UN CSW 57 has concluded in New York with ‘agreed conclusions’ from member states. As in 2012 CSW 56 ended without agreed conclusions, concerns were great that this negative outcome might result in 2013. Hence, the women’s caucuses – based on regions – met solidly over the period of CSW, discussing ways of effectively lobbying nation states to ensure that they would stick solidly to the notion that the ‘zero draft’ prepared by UN Women would indeed remain the zero draft, and that it would be built upward, without any detractions. Caucuses also published statements emphasising women and NGO’s solidarity and support for proper and effective measures against violence against women and girls would be included in agreed conclusions.
This is the African Women’s Caucus Statement, published on 13 March 2013
AFRICAN WOMEN’S CAUCUS STATEMENT
African Women’s Caucus Position Statement 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls
The African Women’s Caucus representing African civil society organizations from all the five sub-regions of Africa and the diaspora committed to advancing women’s human rights, call on Member States to declare zero tolerance of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls and to prioritize preventive measures in the fight to eliminate violence from the lives of women and girls.
Women’s Human Rights are non-negotiable and in this regard, we reaffirm the commitments made by UN Member states in the Beijing Platform for Action; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the United Nations General Assembly Resolution to Ban Female Genital Mutilation; United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and its supporting resolutions; and those reflected in African regional instruments such as the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. We therefore call on all Member States to match these commitments with national action plans where they do not exist, gender-responsive budgets, evidence-based research, time-bound targets and indicators as a matter of urgency. Violence against women and girls constitutes a gross human rights violation and should be duly elevated to crisis status so that it is addressed with urgency.
We are deeply concerned that in 2003 during the CSW47 member states failed to arrive at Agreed Conclusions on this specific issue of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAW/G). There was a repeat of this situation in 2012 when the CSW56 Session ended without Agreed Conclusions on the theme of Rural Women that was of great relevance to African women. Furthermore, we are greatly concerned that some member states make attempts to go back on commitments already made on the rights of women and girls by recalling rather than reaffirming their commitments to full implementation. We however, commend member states that have recognized that women’s human rights are non-negotiable and have moved progressively.
Discrimination and inequality, which are the root causes of violence against women and girls, must be addressed in order to end this global challenge through the engagement of men and boys, as well as traditional and religious leaders amongst other strategies. Only by addressing the root causes will women and girls reach their full political, social and economic potential.
Manifestations of VAW/G including harmful traditional, customary and contemporary practices such as child, early and forced marriages; female genital mutilation; torture; intimate partner and domestic violence; rape; trafficking; and violence in the media must end now.
Factors that perpetuate VAW/G such as increasing militarization including the proliferation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons must be curbed.
We call on Member States to embed issues of gender equality and violence prevention in school curriculums from early childhood level.
we call on our leaders to ensure that:
- Women participate fully in all sectors and decision-making spaces.
- Survivors have a right to regain their bodily integrity and autonomy.
We urge Member States to strengthen multi-sectoral services and responses to violence against women and girls, including provision of services to secure their sexual and reproductive health and rights, psychosocial counseling and support, as well as long-term assistance and reparations.
We remain deeply concerned and stand in solidarity with all of our sisters in conflict zones globally with particular regard to those in DRC, Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. Women’s full and effective participation in peace building processes is critical for prevention, mitigation and a durable end to conflicts. We are further concerned that women continue to be excluded from formal peace negotiation processes. Therefore, we strongly urge member states to maintain specific reference to UNSC Resolution 1325 and supporting resolutions and commit to their full implementation.
We call on Members States to ensure that peace agreements tackle the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and impunity is dealt with decisively.
We further call for the recognition and protection of those who defend the rights of women and women human rights defenders.
We strongly recommend that the elimination of violence against women and girls be reflected as a priority area in the post-2015 development framework.
We strongly support the Addis Ababa Declaration of the Africa Ministerial Preparatory Meeting for CSW57 and urge African Member States to use it as a basis for their negotiations to reach Agreed Conclusions on this critical priority theme of the 57th Session of
CSW towards the well-being and prosperity for women, girls and society as a whole.
“I regret husband will not be with me”: The Wartime Letters of Abigail Chew
As we’ve begun to expand our understanding of USS Constitution’s 1812 crew over the past decade, we’ve learned that the shipboard lives of the officers, sailors, and Marines is only one part of a complex story. Though it was the men who fought the battles and suffered physical wounds, for the women left at home, wives, sisters, and mothers, the war brought its own traumas and hardships.
The letters exchanged by Constitution Purser Thomas J. Chew and his wife Abigail give us a glimpse into the personal lives of one upper middle class family and how they coped with the stresses of wartime. Both were exquisitely literate, and they wrote their letters in the lively, conversational tone so common at the time. In keeping with their playful nature, Abigail frequently signed her letters “your attached Hortensia”, a reference to a famous female orator of the Roman Republic. For his part, Thomas signed his letters, “your loving husband”.
|Purser Chew’s sea bag. Many of Abigail’s letters probably nestled in this bag. USS Constitution Museum collection, photo by David Bohl.|
Chew had secured a Navy purser’s commission in 1809 and joined Constitution’s crew on June 1, 1812. Thanks to Thomas’ position and other investments, the Chews were financially comfortable and did not suffer from the acute poverty that afflicted so many sailors’ families. Nevertheless, Abigail never became accustomed to Thomas’ frequent absences, nor reconciled to the dangers of his job. He came home briefly after Constitution’s successful battle with HMS Guerriere but was soon appointed to the ill-fated Chesapeake, commanded by his friend James Lawrence.
On June 1, 1813, Abigail sat to write to her husband, never guessing that at that very moment, the Chesapeake was engaged in a bloody battle with HMS Shannon. She wrote, “to assure you I continued to feel as cheerful as our separation would admit – I will not indulge myself with gloomy fears – but anticipate the pleasures your safe return, will, certainly produce -…adieu my Dear husband may heaven watch over & protect & may you soon be returned to the arms of an affectionate wife.” 
The American ship surrendered to the British. Stationed down below to oversee the moving of cartridges from the magazine to the guns, Thomas survived unscathed, but he was present when Capt. Lawrence issued his final command: “Don’t give up the ship”.
While worry and anxiety compelled Abigail to write to her husband, she sometimes wished to share with him the seemingly little details of life and family that he missed while away at sea. After the birth of their son James Lawrence (named, of course, after Thomas’ slain friend), Abigail kept Thomas abreast of his development: “You have ‘ere this received a letter from me & heard that Lawrence & myself were well – we continue to be so & the little fellow looks quite plump…to day he is four weeks old & weighs 7lb 1oz…” Only six days later, Abigail updated Thomas: “The boy continues well & to grow, his eyes are very brilliant and appear quite strong, his mouth, Tho’ not entirely well, is not troublesome. – his aunts discover daily new beauties.”
A week later, Abigail wrote again: “My little Lawrence is not taking his morning naps-…he is becoming a more substantial boy every day – he now weighs 8 ½, which is gaining very fast. Indeed he is a beautiful boy & looks just like his dady [sic].” Stationed far away at Sackets Harbor, NY, Thomas could only picture his son from the details Abigail gave him.
