Happy International Women’s Day 2013
We have the numbers to create our own wellspring of women to change the world!
Attending a 2013 IWD breakfast I noted much diversity and talent amongst the women attending. So I thought, why not meet, eat, and talk regularly and not just once a year? So, I would like us to set up a grass roots national and international organisation of older women. Grand Matriachs Worldwide – ordinary, everyday women who have lived at least 50 years. Non elitist but grand as in grandmother, grand plan, grand vision and grand stand.
I will start the ball rolling with these thoughts:-
Never before have we had such a large group of women over 50 worldwide.
Never before have we been as active in the community as we have been in recent years
Never before have we by our own activism achieved so much.
Never before have we been as connected to learn that much more needs to be done
Never before have women who have survived, been so supportive of each other.
Never before have we so many amazing women in the third world.
All those of us over 50 are members already with no joining process or fees. We are inclusive of all women who realise and understand what power we can wield. Just BEING what we are is a force of sheer numbers that can be so powerful. Worldwide, there are more than a billion of us over 50 who are matriachs. The huge numbers that we have must count for something.
Let us use our raw numbers to flex our muscles in all areas of life.
Every one of us counts if we cast a vote in any election anywhere.
If we march together our numbers demand political attention and clout.
We need to recognise and harness our collective femaleness into social activism.
We are friends even if we have not met as we have shared experiences
We are all connected because we are daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers etc.
Never, ever let us again be ‘just women’ who react as victims and are the ‘other’.
Let us meet, inspire, support, connect, network, mentor, learn, think and plan.
In our homes, families, schools, community neighbourhoods, villages, town, city, country.
Yes and worldwide via the internet so come blog on this website and tell us what is possible.
We do this now, wherever we are, in every way, every day, in all that we do.
In the small and big tasks we undertake daily in child and maternal health, girls education.
Resisting bias and taking steps to prevent and eliminate violence against women and children.
With our collective activism we can achieve in all the ways that we are already familiar with.
Let us take action now for our children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces and all children.
We can lobby for the lives of the future generation to be better than ours.
We can make a fairer, safer, more peaceful and sustainable world for women and children.
We can address the gender imbalance on resources with accessible credit for women.
In Australia we can support Julia Gillard, Australia’s first PM who has been vilified by men to destroy her leadership. As women we know politics and parties are less relevant than people and policies around the world. Julia has put this before electoral numbers, for our planet, our futures our children and grandchildren. Be part of us and never, let us ever again be ‘just women’ who react as victims and are the ‘other’.
Watch this space for news of the Grand Matriarchs Worldwide’s Blog.
Patmalar Ambikapathy Thuraisingham (c) May 2013
A Barrister and Children’s Rights Lawyer, Patmalar Ambikapathy Thuraisingham graduated in law from the University of Durham and is a member of Lincoln’s Inn. She practiced in commercial law in Malaysia, then emigrated with her family to Australia, where she practiced as a solicitor in Ballarat and Melbourne, before going to the Melbourne Bar. She was first Children’s Commissioner for Tasmania, taking a strong and positive stand to advance the rights of children. She is an active advocate for ending violence against women and children, standing up for the right of children not to be hit or assaulted in any way, whether in the name of parental ‘control’ or otherwise.
It was just a matter of course that I was the one who went to work for Uncle Doug and Pastor Stan Davey. I wasn’t really consulted. They were pastors of the Church of Christ, and I lived with Stan and his wife, for the office [of the Aborigines Advancement League] was set up in the manse. I worked there, too. The office was moved several times before the Aboriginal Girls’ hostel was established in Northcote in a Church of England manse in Cunningham Street.
Twelve or 18 months later, Mum and Dad moved to Melbourne. They became the managers of the hostel, and we lived together as a family again. A garage in the backyard was converted into an office, and it kept expanding as more people came on board. I was the first fulltime employee of the Aborigines Advancement League, as the organisation came to be known.
