drink does strange things to the best of us.

Frank has three brothers and two sisters.  One of his brothers is no longer living, as he was “given a dirty shot” 5 years ago.

“What is a dirty shot?”.

“It’s a needle, that someone changes whats in it, and when you use it it kills you”.

“Oh, like heroin?”  Yep.  “Ok”.

I wanted to tell you, you’re the first aboriginal people I’ve spoken to.  And I’ve lived in Australia for 3.5 years.  I wanted to get to know you, because to me…coming from Canada it feels wrong.  There is a large divide between the blacks and the whites”.

So what do you think when you see someone like me?  A white person?  

Roslyn:  “White people walk around this park all the time, they don’t look at us.  It’s a different world over there, we live our way over here.  The only white people we’ve talked with are also homeless, but they are cool.  The ones that walk around here don’t look at us.  Maybe the odd person might offer a cigarette, but they don’t come to sit and talk with us like you have.  We have friends who are racist against whites and get angry if they get cut off at a bar.  But we think that’s wrong.  They will shout at the bartender and shout discrimination, and complain that they were here in Australia first and shouldn’t be cut off.  We don’t agree with that.  If they cut you off it’s for a good reason”.

Do the police ever give you trouble?

Frank:  “Yes, if other blacks are drinking in the area and we’re nearby…we will get arrested as well.  It doesn’t matter if we aren’t a problem, we will get picked up too.  When our friends visit us and they want to drink, it’s ok.  But if they get loud we tell them to move on.  We just want to have our quiet time.  I noticed I’ve stayed out of jail since I stopped drinking”.

Roslyn:  “One day the blacks and the whites will change.  But it’s up to the people”.

Near the end of our conversation Frank recalls a memory.  “Do you know Slim Dusty?”.

“No, I don’t but I’ll make myself familiar.  Who is he?”

“He is a legend.  He gave me a guitar when I was 13.”  Frank smiles and recalls what Slim Dusty said…

“There is a little Aboriginal boy in the crowd who has the same birthday as mine, bring him up to the stage!”.  Slim pulled Frank onto the stage and signed his guitar, and shook his hand”.

“A real legend”.  He pauses.  It’s time for me to head out so they can eat in peace.  An hour has passed.

 I am a photographer…would also love to take your portrait and give you some copies if you’d like…next time?

“Yes (Frank smiles), we would love that”.

“Thank you for sharing your lives with me.  I feel really good talking to you, and want to tell you that I was drawn to you right away.  You seem so happy and peaceful.  Maybe we’ll be able to talk again?  If you ever need anything please let me know, I’m not rich but I can help in other ways. 

“We knew you were good too, when you walked up to us you gave us good vibes.  Our friend was saying negative stuff, but Rosalyn pulled her up on the spot (this is when the women were first talking privately) and told her you’re ok.  We know you.”

I’d like to write about meeting you.  Is that ok?

“Yes, and you can come and sit with us whenever you want.  You’re welcome with us”.

Thank you.”

 If you enjoy it, or believe in it, support it…please share this post.

My only hope is that more people will stop and take time to help Aboriginal and homeless people feel welcome.

For PART II….click here.

39 thoughts on “Frank and Rosalyn

  1. A great thought-provoking post, Holly. It’s sad that so many lose their history. Their relationship with the land and family is very moving.

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    • Thanks John. I agree, the culture should be respected, and cherished. Society can do a much better job than it is currently doing to preserve and encourage their ancestry and teachings.

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  2. This encounter is so insightful Holly. Thank you for sharing, for being your wonderful self. Our time in WA gave me only one opportunity at a Fair, son Richard joined two little boys and I snapped a picture of them; they were hustled away; I was advised by the NZ friend we were with that ‘it was a unwritten law’;
    that taking pictures of an aboriginal robbed them of their spirit. That was over forty years ago; I am so looking forward to your pictures.

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    • Do you still have the photo Verla? I agree, to take a photo of someone you must always ask their permission…for spiritual reasons and respect. Thank you for telling me your encounter. It would have been really nice to see your son fooling around with the other kids. : ) Kids, know best.

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  3. Very interesting people. There are a lot of similar stories like this with the people in this area and in major cities in Canada… I hope people can see the similarities in what happens to a culture when it has been forced to assimilate…

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  4. Was really looking forward to hearing the rest of the story, please share photos if you meet again. I can’t believe you spent an hour and yet summarise your experience in less that that, funny how time passes by -one would miss out on opportunities such as these-. Thanks for sharing x

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    • I will definitley share thier portrait if I get the chance. It took me three hours to type that up! ahah… I was pretty focused! Thanks for commenting Faith, I really appreciate your support!

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    • What an extraordinary story Holly, thank you for sharing it with the staff at CCI. I too would love to see your photos, sometimes it takes someone from outside to provide a new perspective!

      well done.

      Deborah

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  5. It’s amazing how powerful a simple act of kindness can be. Curiosity is a beautiful thing and it’s made out to be offensive and intrusive so often, there need to be more curious people in the world. Great write up

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  6. What a lovely story Holly. It’s made me feel quite ashamed as sometimes I am on one of those people that does not make eye contact with people on the street. We need to be more open minded and tolerable to people’s circumstances. Good on you for sharing this with the world.

