While sitting on a verandah in Townsville QLD, Aunty Shireen Malamoo (pictured left) shares a reflection with her friend, Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood: “Being involved in the endless struggle has taught me to grow spiritually without bitterness.”
In this article, the two proud and respected Indigenous Elders discuss how social policies impacted their life path and how they, in turn, are impacting others.
Aunty Gracelyn: I am a Birrigubba, Kalkadoon and South-Sea Islander woman born in Townsville in 1951 and am a Professor of midwifery at Central Queensland University.
My father was one of the Stolen Generation, taken from his family in the North Queensland town of Ayr and banished to the notorious Palm Island dormitories, for the ‘crime’ of having brown skin instead of black skin. Brown babies were proof of the relationships the white men of small towns were having, so the children were removed to spare the white man’s embarrassment. We lived under the threat of the Aboriginal Protection Act in North Queensland. I struggled at school as did many Indigenous kids, because many of us thought sport would pull us through, and we felt disengaged until a dynamic and caring Indigenous teacher made us realise we couldn’t rely on sport as a career move. Back in 1967 there were few options for Aboriginal girls, so I trained to be a nurse.
I have been advocating against the racism and violation of human rights against my people for the past 45 years and prior to this my parents for 50 years, and my grandparents for another 50 years before that. I have dealt with almost every disease, both nationally and internationally, however I have never been able to come to terms with the ugly disease of racism.
While the chains are gone, the invisible chains of institutional racism remain. We get to break the chains of trauma, grief and loss.
My era was lucky, the next was luckier and the next are growing up proud of who they are. It’s a slow process. It won’t happen overnight. But, the world is our oyster, and by knowing ourselves and our culture we can all reconcile.
Aunty Shireen: My learning was in the Aboriginal struggle, and my exhibition artwork depicts my time.
My grandfather was kidnapped from the island of Tongoa in Vanuatu some time in the 19th century and brought to Queensland.
I grew up at Plantation Creek in Ayr, an hour’s drive east of Townsville, where those Australian South Sea Islanders established a large community on the lands of the Birri Gubba people, whom they lived alongside.
We were forced to work. We stripped cane, cleaned people’s houses, cleaned the police station, the courthouse. We were brought up under the Pentecostal regime. Even though we were taught that we could go to heaven if we believed in God, we were barred from the local swimming pool.
I have worked in advocacy and advisory across the health, government, education, community, Indigenous and Australian South Sea Islander spaces.
Being involved in the endless struggle taught me to grow spiritually without bitterness.
I have always held a hope that things will change, and spiritually there is always a searching for the country to see us as people. Australia should be a safe place of recognition for our struggle and a place where we will all continue to grow.
Aunty Gracelyn Smallwood + Aunty Shireen Malamoo
7th July 2019