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I’m not going to be a black man in this country By Callum Clayton-Dixon Nganyaywana Norman Dixon, and his two sisters were born to an Aboriginal mother (Clara Dixon) and a German father (Ted Schmutter) in New England, NSW during the 1930s. His father enlisted in the Australian army in 1939 and ended up in the Middle East as one of the Tobruk Rats, who held the Libyan port of Tobruk against the Germans. When Ted returned, he found that his three kids had been ripped from their mother’s arms and made state wards in 1941. Norman, my grandfather, was a member of the stolen generations. In 1969 he abandoned his identity as a black man forever, fled the country, changed his name and kept his past buried deep inside till the day he died. Here Norman’s sister, wife and son come to terms with the black man he hid for more than three decades.

Me and my grandfather in 1995, New Zealand.

Patsy Cohen - THE SISTER

spirit just wanted to be back with my people. That’s probably why I played up so much while I was in the homes. Norman couldn’t decide whether he was black or white. My brother was one of these blackfellas who was on the fence, and didn’t know which way to go. A terrible lot of kids who were stolen went the same way, and many of them committed suicide. I met up with Norman again when I returned to live at Inglebah [reserve south of Armidale, NSW] with our extended black family. He stayed at Inglebah until he was 16, and that was when he went to work on the railways. That was the last I saw of him until 1969.

“I was four years old, Joan was six and Norman was eight. We were in the courthouse with the welfare woman. As soon as I spotted my mother, all hell broke loose. I clawed and scratched and did everything I could to get to her.

Norman was taken to a Catholic boys’ home while Joan and I were sent to an institution in Sydney for state wards. They whitewashed Joan. ‘No, I’m not an Aboriginal, I don’t want nothing to do with them,’ she would say. Joan lost her identity. My

That year he changed his surname from Schmutter to Dixon [his mother’s maiden name], ran off to New Zealand and we never heard from him again. ‘I’m not going to be a black man in this country’. That was the last thing he said to us.”

Shirley Dixon - THE WIFE Norman’s great grandfather was the Nganyaywana tribal man Bungaree. The custom of the white invaders was to give the tribes people white names and white identities. They tried to force Bungaree to adopt the name ‘James Dixon’, but he refused.

“He wanted to forget his black family and create a new one. Norman became very close with my family, my parents. He adored my mother, he even called her mum.

Bungaree took his tribal name and identity to his grave, never letting the white man tell him how to identify.

He would sometimes talk about his grandmother in a big apron, making blackberry pies, jam and scones. Norman also mentioned his sister, Joan, the fact that she’d gone into the Australian military and died of meningitis. But this was the most he ever told me about his family. Norman was very racist. He’d say he hated blacks, he hated the Māori. When I’d ask him why he had darker skin, he claimed it was because he had French in him.

A few times when Norman drank, he would go upstairs and bury his face in his hands. I’d ask him why he was upset, and he’d say ‘you wouldn’t understand.’ I would sometimes ask him about his past, but he would just get angry and tell me to mind my own business. “My two sisters and I never really questioned Dad about his past. We were conditioned not to.

He was a very closed and secretive man. I think he tried to shut it all out, to forget it all. He never mentioned anything about his black side, his mother, I had no knowledge of it at all. Norman must have had a sad past, and he managed to conceal it very well.

Three days before Norman died, Shane called and told me he thought his father might have been part of the stolen generations. He said, ‘I want to talk to dad.’ He asked his father about it over the phone, and Norman went dead white and quivered at the mouth. ‘You don’t know what you’re f#@ken talking about,’ he replied, and he threw the phone at me.”

Shane Dixon - THE SON

Norman at his father’s funeral, not long before he fled to New Zealand in 1969

Papamoa (New Zealand) in 1999

We might have perhaps hinted at it or asked mum or whoever else, but we were kind off shut down at an early stage, so we didn’t ask any further. I never really thought about the fact he had darker skin. When my sisters and I got older, we used to joke that he was Aboriginal, and he’d say ‘f@#ken shut up’and get upset. We were teenagers by then, so the more upset hey got, the more we teased him – but we had absolutely no idea that he actually did have Aboriginal heritage. He was very protective of his family, and he didn’t want us hanging out with any Maori or Islanders. He’d threaten the girls with a hiding if they came home with a Māori boyfriend and he wouldn’t hesitate to call them dirty blacks.”

Me [left], my dad [right] & younger brother in 2003, Anaiwan country (NSW)

Inglebah (whirlpools of crayfish) ‘Aboriginal reserve’ where my grandfather lived with his extended black family after leaving the Catholic boys’ homes.

I’m not going to be a black man in this country  

Norman, my grandfather, was a member of the stolen generations. In 1969 he abandoned his identity as a black man forever, fled the country,...

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