Though surrounded by a support system of family, friends, and neighbors, Abigail often felt the private pain of loneliness occasioned by her separation from Thomas, even for only a few days. On September 9, 1814, Abigail confided to a friend, my “husband left me very early yesterday morning for Portland, being Prize Agent for the Enterprize, & will not return till Saturday night-…To morrow is the anniversary of my wedding- I regret husband will not be with me that we might make merry together- I shall take my wine alone….”
The distance could be frustrating in other ways. With no sure way to deliver letters rapidly, if indeed they ever reached their destination at all, weeks could pass before news arrived home. In a half-scolding, half-teasing way, Abigail expressed her frustrations at visiting the post office, only to find that there were no letters waiting for her: “What must I think of your uncommon silence – neglect, I will not think it – you have never before given me cause to complain so justly- 3 weeks on Tuesday since you left & only one short letter of etiquette – surely I have not become less dear to you since your return from the Harbour – no my dear husband, I think too well of myself, to suppose your affection will cool easily- I must still think there is a detention of the mails & hope tomorrow will be more propitious.” The hoped for letters came a few days later, and Abigail could write, “At length, my dear husband, are my wishes gratified, & the reception of two letters this morning, have given me a new spring to my feelings- I find I must rail at the bad roads, & not again think you negligent.”
After long months of separation, the hope of an imminent reunion enthralled Abigail. The uncertainties of travel prevented her getting her hopes up, however: “Your last letter has given me more pleasure than any almost since you have been gone, as you hint at a return in a few days-I trust I shall not be disappointed in seeing you by the middle or last of the next week-I allow more than I otherwise should do, from having been disappointed in former calculations.”
|A coral brooch, earrings, and bracelet brought home for Abigail from the Mediterranean. USS Constitution Museum collection.|
At long last, Thomas came home. In the years following the war, he served on at least four other ships, but his absences did not prevent the young couple from creating a family. Little James Lawrence was the first of five children. Thomas resigned from the Navy for good in 1832 and lived happily with his little brood in Brooklyn, NY. He died in 1846 in his 70th year. Abigail outlived him by 28 years. In the end, they were laid to rest side by side in Brooklyn’s glorious Green-Wood Cemetery.
Matthew Brenckle (c) March 2013
Matthew Brenckle is Research Historian with the USS Constitution Museum, Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, MA 02129. www.ussconstiutionmuseum.org US 617-426-1812
 June 1, 1813, Chew Family Papers, Clement Library, University of Michigan.
 Ibid., May 1, 1814.
 Ibid., May 7, 1814.
Ibid., May 16, 1814.
 Ibid., September 9, 1814.
 Ibid., Nov 4, 1813.
CONTACT: Jodie McMenamin
USS Constitution Museum
617-426-1812, ext. 124
My intention was to write an article on the contribution of West African Nurses on a particular anniversary of the International Council of Nurses.
However, wherever I went seeking primary source material on West African Nurses, I found the same names of members of the same family: Elizabeth, Hannah, Emma, Adelaide and Annette (Nettie) Smith. These five mixed race Victorian Sisters, born in Freetown and living and dying between 1860 and 1960, were the articulate, cultured and genteel daughters of the half English and half Fante civil servant William Smith Jnr. Their mother was heiress Anne Spilsbury Smith who hailed from a wealthy Freetown family.
On their mother’s side the Smith sisters descended from a famous Mandingo/Bambara re-captive woman, the feisty, flamboyant, wealthy, illiterate merchant Betsy Carew, rescued from a westbound slave ship and set free in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Her husband, Thomas Carew, the Smith’s great grandfather, was a Maroon whose ancestors had been exiled to Nova Scotia from Jamaica and then shipped to Sierra Leone. The marriage caused much controversy in an emerging bourgeoisie settler community made up of African-American Nova Scotians (who fought on the British side during the American War of Independence) and Maroon Nova Scotians who did not take kindly to illiterate re-captives (liberated slaves) marrying into their community. However, four generations along the female line from Betsy Carew to Hannah Carew Spilsbury to Anne Spilsbury Smith and the five Smith sisters. There is a shift from traditional African mercantilism and apparel to European schooling, knowledge and prowess and a firm foot in established elite Creole society. While Betsy Carew was not readily accepted into settler society, three generations of women later her great granddaughters were being entertained by European nobility.
Annette (Nettie) Smith
In a book on her life Adelaide Smith describes her childhood in London and on the Isle of Jersey, brought up by nannies and their widower father, educated at home by governesses before being sent to some of the pioneering ladies colleges of the day, at a time when most black women in the Western hemisphere were workingclass or servants.
As a British born historian of West African descent having been tutored on the English Literature classics in West Africa and the UK and absorbed with relish (no political correctness here), I had to pinch myself when I read the accounts of how, when the Smith Sister’s mother died and they lost the trust fund set up for her, they had to cut back financially and wear each other’s hand me downs. I had to confirm I was not reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, albeit none of the Smith Sisters was forced into domestic service like Josephine March. At any given time the Smith family had at least two domestic servants. Furthermore their anxious father, retired civil servant and lay Methodist preacher, was anxious they marry well, knowing there was no great inheritance to sustain them. Yet again I had to make the comparison with Pride and Prejudice. Marry well they did as four of them wed leading professional men from the West Coast of Africa.
Emma Smith, the middle sister, was to become the strict maiden aunt of the family, helping raise her numerous nephews and nieces. My research, however, reveals all the sisters deserve an account of their own lives and the role they played in Adelaide’s life needs to be highlighted.
The Smith sisters, brought up with a high sense of civic and religious duty by their father, at post secondary education had a choice of attending finishing schools, art school and music conservatoires and a tour of Europe where they improved on their languages, especially French and German.
When the Smith sisters returned to their city of birth, Freetown, they caused a sensation with their musical talents and charm, and founded two schools. But that era also witnessed them and others forming a stronger African cultural identity amidst growing racial discrimination in West Africa. The beginning of the century also witnessed some Smith sisters identify themselves with organisations in West Africa and Britain that would preserve the identity and dignity of the black race.
Amongst their friends were Queen Victoria’s African Goddaughter Victoria Davies and her family friend Samuel Coleridge Taylor. Together with the Smith Sisters they were frequent visitors to theatres and concerts in Edwardian London, where the Smith sisters returned. The music for some of those concerts was composed by Samuel Coleridge Taylor himself.
I have been approached by members of my own community who have said they want our own period drama on the Smith sisters and, yes, one of them did live in a stately home as she was taken under the wings of a German aristocrat’s wife.
I have lectured On The Smith Sisters Of Sierra Leone During Black History months of 2004 and 2005. This is the 150th Anniversary of the freeing of Slaves in the United States of America and now is the time for people to know the story of these remarkable sisters.
Adenike Ogunkoya (c) March 2013
Adenike Ogunkoya read Modern European and African History at Birkbeck College and the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London (SOAS). This was followed by a course in British Women’s History at London Metropolitan University. Having to halt her research due to illness and now responding well to treatment, in the future she would like the opportunity to re-submit her dissertation on the same subject. After a break from administration and research in public service she anticipates a role in an archive or library.
