THE SUM OF MY PARTS
Bindi Cole Chocka from OCTOROON
OCTOROON Peta Clancy and Helen Pynor, Bindi Cole Chocka and Steven Rhall Curated by Michael Brennan and Bindi Cole Chocka A LUMA | La Trobe University Museum of Art Travelling Exhibition
A few weeks ago, I turned forty. It’s a big deal. I couldn’t face a party so took the family on a holiday instead. Perhaps it was a divine idea because I came back with a strong sense that my life is only just beginning. It’s taken a while but I’ve finally come to a place where I love who I am and that’s a great position to launch off into the next forty years from. It didn’t just happen. It’s required much effort to become a person who is somewhat whole. After spending so many years hating me and feeling like I was unworthy, I’m now comfy in my mixed up, muddled up identity. The first half of those forty years left me wounded, traumatised and without any sense of self. I had no idea who I was. I knew bits and pieces. My Mum’s side of the family had all grown up in St Kilda, three generations, and my Grandmother and Aunty still live there. We are mad St Kilda supporters. Dancing, theatre, writing and the arts are a huge part of that side. My father’s side is large and Aboriginal. We were not close. It wasn’t much really but it was the beginnings of a foundation to build upon. Not knowing who I was had affected my sense of being and belonging. My Mum is the person who had the greatest impact on me early on. Being a single mother with an only child lends itself to an extremely close relationship. Life was hard for her, she wasn’t made for this world and it overcame her. At eight years of age I was taken from her as she was unfit to look after me. She didn’t even say goodbye and I remember thinking about how insignificant I was. There was a deep realisation that I alone was not enough for her. My love for her didn’t have the power needed to keep her with me. I wasn’t enough.
Mum’s Diary Entry 29 March 1987
The planet is a better place for having Andrew in it. Not so, I'm afraid, is it better for having had me on it. I am a disgusting junkie who is always hanging out, manipulative, preferring to sell my body for a hit than to be a decent clean human being. I have been very lucky to have had Andrew for this last 12 months. I will always love him even to my grave and beyond. I must see Bindi before I go and tell her, even though I failed her, I love her with all my heart and soul. I'm so sorry I couldn't give them both what they wanted from me. As I said I'm a weak hopeless failure. But I won't fail this time, I feel so calm, I know I will be successful for the first time in my life, the end of my life. It's a shame Andrew has been so sick and tired today as it is the last we will probably spend together. Tomorrow he works and Tuesday I'll be gone. I love you very much Andrew, thank you for loving me.
She didn’t do it but it was only a matter of time until she left this planet, leaving me a shredded, young and vulnerable human being in the process. For many years, I battled the sense of not being enough coupled with a deep grief and in the process developed a well-rehearsed script of self-hatred that drove me. Even as that tiny girl, I believed I was not good enough, insufficient, unwanted, powerless and alone. I wasn’t anyone’s priority. So it became that I would never prioritise myself. Even now I struggle with self-care. It doesn’t come naturally. I just didn’t care about myself for so long as a result of not being cared for properly. I had to work hard to change the way I thought about myself, to figure out who I was and to find a sense of belonging. To rewrite deeply held ingrained patterns that outworked destructive behaviours was a long labour of self-love.
My Dad is Aboriginal. I’ve always known it. I didn’t begin identifying as Aboriginal during my adult life. I have always done so. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on the floor playing with toys, hearing my Mum telling her friends that I was Aboriginal. It was the only part of my racial heritage that was ever actively acknowledged and celebrated. I grew up being told I was Aboriginal and my father’s family have always identified as such. It’s in my DNA, whether I look like it or not. I’m proud of my Western Victorian Wadawurrung heritage. It’s an important and cherished part of who I am.
My Mum and Dad separated when I was a baby. I saw him on and off throughout my childhood, living with him for a while. When Mum died, even though they had not been together for over fifteen years, they still had not divorced. Once, when I asked Dad about this he said that he had always had some hope that maybe one day they would get back together. I thought that was so cheesy at the time but I believe him. Our relationship has been a tumultuous one. It’s taken many years for it to get to a place where it is full of life and love. That’s not entirely his fault. I was such a broken and hurt person that for a long time I could only ever see him through that filter. As I changed, I began to treat him differently and gradually we have been reconciled to each other. I love him. He’s a kind and generous man who has a heart for the Victorian Aboriginal community and has devoted much of his life to serving within it. He is very charming. Everyone that has ever worked with him has always pulled me aside to tell me how much he or she love him and how great he is. They always let me know how proud he is of me too, that he’s always talking about me. Funny, cause whenever I’m around him, he’s mostly taking the mickey out of me. Still, that’s pretty much how he shows affection.
Perhaps he got that from his Mum, my Nanna. I spent years living with her as a young girl while my Mum sorted her life out. She was the one who researched her genealogical history to discover exactly where her Aboriginal ancestors originated. During those years, I had the privilege of watching her figure it all out and saw all the pieces of her heart mend. She was so proud of a heritage that had once been denied out of fear and shame. She passed away not long after my Mum.
Then there’s me carrying in my heart and mind the experience of all three of these people. Not forgetting the many others who have played a role in shaping who I am today. I’m made up of many parts including my lived experience, culture, genealogical heritage and predisposition of my DNA, all of them equally important and deserving of attention. At different times in my life, I’ve focused on different fragments, which may have made me seem one-dimensional, but it’s been so important to spend time reconciling each one until I made a whole. I needed to know where I’ve come from to know where I’m going. Having lost two of these three most significant people in my life early on, I realise that I may as well be who I am. The easy bits, the messy bits, the hidden bits and the shiny bits. The multi-dimensional, ever changing, beautifully imperfect me that can never be known fully by another and certainly not in a brief summing up. Time is short and what a great waste it would be to live your life according to others’ beliefs about you, after all, we are greater than the sum of our parts.
© Bindi Cole 2015