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STANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
Indigenous workers whose paid labour was controlled by government
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
Indigenous workers whose paid labour was controlled by government
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS
(Senate-Wednesday, 25 October 2006)
KIDD, Dr Rosalind Mary,
WOODYATT, Mr Anthony Hamilton
HAY, Mr Patrick David
BUTLER, Ms Yvonne Brenda
WEATHERALL, Mr Robert Eric (Bob)
HAEBICH, Professor Anna Elizabeth,
Rev. Dr Pitman
JOHNSON, Mr Andrew Duncan
PITMAN, Reverend Dr David Arthur Alfred
GLEESON, Mrs Ettie
CONLON, Ms Alzira Astrid
GATER, Mrs Alexandra Hazel
BIRD, Mr Peter Noel
MORGAN, Ms Sandra Ann
COLLINS, Pastor Henry
BONE, Mr Kenneth Kevin William
MOFFATT, Ms Annie
GAMBRILL, Mrs Beryl
BROWN, Mrs Jeanette Elaine
HILL, Mrs Vera
HEGARTY, Mrs Ruth
HART, Mr Victor Gregory
WILLIAMS, Ms Tammy Naomi, Private capacity
Mrs L Williams
WILLIAMS, Mrs Lesley Dorothy, Private capacity
Ms T Williams
HOGAN, Mr Michael William
- Senator MOORE
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON LEGAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS - 25/10/2006 - Indigenous workers whose paid labour was controlled by government
CHAIR —I am very pleased to welcome representatives from the Cherbourg Historical Precinct Group. We have had a submission from the Cherbourg Historical Precinct Group, which the committee has given the number 53. This afternoon we intend to ask each of the people who are here today—and I think there are 10 or so—to make some brief remarks to the committee, perhaps of a few minutes each, just to tell us what you would like us to know and to hear.
Mrs Brown —As secretary of the Cherbourg Historical Precinct Group, I can say that we found out about this inquiry only a day or two before it closed. That is why a submission went in in the form of a petition, where we got over 100 signatures from Cherbourg supporting the submission. Do you want me to read what that said?
CHAIR —We all have a copy of that and we all have that with us, so we are okay.
Mrs Brown —You are aware that they agreed with what was written about the stolen wages and living and working under the act. We mentioned the other entitlements, such as pensions, child endowments, sickness benefits et cetera. I personally did not experience going out to work, like the other elders here did. I was more fortunate—I had an education—but there are older siblings who have been through that system. I am the youngest of a large family. Our mother was sent out to a sheep station, way out at Longreach, when she was a young girl, when she was only 12 years of age. Then she went to various other stations around south-east Queensland, around the Goomeri-Kilkivan-Nambour area.
I just wanted to speak about a bit of that time. I was born in 1956. During that time, my parents were also victims of sicknesses and illnesses that went around Cherbourg in the early days. So I was deprived in early childhood of a mother and father. Our father was sent far away, to an island up in Far North Queensland, Phantom Island. He caught sickness there—Hansen’s disease, leprosy—and he was separated from us for over five years. I never saw him until I was about eight years old. At the same time, our mother became ill with tuberculosis. She was hospitalised for a long period. At that time our grandmother had to struggle to take care of all the grandchildren without any financial support, to my knowledge. I just wanted to mention that bit. I also have three statements from people who were not able to attend today. But I would rather let the others who have had experience in the stolen wages era speak.
CHAIR —Thank you. Would you like to table those three statements so that we can receive them?
Mrs Brown —I table three letters from three elders in Cherbourg.
CHAIR —Thank you, and thank you for your remarks.
Ms Morgan —I come from Cherbourg. Jeanette is a younger sister of mine. I was going to say what she just read about our mum and dad anyway. I did go out to work. During that time, in the sixties, I was asked by the department to help provide for the younger siblings. There were eight younger than me. So I gave permission for the department to take money from my allowance for the upkeep of our family. Our grandmother was looking after everyone at that time.
When I came home from work I expected to have some money left, but they said that our grandmother was paid most of my wages. So I had very little there. But I did not ever question that at the time. I never thought about it then, but I do think about it now. We were not allowed to ask questions back then about anything. It was very hard being from a big family and not having your mum and dad around for a while. That is all I would like to say about the wages.
CHAIR —Thank you very much. We appreciate that.