ARCHIVES USED INCLUDE
London Metropolitan Archives, Black Cultural Archives, The National Archives, Kew, British Newspaper Library Colindale, British Library St Pancras, Kensington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Local Studies Libraries and liaising with research centres around the UK and in the USA.
A Hundred Years of Freedom:The Smith Sisters of Sierra Leone 1860-1960
By Adenike Ogunkoya
A Hundred Years of Freedom: The Smith Sisters of Sierra Leone: 1860-1960 is a book about the five mixed race, middle class Smith sisters of Sierra Leone. British women’s studies lack an African perspective and this book, detailing the lives of the five Smith sisters 1860-1960, will appeal widely as they had strong associations with the USA, Nova Scotia, Jamaica, Ghana, Sierra Leone (where they were born), Nigeria as well as Britain (where they were educated and settled). The book is unique because for the first time it gives an account of the lives of black middle class ladies in Victorian Britain and also the central role played by women amongst the black literati in Edwardian Britain. Several autobiographies and biographies of people like that of the half-Egyptian and half Sudanese writer, playwright, actor and journalist Duse Mohamed Ali, a friend of Samuel Coleridge Taylor and a member of the black literati in Edwardian London and a great friend of the Smith sisters, have excluded the Smith sisters. The Smith sisters were also friends with the musician Samuel Coleridge Taylor having been introduced to him by Queen Victoria’s African Goddaughter, Victoria Davies; again very little is mentioned in the books on Samuel Coleridge Taylor who was a great friend of the Smith sisters and Godfather to one of their daughters, whilst composing music with another daughter of one of the Smith sisters. The Smith sisters other friends were Dr John Alcindor mentioned in Jeffrey Green’s book on Black Edwardians, and John Eldred Taylor a Co—Founder of the African Times & Oriental Review. Duse Mohamed Ali later edited the African Times & Oriental Review and Gold Coast nationalist JE Casely Hayford financed it – but not before asking for Adelaide’s Smith’s hand in marriage. Despite the Smith sisters’ providing lots of information to the African Times and Oriental Review, they were never mentioned in it. The title of the book is an emphasis on their slave and re-captive (liberated slave) ancestors and their own privileged status as well as how easily they moved from one continent to another at a time when most black women in the western hemisphere were working class. The title also emphasises the year the first Smith sister was born and the year the longest living Smith sister died. This book more than any other will highlight the growing number of women from West Africa and the West Indies who were part of the history of black Edwardians in Britain, which includes some now well known, including Victoria Davies.
The war was on. The girls joined the Land Army, Bill the navy, and Gladys evacuated to Horsham. The twins were stationed there. They lived their lives and we lived ours. It was all day at work, at night on bunks in the air raid shelter. Our customers became our friends. I helped many babies into the world: the women in the shelter had to wait for the ambulance to come, and often it was late. Meanwhile, gunfire was sounding the whole time.
We kept the shop until early 1950. We were bombed so many times and the rationing was a nightmare. The war was over, so we sold up and emigrated to Tasmania. We were able to stay at the shop until we left for Tilbury and the Orion, early in May. The hirecar people drove up with the car that was to take us to Victoria Station: it was the new Daimler, bought for weddings! Even the police on point duty waved us through.
I had never been on a ship before and enjoyed the five week voyage. We visited ports along the way, places I had never seen and had never imagined I would see. We made friends with the other passengers, particularly with a couple who were travelling to Tassie too. We remained friends for many years.
Soon after we arrived, we bought a house, ”Harbour View’, inWest Hobart, overlooking the river Derwent. We had to wait for our boxes to be sent over from Melbourne. Then it was a question of what we could do to earn a living. I loved cooking. We read the paper and noticed the numerous advertisments for men wanting board. We took on four boarders. David was a clerk in the post office and the first boarder. Later he became a statistician. He stayed for 36 years. Doctors came to stay with us for a short time. Some boys left to get married, whilst others returned interstate. Most did office work. I even did their washing. John moved in in 1959, and has remained ever since. John and David and Henry and I became a family.
In 1960 I returned to England for six months to visit my sisters and dad. I celebrated my fiftieth birthday on the Arcadia and a party was held on ship. We had left many ends untied, and things undone, when we left England. Henry had returned earlier, in 1953, to clear up what we had left behind. Then, in 1969, we travelled around the world, visitingCanada and a cousin I had not seen for 21 years. I loved America. Portugal I found exciting and beautiful.
We stayed away for two years. Then, not long after we settled back in Hobart, in 1972 we returned toEngland. This time, the return was intended to be more permanent. We bought a house in Bexhill,Kent, to be with my sisters. But we found life was not the same as it had been in the past. It was a bitterly cold winter with snow in Bexhill. We sold up and came home to Australia. John and David were missing us. We missed them, and we missed Tasmania and the river Derwent. The country was adorned with spring flowers when we arrived home in May.
When Henry died in 1976 I was lost. I carried on in a daze, until my doctor (who was also originally fromEngland) told me I should get away and see my sisters. I had lost trace of my brother. I took the doctor’s advice, setting out for London and the Continent. I flew toLondon on 15 June 1977. It was strange on my own. I wasn’t young any more, and I felt it. But I wanted to travel to see my family. I had to go. So I did.
I travelled around Europeon a 28 day tour. In Vienna I went to the opera. Switzerland was breathtaking. In London I stayed at the Tower Hotel, at Tower Bridge. After 10 days I set out for a week long tour of Devon and Cornwall. I had never been on my own before.
On the Devon and Cornwall trip, I visited the New Inn, Staple Gardens. It was closed and boarded up. The owners had been friends of my mum and dad, and I had stayed there many years ago. Horse drawn carriages stopped there on their way from London to Portsmouth, changing horses. Stables at the back of the inn housed the horses and the stable boys. I strained my ears for the rattle of the harnesses and the clip clop of the horses’ hooves.
Now, my sisters were widows (all except Mable). Gladys and I went to Brighton and Hove. I stayed with Elsie in London. Flossie and I went to a holiday camp at Hayling Island where I won the fancy dress as ‘Wot! No Ashes!’ a play on Australia losing the test cricket to England. I travelled so much and renewed so many friendships, that I did not feel I was getting older.
Having travelled independently around England and Europe, I was now confident about travelling alone in Australia. A friend whom I’d met on myLondon trip lived in Queensland. The year after returning from England, I went to Surfers Paradise, renting a flat and inviting my Aunti Nanie, my mum’s sister, who lived in Brisbane, to holiday with me. I did all the cooking and stayed a month. I met up with the friend I’d made in London. For a number of years afterward, I travelled to the Gold Coast twice a year, doing a week’s tour of Queensland and New South Wales. I still visit Queensland regularly, so that now I have seen all of Queensland and northern New South Wales.
I am agile and I enjoy life. As for grey hairs – no, my hairdresser looks after that. Of wrinkles, there are probably a few. I have a few spare parts, two eye implants, a new knee and hip. I still enjoy the opera and operarettas, and mysteries, which we can see courtesy of the video.
