Launch of ‘Trustees on Trial’: Brisbane Writers Festival
Thank you Alf Lacey. And my thanks also to Dr Fiona Paisley and Professor Anna Haebich of Griffith University’s Center for Public Culture and Ideas for their support, including a six-month research fellowship, for both the task I set myself in undertaking this adventure and also for their support for the stolen wages struggle generally. And for hosting the launch here today.
And thanks to the staff at Aboriginal Studies Press – in particular director Rhonda Black and her deputy Gabby Lhuede. I have benefited greatly from their imagination and professionalism, but also from their friendship, honesty and humour in helping me translate a grand vision into a finished book. There wouldn’t be many authors who were encouraged to email god – and who received such a prompt reply.
Thanks as always to my supportive family who seem totally unperturbed that their wife, mother and nanna is gradually disappearing under an ever increasing avalanche of paper and books. I am very aware how lucky I am to spend my days inventing impossible journeys and setting off with the goal firmly in mind but absolutely no idea how I might get there.
I am really touched that so many people have travelled so far for this launch. Senator Andrew Bartlett, a staunch fighter for Stolen Wages, has escaped from Canberra for the day; Gary Highland, national director of ANTaR, has come from Sydney, and Giselle has come from Melbourne representing the Australia-Asia Workers Links. I’d like to make particular mention of Fred Edwards (Normanton), Yvonne Butler and Lillian Willis (Townsville), Margaret Lawton and her sisters (Rockhampton), Tennyson Kynuna (Cairns), Peter Guivarra (Mapoon), a great group of fighting women from Cherbourg and of course Alf Lacey (Palm Island). To friends and colleagues who have made the trip locally, my heartfelt thanks for coming today. Research and writing can be a very solitary pastime and I am overwhelmed by this expression of your support.
I was thrilled when John von Doussa agreed so promptly to launch Trustees on Trial, even though, as it initially seemed, he would travel from Adelaide for a ten-minute speaking spot. But he generously organised to make time yesterday for a meeting with Stolen Wages campaigners and claimants which was much appreciated. Given his eminent role as president of HREOC and, in another life, a judge on the federal court, I greatly value his appraisal of my book, which suggests new strategies to achieve justice for thousands of Aboriginal families whose lives were impoverished by government policies, failures and greed.
I do not make this journey on my own. I share the experiences of thousands of people who guide me through this vast historical landscape. Some might think the voices of the past are not heard except in the memories of their families and friends; but for me the realities of their lives speak from countless letters and reports. It is this human dimension which is crucial to understanding this incredible, immense, appalling social experiment where a handful of men gave themselves the power to control people’s lives for most of the 20th century – and wielded that power with such disastrous effect. The past and present voices of those whose lives were controlled demand that we confront those who still lie about the past, that we insist the truth be proclaimed, that we force those who wield the power to be accountable for their words and their actions.
I don’t see anything unusual in a middle-class white woman undertaking such a journey. For me colour is irrelevant; it’s our shared humanity that matters. The adults and small children I read about, contracted to live and work in environments of physical and sexual abuses, of starvation rations and lousy conditions – these sufferers might be any one of us here, in another time and another place. We are all human, we all feel pain and shock in enduring such hardships or in learning of them. I believe that in knowing these things now we can choose either to turn our backs and walk away, or to link arms and say we will walk together on a journey to bring truth to our national history.
Whether I succeed or fail in my task, I can look my children and grandchildren in the eye and say I have tried to play my part in righting a terrible wrong. I am only one of many, and many were already fighting for justice when I lived in ignorance. My hope for this book is that it might offer a strategy to force our governments to be held accountable in our courts of law, to settle this sorry saga on just terms which do not cheat people of their rights. I would like – just once in my life – for those premiers and prime ministers who supposedly act in my name to act with integrity, with true compassion, with honour. Ah well, I always was a dreamer.