As Long as She Got Her Voice: How cross-cultural collaboration shapes Abroiginal textuality

Aunty Marge spoke on platforms, going back years ago, in Melbourne in the city here, when we wouldn’t have had a voice at all. I can go as far as saying �black was a dirty word�, you know, and you had to be really very careful. But Aunty Marge spoke on platforms, she joined the Communists, because they were the only ones that listened to Aboriginal people in those days, you know. So Aunty Marge jumped on the wagon there too, as long as she got her voice.
Walda Blow, Interview with Author

By the time Aunty Marge (Margaret) Tucker started to write her life story, If Everyone Cared in the early 1970s she was a seasoned campaigner for Aboriginal rights. Margaret Tucker knew how to use cross-cultural affiliations to the advantage of her cause. In order to gain her literary voice she undertook the familiar process of negotiation and compromise entailed in any cross-cultural political alliance. By this time she had moved away from the Communist Party (Jones, ‘The Black Communist’) and drew instead upon friends and fellow travellers from the religious movement Moral Re-Armament (MRA).1 In this era, an absence of supportive discourses in literature and politics (Whitlock) (social contexts that valued Indigenous perspectives and their public expression) limited audience access and made it difficult for Aboriginal women writers to attract the interest of mainstream publishing houses. In order to achieve publication Aboriginal women like Margaret Tucker harnessed available pockets of interest within white society, particularly drawing upon the resources of communities of ideological commitment. ‘Jump[ing] on the wagon’ of an interested and well-resourced community of commitment enabled Aboriginal women to gain a literary voice, but such alliances also influenced the style that Aboriginal writers could adopt. This paper examines how cross-cultural collaboration both enabled and curtailed Margaret Tucker’s textual expression.

Margaret Tucker was a very capable and determined woman. She was a vital member of numerous Aboriginal community and advancement groups. Yet, when fellow members of the Aborigines Welfare Board suggested that she seek funding to write her autobiography (from the newly formed Aboriginal Arts board of the Australia Council), Margaret Tucker doubted her capacity to undertake the task alone.

Margaret Tucker was a founding member and Vice-President of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League (VAAL) and had ‘been active since 1935 in advocating the cause of Aborigines in left-wing circles’ (Markus). In 1938 she participated in the ‘Day of Mourning’. This protest action drew attention to the plight of Indigenous survivors of colonisation during the white communities’ celebration of the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet (Goodall). Margaret Tucker’s organisational and networking skills, and her fine singing voice, became indispensable in arranging concert parties for financial and political support of the Cumeragunja strikers (Bostock and Morgan).2 In later years Margaret Tucker was to become the first Aboriginal woman to sit on the Victorian Aborigines Welfare Board, maintaining this position from 1964-1972.

Despite these achievements, Margaret Tucker keenly felt the inadequacy of her formal education when she commenced her autobiographical project. It was fifty five years since her meagre mission education had been abruptly severed by her forced removal to Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls (Tucker). Although she was an accomplished performer and public speaker, Margaret Tucker lacked confidence in her written expression. She believed that she was ‘not brainy’ (Tucker 192) and sought the help of her white MRA friends to help her write the autobiography. One of the privileges that whiteness availed these women was a quality education. Margaret Tucker was denied such an education, as were the majority of Aboriginal people reared during the segregation and protection era (Goodall). One of these MRA friends recalled the resolve required of Margaret Tucker and her white collaborator, Jean Hughes as they undertook the writing project:

To write a story is quite an undertaking for someone who left school when they were 13 and hadn’t been back. She would need help. Some of her friends felt that. Jean Hughes, who had become a long-standing friend, she felt too that she would need help. She was equipped to help her. She offered, she said, ‘Well, look Marge if you’d like to accept this offer, I will stand by and help you’. (Good and Ross)


