Being an Aboriginal woman

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I am a 31-year-old Aboriginal woman of Ugarapul and Bundjalung tribal roots, who is strong in my culture, but contends with the aftermath of European invasion of this my sacred land, Australia.

I bend, sometimes I cry, I laugh, I hate, I love. I am a realist who sees in my everyday work the insurmountable problems we Aboriginal women, as a race and gender, endure at the hands of a class society based on white, male supremacy.

As a people we have survived oppression, suppression and genocide – through dispossession, mass exterminations, rape, murder, slavery, racism and sexism – managed by government bureaucracy. The oldest living culture in the world has had every tactic used by its colonisers to tear our culture from its roots, dismember it and destroy it. But to no avail.

We are a strong, proud, powerful people and my culture is my strength. When I feel the burdens of dispossession and the anger rising, I close my eyes to rid myself of the knot in my gut. I feel the pulsating rhythm, the sacred supreme aura, and I am there amid it once again, the Dreamtime. The sky is black, illuminated by a few stars. It seems ironic, for this is how I see my life at times: the struggle, each star symbolising our plight, the sky symbolising my race, my people. Then the reality of oppression stares me blatantly in the face and I think, they can break every bone in my body but they will not break my spirit.

This ideology has spirited me through many hard and stressful times. The most significant element in my life is, and always will be, being an Aboriginal woman. Don’t get me wrong, when I walk, I walk proud. I am an Indigenous woman who has struggled, fought and, in some cases, conquered. The road is long, rough and lonely, but my guides who have great spiritual, sacred and significant antiquity – my spiritual ancestors – strengthen me every step of the struggle.

The inspiration of my life comes from many aspects – tribal, customary, sacred and spiritual. All this has amounted to a profound respect for my forebears – women of insurmountable strength, spirituality and power.

My bonds with my culture have destined my life and my pathway set out and laid down by ancestors, for a relationship between a woman and her country creates a ritual bond between herself and those natural forces of a cultural nature.

It is by no coincidence, then, that after 26 years I would return to the country of my roots.

I was born at Grafton New South Wales in 1962. A week later, I returned to Baryulgil with my mother, whom I love dearly, to be greeted by my father and my two elder brothers. This was my first home, where I cut my first tooth and took my first step. I learned, I grew, I played, I frolicked. I was an innocent baby amid rich, self-righteous, greedy, power mongers – the asbestos mine owners. These people are but blatant murderers, knowing only too well what lay ahead for us all, as Aboriginal men, women and children. We innocent people knew nothing of what was in store for us. We all went our separate ways and continued with our lives.

I was 2 years old when we left Baryugil. Looking back on my life, I remember those baby years and my childhood as happy, memorable and joyous and my teen years as hard, fast and rebellious. But all in all, it has been an unforgettable experience. I see life as an invaluable experience in itself. I’ve learned so much from mine, and the lessons have strengthened me.

1988 was a significant year for me. It was a time of discovery, disgust, contempt, courage, solidarity, unity and cultural consolidation. That year set precedents in my mind and in my life.

I saw Australia as it really is: a society divided by race, gender, ethics, religion, culture and class. The struggle united us as we stood and marched together on invasion day, January 26, in Sydney, two weeks at Musgrave Park in Brisbane and at the opening of Parliament House in Canberra. Together, we were marching and protesting for Black rights, sovereignty and justice. In each stride of each march I grew in mind, body and soul. I strengthened in spirit. That determination of the struggle inspired me to fight harder and longer.

In 1988 my parents, my daughter and I moved to Lismore in NSW, from Beaudesert in Queensland. That move was significant to me. I was leaving behind the place where I had accumulated knowledge, strength, spirit and deep roots – taking it with me to another struggle.

