This is the second – and final – part of an interview with Marie Munkara, the author of Every Secret Thing.
In Part One of this interview here we talked about the great threads of humour and sarcasm that run through the Every Secret Thing and what seemed like an amazingly easy run that Marie had writing this book.
She didn’t get blocked, doesn’t seem to get too stressed and popped Every Secret Thing out like a perfect child in under 12 months.
In this second half of the interview we turned to the other, less funny threads that run though Every Secret Thing – the sexual politics and the lasting impacts that church-based institutionalisation has upon individuals and the broader community.
The Northern Myth – Correct me if I’m wrong but I think that there is this other undercurrent apart from the humour and the wonderfully drawn characters – and that is the sexual politics. There is a lot of sex in the book – and it seems like almost everyone is at it at different times with all sorts of other people…
Marie Munkara – even the geckos, yeah…
TNM – Yes, even the geckos! But there is the more serious side. You’ve got the religious members of the institutions and their staff having it off with just about everyone – sometimes in circumstances that would now be called pedophiliac conduct. Would many of your readers have a problem believing much of what you are saying here?
MM – You know, on the whole everyone…most except for one, have said “Oh, we’ve heard about things like this but no-one has ever said it.” I think that there is an understanding that this kind of conduct has gone on in the past. I think that it is just because it is the Church, because it is clergy and most people would think that they just don’t act like that and you just shouldn’t say it or talk about it. We are supposed to respect them, we have to show this…respect for the authority of the clergy.
TNM – And Every Secret Thing is not just about a couple of islands off the coast of the NT is it? It is really about a thick slice of life for a whole lot of people – Aboriginal and white – in the NT, isn’t it?
MM – Yes. Even though I didn’t want to focus too much on the sexual politics and the influence of the Church in the book it was there and it is a real fact of life for a lot of my family and it was a very sad part of their lives. It had to be there in the book- I just couldn’t have written Every Secret Thing without speaking about those issues.
TNM – Are you trying to get this off your chest?
MM – Yes I think you are probably right. I’ve never thought of it that way but I probably did have to get it off my chest.
TNM – And this is one of the great – and largely untold stories in the NT, isn’t it? Do you think there is a need for a broad investigation of what has gone on in these institutions in the past?
MM – Yes I do. It is not right that these horrible things were done when the Church was supposed to be protecting children. I think it should be investigated, we shouldn’t just let it go. For many people there was, and still is, a real fear of the church at times.
I remember one time that I was talking to my grandfather – I’d asked him, “Why do you put up with the church being here when you know that they do certain things?” and he said, “If they go, we won’t have a school, or the clinic or things like that anymore” And I told him “No, that’s paid for by the government – the church are just running those things”. And he had the belief, and a lot of people had the belief, that the church had paid for all of this and were paying for it all out of the goodness of their own hearts. And I would say to these old people, “No, no, no – they are getting their funding from the same place as everyone else – the government.”
A lot of people don’t like to speak up, because they are afraid that they might lose something if they make a noise or make a fuss, because they don’t know the full facts and I’m sure that the Church has been very happy to let people go on believing that they are the ones that are providing all of these services, and doing the good things.
TNM – People have told me that places like the institutions run by the Catholic Church in the NT posed very real threats to many people’s wellbeing – that rather than being a sanctuary for children they were places where children were harmed…
MM – I was only very little when I was there – I was very small. But the stories I’ve heard from people – they weren’t kind places. As I say in Every Secret Thing, the half-caste kids were just shaped into what the people in control of the institutions wanted and then they were just bundled off. And from the perspective of those in charge of the institutions it wasn’t fair for someone like the character Marigold to come back. “Hello, one of them came back!”.
MM – A very strange thing happened when I worked in central Australia as a public servant a few years ago. My department used to fund the Santa Theresa mission and I went there for work one time. One of the nuns in the clinic said “Come back to the convent for lunch” and I said “Okay”. And who should be there but two of the old nuns from Garden Point when was a little one there. They had looked after me when I was tiny. And do you know what one of them had the cheek to say to me?
She said “God we were sad when you had to go.” I said “But what about my Mum? You were sad when I had to go!” I was so freaking angry. I think I restrained myself from saying too much. But I was stunned that these two, they were lovely old nuns…but they said “Oh, God we were just so sad when we had to let you go.” It was nice that they cared about me but…
TNM – As if you were a possession…
MM – Yes! And what about my Mum?!
TNM – What happens to people when they are cast out of these institutions?
MM – For many people there is an absolute sense of helplessness – many of them come out with a total lack of control over their lives or understanding of how to live a life away from that control. And nowadays, with this Intervention, for many people it is just like back in the old days when people were told “You can’t do this, or that, God is the one.” People do not have any control over their lives because they cannot even decide what they can do with their kids, or their money. Someone in the government are making those choices for them. It is no wonder that so many people just give up.
TNM – You also talk about – how despite all of this despair there are still amazingly strong women out there…
MM – They have to be strong – the men are strong in their own way as well but the women always needed to have to hold things together. That is one thing that doesn’t change. I think we are genetically imprinted that way. The men go away to war and die the women still have to hold things together.
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