One of the other pressing difficulties Margaret Tucker faced was the lack of a quiet space in which to compose her thoughts and write. Her home with her extended family in Melbourne’s outer western suburb Broadmeadows, and later her flat in Abbotsford, were always brimming with people and activity. Margaret Tucker’s granddaughter recalls, ‘With all the fundraising and all the organisations, groups and stuff that she was in, the committees she was on, she was inundated with people all the time. So she would never have been able to write her book if she was in her flat, never’. (Barr)

Margaret Tucker’s MRA friends, particularly her editor, Jean Hughes and her friend Anne Ross, supported Margaret Tucker throughout the writing process. They provided a quiet space for writing in the Camberwell flat they shared and transported Margaret Tucker to and from her family home. Over a four-year period Margaret Tucker produced a hand written manuscript that was then edited by Jean Hughes. The editorial preparation of If Everyone Cared involved a unique consultative process that drew upon the spiritual tradition of their shared MRA beliefs.

For the MRA affiliate, the practice of daily ‘guidance’ forms the spiritual foundation of daily life and long-term planning. Adherents sit quietly in a meditative attitude and write down thoughts that come from God. These thoughts, weighed against Scripture and morality, then guide their actions. The habit of daily guidance became the basis of Margaret Tucker’s writing practise, and her editorial collaboration. Anne Ross recalled the daily routine:

I remember, we were able to give [Margaret Tucker] a room to herself . . . I would often go into her room first thing with a breakfast tray. She would be sitting up in bed with pencil and notebook writing away. I would say to her, ‘Marge, you’re at it early’. She would say, �I like writing early in the morning. My mind is clear then. I’ve been writing for the past hour�. That is when she would best remember things from the past. (Good and Ross)

The practice of guidance also shaped the editorial process. Margaret Tucker and Jean Hughes would revise the morning’s writing together, checking that the rough draft matched what they discerned to be God’s desire for the finished piece. Anne Ross describes this interaction:

She would join Jean and together they would go over what Marge had been writing. The thing that struck me about that was that Jean was determined that it should be what Marge really wanted to say in her own words – that was the important thing. She would often say when something would come up, some issue, �Now Marge, is that really what you want to say?� and Marg being an honest person, would say, �Well no, no� and they would work at it to see what it was that she had here [gestures] in her heart. Then they would try again until they got it right. And that would be what went into the book. (Good and Ross)

This raises the issue of power in the cross-cultural collaborative relationship. Particularities of class, gender, age and educational background converge with race, necessarily resulting in differential access to power between the white editor and the Aboriginal author. When Jean Hughes asks Margaret Tucker, ‘Is this really what you want to say?’ she wielded some influence over her friend. Jean Hughes’ superior education, experience as business professional (Jones, Aboriginal Women’s Autobiographical Narrratives) and role as trusted friend and confidant availed her considerable authority.

This is not to say that Margaret Tucker expressed any misgivings about the editorial collaboration herself. Each section of Through My Eyes was edited in this consultative fashion, apparently to Margaret Tucker’s satisfaction. Margaret Tucker’s commitment to MRA values was complete and unwavering. As she attests in the autobiography, her conversion marked a significant point in her life (Tucker), as it brought healing to wounds inflicted by her experience of indentured servitude as a young girl.

Prominent Aboriginal figures and MRA affiliates, Bill Onus and Harold Blair, had introduced Margaret Tucker to MRA at a social gathering in 1956.3 Bill Onus frequently invited celebrities and friends to his studio to see Aboriginal art and on this occasion to listen to the Aboriginal women’s choir led by Margaret Tucker. After a time of singing and chatting an upper class white woman made an unexpected public apology for suffering inflicted upon Aboriginal people. Jean Roberts stood up and declared, ‘from the bottom of my heart how sorry I am for my superiority as a white Australian, and for our treatment, as whites, of the Australian Aboriginal race. Would you please forgive?’ (Tucker 172). Margaret Tucker records this event as, ‘the first time I had heard such words said to us Aborigines. It touched my heart’ (173). This startling address had a great impact upon Margaret Tucker, who acknowledged harbouring a deep suspicion of white people up until this time (181). Years of service in middle and upper class homes and her experience entertaining at ‘Society’ concerts and parties made her keenly aware of class distinctions and the assumption of racial superiority. Friends recall the impact of this public apology upon Margaret Tucker,

