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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4427


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:07): I join this evening with Senator Waters in remembering a true warrior sister. Last week, we farewelled Alice Eather—an extraordinary woman; a woman who was with us for too short a time but whose legacy and memories will live with us forever. She was a genuine leader of her community, a fierce warrior for her country, an educator and a poet. Alice will stay with us. She was a woman from Brisbane and Maningrida—a Kunibidji woman. Her poetry and her words were used to build a bridge between two cultures. In her beautiful poem Fire is Burning, she begins by looking into the camera, deep into our eyes. She says:

I'm standing by this fire, the embers smoking, the ashes glowing, the coals weighing us down, the youth are buried in the rubble, my eyes are burning and through my nostrils the smoke is stirring.

I breathe it in. Yuya Karrabura.

I wear a ship on my wrist that shows my blood comes from convicts.

On the second fleet, my father's forefathers came, whipped, beaten and bound in chains.

The dark tone in my skin, the brown in my eyes, sunset to sunrise, my Wornow. Mother's side.

She went on:

I'm living and breathing this story of black and white. Sitting in the middle of this collision, my mission is to bring two divided worlds to sit beside this fire.

Alice's family are extraordinarily proud of her achievements and her passion. Her father, Michael, in Brisbane, and her mother, Helen, in beautiful Maningrida, share the grief but they also share the love for this young woman. Apart from her beautiful poetry, she was also an educator—the first Indigenous graduate educator who went back to her country to teach kids. Her mother says that she was always wanting to work with children. There are photographs of Alice glowing with her children in beautiful Maningrida and gathering the children around her—teaching in two languages so that the children can learn to be proud of their culture, to be proud of their community. Her father, Michael, said that tackling Indigenous disadvantage was a clear passion:

It saddens us that it's accelerating, and it saddened Alice. She tried to incorporated that message to try to stop that sadness. It came at a cost to herself.

I think many people remember Alice for her extraordinary work in fighting the fracking application for the remote community of Maningrida. When she went home, she talked with other leaders in that community, and community leader Eddie Mason said:

I didn't even know her when she first came to my place, and told me that they were wanting to come here to do fracking, and that we had to start fighting for this country.

And fight they did. I have been very fortunate in my community affairs work to have visited Maningrida a couple of times. It has a haunting and special beauty—you would probably have been there, Acting Deputy President Smith. When the community gathered together, they fought the idea of fracking coming onto that land. They gathered together and they formed the Protect Arnhem Land campaign group. Mr Mason, the community leader, went on to say:

She's the one who opened our eyes and taught us what this fracking and drilling meant. She educated my people.

And that education came with working together to look at different ways of raising awareness and bringing the fight from remote Maningrida into the capital cities of Brisbane and Sydney to raise concern and awareness about what this would do. There were massive demonstrations outside the Paltar Petroleum offices in Sydney in 2013. This brought the national media's attention to local Indigenous people who were rising up together to say that this was not what they wanted for their country. They continued to engage through social media, through the poetry that Alice presented, talking about her land and the pain that she felt at the thought of the land being attacked by this mining process. Federal minister Greg Hunt received a bark petition in Parliament House, again linking not just what was happening in Maningrida in 2013-2014 but the history of the bark petition process, again raising awareness.

The Northern Territory government in 2014 suspended the application until the company had actually reached an agreement with the Maningrida traditional owners, sitting down, talking with the traditional owners to work through the process about what was indeed traditional land. There is a film of 2014, when Alice was awarded the Northern Territory's Young Achiever Award for the environment. This film is fairly grainy but is news coverage from the Northern Territory and shows the absolute excitement and joy of the community when this decision was made and Alice won her award. She stood up and talked about this being a community experience, not just her own.

Also, in an innovative and especially impactful way, the fight against the mining at Maningrida was taken to the big screen, and with her sisters, Grace and Noni, the wonderful documentary Stingray Sisters was created. This is a truly beautiful film. It lives now and it shows the community working together. Once again we can continue to see Alice leading this campaign, using her intelligence, her strength, her wisdom and her exceptional command of poetry to get across the message about the importance of the land, the importance of community, the importance of traditional owners. I really encourage everyone to take the opportunity to look at this beautiful documentary and see the value of people working together.

One of the wonderful elements of the family coming together when they were mourning the loss of Alice is that they decided to keep the poetry performances that are available at the moment online, mainly through the ABC. They decided to keep that open so that all of us can continue to see and hear the beautiful work that Alice Eather produced. This work will continue to live for all of us.

Senator Waters read from a beautiful poem called My Story Is Your Story, where the ongoing messages are that we work together and also the different ways people see their land. There is that telling line that Senator Waters did quote:

When I see a map of Country I see land, sea and family

When they see a map of Country they see mining fantasies

When I see the sea-beds I see sacred sites

When they see the sea-beds they see dollar signs

Nothing can actually overcome the grief that so many people have at the loss of such an exceptional person. But we know that her legacy will never be forgotten—her words, her message, will be with us. And so many people who have had the real privilege of meeting, knowing and hearing Alice Eather will continue to have that chance. We will know, as her sister said:

Her legacy will never be forgotten. I will continue to fight for what Alice always fought for: country, children and education.