Campaigners for Aboriginal justice lost a champion with the death of Veronica Brodie on the 3rd of May. Veronica, a respected elder, was a tireless freedom fighter from Ngarrindjeri-Kaurna nations.
She was born Veronica Wilson at Point McLeay Mission, South Australia (SA) in 1941. Until the mid 1960s, her life was completely controlled by the Aborigines Protection Board. Her experience is documented in an illuminating oral history, told to Mary-Anne Gale and called My Side of the Bridge. Brodie explained to Gale that having a white father and an Aboriginal mother meant being classified as “white,” and marrying someone classed as white meant she was forced to give up her Aboriginal status under the paternalistic protection regime. Veronica reflects, “I looked at my dark skin, and I thought to myself, who are these people? With the mere stroke of a pen I’d become white!” This classification meant that she was unable to “consort” with Aboriginal people, including family, and permission had to be requested to visit missions. This experience made Veronica all the more determined to retain her culture and identity.
Veronica trained as a nurse and was also the mother of five children. She was a fierce advocate for the most disadvantaged. In the 1990s she was a key force in the founding of the Warriparinga Cultural Centre. She also held positions on Aboriginal Housing, Health and Women’s boards and committees, including the Nunga Miminis Women’s Shelter.
Veronica is perhaps best known for her role in the battle to stop the construction of a bridge linking the SA mainland to Hindmarsh Island. As a Ngarrindjeri woman, she fought to defend women’s sacred sites from being desecrated by rapacious profiteers.
It was during this campaign, which took on international significance, that Radical Women (RW) worked closely with Veronica Brodie.
The Ngarrindjeri women opposing the bridge were subjected to a vicious campaign of sexist and racist vilification from politicians, big business and the media. It was critically important to take a side.
In November 1995, RW hosted a Melbourne visit by Brodie and fellow campaigners, including Ngarrindjeri elder, Maggie Jacobs, and law woman, Sarah Milera. RW organised a rally outside the SA Government Travel Centre to protest the racist Royal Commission established by the Brown Government of South Australia to “investigate” the Ngarrindjeri women’s beliefs. As predicted, the commission ruled that they were fabricated, basing its finding on the absence of proof that the women’s secret business existed. The court took the absurd view that everything there is to be known about Ngarrindjeri culture has been written down by anthropologists!
It was a delight for RW to host Veronica Brodie. She was warm, determined and a woman of integrity. In speaking at the rally, Veronica vehemently denied the claim of falsification and told the crowd that she learned the secret women’s business at her dying sister’s deathbed. She vowed, “Never will I divulge it to the Brown Government or the Royal Commission. We believe in our culture but are being looked down upon by the government as liars.”
Although the bridge to Hindmarsh Island was built, the tenacious struggle by Veronica Brodie, her Ngarrindjeri sisters and all their supporters helped many more people to understand the extent to which profiteers will go in order to get their way. Veronica will long be remembered for her courage, her principles and her passion for justice.