The theme for NAIDOC Week this year honours indigenous women who have led and supported their communities. The mothers, aunts, sisters and daughters who have laid the foundations upon which others, individually and collectively, have been able to achieve. “Because of her, we can!”
Many of the ‘hers’ to which the theme refers will never be known. These are the women whose work has often gone unrecognised and unheralded, women whose names will be remembered only by their families or within the communities they supported. Recognised or not, however, they are no less important than their more well-known sisters.
Two of the more well-known women being honoured this week are notable here through indirect links to Braidwood: Mum Shirl and Oodgeroo. The former through a link with local identity Jack Featherstone, who worked with Mum Shirl in his Redfern days, and the latter through the late Judith Wright who worked with Oodgeroo (formerly known as Kath Walker) in the early days of her activism for aboriginal rights.
Mum Shirl was a Wiradjuri woman, but lived and worked most of her life in inner Sydney. She dedicated her life to social justice for aboriginal people and in the process was a founding member of a founding member of the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Medical Service, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the Aboriginal Children’s Service and the Aboriginal Housing Company in Redfern.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal was a poet and activist from North Stradbroke Island. She was the first aboriginal person to publish a book of poetry and while her work received critical acclaim, there was some disquiet about the themes of activism and protest in her work. In the 1960s Oodgeroo was a prominent lobbyist for the inclusion of Indigenous people as full citizens of Australia: activism which led to the 1967 referendum and the subsequent amendment to the Constitution.
When Mum Shirl and Oodgeroo were working for their communities, they were up against formidable odds. Not just pervasive colonial racism, but institutional barriers: restrictive laws that applied only to Indigenous people.
Because of women like Mum Shirl, Oodgeroo, Lowitja O’Donoghue, Faith Bandler, Pat O’Shane, Nova Perris, Linda Burney and so many more, we can! Because inclusion makes us strong.