Marge was very, very perceptive, and I think she knew that Jean came of the class that Marge had most cause to hate. So the apology wasn’t just that it was a white person, but that it was a white person of privilege and background, part of The Establishment. (Coulter and Coulter)

MRA affiliation equipped Margaret Tucker to forgive the white people who had persecuted her because of her Aboriginality. She felt that forgiveness bought her release from the self-destructive effects of bitterness (Tucker 173). Margaret Tucker celebrated this release for the rest of her life and sought to share her experience with others. As her granddaughter remarks,

What she was trying to get across was that bitterness won’t get you anywhere. Bitterness only brings more bitterness and more hatred. [�] That’s where I think Nan was coming from when she wrote that book. Not to tell of the hard life she had, more so to [say], ‘put it behind ya, it’s not going to do you any good, it’s only going to make you a horrible person’. (Barr)

If writing her autobiography presented an opportunity for Margaret Tucker to share her MRA experience, it was also a major test of her commitment to MRA belief in forgiveness and reconciliation. This is particularly evident as she revisited difficult periods in her life in the writing process. For example, in chapter nine of If Everyone Cared Margaret Tucker recalls the abuse she suffered at the hands of her first mistress in the leafy suburbs of Sydney. Margaret Tucker had to outsmart her mistress, who censored her letters, in order to convey her suffering to her mother. She resorted to drawing stick figures on the back of the envelope as she walked to the post office. Margaret Tucker’s mother interpreted these messages as calls for help, defied the authorities and found her daughter in Sydney. As she wrote her autobiography over half a century later, Margaret Tucker recalled the incident with the immediacy and clarity of the moment:

I stared at the person at the gate and my dullness cleared as I realised it was my mother. Oh the joy, I can feel it as I write. I experienced it. I kept thinking how? How did she find me? How did she manage it? All this in the space of a second. As I think of it now I cry, I cannot help it. I think of my wonderful Aboriginal mother finding her way from the bush. She had read my drawings – a figure chasing a smaller figure, hitting the small one on the head with a saucepan. (Tucker 121-122)

In this moving scene the mistress attempts to prevent Theresa Clements from seeing her daughter. However, the mistress soon found that she was ‘no match for a distraught mother who had had her children taken from her’ (Tucker 122). In the hand-written manuscript, titled The Day Mother Came, Margaret Tucker’s typically open and flowing script becomes unusually tight and scrawling as her text embodies her pain (Tucker).

Writing her autobiography was an enormous undertaking for Margaret Tucker and as the draft progressed it became evident that she needed regular breaks from her community responsibilities and constant interruptions to the writing process. With her MRA friends, Auntie Marge took several important pilgrimages back to her Murray River country to gain inspiration and refreshment. MRA contacts also enabled a writing retreat at Gough’s Bay, on the Eildon Weir in the central Victorian Alps. Anne Ross recalled the importance of these journeys, ‘it fed her spirits, because they were both engaged in a difficult job [�] She wanted to go back, she had to for her book’s sake. That was where her heart was’ (Good and Ross). As noted previously, Margaret Tucker’s MRA friends were very concerned that her book expressed ‘what was in her heart’ (Good and Ross). I want to suggest that the editorial approach to If Everyone Cared encapsulates the struggle for ownership of Margaret Tucker’s heart.