Mr Bone —I am here to speak not only on my own behalf but also on behalf of others who have not come down but who were in the same predicament as I was. I am the Mayor of the Cherbourg Aboriginal Community council, and I have held that position for the last 13 years. But I have also come through a system that denigrated and degraded us as people. For the best part of 20 years, from my teenage years up until my early 30s, I was torn away from Cherbourg. I worked on a lot of different jobs in the community.
I also want to thank the senators for giving us this opportunity to speak and to have our stories heard. I always say this to whoever wants to listen, whether or not it is degrading to whoever I say it about—and that is that the treatment that I was given as a young man growing up in Cherbourg by the system, and the system I have lived with, is the government’s. I always say that nearly all of our mob, especially when we became young adults, were dictated to.
I have lived in a lot of country. And I appreciate everybody who is involved in trying to get this reparation—or not reparation so much as payment; I am becoming like the government, because the term ‘reparation’ came from the government, who stole wages as well. That was money that was stolen from the people, from us.
I speak not only on my behalf but also on behalf of my people. I cannot really get any closure for my grandmother and my grandfather or my mother and father, who have gone on. But I definitely would like to see something come out of this because there was a lot of misdoing by the government.
Even for not turning up for work we got jailed. And there was no court system; there was just the system we had there, which sort of dictated to us. I have lived with dictators—the superintendent and the staff, who worked for the government. We could get, say, six weeks in jail, and without any defence or anything; you had nobody to defend you. I have just a short thing here that I wrote about my history and about my working history in Cherbourg.
It is not like what was said by one of the senators, I think Senator George Brandis—it is not about the money. A lot of the people who did wrong to us are not around anymore. They are dead. But the government is still here. No matter what government was in place at that time, it is the government, I believe, which is at fault. And it is the government, who were supposed to be protecting us, who were the very people who were stealing from us.
Last Friday night I came down with the ladies and another guy. We received awards from the museum for our ration shed. The ration shed was a shed where we got all our rations from. We had thought that the government, which was supplying us, was being very good to us in giving us tucker, food and whatever. We found out later that it was all bought with the money that was stolen from us—from our people—in the first place. Once every year in our Christmas celebrations there were toys given out to us as kids. We were told later, and I believe it, that the toys were bought with the money that was stolen from our people—from our parents and our grandparents.
Yes, money is an issue and then there is also closure and justification. Our people need to see that something has been done for them. It is for those who are still alive and well, to be able to get some closure out of it. The feeling of my people, especially those in Cherbourg, is that the government seems to be waiting until we all die out.
We had a minister from the government up there last week. He spoke to the council. He said there was about $31 million left. With that we said we were thinking about setting up some sort of welfare fund to do with our children so that our children could get a good education to be able to face the future. I was not being rude but blunt. All I said was, ‘Your government did not steal the money from my kids. They stole it from me, my mother and my father. So we want it back. We need that money back, regardless.’
Am I after money? Of course I am after money. But I am after closure too and I am after justification with regard to what happened to us. That you could go to jail for turning up late for work is not an issue. Things were done just because they could do the things they did. They were able to do whatever they wanted. I heard one of the ladies speaking at one of the meetings about welfare payments and stolen wages. ‘It’s not about the money,’ she said. ‘But it’s about what was done to us as young women when we were sent out by the government away from our own people at 13 or 14 years of age.’ That is the kind of thing that everybody needs to hear about, especially people in government—including senators and everybody else—because there was a big hush-hush about it, it was all closed down and nobody was allowed to talk about it. But now I appreciate that it is that we try as we can to get the message out. We would definitely appreciate any help that we could get from senators. Thank you.
CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mayor. I am sorry I did not introduce and acknowledge you appropriately before. Thank you very much for those remarks. Would you like to go next, Ms Moffatt?
Ms Moffatt —Yes. I am one of the elders of Cherbourg. I was sent out to work straight after I finished at state school. We were not allowed to go to high school. We had to go straight out to the farms that were around Murgon, Goomeri and Kingaroy. I could not understand why I was taken off my mother. My mother was rounded up from Quilpie and Charleville, Thargaminda—all that area—and was put in a truck and brought to Cherbourg. What I was upset about was this: I used to ask her, ‘Where do you come from, Mum? Could you tell us your story?’ and she used to say, ‘Go away! Go away!’ She could not read or write. She said, ‘Go away! The policemen will put me in jail if I tell you.’ So that was her answer. I used to ask the question all the time why my mother was like that.