The hostel provided accommodation mainly for girls going out to paidwork. Before it was established, everyone who came to the city bunked in with relatives. Many stayed with Uncle Doug and Aunty Gladdie, and there was just not enough room! It was difficult for people to get accommodation and there was overcrowding everywhere. Aunty Gladdie in particular worked tirelessly for many years to have a hostel established for young women in Melbourne. It was through her hard work, together with two of her sisters, a brother, Maurice and Doris Blackburn, and Gordon Bryant that the hostel and the Aborigines Advancement League came into being. Those were the names I remember as being closely associated with the early work of the organisation and setting it up. Lions and Apex clubs were helpful, too.
The Aborigines Advancement League was from its inception involved in campaigns, making deputatations to government ministers, the premier and the prime minister. It was at the forefront because it was the only organisation existing in Victoria at that time, which was a voice for the Aboriginal people. Established in 1957, it was instrumental in gaining many, many services for Aboriginal people – better housing and health services in particular. It spawned the organisations that today work for Aboriginal people: most of the people who established the organisations that came later had gone through the league at some time – the Aboriginal childcare agency, the Aboriginal Legal Service, the health service.
Things were done in a quiet way until, in the late 1950s or early 1960s the Aborigines Welfare Board, a government body, tried to close down the Lake Tyers mission. That was when I recall Aboriginal people engaging in marches and public demonstrations. Almost everyone in Victoria came to Melbourne to support the Lake Tyers people, walking through the streets with banners. I was in Tasmania at the time, for it was NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Organising Committee) day and I went to Hobart to represent the Aborigines Advancement League. I appeared on radio and television and visited universities and colleges.
For that Tasmanian visit, I was the only one available! Everyone else was involved in the march for the Lake Tyers people …
I accompanied Uncle Doug and Stan Davey to many meetings, so I had before me their example of public speaking. I followed what they did, and spoke about the issues in the same way. I was a young woman, so was unable to speak with their breadth and scope, but I was learning all the time and they were great examples. Many other people were activists and public speakers, including the Briggs’ girls, Hyllus Maris (who established Worowa College at Healesville) and others. I would like to remember more of the women, but names like Bruce McGuinness and Gary Foley come easily to mind. Lois Briggs (now Lois Peeler) and Margaret Briggs were around my age and are still working in Aboriginal affairs. All the members of Doug’s family were active, including his daughters Lillian Nichols and Pam Nichols (now Pam Peterson). Ralph Nichols now runs his own business, doing Aboriginal cross-cultural programs in schools and for major events. Those who married and ‘retired’ to raise their families came back into the movement, working on projects or in Aboriginal organisations.
Basically, my career simply ‘happened’. Initially I worked with the league for four years. Then Uncle Doug suggested I go out into the big, wide world, gaining experience in the wider community …
I had no desire to go overseas, and working at the British Government Office (part of the British diplomatic service) didn’t change that. Many members of my extended family, as well as my friends, have gone. Lately, however, I have developed a desire to go. My daughter came back from overseas and has said: ‘You have to go to see this,’ ‘You have to go to see that’. Other friends have said: ‘Oh, Daph, you’d love this or that place.’ Now I think: ‘Well, it does sound interesting when you put it like that.’ But to me, from what I have seen I can’t accept that it would be any better than what we have here in Australia … I am interested in the Middle East and Asia, where English isn’t the first language …
When I left the British Government Office I went to live in Queensland. Some of my friends were there, so I packed 10 suitcases with my clothes and chattels (including saucepans) and off I went. I arrived on the train, together with the suitcases, and stayed in a motel in Brisbane for a week. The I moved into a hostel or boardinghouse for young businesswomen and did some temping for an employment agency, ‘Manpower’. Jobs came regularly for me. I met up with my friends and was thinking seriously about taking a permanent job, when my Dad passed away. I packed up and returned to Victoria, where I lived with Mum in Shepparton for a time.