Edith Amelia Webb (c) 1995
Born in Peckham,London, in 1910, Edith Amelia Webb emigrated to Austarlia together with her husband, Henry, in 1950. She wrote this autobiographical piece when living in Hobart, Tasmania, in 1995.
This is an extract from a piece of the same title, published in Glorious Age – Growing Older Gloriously, Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 1996 (compiled and edited by Jocelynne A. Scutt).
I was born Edith Amelia in September 1910 in Peckham, London. As I was not born within the sound of ‘Bow Bells’ I was not a Cockney. My Grandfather, who died before I was born, was a writer-at-law at William Watlow’s of London. It was a part of family history that the Watlow carriage came regularly to collect my Grandfather, to take him to work. His caul, mounted on parchment, has been passed down through our family, and I have it now. Written in beautiful script are the words: ‘The caul of John Scutt born 15 March 1828.’ The caul is a skin over a baby’s face when it is born. In those days it was preserved, and was supposed to be lucky for mariners.
When the war began, I was four-years-old. My mother took my baby sister Elsie in a wicker pram, with me running beside it, to an air raid shelter to escape the bombs. That was the first world war, in 1914. On another occasion my father took me into the garden during a daylight raid over London, and we saw a Zeppelin go over. The guns were firing, trying to shoot it down, and I was told later that they succeeded. It went down at Silvertown, just outside the city.
Our family grew to seven children, with me as the eldest. I had one brother and five sisters. Hilda died at five-years-of-age, of the measles. In 1922 my Grandmother died, and the twins were born We grew up in a large and happy family. I won a trade scholarship at 12-years-old, but left school at 14 to help my mother bring up the children. I won my scholarship with cookery. I was taught to cook by my mother: she was a good teacher.
My mother’s hands were full. For many years she was unwell, although she didn’t show it. She died of cancer at 42-years-of-age, when I was 16. I had been looking after her and the children until our doctor put her into hospital. She lived for one month after that, and it was heartbreaking for me. I had lost my mum, my best pal. But I loved my sisters and brother, and that helped me through.
Not long after, my father gave me the ultimatum of putting them in an orphanage or me raising my siblings. My thoughts were that my mother had us, and dad wanted to get rid of us. I took the only alternative: I had a family of my own. My mother’s sisters often said they were sorry for me. But there was no help from them. I grew up with my siblings as my children. We had a big house, and I knew I could manage. I did.
One night I saw a bright star in the sky and showed the children. We all agreed it was mum looking down at us. Her grave was her flower garden, which we tended when we could go to the cemetery. Money in those days was scarce. My dad was not wont to help out, but we managed.
The family grew up. I was getting older. Sister Gladys hurt her spine and was put in an orthopaedic hospital at 10-years-of-age. She was dependent on a spinal carriage for two years. The hospital was 20 miles away and I travelled by bus and train to see her. Some Sundays my dad went by motorbike to visit. My sister Elsie, four years younger than I, was able to help, looking after the children in my absence. I left the dinner cooked for them.
There were no holidays, but it was picnics in the park for us, when the weather grew warm. I put Mabel and Grace in the twin pram when they were little, and packed in Bill who was a year older, together with the food, then it was off to the park. It took an hour to walk to Peckham Rye Park, but it was worth it.
Chicken pox were followed by measles and whooping cough, but the children (and I) came through it. I felt a sense of accomplishment as they reached maturity: I had done what I aimed at, with love and understanding.
In 1934 I met Henry Webb, who owned a grocery business nearby. We had a lot in common. His parents were dead, his mother dying when he was a teenager. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, who also brought up his sister and brother. Henry’s brother was in the army, but Henry followed his uncle, joining the navy during the first world war.
My father, not wanting to lose me, objected to our friendship. Henry was 10 years older than I. But Henry got to know the children and we created a family together: the twins were 10 at that time, Bill was 11 and Elsie and Gladys had already begun paidwork. When we went out, the twins came too.
Henry ran the grocery store for nine months or so, then returned to sea, sailing on the liners that travelled to Australia, calling in at Hobart to pick up apples. We wrote to one another during the four month periods it took to get to Australia and back.
In 1938 I began work at the business in Tooting, London SW, a grocery and provision store where we set ourselves up when Henry left the sea that year. I had grown older. The children had grown up. I wanted a life of my own.
In September 1939 the second world war began. With the blackout and air raids, travelling to and fro between Peckham and Tooting was traumatic. So, in October 1939 Henry and I decided to marry. My step-sister, a cousin and friend as well, was married on 1 October that year. (My dad had married my aunt after the war.) We chose 29 October.
It was to be a quiet weddding, but the girls were up in arms. They wanted to be bridesmaids and we said: ‘Why not?’ We married at St Giles Cathedral, Camberwell. It was a white wedding after all, with three bridesmaids. My father gave me away.
I married a man who was my friend and whom I loved dearly . We went home to Tooting that night in the rain, on a train and then the underground. When we arrived at the other end, Tooting Broadway, we had to stay in the underground because there was an air raid. But the all-clear soon sounded and we walked home, only to find that our dog had gnawed up one of my new shoes. Paddy was forgiven, and married life began with a laugh.
Edith Amelia Webb (c) 1995
Edith Amelia Webb was born in the United Kingdom on 26 September 1910, married in 1939, and emigrated to Australia with her husband Henry Webb in 1950. She took up residence in West Hobart in the house she and Henry Webb bought upon their arrival in Tasmania. She wrote this short autobiography in 1995.
‘Travelling Together – Then Alone’ is an extract from an article of the same title published in Glorious Age – Growing Older Gloriously, Artemis Publishing, Australia, 1996 (compiled and edited by Jocelynne A. Scutt).
In 1972 I was eighteen years old, pregnant, and living in a housing commission flat in Sydney with my mother. Before becoming pregnant I worked as an office girl for Willow Ware kitchen suppliers. I had not heard of the women’s movement. My knowledge of it as a force came some years later.
I was raised the youngest of fifteen children and was told I was as good as anyone else and usually better. I am more assertive than other members of my family and it is probably true that a certain aggressive consciousness of identity tolerated in my time was not tolerated earlier. I profited from the time I was born into. And these days young Aborigines are much more aware, a welcome sign.
During 1973-75 I lived in a de facto relationship in Sydney, then decided to move to Wagga Wagga to improve my lifestyle and that of my child, particularly our housing. I also wanted to escape what had become an increasingly violent relationship. The move was the beginning of a whole new existence for me. At this time my only income was the supporting mother’s benefit. Then I was fortunate to get the health worker’s position at Griffith in New South Wales. The job was with the Health Commission and I worked with the local Aborigines and those living in the outer-lying areas. Working with my own people gave me a sense of well-being and fulfilment I had not previously experienced. I gained insight into the problems of Aboriginal people, and being involved in helping meant I enjoyed the work tremendously, despite constant exposure to deprivation and inhuman conditions. I felt I was doing something real to help.