She got a job; she worked in the hospital. I got sent away to Palm Island because I was upset about it all. Five of us girls got together in a dormitory and we wrote a note to the superintendent and told him that we wanted to know what was going on. The superintendent said to get out of our mission because we wanted to run the mission ourselves, although I was only 14 going on 15 then.
Before I knew it, we were put in jail the very next day. We were sent to Palm Island over that, and they said that because we wrote that note—we wrote a note, and Sandra has done a DVD about that—but, like I said, I cannot talk. People laugh at me for talking in broken English, but the story is there. I invited some of the women from up at Mount Tambourine on a weekend to come. They were asking me questions about our aboriginality, and I said, ‘Come to Cherbourg, because they renovated this ration shed into the museum now and if you want to know about our history you should come to Cherbourg and you’ll hear it all there.’ I told them, too, that I am not good at talking English, but I can recommend you go to Cherbourg, to see our black history there already in black and white. I could go on and on, but like I said I cannot talk very good.
CHAIR —I think you’re doing pretty well. Thanks very much, Ms Moffatt. Ms Morgan, if there is a DVD or something that you think would be useful for the committee to see then we would be very happy to receive that.
Ms Morgan —Okay.
Mrs Gater —I am also a priest in the Anglican Church here in Brisbane. I was born in Brisbane and grew up in Cherbourg. Sandra is my eldest sister and Jeanette is my youngest sister. Growing up in Cherbourg, our lives were controlled. Our freedom, rights and identity were taken from us. We grew up by the whistle. The whistle would blow and everybody went to work. The bell would ring and you all went to school. On Sundays the bell would ring and we would go up to church. So that is how we grew up: by the whistle and the bell. Our people worked. They were hard working. They were forcibly removed and taken to various parts of Queensland. Our families were taken to Queensland. I am proud of the valuable contribution that our family made to Cherbourg, to Queensland and to Australia. They worked in the big industry and they fought in the armed services. My oldest sisters went out to work, as was said here. Because both our parents were sick and had to be sent away from the family, we lived with our grandparents. I was the youngest and I helped my grandmother to look after the family. My other sister, Lesley, will be speaking later.
I worked in the hospital. The other two did not go out to work on the cattle and sheep property. They worked on the missions, as they were referred to: settlements, reserves or missions. We worked in the hospitals. The hours were long and our wages were £2 10s a fortnight. The staff who came there said, ‘We’re being paid big money, and youse are doing all the work.’ You name it, we did it. We looked after patients and we scrubbed the floor. We got on our hands and knees, we scrubbed, we cleaned and we polished—you name it. And one day I organised about six of us: we went on strike for more wages. So we were marched down to the superintendent’s office and he said to us in no uncertain terms, ‘I’ll give you 24 hours to go back to work or I’ll put you in jail.’ If you spoke up for your rights, you were sent to jail for three weeks. Your only diet was black sweetened tea and bread and jam. If you continued to speak out you were sent to Palm Island, which was referred to as a punishment island.
That is one of the things that we went through. What we want today is justice. We want our money returned. The $4,000 that was given was an insult to our people, and we are fighting today for justice and truth. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the senators. Thank you all for taking the initiative. Back 15 years ago when my sister Lesley Williams started this fight for stolen wages, we approached the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to hold an inquiry. The response was: ‘We’ve got to be careful what we do, otherwise we can cop flak from the opposition. The Queensland government haven’t the money to fund it and to hold an inquiry.’ And, in the next breath, that was when they held the Indy race at the Gold Coast. They had no money to hold an inquiry, but they had money to host an Indy race. So I want to thank you for taking the initiative and listening to our concerns here today.
CHAIR —Thanks very much, Mrs Gater. Now it is your turn, Mrs Gambrill.
Mrs Gambrill —The stolen wages and fraudulent things that were done in Cherbourg and throughout Queensland were terrible. I had information from a letter that was sent from the protector of Aboriginal affairs to the superintendent at the time, Archibald Meston, saying that if anyone wanted to withdraw money from their accounts, they were to be given £2 or cheques of £5—the £2 had to be given to the individual. That was one case.
