Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have provided outstanding leadership in the health sector and related domains were celebrated during a vibrant and powerful NAIDOC Week whose theme #BecauseOfHerWeCan was widely judged a great success.
In particular, the National NAIDOC Awards recognised Pat Anderson AO, an Alyawarre woman, social justice advocate and chairperson of the Lowitja Institute, who was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Dr June Oscar AO, a Bunuba woman from Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley and the first female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, who was awarded Person of the Year.
Diverse celebrations highlighted the strengths and wide-ranging achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, in protecting country, culture, communities and families, and in working across multiple domains in resisting and challenging racism and other features of colonisation that affect health and wellbeing.
In an article published today at @IndigenousX, Antoinette Braybrook, CEO of Djirra (formerly the Aboriginal and Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria), stressed the importance of extending the acknowledgement beyond NAIDOC Week.
Djirra has launched a “Hidden Figures” campaign, to centre the voices of women who experience racism, poverty, violence and vilification on a daily basis, and who are too often silenced by “systemic barriers and experiences of discrimination”.
Stories behind the theme
The NAIDOC committee explained their choice of the week’s #BecauseOfHerWeCan theme thus:
As pillars of our society, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have played – and continue to play – active and significant roles at the community, local, state and national levels.
As leaders, trailblazers, politicians, activists and social change advocates, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women fought and continue to fight, for justice, equal rights, our rights to country, for law and justice, access to education, employment and to maintain and celebrate our culture, language, music and art.
They continue to influence as doctors, lawyers, teachers, electricians, chefs, nurses, architects, rangers, emergency and defence personnel, writers, volunteers, chief executive officers, actors, singer songwriters, journalists, entrepreneurs, media personalities, board members, accountants, academics, sporting icons and Olympians, the list goes on.
They are our mothers, our elders, our grandmothers, our aunties, our sisters and our daughters.
Sadly, Indigenous women’s role in our cultural, social and political survival has often been invisible, unsung or diminished.
For at least 65,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have carried our dreaming stories, songlines, languages and knowledge that have kept our culture strong and enriched us as the oldest continuing culture on the planet.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were there at first contact.
They were there at the Torres Strait Pearlers strike in 1936, the Day of Mourning in 1938, the 1939 Cummeragunja Walk-Off, at the 1946 Pilbara pastoral workers’ strike, the 1965 Freedom Rides, the Wave Hill walk off in 1966, on the front line of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972 and at the drafting of the Uluru Statement.
They have marched, protested and spoken at demonstrations and national gatherings for the proper recognition of our rights and calling for national reform and justice.
Our women were heavily involved in the campaign for the 1967 Referendum and also put up their hands to represent their people at the establishment of national advocacy and representative bodies from the National Aboriginal Congress (NAC) to ATSIC to Land Councils and onto the National Congress for Australia’s First Peoples.
They often did so while caring for our families, maintaining our homes and breaking down cultural and institutionalised barriers and gender stereotypes.
Our women did so because they demanded a better life, greater opportunities and – in many cases equal rights – for our children, our families and our people.
They were pioneering women like Barangaroo, Truganini, Gladys Elphick, Fannie Cochrane-Smith, Evelyn Scott, Pearl Gibbs, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Celuia Mapo Salee, Thancoupie, Justine Saunders, Gladys Nicholls, Flo Kennedy, Essie Coffey, Isabel Coe, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Eleanor Harding, Mum Shirl, Ellie Gaffney and Gladys Tybingoompa.
Today, they are trailblazers like Joyce Clague, Yalmay Yunupingu, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Nova Peris, Carol Martin, Elizabeth Morgan, Barbara Shaw, Rose Richards, Vonda Malone, Margaret Valadian, Lowitja O’Donoghue, June Oscar, Pat O’Shane, Pat Anderson Jill Milroy, Banduk Marika, Linda Burney and Rosalie Kunoth-Monks – to name but a few.
Their achievements, their voice, their unwavering passion give us strength and have empowered past generations and paved the way for generations to come.”
Honouring health professionals
The work of health professionals and advocates was acknowledged in many settings, including at a University of South Queensland event hosted by Dr Odette Best, celebrating eight decades of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives.
The National NAIDOC Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Conference in Sydney heard from woman who are “leaders, trailblazers, politicians, activists and social change advocates”.
The speakers had “fought and continue to fight, for justice, equal rights, our rights to country, for law and justice, access to education, employment and to maintain and celebrate our culture, language, music and art”.
The importance of culture and identity for health and wellbeing was repeatedly highlighted.
In the ACT
Watch this previous Croakey interview with Thelma Weston and her son Richard, CEO of the Healing Foundation. At 82, she is “a driving force in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workforce”, and an ACT board director for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association.
At CATSINaM, we take extra pleasure this year in celebrating NAIDOC Week because it offers such a wonderful opportunity to pay our respects to all the deadly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nurses and midwives who have come before us, paving the way for our current and future generations to follow.
Through their example and leadership, they have created a legacy reminding us of the importance of strength in identity and culture.”
From Adelaide to Perth and beyond
Dr Chelsea Bond from the University of Queensland paid a personal tribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s leadership in the academy; see her Twitter thread here.
Roxy Moore from National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) paid tribute to women on the frontline of activism; read her Twitter thread here.