It was a joint decision, made of respect and love for our people – fellow victims of Black oppression. My feelings of unity and bond with my culture and land took me back to Baryulgil Square, where I was born and reared as a baby. Across the road is a shell of what once was a multi-million-dollar business for three companies, James Hardie being the principal owner. A predominantly Black workforce mined raw asbestos from 1942 until 1979, under appalling work and safety conditions for under-award wages, without sufficient living and working conditions. My father was one of those workers. My mother, two brothers, my sister and I lived amid the asbestos. Our home was a make-shift shack of corrugated iron, boards and recycled asbestos bags from the mine. Every facet of our lives revolved around asbestos: we breathed it in, ate it, played in it, worked in it. Regardless of gender or age, we were exposed to asbestos in its deadliest form, raw fibre shivers.

It was premeditated murder, the legacy of pain and suffering, death and despair being so evident in every man, woman and child victim. The genocide at Baryulgil has scarred my people, both emotionally and physically.

The Baryulgil struggle continues for justice, compensation and redress for the victims of this holocaust. It is part of the united struggle for Black rights – the struggle of my people since the invasion: dispossession, attempted extermination, “the good will” mission act, the “exemption” act, the slavery, rape and murder, segregation and degradation. I feel and see through the eyes and actions of my elders, my generation and my daughter a sign of liberation.

Although we are still bound by the ropes of suppression, there is light. I see it so clearly when I meet my tribal elders, my mother Gertrude, my Aunties Elsie, Mena and Gladys and my uncle Raymond, who as the remaining elders of the Ugarapul tribe formed the Ugarapul Tribal Aboriginal Corporation to fight for the preservation and protection of our sacred and significant tribal sites in and around the Ipswich and West Moreton Shires in South East Queensland.

My involvement in the Corporation as Secretary and Public Officer has enhanced my political awareness of the bureaucracy within the Aboriginal Land Rights movement and our stance as grassroots tribal Indigenous people. My work as an Aboriginal archaeological consultant is also valuable to me, being amid sacred and significant sites where my ancestors once lived and camped and roamed, feeling the incredible aura and sensation when I hold artefacts which they so skilfully and painstakingly structured. I am as one with them; their existence is free-flowing through my soul, ever spiritual and sacred. This closeness is important, for it has given me insight into my culture.

One of Australis’s most severe impediments is the lack of knowledge of our culture. Non-Indigenous Australians need to learn, understand and accept our culture has great antiquity in this land. There needs to be a form of reconciliation, and I believe education is the major key. I have recently culturally edited and illustrated a booklet for the Queensland Department on my tribe, the Ugarapul tribe, telling of our tribal roots, stories, beliefs – our culture. This is but one stepping stone toward a better future. Our culture needs to be considered and acknowledged and our lives understood and respected in order to end our oppression in future generations.

My daughter, Sarah Jean, is 10 years of age, she has been taught and encouraged to enhance her culture, to hold it in high esteem by remembering the stories of our Dreaming and the stories of the aftermath of the invasion. Sarah has marched and protested with me for Black rights. She sees the future of our struggle as being in her hands one day, as it is now in mine. Our struggle will not die with our generation.

Being an Aboriginal woman has given me pride. This too has given me an opportunity to voice my opinions and air our plights. When I march, when I speak or protest, I do it for my spiritual ancestors, my elders, my brothers, my sisters and my daughter and her generation – for we are one people and as one with the land.

The 1993 Year of Indigenous People has been a landmark in many people’s lives, including mine. Events in Australia throughout this year have challenged the racists and crystallised all facets of struggle: Native Title, deaths in custody, the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of our children, domestic violence, unemployment, imprisonment, racism and sexism.

May justice prevail for us. May we be given the respect and dignity we deserve as Indigenous people. Let the critics look into our souls and not at our skin.

I have done some soul searching and I have concluded this significant year with some inevitable decision. I decided to join Radical Women. The solidarity of my comrades has inspired me to join and fight the oppressors who stand so arrogantly with their foot on our throats. Our struggle is a race, a gender and labour one. It is fundamentally a class struggle. In unity and solidarity with my Radical Women comrades in Australia and North America, may we conquer. I will, with my last breath, fight for justice, equality and liberation.

To all my brothers and sisters, elders and children of the Aboriginal race, may we as a nation join in unity and solidarity to win sovereignty of our land, giving us back our life force, our mother and our creator.

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