The returned soldiers from the First World War were not paid the same as the European soldiers. They received a pittance in wages. It was not even half of what the white soldiers got. That money is still owing to them. Most of them have passed on now. My father was one of them. My father ran the vegetable garden in Cherbourg and he supplied the community with vegetables all year round. Even the people from the government office—Aboriginal affairs—here in Brisbane used to come up and collect their vegetables to bring back to Brisbane.
The first time I started work was at five years of age when I first started school. I had to help my father because he was in charge of the farm. I had to get up at five o’clock in the morning, go and get the night horse, round up all the draught horses that they used to plough up the farms and everything, take them down and yard them and feed them before they started work, and then go back and milk a cow we had and take that home before breakfast. That was the job I had to do when I was five—and that was during winter and summer. I did not get any money for it and my father was only earning at the time £3 10s for a 14-day fortnight.
So the government really owes us a lot of money. They are still holding even the deceased estates. The families have not received anything from the deceased estates, because the government still holds it. They put that money into a trust account and from the trust account they turned it over to the welfare account. With that they received all the interest that was paid and they used that for their own benefit—like buying hospitals. The Commonwealth Bank across the road was purchased through Aboriginal money. The Treasury Building, which was a morgue to start with, was purchased with Aboriginal money. These are things that the government has to look at to return the money to the rightful people. Even the deceased estates can go to families that are still living in Cherbourg.
CHAIR —Thank you. I did not want to interrupt you. Have you finished?
Mrs Gambrill —Thank you. I have finished.
Mr Bone —Chair, before we go on, I just want to say one more thing.
Mr Bone —It is about the day when what they call the reparation payment was offered by Peter Beattie. I was at a meeting at the same time. If you need verification or you want to talk about it then I am willing to say exactly what happened on that day.
CHAIR —We might listen to the rest of the stories, if that is okay—
Mr Bone —Yes.
CHAIR —and we can come back to that. Ms Conlon has been waiting very patiently.
Ms Conlon —My employment history started when I was about 16 years old, working on a dairy farm outside of Toowoomba, near a place called Pittsworth. I do not know exactly where it is. They were long hours. I got up early in the morning, stopped halfway through the day and then continued in the afternoon. I left that to come back home to Cherbourg and found employment there, doing part-time work stuffing bears and koalas for tourism with other young women who were looking for jobs at that time. Later on I worked for the hospital as a nurse’s aid, doing nurse work and all the dirty work. That was in the early seventies. Those were the times when I worked. I had a father who worked on a cattle station and we all had to move outside to stay with him. Today we still do not know the wages that my father got. He worked in the cattle industry and probably worked for some big names who owned a lot of the cattle at that time and took the cattle through to Western Australia from Queensland. That is part of the history of employment in my family. That is what I can tell you about me.
CHAIR —Thank you very much. Pastor Collins has joined us, along with Mr Bird.
Pastor Collins —I was born on 11 June 1936. I am a Gemini—I have a split personality! I left school when I was 13 or 14. I worked at manual training for one week and at the training farm the next week—and, guess what: I got 10 shillings for a fortnight’s work. I thought I was rich. I did a lot of work at Cherbourg. I worked on hygiene, going around and picking up rubbish and cleaning the drains—I did all that. I kept the community clean. I also worked on making boomerangs and things like that—cutting boomerangs and all those sorts of things. Then I left Cherbourg. I came back an invalid. I have an artificial leg below the knee. I refused to go on the pension; I kept working. In those days you had to sign and you got either £5 or £10 and they said, ‘That is your pension.’ I did not know anything about how much an invalid pensioner should get, so I kept working. I worked at the reservoir, sometimes from six until two and from two until 11 o’clock at night, doing all that work.
One of my jobs was that I used to have to go around and spray still waters, homes and things like that with DDT and kerosene or linseed oil and DDT. One day my back was all blistered up and I could not wear a shirt or anything. I could not take time off because I had six children, a wife, a home to run and electricity bills to be paid of about £10 a week. That was hard work. It was very hard work. And then that was not enough. I went out to work on weekends peanut picking, peanut stooking, ringbarking, boomerang cutting and all of that. My week was full except for Sundays, because 40 years ago I became a Christian. There was an Anglican pastor here for a long time. His name was Bishop Greenway. When he left, I left because the other bishop who came brought two bells from England and he used Aboriginal money. I said to him, ‘If you’re going to put those bells before the lives of my family, my children and my people then I will not work for you.’
