I do not say the 1960s and 1970s increased activities of the women’s liberation movement had no effect on me. They did. I had to look at the position of women in society – that is, the position of Aboriginal women and white women. Arguments between black women and white women about women’s oppression did not always have a meeting place. At times a great deal of hostility was expressed by black women towards white women in the women’s liberation movement. This told me just how much black women have been conditioned by white society. Colonialism in Australia was brought about by violence. It introduced into the minds of Aboriginal people the concept of the native. Before the colonisers, there were no natives; later Aboriginal people were defined only in relation to white people, Aboriginal women were defined as against white women – they were compared and contrasted with them, dividing them. Aboriginal society and its values were so foreign to white settlers that many myths and misconceptions developed.
It was obvious to me from my first school days that white people were unpredictable. This understanding of unpredictability came when my big sister took me to school for the first time and introduced me to her girlfriend’s little sister (who was starting school that day too). I thought I had made a friend for life. However that was not to be. Most white kids I met at school did not or would not play with me. Sometimes (rarely) they did. This is where the unpredictability came in. I was never sure when or if they would play with me. Eventually I worked out that they only ever spoke or played with me if there were no other (white) kids around.
Most of the work of the probate campaign (except in Queensland, where Gold Coast WEL took on the load) fell to me, but would have been impossible without the total support of WEL during the three to four years it ran. For a woman who had felt she was alone in a fight against inequality and put-downs of women, it was like ‘coming home’ for me to find in WEL so many women who understood the nature of the problem I had railed against for years.
English newspapers contained similar evidence of male arrogance and insensitivity to women’s rights as in Australia. One morning newspaper reported findings of a medical committee inquiring into whether or not women should be permitted some form of pain relief at childbirth. By a majority decision the male members of the committee decided women should not have relief, as pain may be necessary to establish a mother’s love for her child. The two women on the committee recorded a minority finding in favour of pain relief during childbirth.
We went to a settlement roughly 5 kilometres from inner-city Perth. Five vans had been donated by a mining company – with one toilet, one washing tub, one shower and one light to service all the families living in the vans. That visit above all was upsetting. The babies were sick. The adults showed such loss it is difficult to describe. They are terrorsed by police. The young women are raped; bashings are common. Just a little way through the scrub was a park area where the practising Klansmen bashed Aborigines to the point of death. I was devastated with what I saw. I met a woman about forty years old, who thought I could do something. If only I could. It was hard for her to understand I was there for my own interest, and was not connected to a higher power, or its messenger.
… 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 …
… 1972 had been an extremely traumatic year. Separated from my children, I was often in despair. When meetings closed, usually in the early hours of the morning, I was left alone to cry myself to sleep: no future, no place to go. Too ‘working-class’ proud to ask for charity, I fed the baby sugar-water while humourously describing my latest battle with welfare. During the first nine weeks I received only two $10.00 food vouchers. Few women at the meetings noticed. I understand, but still resent, the pressures put on me to ‘move on’. Three or four weeks is insufficient time for a woman in crisis to get back on her feet.