First, however, credit must be given where it is due. As a non-indigenous collaborator, Jean Hughes undertook a genuine process of consultation and demonstrated cross-cultural sensitivity now advocated in protocols for the ethical handling of Indigenous knowledge, decades before they were established.4 The trips and retreats that Margaret Tucker and her friends embarked upon were important interventions5 that disrupted the accepted routines of the collaborative relationship. Moving outside the accustomed collaborative space of Jean Hughes’ Camberwell flat and the familiarity of Melbourne took the editor out of her comfort zone. Up on the Murray River, Margaret Tucker acted as facilitator, expert and guide in her own country, thus redistributing the balance of power in the collaborative relationship. The Eildon Weir retreat also fostered a neutral space within which the final stages of the editorial preparation were completed. The completion of the edited manuscript marked twenty years of friendship between the author and her editor. During these years of friendship Jean Hughes and Anne Ross found themselves inserted into Margaret Tucker’s Indigenous community:

We used to go out there [to Broad Meadows] when I was free from practise [Anne Ross was a medical practitioner]… all that happened out there (laughs)! We got to know Marge and her big family, and that threw a lot of light on her. Jean hadn’t got a car, or all that, so I was the driver out there. It was a fairly interesting experience, going out to this place. Getting to know her family, getting to know her next-door neighbours, who were extended family, getting to know all the people who called in and out- and the dog! Being part of that! He had to be, he was a very important part of the family. He had to have a chair of his own, and no one must take his chair. If anyone was on his chair you had to get up and allow him to sit on his own chair. A lot of that kind of thing went on. The people who called; it threw a lot of light on her life. Marge got into our hearts- everybody who came; no one was ever refused anything. People would come and ask for help. She would listen to them and find out the whole story. She had a great heart, and that struck us very much. (Good and Ross)

As Anne Ross reflects, the privilege of sharing Margaret Tucker’s life also entailed entering into a responsive relationship with her Indigenous community. With this relationship came a sense of ongoing accountability6 that necessarily informed the white MRA member’s approach to Indigenous issues. Founding the editorial collaboration upon an active mutual friendship thus suggests that some degree of cross-cultural understanding pre-existed the editorial preparation of If Everyone Cared. The pertinent question here is to what extent, if any, this sympathy, knowledge and involvement actually dislodged the normative domination of whiteness.7 I argue that Jean Hughes’ cross-cultural ‘journey of learning’ (McDonell 86) did not prepare her to adequately recognise the distinct Indigenous priorities expressed by Margaret Tucker in her hand written manuscript. Nor did the knowledge she garnered empower her to defend this mode of textual expression when challenged by the publishing house editor, with whom she liased.8 Combining the roles of editor and friend did not prevent the prioritisation of a Euro centric world-view in the editorial choices.

An editor occupies the role of broker. S/he negotiates a textual outcome that satisfies the (sometimes divergent) interests and agendas of the author and the publisher. The decisions of a professional editor will be informed by professional ethics and the commercial considerations of the employing publisher (McDonell 86). The decisions of an amateur editor such as Jean Hughes, who undertakes the task to assist a friend, are influenced by other important factors in addition to the author’s and the publisher’s agenda. The interests of the sponsoring community of commitment, in this case MRA, also influence their approach. When the professional or amateur editor is non-indigenous, their treatment of an Indigenous text will also inevitably be influenced by ‘western ideas and concepts’ (Heiss). Margaret Tucker’s earlier public testimonies reveal that she was not only adept at working within the white world, but also somewhat reconciled to the costs that these relationships exacted.9 Evidence of Margaret Tucker’s willingness to compromise can be found in a comparison of the manuscript and the published versions of If Everyone Cared.

Conducting a close textual comparison of the manuscript and the published versions of If Everyone Cared identified many differences between the two texts. A total of 830 alterations to the original hand-written manuscript were identified. The majority of the alterations represented the correction of accidentals such as spelling, punctuation and grammar. However, 117 changes diminish, delete, or qualify issues of importance to Margaret Tucker. These issues fall within three broad, overlapping categories, all markers of Indigenous textual expression: relationality, spirituality and resistance (Moreton-Robinson). The following examination explores the impact of the minimisation or erasure of these signs of cultural difference, which were available in the hand-written manuscript but were altered before publication.

Significant Aboriginal cultural markers, such as references to traditional land and lore and the lengthy extrapolation of kinship networks were reduced and sometimes removed from the published version of If Everyone Cared (Jones, Aboriginal Women’s Autobiographical Narratives). In the manuscript Margaret Tucker repeatedly discusses Aboriginal heritage in terms of genealogy, thus textualising the oral tradition of personal identification via kinship networks.