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up about 12/ of the whole population of Queensland. But we make up 85 to 90 per cent of those people incarcerated. How do I know that: because I have been a prison chaplain for the last 15 years. I started in Boggo Road. That keeps me going, but I do not get paid for it; I do it because I love it. They are my people. People say, ‘What is wrong with this Western justice system that came off the boat at colonisation?’ It has not changed, according to my estimation and my people who are incarcerated. I have also been a juvenile justice officer. I used to travel from Ballywillan down to Westbrook and all those other places to talk to people. I had three or four juvenile justice guys come to me. We were talking and I was counselling. I said, ‘Look, you can do this or this and then you’ll be out of here.’ They said, ‘Pop, if I go out of here now, I will be looking over my shoulder all the time to see where the bully man is.’ That really hurt me. I am 70 now and I still do prison work.
I am glad that you people have taken the time to listen. I am hoping and praying that your listening will turn into action. Should you need help or encouragement, call on me. I will tell you; I will lead you. I have done all this. I have worked on the mill and everything for next to nothing, but I supported my family and I supported my community. I have come down here and I am the only Aboriginal pastor within the Anglican Church. I have been to Tasmania, Port Augusta and all around talking and listening. I have been to Nungala College. I have been endeavouring to get some kind of recognition that though the pigment of my skin may be different to yours I am still a human being.
The people that I represent and look after and help are human beings—do you understand? While I am down here and go to Musgrove Park, those people who may be classed as drunks and no-hopers, when I go there, put their bottles down and say: ‘How are you going, Pastor? How are you going, Brother?’ That is total respect and that is something I find is very scarce these days. We are Aboriginals and Torres Strait Island people, as I said, and we are struggling for recognition in our own country.
When I was 17 years of age we used to go to a roll call. They would call the name out and then when you were finished you had to turn and salute the flag. I did not do it. I said, ‘That is not my flag.’ Do you know what happened? I did six weeks in the jail on bread and water. I had one mattress and it was winter time. I went out and they said, ‘Now are you going to salute?’ I said no. So they took me back for another six weeks. I did 12 weeks on bread and water because I would not salute the flag. I said, ‘It is not my flag.’ That person did not come to talk to me or confide in me, did not know whether I was hurting or not. My first daughter, because of a lack of quality in the hospital at that time, died in my arms. I am a man who would never cry in public. I cried in public. Only twice in my life have I cried in public.
Mr Bird —I was born in Cherbourg 73 years ago. In fact my birthday was two days ago. Let me begin by maybe telling you a little joke, but there is a moral to it. There was a guy who went a psychiatrist and he said to the psychiatrist, ‘When I go to bed at night I get a feeling that somebody is under my bed every night.’ The psychiatrist said to him: ‘Look, if you come to me for two years I can fix you. Come to me three times a week at 200 bucks a visit and you will be right.’ This guy said to him, ‘I’ll have to think about it.’ Six months later the psych met him out on the street and he said, ‘I thought you were coming back to me.’ ‘What,’ he said, ‘for 200 bucks a visit? Oh no, I went to my local pub and the publican fixed me for $10.’ ‘What?’ said the psych. ‘Yes, $10.’ ‘What did he tell you?’ ‘He told me to cut the legs off my bed.’ A simple answer, isn’t it? There is nothing simple about the Aborigines as far as the Queensland government were concerned. They stuffed up our lives. They made it more complicated than you can ever imagine it to be. There is nothing simple about our lives, nothing whatsoever.
I would like to read to you a poem that I wrote a few years ago. It is called ‘SORRY’.
Isn’t it strange that a man of so many words
Find it very difficult, yea, even absurd
To say ‘Sorry,’ to the Aborigines
For all the horrific atrocities brought about by his!
On board the Endeavour they came to our shores.
Heart hardened criminals, ruthless to the core.
To murder innocent people, over this they did not worry
Now just like his ancestors, he refuse to say ‘SORRY.’
“SORRY,” should not be just for the Stolen Generation alone,
But! for a country “Stolen,” for which all governments must atone
More-so; for it’s first inhabitants
Who for 200 years or more suffered a cruel embitterment.
Yes, “Sorry” must be, for the imposed estrangement
By ALL Colonial Governments, who imprisoned all Aborigines on Government Settlements.
And kept us out of their societies
And made us suffer very harsh penalties.
Right from the very out-set, when our country they had won,
The Blacks and the Whites were never ever one.
