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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19768


Mr QUICK (7:46 PM) —On Monday, with the death of Mrs Ida West, better known as Auntie Ida, Tasmania lost one of its most revered citizens. Auntie Ida, Tasmania's foremost Aboriginal elder, died at the age of 83. Ida West was born on Cape Barren Island in 1919, before her family finally moved to Killiecrankie on Flinders Island. As a child she would often go mutton-birding at Wybalenna at night with her father.

Wybalenna is etched in the hearts and minds of Tasmania's Aborigines. In 1833 more than 250 Aborigines rounded up by George Augustus Robinson were exiled to Wybalenna. When the settlement was abandoned in 1847, there were fewer than 50 alive. Auntie Ida was instrumental in convincing the Tasmanian Premier, Jim Bacon, to recently hand back the fateful Wybalenna site to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council.

I first met Auntie Ida at my local ALP branch in Chigwell in the early 1970s and we maintained a long and lasting friendship up until her death on Monday night. She was able to provide us all with an excellent insight into the complexities of Indigenous issues and was an amazing advocate for her people. Auntie Ida was an inspiration to young Indigenous Tasmanians, a wise counsellor and a tireless campaigner for reconciliation. Her dreams for her people are gradually coming to fruition and her legacy will never be forgotten.

I would like to place in Hansard tributes to Auntie Ida by other Australians. The Hon. Philip Ruddock said:

Aunty Ida was one of Tasmania's most respected Aboriginal elders. She was a special woman who was respected by governments and the broader community alike.

Senator Bob Brown said:

While dealing with her own heartache for the losses her people have suffered, she had been a healing spirit for everyone.

Michael Mansell said:

Ida was one of the remaining few from a generation of Aboriginal people whose early lifestyle was more akin to traditional Aboriginal society than Western society. Ida may have come from a background of material poverty, but enjoyed cultural richness and was spiritually driven. She was our matriarch.

Tasmanian ATSIC Commissioner Rodney Dillon said:

Aunty Ida has transformed the many negatives in her life to pursue positives for her people. She has been an inspiration to me, the Aboriginal community and to those in the broader community fortunate enough to meet her.

About eight weeks ago when it was realised that Auntie Ida's battle with cancer was nearing its end, a marvellous gathering was held at the Glenorchy Civic Centre. Here, people from all walks of life came to pay their tribute to Auntie Ida. It was an amazing meeting, as each and every one took their opportunity to speak with Ida and convey to her their love and admiration and their respect for her wonderful life.

It is rather ironic that, as Tasmanians—Indigenous and non-Indigenous—argue over the sensitivities of the 1803 or 1804 bicentennial celebrations, Auntie Ida's funeral service will bring us together yet again in reconciliation. Tomorrow at her funeral in Hobart, Tasmanians will pay their respects to and mourn the loss of one of their greatest modern female warriors.