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  7. What a wonderful story Holly I too would love to see the photographs when you have them. It’s very inspirational and hopefully we can all be inspired to an act of kindness today. We are very lucky to have such a thoughtful kind person working with us at CCI.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this Holly. More stories like these need to come out!
    I have had many interactions with the natives of this land. I went to school with them, even university. They are like any body else. Some have struggles, while others are living well. However many have a lot of resentment towards what happened in the past only 50 years ago.
    Many that I have interacted with that were homeless approached me. I don’t know why, but I have been approached a lot. I find that they only want someone to talk to. To be treated like anyone else. I’ve had an elderly man talk about how he was struggling with diabetes and didn’t know how to treat it. I’ve had a woman who let me know that her and her family, including a 10 year old nephew, were hooked on drugs and she feels sad about that, but doesn’t know how to free herself or them from it. I even had one lady complain that white people think that the natives get all the benefits, but in reality they don’t, that it is all on paper for show. That white people a very misinformed of reality.
    So when anyone makes a racial comment regarding them, I tell them that they should get to know some before judging. Many have a good heart, but found themselves in an unfortunate situation out of their control.
    The discrimination and judging just makes it worse.

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    • Thanks for your insight Andrea! It’s really good that you’re open to communication. You must give a good feeling of trust to those around you. I would love to hear more positive stories, and have more people share them.

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  9. Thanks Holly,

    Wonderful story! I live in Kalgoorlie and often stop and yarn with Aboriginal people in the street, get then a snack or a lift to where they need to go. I wish moew people would take the time to do that. I work for CCI as well, but based in Kalgoorlie. Thank you for sharing your story with everyone at CCI and I will definitly share your story.

    Maria Gaspar

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  10. This post is amazing Holly. I wanted to comment on here, but had temporarily lost my pswd to the site as I haven’t had time to use it with school.
    Your post reminds me a lot of what we learned about street nursing and communication in class. You are a gem for reaching out and showing your humanism. So many don’t, and they turn away and ignore the people suffering. In this day and age , especially in a country that is developed, it is amazing to me that such segregation and disparities still exist, but they do. I even see it right here. Every thing you do for others, no matter if it’s getting them food or a simple gesture of greeting, is changing their life. Kudos to you! I think anything can make a difference. I make a point of carrying granola bars with me everyday, and hand them out downtown when approached for food. I can’t afford a lot, but as you said, every little bit helps.
    And yes, this is the future nurse in me, and the constant mother hen, but if you pursue this, and expand, maybe find a partner to go with you? I think 99.9% of the time you would be just fine, but it never hurts to be safe. 🙂

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    • Thanks D. I am so glad that you do the same in Canada. You’re going to be a very compassionate nurse when your finish school! I am hoping I can introduce them to Mike in the future…

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  11. Ah Holly, a wonderful reminder for people to stop looking away from eye contact with others – even if you just smile and nod or say G’Day it helps others know that they are not invisible and they are not ignored. I love walking around anywhere I go and sayng hello to people as they pass or I pass them – sometimes they will stop and want to talk, but often they just return the smile and greeting and walk on a little bit happier than they were before you met them. It doesn’t take much to make a little difference in someone’s life…

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    • It’s really refreshing when you smile, and someone takes a moment to smile back. We’re all so afraid these days, and yes of course there are some instances when you need to have your wits about you…but again there are some amazing people out there you could meet if you made the time for them. Being pleasnt never hurt anyone!

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  12. Hi Holly,
    First of all thanks for sharing with everyone at CCI!
    Secondly, wow what a wonderful and lovely and also powerful adventure and story! Good on you for plucking up the courage to chat to them and gain a bit of an insight into their lives. I must admit i often just walk past whenever i see aboriginals in the street. It’s great you’ve done this and shared it online. Let’s hope that the more people that see this, changes their perspective and in the near future (wo)mankind can start to interact more with other races…

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    • Thank you for your comments Matthew. For me it was the peace that drew me to them…sometimes you just get the right feelings with people.

      I’ve got a few idea’s to change the way things are done here…and maybe they can be applied more broadly. I’ll fill everyone in soon!

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  13. A truly insightful and compassionate account of the issues faced by our indigenous Australians Holly. You obviously felt their spirit and they felt yours to have a trusting connection with them. May they stay safe and peaceful together without harassment from those who do not understand.

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  14. Pingback: Only The Tough Survive Here: Frank and Rosalyn (Part 2) | R e d t e r r a i n

  15. Reblogged this on The Run A Weigh and commented:
    This is Holly’s blog, at Redterrain. She is an amazing photographer, and an extraordinary individual. Please read this two part story, it is amazing. There is so much stereotyping, segregation and homelessness among aboriginals in Australia, and Holly is shedding some light on it and would like to spread the word! Meet Frank & Rosalyn! I know that I would love to!

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