But! now they speak of Reconciliation
This is but, an, “ILLUSIVE DREAM”—
“SORRY!” I prefer “AMALGAMATION.”
You see, when we amalgamate, we share everything. If reconciliation comes about, the white man will still be in charge and will own everything as he does now. Sorry—I do not agree with your reconciliation.
Pastor Collins —There can be no reconciliation without recompense.
Mr Bird —That’s for sure. Like I said, I was brought up in Cherbourg, which my brother and I termed as being a place that had only two things missing at that particular time: the swastika and jackboots. Everything that related to a concentration camp was there in place. You could not move without getting a permit. Cherbourg is built right on Bramble Creek. About 100 metres or so away from the river was the farmer’s house. We had to get a permit to go down and fish there. We had to get a permit to go to Murgon, which was four miles away—six kilometres—and it had a time set on it. If you came back five to ten minutes after that time expired, you would be put in jail for, maybe, a weekend. And they brought the curfew in. All lights had to be out at nine o’clock. If you were found out after dark or after the lights had gone out, you were put in jail. They even put searchlights on the vehicles—the police, the superintendent—and chased black fellas everywhere, hither and thither, throughout the night hours.
During the mid-forties, they took away our corroborees, they took away our culture. Our ancestors were not allowed to teach us our language; most of us know nothing of our language.
Pastor Collins —That’s right. I know a few words—that’s all. But they are swearing words; I don’t want to say them!
Mr Bird —My brother and I got sick and tired of this, of being under such a regime. We were supposed to be freeborn people but we became prisoners within our own country. My brother and I, we decided to run away, which we did. The government—the Department of Native Affairs—picked us up on a forestry station. We worked there for about three weeks and they picked us up. In fact two white police came out in a brand new Holden ute. There were about half-a-dozen of us working on this one forestry station. They handcuffed us and put us in the back of the ute. One of the young police sat in the back. I was sitting right on the tail of the ute. We had to travel 60 miles over rough roads—there was no bitumen in those days, just dirt track—and I was sitting right on the back, facing him. He sat there for 60 miles with his service revolver pointed at me. How do you think I felt? We were treated like common criminals. We were put into jail at Cherbourg and we were sentenced to six weeks on bread and water.
Pastor Collins —It was nearly 12.
Mr Bird —Yes, 12. But during that time my brother and I wrote a letter to the Truth—the Brisbane paper at that time was the Truth. The caption of our letter was, ‘The iron curtains fall on Cherbourg’. The superintendent got word that we wrote the letter. He sent for us and he said, ‘Well, if you want to go out, you get out.’ He just kicked us out.
Our pay from the forestry was three weeks pay, which amounted to about £38. When they kicked us out of Cherbourg they gave me £10 of my wages. When I came out of Cherbourg, my wife and three children and I ended up in Gympie, sleeping on a white man’s veranda. He was away. We had three boys. The youngest boy had just come out of hospital. He was very sick—bronchial asthma he had, in fact. We had two or three blankets in midwinter, with no mattress. We could not get into the man’s house to cook. We had to buy two plates, knives and forks, and my wife had to cook in a billy can. We struggled.
Twelve months or so ago, down at Redcliffe, my grandson was picked up. He was charged with bashing a man. He said he was guilty of it and his legal team said to him, ‘Look, boy, if you plead “not guilty” to this, the prosecution is going to hit you with the charge of disproportionate response.’ We found out later that the prosecution did not have a case against him, but he pleaded guilty because his solicitor wanted him to. You know, the black man’s side of the story is never heard in a court of law. We have to go to a white man to able to have our stories heard and told. I am so glad you people here today have given us the opportunity to tell a bit of our past and how we were treated.
My dad worked for Cherbourg for, I suppose, some 32 to 35 years. He was a policeman there for about 12 years, then he became the overseer of works for a few more years. I helped him put in the reservoir that Henry talked about and the water reticulation. We put in the reservoir at Murgon—at Barambah Creek below Murgon—and helped to build the reticulation to the town. All the money that we earned went into Cherbourg. It went into our account. When payday came around you would have to go in and, through a little window, sign a book. You could not get what you asked for; you would receive what they wanted you to get.
