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A proud Kurnai woman, Veronica Gorrie grew up dauntless, full of cheek and a fierce sense of justice.
After watching friends and family suffer under a deeply compromised law-enforcement system, Gorrie signed up to become one of a rare few Aboriginal police officers in Australia.
In her ten years in the force, she witnessed appalling institutional racism and sexism and fought past those things to provide courageous and compassionate service to civilians in need, many Aboriginal themselves.
Black and Blue is her account of this time. Ahead of her in-conversation at Muse on Sunday 18 April, we sat down with Veronica to find out more about her first book.
You were a police officer for 10 years, how do you feel about your time in the police force?
My time in the police was difficult from the moment I assimilated, not because of the harrowing jobs I attended or the things I saw that I can never unsee but because of the institutionalised racism that exist within.
As an Aboriginal woman, it was so hard witnessing acts of racism and violence directed at my own people, but in saying that, the fact that I never spoke up as much as I should have or as often as I should have made me complicit and I have to live with this and that’s hard.
Black and Blue combines personal stories with accounts of what you witnessed in the police force – did all of this experience feel too raw or painful to recount?
Recounting my personal stories was difficult and during the process of writing many times I had to walk away and most times I had a cry, but I felt that it was important to include because it’s the hard parts of my life that has made me who I am today and I am acutely aware that some stories contain graphic information and I am aware that some readers may find this terribly hard to read, I have ensured that my book include a trigger warning but I want readers to take care when reading Black and Blue.
Black and Blue is your first book – how did you go about writing it all down? What surprises were there along the way?
Black and Blue is my first book and it has taken me almost 10 years from the day I started writing to publication. I started writing the day before I was medically discharged from the police on 3 November 2011.
I needed to write as I had been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression and a result I was losing my memory and still have memory loss. Memory loss has been the hardest as I have forgotten about family that have passed away so each time I hear about their losses, it’s as if I am hearing it for the first time and it feels like I am always grieving.
My children are the keepers of my memories and I must frustrate them as I am very repetitive because I can’t remember if I’ve told them something or not but the most surprising thing about writing this book is the amount of stuff I have managed to remember and I am pretty sure I had good moments and times during my childhood but I simply cannot remember.
What’s one thing you would like non-Indigenous readers to take from your writing?
I don’t want non-Indigenous people who read my book to think that all Aboriginal women have gone through violence and trauma throughout their lives.
This is my story and not all our stories are alike. I also want the reader to know that not all Aboriginal men are violent or abusive because they aren’t and I know, I’ve raised an amazing son who is now the most beautiful, kindest and respectful man I have ever encountered, but I have also had other good men in my life, my grandfather, my father and my little brothers.
I also want people to know that there is no such thing as a ‘Good Cop’. Police are racist and if you’re a black or brown person we know this too well and unless you have been subjected to racism, you have no idea.
I especially want non-Indigenous people to know how hard it is for black and brown people to enter their spaces as they are culturally unsafe for us and most of us have tactics and strategies to enter these spaces and for us to have these in place is saddening.
What next for you Veronica? What are you working on now?
What’s next, a few things actually. I’ve already started writing another book, it’s an historical piece about my Great Aunt who tragically died when she was only 14 years old after being stolen when she was 12 years old.
I write in the first person, I am my Aunty Teresa, speaking from beneath the grave. Morbid I know but I come from a culture that has so many atrocities, genocide, epidemics of polio and tuberculosis that ran rampant through our communities killing so many of my ancestors, massacres and children stolen from their parents and families just to name a few.
I can’t help being morbid because I want these stories told and if the education system in this country included our stories, true accounts of all my people, the First Nation people of this country then we wouldn’t have to continue to write about it.
I have also written a screenplay called ‘Nullung’ which means my father’s mother in my language, Gunai/Kurnai. I have used a lot of my language in this, which is a resurgence of the Gunai/Kurnai language.
It is my Grandmothers’ story of being stolen when she was eight years old. I speak further and in depth about her in Black and Blue but I am excited about this and hope that someone takes an interest in this as our stories, especially hers, need to be told.
And finally, I have started writing a series of children’s book called Nanwan and Yeerung with the first book titled Nanwan and Yeerung’ were born too early. I am hoping to have these published as this is close to home. Nanwan and Yeerung are my twin grandchildren who were born 3 months prematurely.
Any reading recommendations? What else might interest those who are keen on Black and Blue?
I encourage readers to purchase and read books written by other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander writers. Support black and brown writers. Writers such as Melissa Lucashenko, Aileen Moreton-Robinson, Maxine Beneba Clarke and Amy McGuire.
I also recently purchased Uncle Archie Roach’s book, Tell Me Why? which is amazing. I also read anything that is written by my amazing and talented daughter Nayuka Gorrie.
My other collection of books include: The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay, Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee, Waiting for Elijah by Kate Wild, Staying by Jessie Cole, Happy Never After by Jill Stark, Queer Stories edited by Maeve Marsden, the Growing up in Australia series (Growing up Queer in Australia and Growing up Disabled in Australia) just to name a few.