In one example Margaret Tucker carefully lists the genealogy of many families at Moonaculla and Cumeragunja Mission. She notes details of marriage, children, areas of settlement and career successes. Margaret Tucker discusses the descendants and relations of her cousins, including Jack Patten. Below I trace the editorial treatment of this important narration of Indigenous knowledge as it moves from manuscript to typescript to published text,

Many descendants of the Patten family is here, there and everywhere but only one member direct from the senior Patten family is living. Uncle Jack Patten whom I believe was born in Healsville, Victoria and married to George Middleton’s, our grandfather’s youngest daughter Christina, all English names given by white people those days! [�] Aunt Minnie as all our people know her, is very gifted in education and can go far if helped the right way. She is the only first cousin I have on my mother’s side. I have a few on my father’s side His brother Ernie Clements, somewhere living in the Dubbo district and my father’s youngest sister May’s family whom I have longed to see but have never met. My father’s sister Ada who married Pat Freeman a very fine couple. Uncle Pat’s people lived in Yass N S Wales. His and Aunt Ada’s, my father’s sister’s grandaughter is married to a fine young upright Aborigine who was born a fifth generation of Granny Truggannini (I don’t know the spelling) late of Tasmanian race. Jim and Margaret has three fine children�

In the manuscript version this comprehensive listing of kin closes with the reflection that the stories of all these old people, such as Truganini, will act to guide the ensuing generations of listeners on issues regarding race relations.

In the initial editorial phase Jean Hughes retained, but paraphrased, the kin relationships described by Margaret Tucker. The typescript groups Margaret Tucker cousins in a continuous list rather than in separate descriptions. The typescript does, however, edit out the final section that deals with the purpose of the kinship stories and their application to race relations, MRA standards and Christian salvation. The typescript concludes as follows, ‘Jim’s mother’s mother is Granny Mary Clarke, a third generation from Granny Truggannini whose story has been handed down to them and many other relatives’ (Tucker, ts). Although paraphrased, the significant names and relationships are retained in the typescript. However, when the professional editor at Ure Smith publishing house refined the edited typescript all of these kinship details were removed.

The original manuscript also lists the kinship ties of other significant Aboriginal figures, including Pastor Doug Nicholas and Lionel Rose. Margaret Tucker’s knowledge of kinship networks in Victoria was an extensive resource that was effectively denied to the ensuing generations of Aboriginal people and her broader readership by the editorial exclusion of kinship details. The inclusion of exhaustive lists of kin relationships suggests their relative importance in Margaret Tucker’s Aboriginal world-view.

The editorial treatment of kinship knowledge in If Everyone Cared illustrates the subjugation of Indigenous priorities to the interests of a western readership. Indigenous editor Sandra Phillips suggests that Non-indigenous readers may find it difficult to manage the volume of people moving through Aboriginal lives. This difficulty has led to the criticism that Indigenous writing often has too many characters,

Even though a work may be reviewed as being too peopled, perhaps in the editorial development of the work some of the people have already been removed! (laughter) So what are they to know that there weren’t twice as many or three times as many characters to start with. (Phillips)

The editorial preparation of any text involves negotiation and compromise. The reduction and eventual deletion of kinship lists in Margaret Tucker’s life story illustrates how these accepted processes become politicised, particularly when the perceived needs of the targeted white readership are prioritised above other important authorial aims and agendas.10

Margaret Tucker used If Everyone Cared as a forum to meld her Aboriginal world-view with her MRA beliefs. Extended passages discuss the compatibility of the MRA platform and the morality of traditional law and the strict codes of her elders. Margaret Tucker took every opportunity to demonstrate how Indigenous culture can serve as an educative and unifying resource for future generations, as evident in the concluding paragraph of the kinship list. She believed that the marriage of Indigenous traditions and MRA values held the potential to heal rifts and divisions within the Aboriginal community and beyond. Margaret Tucker’s enthusiasm for moral judgement, however, often exceeded even the MRA focus on moral renewal. Below I illustrate the impact of editorial intervention upon the original manuscript: under the hand of Jean Hughes and later the publishing house editor. The original manuscript version is full of moral judgements,