My dad died in 1979. I was in Sydney at that particular time; in fact, I was with the Anglican Church down in Sydney. I went to see a law firm about approaching the Queensland government and finalising my dad’s estate. Sixteen years later, when I came back home, they finally sent my mother the sum of $2,500. It took me 16 years to get $2,500 out of your lousy, stinking government. My dad is worth more money than that—more money than you can ever give to us. The reason I fought for it was because my mother was entitled to what was coming to my dad. We are now fighting to try to get what should have been coming to us.
We are not after compensation. Compensation is no good to us. We are after the money that was stolen from us, plus interest. I will tell you why we are not after compensation: the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975 confers upon the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission the power to award compensation for racial discrimination only to living persons. When this part of the legislation—it took them from 1975 to 1986; it was supposed to be in place that year—had to be ratified by the Queensland government, it took them until 1999 to ratify it, so all those who died between 1975 and 1999 were not entitled to the $4,000. So they are still stealing money from us.
My wife’s mother worked for Cherbourg for some 30 or 40 years, looking after the dormitory cooks—our cook, in fact. Then she ended up being a cook at the Cherbourg Hospital. We could not get the money that should be hers either. She died in the early nineties. She was entitled to that $4,000. We have tried and tried and we have pleaded with every known source of government. I would like to end with this, another poem that I wrote. It is called Unheeded Pleas:
Their cries go out across their land
Their cries go out across sea and sand
Their cries go out to every man
Their cries go out across the land.
Unheeded Pleas—Unheeded Pleas,
On deaf ears they call,
On deaf ears they fall,
Their cries return—Unheeded Pleas.
To the top they cry; to the top they call,
But never the word of ‘Sorry’ does fall
From the lips of the man—to the Aborigines,
Their cries return—Unheeded Pleas.
O’Who will listen with sympathetic ears
And let our cries become Heeded Pleas.
No longer on deaf ears to fall,
Who in the world will heed our call?
CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Bird.
Mrs Brown —We have a time limit with the bus. We booked a bus coming from Cherbourg for the ones who have travelled. The driver gave us until 2.30. We want to know if you want to ask us any questions.
CHAIR —We had not planned to ask a lot of questions. What we really wanted to do was to listen to what all of you wanted to tell us, your experiences and your families’ experiences. We are on a schedule as well. Senator Brandis says he has one question, but it never really works that way. That is not a specific reference to Senator Brandis, but it is for all of us; we are all guilty as charged.
Senator BRANDIS —I think there is something we need to know. Before I ask the question, Mr Mayor, please understand I was not meaning to suggest by any of the observations I made this morning that you are only looking for money. I know you are not; I know that is not principally what you are here for. My point was that you are certainly entitled to that, and you should not feel embarrassed about that; if it is yours it is yours. My question to each of you, but it can have a very quick answer I am sure, is: how many of you accepted the $4,000 offer from the Queensland government?
Mr Bird —I did.
Pastor Collins —Yes.
Ms Moffatt —Yes.
Mr Bone —Yes.
Ms Morgan —Yes.
Pastor Collins —The reason why I took it was my little daughter was very sick. That is the only reason why I took it; otherwise I would never have taken it.
CHAIR —I understand that, just one at a time though.
Senator BRANDIS —Ms Conlon, you took it, and there were several other people in the audience who took it. We might restrict this to the people who have got microphones. Before you signed the document—it was the settlement; you would have signed a legal document—were you told by anybody from the Queensland government that you should seek independent legal advice before signing that document?
Mr Bird —No.
Mr Bone —As I stated earlier, I was one of the people who sat in on the day the offer was made. We were told that the people would not have the money to fight the government if they took the government on, that the government would win because the government had so much money. When they went around—there was a negotiating team set up to go around to the communities—they expressed the same idea—that is, if you do not take this offer, you are never going to get another chance.
Peter Beattie also said on the day, ‘This is a one and only offer, it’s for $55 million.’ Apparently, the offer was $55,600,000. One of the guys from the party I was with said, ‘Listen, we’ll need money to go around to all the communities in Queensland.’ And Mr Beattie said, ‘We’ll take $200,000 off the current offer, because that’s the only place we can get money from for you to go around.’ I think that was stealing from people who had already been stolen from. From the money they were offering to us, they went and stole again. It might not seem like it is officially stealing, but the thing was that it was from the money that was offered to the people.
Senator BRANDIS —Were any of you who signed this settlement advised by the spokesman for the Queensland government before you signed it that you should get independent legal advice? Was anyone told that?
Mrs Gater —No. Definitely not.