You can understand the local black community of Griffith being a little upset that a black from Wagga (some 150km away) should be selected a health worker in their area. This problem was quickly overcome. My name was a great help: Williams can be an advantage (and sometimes not) in Aboriginal communities from the Northern Territory to Western Australia. I had some hassles with the white office staff, but was sure to let them know I considered myself the expert and would not allow them to make me a puppet. My attitude made the blacks proud.
The community I worked in suffered beyond human endurance, subjected to all that is preventable. Health problems were, and remain, many. Heart disease, liver disorders, middle ear infection, malnutrition, alcoholism. Overcrowding in the ten small cottages well below standard was as high as twenty-five to one house – a conservative figure. The women were obviously the stronger of the two sexes. The families were kept together with the best know-how possible on the women’s part, but to see the hardship was saddening and frustrating.
I was humbled on many occasions. One man in particular, an alcoholic, would always send for me when he needed to get to hospital. He wouldn’t go for anyone else. It didn’t matter how drunk or how sick, where he was, or what time. He knew I’d make sure he got the right treatment – by that I mean treated like a human being as well as having his physical needs taken care of. Each time he recovered, he would bring me something to say ‘thank you’ and tell me there should be more like me. He died. So too did others, young and old. Deaths upset me and made me angry, especially when small efforts could have saved life …
Then, in 1980, I decided to marry. I had to resign and move to anberra with my husband. He, bless him, is not only white but a welfare officer. Among many Aborigines this automatuically gives him an approval rating of about three, on a scale of one to ten. Never mind. We are quite happy and have a lovely black (well, almost) baby.
Living in Queanbeyan, near Canberra, in that year a group of us set out to show a different side to young blacks. Always we’ve been promoted on postcards, tea-towels or coasters standing on one leg leaning on a spear and (not forgetting) with a kangaroo. While holding our culture in high regard, we are tired of being seen only in that way. We set out to show just how beautiful black can be, organising a black modelling show. The women’s movement didn’t grant full support, the reasons probably being cosmetic beauty is not desirable if you are a woman. (A little like not wearing a bra to prove a point and sufferig the physical pain of being a little too large.) Our aim was to show we are able to achieve in any field. We taught basic modelling and staged a fashion parade with an audience of 700 at a local shopping centre. It was a proud moment. All our models looked superb and carried off the show with great style. Although it didn’t go on to bigger things, we proved a point. And we aren’t ready yet for the world of big fashion. It’s hard at this stage to worry too much about the clothing that makes the body look extra good, when it’s difficult to feed the body to be healthy.
It’s one thing to get a job in an Aboriginal organisation, but it can be daunting for an Aboriginal to apply for a job in an all-white organisation, in competition with able white applicants When I applied for the position of co-ordinator with the Queanbeyan City Council family daycare programme I was unsure of myself. The post had never been held by a black. But the council showed their good sense in selecting me. Working with the programme, apart from the commitment I have to everyday questions and the direction of activities, I believe this appointment will stand me in good stead when I return to an Aboriginal organisation, which I intend to do eventually: my life should be there, doing what I can.
During my time as co-ordinator I’ve taken on another role, becoming something of an Aboriginal liaison person: Aborigines come to me for help and advice, and I can help through what I have learnt of the system …
In December 1981 I was appointed by the Minister for Health as director on the Queanbeyan Hospital Board. My experience in community work and being Aboriginal helped. The following year, in December, I was nominated as chairperson by two other women directors, and was elected by majority. I had no idea of the flack in store for me. My election upset a few people – some on the board. At that December meeting the tensionwas high. I was stunned. This was the first time I had experienced such strong feelings against me. I asked the chief executive officer to continue chairing the remainder of the meeting.
Elizabeth Williams (c) 1987
Elizabeth Williams was born in Cobram, Victoria, in November 1954. In 1980 she was appointed to the Queanbeyan Hospital Board By the New South Wales Minister for Health, and in 1982 was elected chairperson of the board. At the time of writing, she worked as a health care worker and director of family daycare with the Queanbeyan City Council in New South Wales.
This is an extract from ‘Aboriginal First, Woman Second’ in Different Lives – Reflections on the Women’s Movement and Visions of its Future, Penguin Books, Melbourne, Australia, 1987 (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.).
I belong to a large extended family. Many members of our family have been active in Aboriginal affairs, going back to grandfather William Cooper, whose name is wellknown within the Aboriginal community in Victoria. Grandfather Cooper died in the late 1930s or early 1940s, the year before or the year after I was born. The stories of his activism have come down not only through my family, but through the Aboriginal community generally. He was one of the people who established the Aborigines League, members of which later on established the Aborigines Advancement League. The Aborigines Advancement League is historically one of the major organisations in Victoria to have dealt with Aboriginal issues. Today, the Aborigines Advancement League Incorporated is situated in Thornbury, one of the northern suburbs of Melbourne.
I was raised by an aunt and uncle. It is not unusual in the Aboriginal community for this to happen. Many of us have been raised by various members of our families, particularly grandparents or aunts and uncles. As for activism, it was not so much that I learned about it through talking about it. You were in it. It was a way of life, part of your everyday life.
In the early 1940s Mum (my aunty) was active in mainstream communities working on behalf of Aboriginal people. My mother was an active member of the Save the Children Fund. As well, education committees were set up at the time, and also committees working to provide housing for our people, on which she was active.
I was born in Mooroopna, then, shortly after, we moved across to Cummerangunja, the main mission reserve in the area near Shepparton. (Most of our people, the Yorta Yorta people, come from the reserve.) When I was three or four we moved back to Mooroopna and lived on the flats between Mooroopna and Shepparton. A large number of Aboriginal people lived there, many of whom came across from Barmah, Echuca and other areas for the fruit picking season. After fruit picking came the tomato picking season, and there was also a tobacco factory in the area; my Dad worked there for a time.
Mum’s involvement with the Save the Children Fund meant she helped set up a preschool or kindergarten for the kids living on the flats. A band of people from the Save the Children Fund came regularly to bring toys and other items, and everyone sat around under the trees. I sometimes accompanied my mother, because to me it was fun, but I know a great deal of hard work went into running the Save the Children Fund.
Later on, simply because I was there, like everyone else I became involved as a matter of course. There were no demonstrations in the early 1940s, so I was not involved in this way, but there were some bad times which required the community to be activist. People were forced to come out of the flats and into the town or into other fringe camps around the state. My aunt and uncle were one of the first families, along with the Briggs family and uncle Lyn Cooper, who lived in the town. On a gradual basis, through the work being done in Melbourne by those who are now our elders, people gradually moved up into Mooroopna to a little village called Rumbalara. It was established as a transitional village. A lot of the people didn’t want to move into Rumbalara, but as soon as they moved out of the places down on the flats, the council came along bulldozing the houses. This meant the people had nowhere to go. Either everyone accepted going into Rumbalara or moved on. From Rumbalara, one by one the families moved into housing commission homes in Mooroopna or Shepparton.