Then it was back to Melbourne and the league. It was the late 1960s and we were gearing up for the 1967 referendum. The Doug Nichols Hall had been established by that time, and members of the league came in to work, we had photocopiers everywhere, and they were going all the time. We printed thousands and thousands of pamphlets and cards to be handed out at voting booths. Uncle Doug and Stan Davey, as well as the directors of the Aborigines Advancement League, were being interviewed on radio and television constantly. When the referendum was won, we had a huge celebration at the Doug Nichols Hall …
There was need in every Koori community at that time. Koori communities lived along the Murray River, at Dunnstown and Werneth, Mildura, then down to Waubra, Swan Hill, Echuca, Shepparton, throughout Gippsland and at Lake Tyers. There were people at Neerim, Neerim South, Jackson’s Tract, Drouin. Then there was the Western District. A lot of miles were covered. During those times, the only way we were able to keep the league going was through volunteer work and support from the Aboriginal community, and through donations from the general community, and the trades unions. There was no government funding. Now and again some of the ministers or secretaries of a government department might make a personal contribution, but that was it.
The unions played an important part in Aboriginal affairs. One way was through paying for or organising the provision of goods, including food and clothing, to be delivered to our communities throughout Victoria (probalby the trade union movement did this all over Australia). I recall very clearly the people working on the wharves organising through the union for bales and bales of clothing to be sent to Darwin. It was destined for Wave Hill, when the Gurrindgi people were invovled in the Wave Hall walk-off, at the end of the 1960s. They were campaigning, with support from the unions, for equal pay …
Daphne Milward (c) 1996
Daphne Milward has been a member of the Lady (Gladys) Nichols committee and a committe member of Koori Women Mean Business (KWMB), a projects established to offer assistance and advice to Koori women developing their own businesses and community enterprises. At the time of writing she was a director of the Victorian Women’s Trust (VWT) and a member of the (then) Equal Opportunity Commission of Victoria. In 1995 she established her own consultancy firm, Mandala Consulting Services, specialising in community development and in particular in cross-cultural awareness.
This is an extract from ‘Descended from a Matriarch’ in Living Generously – Women Mentoring Women, Jocelynne A. Scutt, ed., Artemis Publishing, Melbourne, Australia , 1996.
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.
The 31 May 2012 saw the University of Greenwich host ‘Youth, Recreation and Play’, a conference bringing together youth workers, school pupils, artists working on community arts projects, students from George Williams College and Greenwich University, and local and international academics from a range of disciplines. The conclusion of the conference saw Dr Mary Clare Martin, its organiser and founder (with Dr Keith Cranwell) of the Centre for the Study of Play and Recreation, launch the London Network for the History of Children.
Three plenary sessions – ‘Play and Legal Liability’, ‘Play, Space and Boundaries’ and ‘Empowering the Young? Citizenship and Activism’ sandwiched two streams. The first, ‘The Development of Youth Work’ included papers having an historical and socio-economic perspective, whilst the second, ‘Theoretical and Educational Developments’ focused on the socio-economic and the psychological vis-à-vis childhood development, youth and adult maturation, educational organisation, and the politics of education and employment policy.
Presentations from six Bedonwell Junior School students (three girls, three boys) opened the conference. They recounted their role and self-development through participation in and leadership of the school’s ‘Guardian Angels’ programme. Designed to support younger pupils by ensuring all have playtime companions, and to encourage positive caring and sharing together with principled citizenship within the school environment, Guardian Angels is a mentoring and skills awareness concept-in-practice consequent upon the work of Deputy Head Heather Soanes and June Vincent, SENCO. The students spoke of their leadership as Guardian Angels arising out of their ‘shadowing’ (as younger students) students holding the role before them and how they, in turn, mentored their own ‘shadows’.
Of particular interest to historians, sociologists and political scientists exploring women’s role was a session on ‘Youth Work Provision: Catering for Minorities?’ Anne Hughes of the University of Southampton and Dr Mary Clare Martin delivered papers on, respectively, ‘A Good Jew and a Good Englishman’: Religion in Jewish Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, 1880-1930’, and ‘Disability and the Girl Guide Association 1900-1950: Heroic Patience or Active Engagement’.