Senator BRANDIS —No?
Mr Bird —No, and I am going to tell you why—
Mrs Gleeson —I signed for it. I went to the city and I had a witness with me. I went in to see the bloke, the solicitor. He said: ‘You sign it or you get nothing.’
Senator BRANDIS —The Queensland government solicitor said that to you?
Mrs Gleeson —I do not know. He was a solicitor, they reckoned.
Senator BRANDIS —But it was not your solicitor; it was somebody from the government?
Mrs Gleeson —No—‘Or wait 20 years like Mabo.’ So I signed it, because my cousin died of cancer. I signed it under pressure.
Senator BRANDIS —Did you want to say something?
Mrs Gambrill —It was a solicitor from QAILSS that came around with an ATSIC rep. They said that if the sheet was not signed you would not get any money.
Senator BRANDIS —Mr Bone, when you were at this meeting with Mr Beattie—bearing in mind that Mr Beattie is a lawyer himself—did Mr Beattie say to you or to the people at the meeting that your people should make sure before they signed their rights away; that they should get independent legal advice?
Mr Bone —I do not recall them saying that.
Senator BRANDIS —Do you think he said that?
Mr Bone —I know that everybody there who signed those papers signed them with a legal person from the government. But they were also told by the negotiating team that went around, who were speaking on behalf, supposedly, of the people: ‘Look, you guys are never going to get another chance if you don’t sign these forms and take the $4,000.’ That was told to the people. All the documents were there. All the documents were in place. Because they made sure they covered themselves.
Senator BRANDIS —But the people who said that to you were the government’s lawyers?
Mr Bone —The people who said that were our people, who were going around, as the government had given $200,000 for the negotiating team that were negotiating. They explained to the people: ‘You will not have money or you will not have lawyers to back you up’. They had a lawyer called Angelo Vasta. They had a lawyer with them and a barrister. I think people were conned into doing it, because they knew that there would be no other chance of getting any money. They were thinking, ‘Anything is better than nothing,’ at the time, not realising that—well, a few people may have realised, but when you are told that, if you are going to take the government on, it is going to cost you a lot of money and you have no money to fight the government, then what situation are you in then?
CHAIR —That is right, Mr Bone.
Mr Bone —You either say no or you just accept.
Paster Collins —My reason for taking that was that my late wife and my second daughter were rushed to Brisbane hospital, and I had no money. I took that.
CHAIR —I understand. We do understand.
Mr Bird —I think the reason why many of us—we took it under coercion. The whole point is: I was practically going on for 70 years of age. I was sick; my wife was sick and there were many around about my age. We were so concerned about the future: we might not be alive by the time all of this great amount of money came in. So, in a sense, we were coerced into taking the $4,000, with the promise that a certain union was looking into it and, should they get some more money, then we would be entitled to what was coming to us. That is the reason why we took it.
CHAIR —Thank you very much.
Ms Moffatt —Because we are going home, I would like to say that we have been through this battle for so long now. We might not get no money. We might not get no land. So I would like to end it with a song. It is called Acres of Diamonds.
Acres of diamonds
Mountains of gold
Rivers of silver
Jewels, I am told
All this together
Couldn’t buy you or me
Peace when you’re sleeping
And a conscience that’s free
A heart that is contented
A satisfied mind
These are the treasures money can’t buy
If you love Jesus
There is more wealth in your soul
Than acres of diamonds or mountains of gold
Acres of diamonds or mountains of gold
I cannot sing.
CHAIR —You certainly can. Thank you very much and, on behalf of all of us, we know you have come a very long way and have a long trip back. I want to thank you on behalf of the whole committee for coming today and telling us your stories. As I said to a previous witness, this is the committee’s first hearing in this process. It most certainly is not the last.
Pastor Collins —I hope it will not be the last.
CHAIR —The committee takes this very seriously and thanks you very seriously for the time you have spent with us this afternoon.
Mr Bone —Thank you. I was going to ask you the same question: where to from here?
CHAIR —In terms of the committee, Mr Bone?
Mr Bone —What happens with the recorded stuff you have got?
CHAIR —We will send you copies of the transcript as it is written out of what has been said, which you can have a look at and make sure that that is accurately what you said. The committee will keep you in touch with how the inquiry process is progressing.
Mr Bone —Thank you. We would like to thank you once again but we have got to move.
CHAIR —Thank you very much.