My great-greatgrandmother is the matriarch of many of the families coming from Cummerangunja. I am descended from the Coopers and Atkinsons: my greatgrandfather was John Atkinson, my greatgrandmother was Bess Murray, and my grandmother was Kitty Atkinson and grandfather Ernie Clements. That is the Aboriginal side of my family. My father was not an Aboriginal person but I was brought up as in an Aboriginal community and didn’t really know my father, although I know who he was. My mother, Lilly Charles, married Stan Charles and my mother’s cousin, Amy Cooper, was the aunt who brought me up. She married Henry Charles, Stan Charles’ brother, so we are all related somewhere. It was from the age of five or six that I was raised by my aunt and uncle, Amy and Henry Charles, whom I call Mum and Dad.
It was mainly through the Save the Children Fund that I received encouragement outside my family. The fund contributed to the cost of my school uniforms and books. If I went away on school camps or other excursions the fund made the necessary payment. Many Koori children from those days would very likely say the same thing: the Save the Children Fund was instrumental in our gaining an education.
Because of the way things were, most of the family didn’t go much further in their education than Grade 7 – that was the final year of primary school. It was an achievement for Koori kids at that time if any of us arrived at high school, particularly if one did one or two years. If a Koori child went to Form 3 or Form 4, that was a huge achievement. I went to Form 4, ‘intermediate’ in those days. The choice that was open to girls was to go into the professional course, or into the commercial stream. Being in the professional course meant a student could go on to Year 12, then to university, with the likelihood of becoming a doctor or a lawyer or working in another professional field. The commercial course was for those who wanted to be secretaries or work in administration. I wanted to be a nurse, but the family put a veto on that, because three or four members of the family had been to nursing training and they were not treated well: they suffered racism. Also at the time Mum worked in the hospital in the children’s ward as a cleaner. She didn’t think it was the best area for me to go into.
My family wanted me to work in a bank, and in those days a child’s parents had a great deal of say in which the child’s career would be. In the general community, a child went into the family’s or parents’ business, or worked in grocery stores or banks or whatever other businesses were in town. There were also the orchards and the army.
A young person was lucky if she or he managed to go into a job in the town. It was in the 1950s and early 1960s that the move began of the younger people away from the small country towns where they grew up, into the larger towns or into the cities. This move was necessary in order to gain employment.
I took the commercial stream at school. When I completed Form 4, my Mum dragged me around to almost every bank in town. Thank goodness there weren’t any vacancies! Next we went off to the government employment service (it wasn’t called the Commonwealth Employment Service – CES – at the time). I put my name on the list and was referred to an engineering firm, W Konigs. They manufactured orchard equipment and machinery for farming. I was the junior typist.
After I had worked at Konigs for some nine months, Pastor Doug Nichols (who later became governor of South Australia) visited the family. He was looking for someone with office skills to work in the office they were setting up in Melbourne, to work toward establishing a hostel for young women …
Daphne Milward (c) 1996
Born on 30 March 1940 at Mooroopna, near Shepparton in the north east of Victoria, Australia on the Goulburn River, Daphne Milward attended Mooroopna State School and Shepparton High School. She worked for many years with the Aborigines Advancement League and remains a member of the organisation.
This is an extract from ‘Descended from a Matriarch’ inLiving Generously – Women Mentoring Women, Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 1996 (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.).
In 1962, on flying the coop at age 17, wanting to explore and implore the bright lights, big cities, big living, I went to Brisbane to work for the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), which was my first job. Lillian Roth once said her life was never her own, it was charted before she was born. Boy, you’d better believe it. Within a month or two I met an Englishwoman who had lived in India for 11 years and had vowed, after the spirit and vivacity of India, never to return to her homeland. She was looking to fill the void, and found it through workign voluntarily with fledgling Aboriginal organisations adn people. At the time I didn’t really know this, it is only in retrospect, but on first encounter she hugged me like a daughter and I was to become like a daughter, for she became my second Mum, my ‘migloo Mum’, for want of a better word. (‘Migloo’ is a Queensland Aboriginal term for ‘whitefella’.) I can still remember meeting her, in 1962, in the office of the state director of Aboriginal affairs in Brisbne. She was and still is an incredibly tactile person, embracing me and owning me like one of her own brood. From there on in, we became ‘attached’. That was 13 years ago. Little did I know that this bold, tactile encounter, which (not being a very tactile person myself) I shrank from, was the beginning of a beguiling bond lasting to this day.
I don’t think either of us knew what we were getting into. As with all ‘families’, the arguments began, mostly over the fact that she thought I was wasting my life, being a wage slave. and that I should develop ‘that brilliant, absorbant brain’ and DO SOMETHING with my life. So, after a few years, and being the ‘people pleaser’ I was then, I went back to do my matriculation. She ‘hustled’ a rich woman she knew to pay my fees so I could do so. Not that I knew about this surreptitous activity on her part, so when I kept saying I couldn’t afford to become a ‘mature’ student at the age of 22, she replied: ‘Oh yes, you can, I have arranged it all.’ So off I trotted. Did my matric in one year and then signed up for university.
She said she was sent to Australia to be my ‘hair-coat’. How true! She fired me up and shot me down! She was a feminist before it became fashionable and remonstrated at me about the ‘need to have a man on my arm’ instead of developing my mental capacities, saying that I could do anything I wanted to, if I set myself to the task. She believed violently and passionately in my capabilities and capacities, at a time when I wasn’t even aware of them.
She introduced me to a different world. So many cosmopolitan, ‘very educated’ (in my view, at the time) diverse people, from all walks of life and from all over the world, visited and she entertained them with her generosity. I was always included. But there was nothing snobbish about it, for her circle of people was diverse, with many worldly, yet unlettered, unfettered and uncluttered people traversing her premises, also. I met many, many, interesting people through her, from diplomats to dreamers to derelicts (the latter word is not meant to be derogatory). She had a magnetic and energetic personality and was, most assuredly, a ‘people person’.
Little did I know it, but as she introduced me to others and their thoughts and values, I was also being introduced to myself. The discussions were homely and vigorous, particularly between her and me. She was a Shakespeare fanatic and explained away my confusion in that area. She’d throw quotations and words my way and I’d ask her what it meant. She’d explain so that I never felt dumb – just enlightened. She encouraged and inspired me, with my university assignments, as we sipped tea and discussed the ins and outs, pros and cons of my assignment.
Twenty and more years ago I had a most vile fight with her in her loungeroom where she sat, legs folded, sipping a cup of tea whilst she dropped a clanger in my lap by saying: ‘I think you will need to examine seriously the proposition that you hate women.’ I frothed frenetically, denied, revived and cursed her then left. Went away wounded, bent on my revenge, and ‘sulked’ as she stayed on my mental hit list.
But not for long; her delicious curries brought me back. They were as scintilating as her conversation and concern. I have conceded, given time, that she was right about my being a women hater. Ouch! That truth hurt along with the many other things said to me in the form of tough love. Well, today, I still love that woman. We keep in touch by telephone …
Another woman was high in the ascendant, at the same time as Mrs L. This was my Aunty Rita. She was another who was to make indelible footprints on my heart. A blood relation, a woman of passion and compassion, she took me under her wing and into her household the moment I planted my feet in the ‘big city’ (to me at the time!) of Brisbane, 1962. I was 17, fresh, raw, naive and frisky, exploring this new found world of mine. So where else do you go when, as a young Aboriginal woman,you also want to belong’. To your relations of course. My Aunty Rita filled that void. She welcomed me with open arms, into her often hectic and chaotic household, where all were welcome, including all our other relations.