I have never ceased to be thankful for meeting such people [�] who not only spoke of change in their lives but showed that it could be lived from the heart and given all over the world, not only by whites but by all races especially Aboriginals. It is a challenge, its hard, but it has given me a clearer vision of what we are doing to our world today – pornography, hate, greed, selfish ambition, destroying each other. Have we the courage to fight against such evils? There is a right way and a wrong way – a self-righteous way is phoney. (Tucker ms)

The typescript (below) paraphrases Margaret Tucker’s original text only slightly,

I have never ceased to be thankful for meeting such people [�] They not only spoke about change in their lives, but showed that it could be lived in any home and elsewhere by all races all over the world, especially Aboriginals! It is a challenge, it is hard, but trying to live straight has given me a clearer vision of what we are doing to our world today, greed, hate, ambition destroying one another. Have we the courage to fight such evils? There is a right way and the wrong, self righteous phoney way. (Tucker ts)

In this first round of editorial intervention Jean Hughes hones Margaret Tucker’s description of the MRA movement, coining the phrase ‘to live straight’, in order to sum up the MRA lifestyle. The reference to pornography is also deleted. The professional editor at Ure Smith, however, made major changes to this section of text. The published version reads,

I have never ceased to be thankful for meeting such people… They not only spoke about change in their own lives, but showed that it could be lived in any home anywhere by all races across the world, including Aborigines! Their lives were a challenge – a hard one – but they showed me how to live straight, not in the self-righteous phoney way I had been living. (Tucker)

Margaret Tucker’s words are transformed, as the hand-written manuscript becomes typescript, which then becomes printed text. The life style change that MRA advocates is now phrased as ‘including Aborigines!’ rather than being ‘especially’ applicable. Examples of the world’s evils are removed altogether from the published text. Only the key phrase ‘to live straight’, which was not Margaret Tucker’s, is retained. Finally, Margaret Tucker’s distinction between the right way to live and the wrong, ’self-righteous phoney way’, is removed. This phrase, which had been mobilised by Margaret Tucker to describe the evils of the world today, is now applied to her own past life.

The phases of editorial intervention exemplified above demonstrate how Margaret Tucker’s preoccupation with moral standards were minimised, reducing the risk of alienating a secular audience. The text still adequately reflects MRA values, but without Margaret Tucker’s special address to her Indigenous audience.

If Everyone Cared was also sanitised to minimise the chance of offending or alienating the white reader. Primarily this involved deleting material that de-centred a western world-view or threatened to unsettle the projected white audience.

Margaret Tucker’s suffering as a stolen child and her experience of racist abuse as an indentured servant is re-contextualised as a past event that is isolated from the present. In the manuscript, Margaret Tucker relates the extent of the maltreatment to her mother, ‘I told her everything, showed her scars on my body’ (Tucker ms). This evidence suggests that Margaret Tucker will continue to carry the effects of the abuse on her body throughout her life. This evidence is removed from the published text. Here, Margaret Tucker tells of the abuse, but does not show her scars. The denial of physical and psychological scars remains as one of the major issues confronting the Stolen Generation (Haebich and Mellor).

Many other references to whiteness or white people have been replaced with the racially unmarked, universal term ‘people’ (Jones, Aboriginal Women’s Autobiographical Narratives 129). As indicated previously, Margaret Tucker’s experiences of racial abuse left a deep suspicion and mistrust of white people. This legacy is clearly communicated in the manuscript, but down played in the published text. For example, the description of ‘white people’ (Tucker ms) who laughed at the inclusion of rabbiting dogs in a beloved old uncle’s funeral procession is de-racialised. In the published text, the negative reference to white people is erased,

People laughed at his pack of rabbit dogs as they followed the buggies to the cemetery. That was about fifty years ago. (Tucker)

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