Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2
I don't consider myself as a political speaker but all I can speak about, and I consider myself an expert on it because I lived the way of life, and my people lived the way of life - I can only tell you about our conditions and the legislation of the governments that we have to exist under. You can make up your own mind whether its political or not.
I'll start in what they call in Australia, the Dreamtime of the Aboriginal people, which is before the white man came to my country. Our people's religion was and it still is, a spiritual religion, whereby they communed with the spirits, and the earth was the base of that religion. I'm sure that you'll recognise this in many things that your people in the same way respected in the old days in your religions.
When Captain Cook came to the Eastern shores, as part of their settlement programme, they poisoned the flower that our people ate. They went on hunts at the weekend and they shot our people. They cut pregnant women's stomachs open. They poisoned waterholes. This is just a sample of what is the history of our people in regard to white settlement. So I'm sure you can understand our feeling of bitterness when we speak about our people, and the land.
The Government set up a Department for Aboriginal Affairs to deal specifically with us, in the way of funding for housing, education, legal needs, which is a new thing. Should the Liberal Government get into power, they are going to get rid of that assistance. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs is run, for the government, by the public service people, and they are the ones who make decisions in regard to anything to do with Aboriginal people and communities. We have one Aboriginal there, Charles Perkins, who was considered to be at the top, but because Charles didn't want to be just a public servant in the Department, he chose to speak out in issues, and for that he was hounded by the Public Service Board and at the moment he has taken leave and I doubt if he will return, because Aboriginal workers in the Department will never attain the positions where they will make decisions. It is always done by the white public servants.page 88
When Labour got into power, (I'm not here to speak for Labour Party because as far as I'm concerned, they're all white, and we don't expect any better from them unless we know that they accept what people put to them for our needs), but when Labour did get into power, there has been an easing of a lot of the conditions, especially in the area of education, legal assistance.
When it comes to the tribal people, they live under the tribal law, so that when they come into the courts, they don't know why they are arrested and they can't understand English, a lot of them. We would like to see our own peers, the tribal elders, deal with anyone who came to the courts. There has been a move made by some of the courts in the Northern Territory, where the tribal people are being handled by their own people.
There has been a lot of delegations and demonstrations in Canberra, where the Government, the Federal Parliament, sits. We go there because there is no other way to get attention for many of the things that are happening. We demonstrate so that people will hear our voice. I'm gland to say that there are many things that have come out of taking radical action and demonstrations. We don't consider to lay down our bodies for the cause of our people is a big thing.
The organisations that get funded have to beg and scrape for whatever funds they get. We do have many women who work within the organisations at a national level, and they form the backbone of them.
The main thing we have to live under is the policies laid down by the Department, and the various political bodies who come into power. Most of these are not done with the consultation of the people. Therefore, there is never any relevance to our way of life.
Our land rights claims have yet to be fully understood. If they are understood, there is always a financial reason behind the government not accepting the people's request. In many of the tribal areas there are very rich minerals and this is where the mining goes on.page 89
You might have heard about land rights being given to some of the tribal people. This is the way that they do it. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs buys the land, whatever land they give, from the government and the people hold it in trust, but they pay for it from whatever projects they are working on, so in actual fact, we do not and up to date have never had, any land rights.
Speaking of our people under the various governments runs to form because its a white system, outdated system even in regard to white people, so we don't expect to have any understanding or sympathy, until they change many of the laws that they brought out when Captain Cook came, and many of them are still in process today.
I would like to explain some of the things that many of our women have to exist under. As you know, we have a lot of social problems and many of our women end up in jail, either through drink, prostitution, or just for no reason at all they're aware of. And we have had over many years reports at our conferences that women have been raped and are being raped while they are in jail. Being bashed up by the police. We've had our people murdered while they are in jail. I had a report not long before I came over here of a man whose body was sent back to the place where he came from, (that's from Brisbane to another town), in a plastic bag. It was full of cotton wool and blood and his family never saw the body, they were not allowed to see him. This came from the jail. I'm sure our people will be doing something about that.
This is just one instance of a woman who had her children taken away from her by the Welfare department in Queensland. She was so depressed and upset that she lost her children that she poured petrol over herself and burned herself to death.
So when we come to a conference like this, I'm not here to speak about myself because I want you to understand what's happening with my people. And I consider it a privilege to be able to speak here.page 90
The urban situation is very much the same, so I would like you to tell me if there is any future for our women and children when they live under these conditions? You are happy and you are very blessed because you have your culture, you have your land, you have your own way of life. You have never known what it means, and I hope you never will, to lose all of these things.
I would like to ask for your understanding and support - not if you feel you don't want to give it, but from your heart. So if we are going to help each other as women, for the sake of our children and our people, then I can go back and be happy and tell my sisters that it was good to be here with you.