She provided more than a home for me. She provided her heart. She felt, she cried, she laughed, she danced. Many a time, we did this together, sometimes just through sitting around and yarning (which was an activity rather than a boredom). Aunty Rita was earthy, uncluttered and classy. She was my role model for style. Someone once said that style and class are a bit like humility and spirtuality – either you’ve got it or you haven’t and if you have, you don’t have to go around broadcasting it. Well, Aunty Rita had ‘IT’. An indefinable essence which came from just being herself. She could adorn herself with clothes of many colours that would either clash or look insipid on others. But not on her! Oh, no, they became alive and alert, just as she was. She brought colour and personality to her clothes and to those she met.
More importantly, Aunty Rita was a dreamer. She always had plans for life and was always about to embark on something exotic. As with all of us, they often did not materialise, but I loved and partook of that zest for life. She shared it and passed it on to me.
Later, in my travels in and out of Brisbane there was always a bed and a feed for me awaiting at Aunty Rita’s, often without ritual of writing – just turning up. If there wasn’t room, she’d MAKE room.To try to pinpoint exactly her generosity is like trying to describe the taste of icecream to someone who has not tasted it. her generosity was just THERE. Encompassing, pervasive, loving. To me, she was one of those older, Aboriginal matriachs, who cared and shared. To say more would be to denude the essence …
Lillian Holt (c) 1996
Born on 17 February 1945 at Cherbourg, Queensland, Lillian Holt is a tireless worker for the rights of Indigenous Australians, particularly in the field of education. As Director of the Centre for Indigenous Education at the University of Melbourne she continued her life-time work in the education field. She is a Fellow of the University of Melbourne.
This is an excerpt from ‘Soaring with Eagles’, published in Living Generously – Women Mentoring Women, Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 1992 (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.).
Two days before my fiftieth birthday I received a confidential fax, first thing on arrival at work, to be a contributor to Living Generously. I was feeling furious, feisty and feral as I prepared to trudge – but not begrudge – my next half century. Not that I was worried about turning fifty. Hell no. You can’t ‘live generously’ if you don’t honour your god-given age.
I was heavily laden with a cold (in mid-summer), when the temperature in Adelaide had remained static and stganated in the high thirties for the past few days and there was a ‘big mamma’ full moon that night (sure to have an effect on ’lunar-tics’ like me). My star sign Aquarius was heavily aligned with my companion sign, neurosis. I was in a mood to run with wild wolves and soar with the eagles whilst simultaneously catering to, and contemptuous of, the pervading presence of the partriarchal pygmies who’steer’ the stultifying ship called the ‘system’.
Fifteenth of February – comes the fax. A generous offer. Living Generously? Hell, I’m more fit to write about living dangerously, I reckon. Which is what I have done for the past 49 years, 364 days. Nevertheless, there is danger in generosity and generosity is danger, I thought to myself.
And most of the women who have affirmed, allowed and given and striven of their generosity, have been ‘dangerous’ as well as generous. My life has been peppered with such women. Not prominent in numbers, but most definitely in impact.
The Dollys. The Muriels. The Ritas. The Dianas. The Katies. They deserve to be honourd in an ode. Gracious, generous gals, all of them. All of them have made indelible footprints on my heart and soul, not just through love but through conflict, on occasions. Hence, the richness of the whole gamut of emotions. They steered and guided whilst I sometimes ranted and raved. All of them came along in durations of decades, just when I needed to be monitored and nurtured.
They were divining gifts, though I didn’t really recognise them as that, at the time. Some were there, all of the time, some were there most of the time. Physically we may have been apart but not mentally and emotionally. They nurtured me through dark nights of the soul, the wounds of racism, they humoured the seriousness out of me and coaxed and cajoled my talent within. Like angels watching over the mosaic of me, they were there in one form or another. When I went berserk on automatic pilot, they rectified the deviation.
My Mum deserves the first accolade. She loved me in the most wonderful way – to the core and bone and depth of her being. I knew that supremely right through my childhood and adulthood. No analysis paralysis about the tensions of dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships so prevalent in today’s era. My Mum stood bold and firm within my firmament. I loved cuddling up to her and sleeping in the same bed – even up to my late twenties – during my university days when I went home to see her! On cold, wintry nights, during my semester break, when I returned, wounded, scarred and jarred by life, I went home to Mum, cuddled up next to her and knew all would be well. Somehow the frumpiness of her bed was a little like being back in the womb. It was an old, craggy, well-used and worn bed, a bit like Mum. Dad was deceased, by then, for a couple of years. She’d weathered the storms of life and was awash with welcome that one of her daughters had returned.
Oh sure, she pissed me off at times, as she cautioned me against this and that. That I needed to relax, was still too highly strung, needed to slow down, stop impressing ‘the snows’ (which is what she called whitefells) and told me to believe in God. At the time, this was a bit too much for me, especially the remarks about God, as I was a card-carrying Marxist and hell bent on changing the world. When I did object, she’d tell me I was getting a bit too big for my boots and would cut the conversation short by saying: ‘I don’t know what they teach you at uni, Lillian, but it certainly isn’t manners!’
It was her sobriety and dignity, both reflected in her demeanour, I have come to admire. I suppose, in a sense, her world was much different from mine. But I can reap the benefits in hindsight.
I was part of her blessed brood of three – an older sister and a younger brother. She didn’t know her own birthdate nor any of her relations – including her mother and father – as she was taken from her parents in the ‘olden days’ of assimilationist policy and put on an Aboriginal settlement in Queensland.
You could call my Mum one of those older Aboriginal women of the matriarch type. I once asked her why she never touched alcohol (as my Dad did) and she philosphically replied: ‘Somebody had to be in control.’ End of matter. No whingeing, whining , moralising nor anlaysis. Just matter of fact. She loved gardening and growing our own vegetables and flowers, tilling and tending the garden in the same way with her kids. MyMum was one of those women you could ‘go home to’.
When the tough got going, Mum got going. She was a ‘flash’ dresser and once told me, when I was a teenager, that all one needed to stop the wrinkles or crowsfeet under eyes was a dose of your own saliva, run elegantly outwardly to inwardly with one of your fingers. She never wore an ounce of make-up (said it was no good for you, besides it gave her a ‘headcache’ on the one occasion she had donned lipstick and powder in her life!) She, along with my Dad, went to bed with the birds and got up with them.
One of the biggest impacts my Mum made on me along with my other many older Aboriginal relatives – including me – was never describing people in terms of being attractive, beautiful, good looking, handsome, which is such a whitefella tendency in our image-ridden society of today. It was usually a comment such as: ”They are a fine stamp of a person’ or ‘ a good/decent humanbeing’. Mum and those older relatives all judged by the inner rather than the outer. Mum encouraged me to look after my good teeth, hair and skin, which she said I had been ‘blessed with’.