Anne Hughes’ research and reflections on late nineteenth and early twentieth century creation of young people’s clubs by wealthy philanthropists, particularly in London’s Jewish community, will remind 2011 Women’s History Network Conference participants of the holdings in the Women’s Library. One of the Vera Douwie Scholars at the 2011 WHN conference revealed the existence of a significant archive, including written material and photographs, featuring East End clubs and their initiation and support by well-heeled West End Jewish women.
Anne Hughes highlighted the gendered-focus of the clubs, where ‘sports were a main focus of their activities’, however:
‘Within boys’ clubs, sport and militarism was the primary focus of the activities, with religious elements included as a way to promote sportsmanship or strength of body. For the girls’ clubs, religion was seen as a way to promote the ideals of femininity … [T]raditional English and Jewish notions of womanhood and manhood affected the inclusions of religious elements.’
Another side of ‘clubs for girls’ was evident in Mary Clare Martin’s trawling of Girl Guides’ archives to illuminate the ‘principle of inclusion’ enshrined in the Guide Law, ‘A Guide is a sister to every other Guide’ and how it worked in practice:
‘Many of the developments within the GGA [Girl Guides Association] began at grass roots level. From 1919, companies were founded in institutions. From 1921, an organization called Extension Guides was set up to enable “invalid, cripple, blind and deaf girls living in their own homes to become Guides”.’
‘Badge requirements were adapted to make it possible’ for Guides with a disability ‘to achieve’. As well, ‘special camps were organised for different groups’:
‘While the photo of a Guide in uniform lying in bed making a pretend camp fire might seem distant from the experiences of those who could move freely in the open air, the rhetoric emphasized how Guides were all one family, with only minor differences. Indeed, the association claimed that Guiding was the one thing which could dispel the sense of isolation and difference experienced by disabled Guides.’
Dr Martin’s analysis of archival records provided answers to questions including ‘whether images of heroic suffering and patience dominate over the more pro-active discourses emphasizing achievement and potential’, whether the GGA promoted ‘a medical or a social model of disability’, and whether Guides with a disability were ‘able to participate in the same activities as their peer group’. She observed that, as may be expected, the picture is complex:
‘Some accounts eulogize girls who were models of patience. One girl who had to lie in bed all the time made friends with the birds who flew in. In 1946, Daphne was presented with the “Badge of Fortitude”. She spent all her life in a plaster bed but could still do gardening from her spinal chair was “the friend of all the children in the neighourhood”. Nevertheless, pictures and stories of girls [with a disability] at camp also emphasized the value of the outdoor smells, sounds and relative freedom to blind girls, or how “higher-grade defectives” were almost the same as other Guides, and badge requirements should remain the same …’
A plenary session on the legal implications of play raised questions which continued through the day: whether, in play, girls and boys are treated differently, with stereotypes dogging the footsteps of the sexes when it comes to what, as children, they are permitted to do and what is affirmed or condemned. Edward Phillips (University of Greenwich) ‘Boys will be Boys: Legal Culpability for Sport and Horseplay’ led to participants questioning whether ‘girls will be girls’ is accepted within schools and the law as a positive or negative notion, and what relationship it might have to its ‘boys will be boys’ equivalent. Or is there any equivalence at all? Are girls as girls engaging in recreational activities in the school ground expected to conform to a more passive picture of performance so that stepping out of that role may lead to condemnation not experienced by boys?
‘Youth, Recreation and Play’ followed on from the January 2012 conference, ‘Rethinking the History of Childhood’. It anticipates another January conference for 2013, focusing on issues surrounding play, recreation and the law. This is particularly apposite, for both the January 2012 and the present conference highlighted the central role played by the law in childhood and the activities of childhood, not the least in recreation and play. Myriad questions rise in the field, too, for adults in recreational activities.
Note: The conference programme in its entirety, including all titles of papers and presenters, may be found on the Greenwich University website.
Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt’s books include Growing Up Feminist – The New Generation of Australian Women and Growing Up Feminist Too – Raising Women, Raising Consciousness, volumes in the Artemis ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series.