Acceptance Speech. Peacewomen Award.
I’d like to thank the Womens International League for Peace & Freedom for this totally unexpected honour. This award, from an international organisation with such a proud history of activism, is something I will cherish dearly.
I’d like to share with you a little of my work. Uncovering the evidence from official Queensland files detailing entrenched mismanagement of Aboriginal lives and finances during the 20th century, was a transformative experience for me. From my secure background of family and small business, I was horrified to learn of the personal and social disempowerment imposed by governments claiming the moral high ground for their actions.
Knowledge is the basis of choice. I pondered what I should do with my evidence of this litany of injustice and financial cheating which deprived Aboriginal families of their rightful earnings over several generations. I chose to work behind the scenes using my weapon of choice – words.
I followed several strategies. In my writings I have worked to make this material available to families in their continuing fight for justice. At the height of our public campaign for just reparations I could undercut government rhetoric by quoting their own documents against them. The wealth of evidence was crucial to forcing the Queensland government into multi-million dollar reparations for its illegal underpayment of Aboriginal employees in the 1970s and 80s, and for its decades of fraud and mismanagement of private Aboriginal finances. These millions are only a fraction of what was earned, but denied, to Aboriginal families, a denial which continues to underwrite so much poverty and despair today.
Collating research from other states enabled me to demonstrate that Aboriginal financial misappropriation was a national scandal. Through the sterling work of (then Senator) Andrew Bartlett, a Senate Inquiry into Stolen Wages around Australia was established in 2006. Due to the wealth of documented evidence, legal action now has become a powerful option, and a formal complaint to the CMC is in the pipeline.
Meanwhile the fight for truth continues. We need to overturn our imbalanced history to reinstate the central agency of Aboriginal labour in the pastoral development of our nation. We need to overturn the distorted perception that current Aboriginal poverty relates to Aboriginal society, when historical documents clearly detail the perverse grasping hand of white governments and administrators.
These are goals that we can share. Together we can work to reclaim these truths in our history. And to demand that the same standards of financial justice be applicable for all Australian families.
I have learned so much from this fight and the inspiring campaigners I have worked with over many years. I thank WILPF for recognising this immensely important battle. It is a privilege to accept this award. Thank you.