Geoffrey Williams has a story to tell. It’s not about when he wrote music for Michael Jackson, nor is it about when he worked with Dusty Springfield. It’s about his parents, and what it is to be a part of the Windrush generation.
Mr Williams was this month’s guest at the Ballarat Speaker Club, where he shared his songs and led a conversation about his parents’ migration from the Caribbean to the UK following WWII.
“On one level, the Caribbean people were invited to come and rebuild the UK after the war,” Mr Williams said. “But they were not welcome. My mum and dad went through all kinds of racial vilification… too numerous to talk about.”
“There were signs on doors, at hostels, BnBs, places you could stay, that said ‘No Irish. No Blacks. No dogs.’”
Much of what his parents experienced was unknown to Williams until recent years, when he decided he wanted to tell his parents’ story.
“They kept it from [me] and for good reason. You know, you wouldn’t want to talk about someone needling you about your colour at work, relentlessly.”
However, the experiences weren’t limited to Mr Williams’ generation and community, those who had been part of the mass migration period following the war.
“Personally, there were things like the ‘Sus Laws’. In the late 70s, the government brought back [this law] that gave the police powers to stop anyone who they thought looked a little suspicious.
“So 99 per cent of the people were of African and Caribbean descent.”
Those who spoke back and questioned why they were stopped were often tumbled into a van “called the Black Maria” before being beaten up or taken to jail.
Williams himself was stopped a few times as a teenager.
“Luckily my dad was home so he could verify what I was doing. I’m very lucky. It was pretty rough.”
However, Williams was not sharing this experience with the Speaker Club to make a statement, he was “trying to share a story”; “This story seems to be hanging around,” Mr Williams said. “For loads of the Caribbean community, it’s not an unusual story… the racism, the flack, the journey.”
However he recognises it’s “hard to put yourself in that position” if you haven’t been through it yourself. So while people are happy to listen, he’s happy to share.