Yes, she scrubbed us up as well as scrubbing floors for the local hotel and/or bank manager’s wife. She cooked, cleaned and ironed for others, to bring in a few shillings in order for us to survive and revive – all of which I didn’t appreciate when I was much, much younger …
At 17, my restlessness and risk-taking meant I was determined to see the bright lights and big cities. I did just that. Beginning with Brisbane, in the next 30 years I boomeranged all over the world: London, Denver, Rio De Janeiro, Madrid, New Delhi, Manila, Gothenburg. Ironically, at 50, I have come full circle and yearn to go back to Mum. But she isn’t there any more, the Mum I could go home to! The Mum who was generously shielded, guided, loved, cajoled, scolded, nurtured, directed and loved me. My first and generous female encounter who gave me my spiritual values of today through her homespun wisdom and plain commonsense.
At a time when White Australia rejected and made you feel dejected about your Aboriginal features, my Mum would say: ‘That’s a strong, intelligent forehead you’ve got. Use it.’ I went through life thinking I was pretty damned smart, having such a prominent Aboriginal forehead.
Lillian Holt (c) 1996
At the time of writging, Lillian Holt was principal of Tauondi (formerly Aboriginal Community College) Port Adelaide, in South Australian, where she worked for some 15 years. Born on 17 February 1945 at Cherbourg Aboriginal settlement in Queensland, Lillian Holt was educated at Aramac Primary School, Aramac, Queensland; at the University of Queensland – where she graduated with a bachelor of arts; and the University of Northern Colorado, USA, where she graduated with a master of arts. She enjoys people, reading and writing, travel.
This is an extract from ‘Soaring with Eagles’ in Living Generously – Women Mentoring Women, Jocelynne A. Scutt (ed.), Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 1996.
I was 21 when I returned to Darwin. I had to wait until I was 21 because I was confused about my citizenship rights. It was not until the 1967 Referendum that Aborigines became Australian citizens …
When I walked into the Commonwealth Bank in Darwin, telling them I had worked in the bank down south, I got a job instantly. The resistance was in the south. I worked on ledgers, work I had never done. I remained for a year, returning south in 1971. In 1972 the Aboriginal tent embassy was set up in Canberra. There was an explosion of pride in being Aboriginal.
In Sydney in 1972 I went back to the PMG [Post Master General's Department where I had worked earlier], to the mail exchange in Redfern, finishing at 5.30am. I was earning fantastic money and was able to breakfast in a restaurant every morning in King’s Cross, feeling so liberated. Then I toddled off to the Wayside Chapel and the bus. We collected food from the hospitals, then kids from the homes, and took them to the park for a three-course meal of cereals, hot tucker, and fruit. We’d then drop the kids back, to go to school with a full belly.
In 1963, when I was ironing clothes at the RAAF base, Australia asked all the primary school kids in Papua New Guinea what they wanted to be trained as and began putting them into high school on a study path enabling them to become doctors, lawyers and engineers. It wasn’t until two years after New Guinea got independence in 1975 that the Australian government came up with a program for training us: NESA (the National Employment Strategy for Aboriginals).
I went into NESA in 1980. Until then I worked in a variety of jobs, constantly backwards and forwards from Redfern to Darwin. I went for jobs I hadn’t been trained for. Because I was up-front about it people believed I had all sorts of skills. For six months I worked in a one-off course for chronically unemployed Aboriginals, showing them how they should present themselves for interviews. I didn’t have an idea myself. Out of that course 100% became employed, but in short-term jobs. I wasn’t able to sell the work ethic or, if I was the jobs weren’t there. Government departments, Aboriginal organisations and white business people used the NESA scheme to exceed staff ceilings or gain free labour, and I had Aboriginal people in the class who had been bank robbers, rapists and mixed race, and who really hated being forced into an Aboriginal identity. I had to bear the brunt. At the other extreme were shy, innocent, young girls from the suburbs of Darwin or remote little towns out in the scrub. People from all walks of life were grouped under the umbrella ‘Aboriginal’. Blokes sat under palm trees outside the classroom with a flagon of wine and a packet of cigarettes, walking when they wanted to. It was hard for me because I didn’t know how to get around it. I knew my brief – to get them into the paid workforce. The blokes who were ‘coloured’ weren’t Aboriginals. They knew I was a ‘Black power bitch’. Sitting outside the classroom, they poked their fingers up, swearing at me. Today they realise only too well just where they are in Australian society and why they have never been able to get a job, and have stopped resisting being Black. They are mates of mine now.
The ringleader was the bloke I was with when Mum died. I had gone to the pub to get something to smoke because Mum was dying, and I needed it. I ended up with no money left for grog. He had a couple of dollars for beers and between us we had a merry old time. He is a diehard alcoholic. He teaches me a lot. I said to him one day: ‘There is no such thing as an alcoholic - anyone can overcome if they want to.’ He giggled and I realised I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about. I presumed it was possible. How could I be so naive as to say anyone could give up grog, just a matter of making up your mind.
Years before, in 1980, I went to see Mum because I had to bury my little brother by myself. I’d sent her an urgent telegram: ‘Wally is dead. Am bringing the body home. If you are able to assist I would appreciate it. If not, I’ll understand.’ I prepaid her reply. Back came the message: ‘Unable to assist. Kind regards.’ I stupidly thought Wally’s death would have affected my mother. Concerned for her to know there was no blame attached, I wanted to make sure she was all right. So I went to Townsville, off my usual track. She said: ‘Can’t you get it through your fucking head I don’t want fucking Abos coming around.’ She was half-Aboriginal. So I thought, right, you bitch, I’ll stay in Townsville and get into your home by hook or by crook.
I got a job at the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), fronting a drive-time program, interviewing people like Ian Sinclair and Gareth Evans. I had had ideas of becoming a journalist. When I was working with the Commonwealth Bank in Darwin in 1971 I was offered a job as a cadet journalist, on the basis of my writing, with the Northern Territory News. My boyfriend, a policeman, said the paper was ‘anti-cop’. Being my first lover, there was no way I would endanger that so I chose to work in the bank. When I approached the ABC wanting to be a journalist the manager thought the editor of the newsroom was racist and that there would be problems. He was not wrong. He got me into public affairs as a program officer, the ’poor cousin’ of journalists. You’re not quite a journalist unless registered with the Australian Journalists’ Association (AJA), and there is a lot of resentment about public affairs program officers doing the work. No one explained to me that because three quarters of my duties were reporting I could gain admission to the AJA. You only find out these things later. Then you share it with everybody to make sure they know. I was supposed to be getting trained, but had ideas and wanted to share the vision of broadcasting for Indigenous Australians. I went to the Torres Straits for a weekend doing a documentary for a dance duo. I told the Torres Strait people of my hidden agenda: to get a media steering committee established …
Louise Liddy-Corpus (c) 1992
Louise Liddy-Corpus worked with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Townsville when it was the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). She is a feminist and strong advocate for women’s rights and Indigenous Australian rights.
This is an extract from ‘Taking Control Now’ in Breaking Through – Women, Work and Careers, Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 1992 (Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed.).