Last month, Robby Wirramanda Knight and his family were labelled ‘government bludgers’ and ‘not real Aboriginals’ by their racist white neighbours. Now the family and Robby – who works three jobs, and owns several properties – have opened up one of them to victims of the bushfires that have torn through the nation. Chris Graham reports.
An Aboriginal family who made international headlines last month after a video of their racist neighbours trying to rip down their Aboriginal flag went viral have offered their vacant family property – complete with six bedrooms and room for pets – to victims of the ongoing bushfire crisis.
Robby and Jackie Wirramanda Knight became internet sensations in December after filming their Mildura neighbours, ‘Rob and Karen’ (Mildura couple Robert Vigors and Karen Ridge) racially abusing them in their garage, calling Mr Wirramanda Knight “a bludger”, with Vigors ranting at him about not being a ‘real Aboriginal’, while Ridge tried unsuccessfully to rip an Aboriginal flag from the roof of Mr Wirramanda Knight’s garage.
Mr Wirramanda Knight’s calm response – ‘Too strong for you, Karen’ – became an instant hit and has become synonymous in Aboriginal Australia with cultural pride.
Within 24 hours of the video going viral, McDonalds Australia terminated its licensing agreement with Vigors, who owned two stores in the Mildura region. Ridge, the owner of Mildura Travel and Cruise, had a key partnership with the Express Travel Group terminated.
In a Facebook post overnight, Robby Wirramanda Knight, a respected Aboriginal artist and mentor wrote:
“Me Jackie and our Kids have decided that we are going to give the use of our family’s property in Chinkapook to a fire affected family or families to live until they get back on their feet,” Mr Wirramanda Knight writes.
“It has 6 bedrooms huge newly built shed and is situated on 14 rural house blocks. It would suit a large family with animals.
“Please share to friends so we can help someone in need.”
Mr Wirramanda Knight told New Matilda the location of the home, while a long way from the worst of the fires so far, was a special part of Victoria.
“An old fella said to me one day, ‘Boy if you’re falling, pick where you’re gunna land.’ I’ve had many opportunities where I could have sold that property, but it’s good to have a place to land if you need one. And if I was falling, the worst place I would end up is Chinkapook, and that’s not a bad place to land.
“So me and missus and kids sat around and said ‘Why not tidy it up and give it to a family who can use it until they can get back on their feet.
“I know how much that house and property has meant to us as a big family. Me and my wife and kids lived there for 20 years. So we’d prefer to help a large family with a heap of kids and pets, and livestock that might have to be relocated for a bit. Even if takes a couple of years for them to get back on their feet, that’s fine too.
“The house is fully furnished, but we’re going to go and raise a little bit of money to do some minor renovations, and I’m thinking also a couple dollars to help relocate them.”
Mr Wirramanda Knight said he and his family were motivated on “many different levels” to get involved and open up their home.
“I’ve been a member of the CFA since I was 15. I’m 46 now. Because of my criminal record (Ed’s note: a drug offence almost a decade ago) I’m not allowed to be a member anymore, otherwise I would have been on the fire trucks fighting the fires,” he said.
“As well as that, I’ve also been involved with the Aboriginal cultural burns (around his region). I’ve been heavily involved in that sort of stuff for many years.”
He said witnessing the impact of bushfires first hand on friends, close family, and on complete strangers also convinced his wife and kids to open up their family home.
“My grandfather lost his home in the Bendigo fires a few years back. He was without a house for quite a while.
“He was lucky enough to have insurance, but he got stuck in a small unit for quite a while. It wasn’t a big enough place for him and the animals he saved, and at the time we were living in Chinkapook so we couldn’t give the place to him….”
The latest fires also brought back memories from the Black Saturday fires in Victoria.
“When the last big bushfires come through, in 2009 I think, me and my wife were in a motel in the Melbourne area. The young lady in the room next door was a fire victim. She lost everything, pets, everything, and she was stuck in a motel.
“I remember hearing her friend screaming around two in the morning. She’d walked in and found the young lady had died. She’d cut her wrists in the bathtub. It was very sad.
“So this has hit me and my family on many different levels. You start to think ‘How can we help?’ When you see so many people homeless now, you put yourself in their shoes… you can just imagine how much pain is out there.
“Sometimes, people who have lost everything just need a bit of time off, so they don’t have to worry about where the rent is coming from. That sort of thing can be enough to push someone over the edge.”
Mr Wirramanda Knight said their offer to help was just “a drop in the ocean”.
“The house is just sitting there empty. It’s the least we can do. So we’re offering a house and land that’s not being used.”
Mr Wirramanda Knight also had some advice for his neighbours.
“Dig into your deep pockets and help people in need,” Mr Wirramanda Knight said. “Classist people are the problem in our country.
“I think the fact that Karen kept insisting (in the video) that I am a government bludger is something that should be highlighted.
“She was telling me that I am bludging off the government, how else can I afford to live in a place like the one I live in in Mildura?
“She said that being an Aboriginal family, we are the problem…. that the majority of Aboriginal people are all government bludging pieces of shit.”
In fact, Mr Wirramanda Knight works, on average, three different jobs at any one time. Karen Ridge’s ‘bludger’ comment was immediately followed by her husband, Rob Vigor, claiming the Wirramanda Knights weren’t ‘real Aboriginals’.
“Real Aboriginal people are very giving and supportive,” Mr Wirramanda Knight said.
The family property is several hundred kilometres from the worst affected parts of Victoria, in the south east, however several smaller fires are burning in the Mildura/Swan Hill region and the Country Fire Authority has warned conditions remain dangerous, with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews already declaring a ‘State of Disaster’ in six local governments areas.
• CATCH UP ON THE YARN
– White-Black Couple ‘Rob And Karen’ Revert To Their Middle Names Amid Mildura Racism Row
– A Fresh ‘Rob And Karen’ Video, And A Personal Epiphany For 2020
– Loves Puppies, Hates Blacks: The Pet Rescue Listing ‘Rob And Karen’ Would Approve
Victorians concerned about the fires can access up-to-date information on the fire fronts here.
And Victorians concerned about why Mildura Police have still not taken any action against Ridge and Vigors (and ignored media requests from New Matilda), can contact them on (03) 5018 5300 or provide feedback on their Facebook page here.
You can contact Robby Knight via his Facebook page here.
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