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Thursday, 6 April 2000
Page: 15524

Ms JANN McFARLANE (12:31 PM) —I stand here today feeling sad and quite ashamed about what has happened with reconciliation in Australia. I want to talk a little about my experience in working with and being a friend of many Aboriginal people and also about the concerns raised by many people on what is happening in the electorate of Stirling.

For a framework, I draw your attention to the annual report of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation for 1998-99. The Chairperson's introduction says:

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation enters the final eighteen months of its life with confidence that the people's movement towards genuine reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community continues to be a powerful influence in Australian society. The momentum towards reconciliation has become unstoppable, notwithstanding the difficulties and obstacles that always lie in the path of processes involving fundamental changes in social institutions, attitudes and behaviour.

Chapter 1 is headed `Council's tasks—Enabling legislation'. It states:

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established, with unanimous cross-party support, as a statutory body under the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act 1991. The functions and powers of the Council as prescribed by that Act are set out ...

It then goes through the preamble to the act and explains the rationale for reconciliation in Australia. It then goes to the council's strategic plan for 1998-2000—the period we are in. The first goal is documents of reconciliation; the second goal is partnerships in reconciliation; and the third goal is the people's movement for reconciliation. Many people have expressed to me their view that, if we are going to move on in Australia and have a positive outlook in the new millennium, then there are many issues we must address—and reconciliation is high on the agenda for many ordinary Australians even though they may not be a vocal voice.

I want to draw the House's attention to an experience that I have had. I know Doris Pilkington, the woman who wrote the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. Her Aboriginal name is Nugi Garimara. This is a wonderful, inspirational story of her mother and two aunties who were taken from Jigalong mission in 1930 down to Moore River Native Mission. In those days Aboriginals were valued. On page 16, it is stated:

The British colony was said to be an excellent settlement for hiring labourers and most colonists preferred Aboriginal workers to others. “Black servants, I find,” wrote George Fletcher Moore in his Diary of Ten Years, “are very serviceable in this colony; on them we eventually depend for labour, as we can never afford to pay English servants the high wages they expect, besides feeding them so well. The black fellows receive little more than rice—their simple diet.

Aboriginals were valued in the community and were valued as workers. They could contribute to the colony. I will talk a little about Nugi's mother and two aunties. They were three half-caste girls who the community were looking at. The Aboriginal protection people thought that it was best to remove them from their families and raise them so that they had white people's ways. This book talks about the three girls. On page 41, it is stated:

The girls were fortunate to be part of a loving, caring family, who tried to compensate for all the nasty insults and abuse by spoiling them and indulging them at home. Their grandfather even went so far as to take them on walkabout in the bush when he ground black charcoal into fine powder and rubbed it into their bodies, covering them from their faces right down to their toes. This powder, he promised, would solve all their problems. It would darken their light skin and end all the teasings and tauntings, but most importantly, it would protect them and prevent them from being taken away from their families.

What eventually happened to these three half-caste girls—as I will call them although they are identified as Aboriginal and belonging to the Jigalong community and the people there—was that in 1930 Constable Riggs, a protector of Aboriginals, took them a long way by sea down to Moore River Native Mission outside Perth. This book is the story of how these three girls, a 14-year-old and two younger girls, escaped and followed the rabbit-proof fence all the way back to Jigalong. It is one of the most wonderful inspirational stories because these girls took a journey that many white people could not have taken without horses, servants and whatever.

The girls returned to their community. They were taken again. Again one of them escaped and followed the rabbit-proof fence as the desire to be reunited with her family was so strong. These stories are inspirational. I hope the Prime Minister might take the time to read this book and show some leadership in getting reconciliation back on track, accepting that taking children from their families caused devastation at many levels in the communities and to the people and is with us today. Unless we address it, Australia is going to continue to be a sad and sorry place to live in.