That's the Spirit: Ruth and Dick Carney - Narromine
Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this page contains images of deceased persons.
Widely known to many across the region as Uncle and Aunty, Dick and Ruth Carney are long-time Narromine residents, proud elders of the Wiradjuri nation and respected members of the regional community. The couple has been married for 56 years and both have been involved in many community activities and organisations, including proudly co-ordinating and training four decades’ worth of local debutants.
Ruth: We are very proud of the fact that we’ve spent the past 40 years training Narromine’s debutantes – we now have “debs” whose grandchildren are coming through to make their debut. The youngest we’ve trained was six years old and the oldest was 80! That “training” involves spending six weeks with them to teach them to dance and that sort of thing, and then we “present” them to society. Some years there are dozens, some years there aren’t many at all.
Dick and I don’t have any children of our own – we lost all our babies – so for that six weeks, they become like our own children. It’s been such a great experience for us. Losing our babies all those years ago was a very sad time. But we’ve been so lucky with the family we have – without their support, it would have been unbearable.
Dick: I drive the pre-school bus – been doing that for 30 years. Many years ago, I went to a clairvoyant and she asked me about losing our babies. I told her that we’d lost three – a little girl and two little boys – because Ruth couldn’t carry them to full term. And she said that my work would bring their spirits close to me. So when those little pre-schoolers come up and give me a hug, that’s the spirit of my own lost children. That’s why I love driving that bus so much – that gives me such comfort and it makes me feel so good. Ruth and I are very spiritual people.
Ruth and Dick Carney, Narromine
Ruth: This community has become our family. Even after we lost our parents, we decided that this was where we needed to be – Narromine is our home and our family. I’m happy doing what we do here.
I’ve been a very protected species here – I’ve never experienced racism or prejudice in Narromine. Although there was one small incident when I was a girl going to school. I came home and said to Mum, “Those kids were calling me “blackie” today.” And she said, “Well, what colour are you?” and I said, “Black.” And she said “Well, there you go. Just tell them that God made you at night and he was in a hurry and he forgot to paint you white!”
My mother was my inspiration – she made me what I am today.
I’ve not internalised any of that bitterness or resentment that so many others feel – and that’s thanks to her.
She was part of the stolen generation and that’s where she drew her strength from – that determination to get on and just do.
Dick: It was different for me. I grew up in another town where there was a lot of racism. My parents had 14 kids and kept them in the bush away from the authorities and the welfare. I think coming to Narromine took that weight off my shoulders – since coming here more than 50 years ago, I feel I belong – I feel like family here. Everyone treated me as equal.
Ruth: It’s been a healing journey for Dick, and I can see that. All these years have combined to make Dick the man he is – he’s a good person. Thanks to Narromine, he knows that he’s as good as anyone else – in fact better than those who used to put him down.
Dick: We love doing all these things for Narromine. Since coming here, and being made to feel so welcome, I think it’s the right thing to give something back to those people.
Ruth and Dick Carney, Narromine
Ruth: I was a councillor (with Narromine Shire) for a while, and I did that because I felt that if I was going to be part of the community I should step up and be part of the process. I always said, while I was a councillor, that I would never vote for something I didn’t fully understand – I asked lots of questions, and always made sure I understood before voting on anything. I also wanted to show the rest of my mob (Aboriginal) that we can be part of the process. I thought maybe we can do better for our people if they see a black face in the council. It was a good experience, and a lot of Aboriginal people were really happy I did it. I actually got the Aboriginal flag flying above council – I was pretty happy with that.
Our land and our rivers are our sacred places – we need to look after them, and I’d like to think that Aboriginal people from the Wiradjuri nation would be proud of that heritage and want to be part of preserving it. There are some great white people who are really proud of that Wiradjuri culture too, and they’re helping to maintain it.
It’s sad when there’s division – we need to stop thinking in terms of “us and them”. We don’t own the land; the land owns us. I feel for those people who think the world owes them something, because that’s no way to live. Dick and I have always had a great work ethic. He spent his working life shearing, and I’ve been cleaning toilets at the hospital for 27 years – nothing like a bit of shit to buy you three houses, eh?
We’ve also been involved with the Narromine museum for seven years. We thought it was important to preserve the town’s history, but unfortunately, we are struggling for volunteers to keep it open. That’s a shame because there’s so much personal gain that comes from stepping up and getting involved in community. It’s important to value the contribution you can make by giving your time to the community to make it a better place. No-one is going to do it for you.
Dick: The people of Narromine are great – it’s full of very good people, and the town has a lot to offer. That’s why we like to do things for the community because we want to give back to the town that’s been so good to us.
*This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
VALE: Dick Carney
A Message from NALAG’s That’s the Spirit co-ordinator, Jen Cowley:
It was with profound sadness and a deep sense of communal loss that we received the news yesterday of Dick Carney’s death, and we send our love and thoughts to Ruth, his dear wife of 57 years, and to the community of Narromine that he so loved, and that loved him back.
I was honoured that Dick and Ruth agreed to be part of That’s the Spirit –
I knew from spending time with them in the past they would be a perfect fit for a project about community spirit, and I was privileged to have been able to spend this last time with Dick and Ruth and to share their thoughts as part of the project.
Dick’s gentleness and kindness, even in the face of adversity, and his devotion to not only Ruth, but to his “family” of Narromine, is something from which we can all learn a great deal.
During our interview for That’s the Spirit, Dick – who drove the pre-school bus for more than 30 years – told me:
“When those little pre-schoolers come up and give me a hug, that’s the spirit of my own lost children. That’s why I love driving that bus so much – that gives me such comfort and it makes me feel so good. Ruth and I are very spiritual people. Since coming here more than 50 years ago, I feel I belong – I feel like family here.”
The outpouring of love and respect for Dick from so many people whose lives he enriched is testament to the legacy he leaves in Narromine and across our region – his spirit lives on in that legacy, and while we are poorer for his loss, our wider community is so much richer for his contribution.