When I say “I love you” to an Aboriginal man in Australia, he thinks “Sister” or “Mother.” For Aboriginals, love equals family.
On 16 April 2019, BahaiTeachings.org published “Australian Aboriginal Identity and the Baha’i Faith,” by Dr. Christopher Buck, focusing on Baha’i Aboriginal Elder Banjo Clarke’s book, Wisdom Man, which I wrote down and shaped over a 27-year period.
Banjo Clarke’s nephew, known as “Brucey,” also became a Baha’i. I’d like to tell you how I came to know his wonderful soul.
One day Brucey asked me to drive him out to the Aboriginal Settlement from the city of Warrnambool, in Victoria, Australia, where he worked as a junior welder. We arrived at a house where an Aboriginal man stood holding an axe over our heads. “Why have you come to see me?” he raged. Brucey stepped forward and put his cheek against the drunken man’s, saying “You wouldn’t hurt your cousin, would you?” Brucey’s love disarmed the man.
I decided I wanted that kind of courage.
As I drove Brucey to the Aboriginal Settlement the next time, my daughter, aged five, sat in the back of the car. Brucey said “I would like to be a Baha’i, but I don’t want you to oversee me like you oversee Uncle Banjo. I don’t like that.” He did not know that Banjo would call me to come get him when he didn’t want to drink. His people would say, and Brucey would hear, “Be strong, man. We don’t want this woman to take you away from us. You don’t belong to those people.”
When Brucey told me he didn’t want me coming for him, I explained “I come for Banjo because he asks me to.”
“Now it is all clear to me,” he said. “You only had to say that. It’s all clear to me.”
My little girl called out from the back “The horizon has gone away and I can see everything there is to see!”
I stopped the car and noted that Brucey was having an overwhelming experience of clarity in the spiritual realm. There was a cow standing in front of us chewing its cud, and then it suddenly stopped. At that moment, Brucey was sure he was a Baha’i, and he always referred to where he became one as The Place of the Cow. It meant a lot to him.
The most profound thing Aboriginals of Australia have—the sense that those I know truly long to give everybody who does not have it—is the knowledge that the spiritual world is their extended community who guides and protects them.
Brucey had won a scholarship to Geelong Grammar, where Prince Charles went to school for a year, but Brucey didn’t want to leave his people. He was very conscious of family love, since he had lost his parents when he was a little boy. The Baha’is loved him, and he repaid our love with a gentleness that came from the whole of himself. He regularly told me he loved me, which was a great gift—but I was not used to it.
At this time, there was an international conference in New Zealand of Baha’is, and the Baha’is of Australia sponsored Brucey to represent them. Many international indigenous people attended.
At the young age of 24, Brucey had a heart attack, and, as he went through the medical system, I asked my husband (a surgeon) to check if he was being looked after properly. My husband said he was being treated by one of the best surgeons, who said there was little to be done. Brucey’s mother died of a hole in her heart, and Brucey had always thought he would go the same way. It looked like he would.
I went to see Brucey in the hospital, and he said “I am going to die, mate, but it is good to know I have so many friends.”
He asked to see his grandmother, Aboriginal Baha’i Auntie Dolly. It happens too often at the Settlement that the old outlive the young and Auntie Dolly, who was in the hospital too but on the ground floor, had been heard to say “I don’t want to outlive any more grandchildren.”
Brucey’s relations, who were present with me at his bedside, talked together, first saying no to his request, then saying yes. “I just want to say goodbye to my Nanna,” Brucey told us patiently, and we sent for a wheelchair and crowded into the elevator with him.
It was obvious to us that, as soon as Brucey was in his grandmother’s presence, he felt peace. They sat together for a long time in blissful peace. Brucey nearly fell asleep. Eventually, Auntie Dolly broke the silence by saying “Camilla, you’ve always been a good friend to us, and never turned away.”
Brucey held out his hand to Auntie Dolly. His people pulled it back. Brucey waited patiently for the spiritual realm to tell his relations what to do.
At last, a cousin placed Auntie Dolly’s and Brucey’s hands in each other’s, together. Then she wrapped a cloth around their two clasped hands as if they were a sculpture, to be there forever. But the minute Auntie Dolly’s hand touched Brucey’s ice-cold one she gasped, and I saw knowledge come into her eyes.
Auntie Dolly, who had given all of us Baha’is tremendous hospitality for years, putting out cakes when we arrived that enticed the whole Settlement to come to her home, and keeping herself in debt because of it, died that night.
The evening before Brucey’s death, Baha’is made tributes. One of us came and sang Brucey’s favorite prayer, which she had set to music for him. He wanted her to sing it to him while he was alive, rather than at his funeral:
O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 203.
My son had given Brucey his Baha’i ring as a symbol of unity. The world of God, the world of revelation and the world of creation are symbolized on it by linked lines carved on a simple stone. At almost the last minute, Brucey instructed Banjo to give the ring back to my son.
A delegation of Banjo’s children came to see me after Brucey died. “We would like you to give the eulogy for him.” The spiritual realm had already let me know this, and I had written the eulogy out. It was good that I wrote it, because the family could approve it. Banjo asked for 20 copies, and he kept giving copies of the eulogy to people all over Australia, many of whom were politicians.
Banjo also gave other writings of mine to Aboriginals who had been stolen from their parents as infants by the Australian Government. When they managed to return to their people as adults, they needed to learn from my work about the culture and outlook they had lost.
Brucey had a Baha’i funeral, and “Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished” was written on his tombstone:
O son of man! Thou art My dominion and My dominion perisheth not; wherefore fearest thou thy perishing? Thou art My light and My light shall never be extinguished; why dost thou dread extinction? Thou art My glory and My glory fadeth not; thou art My robe and My robe shall never be outworn. Abide then in thy love for Me, that thou mayest find Me in the realm of glory. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 7.