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Wednesday, 22 March 1972
Page: 829

Senator BONNER (Queensland) - I do not want to take up a great deal of the time of the Senate this evening. On 9th March this year Senator Keeffe mentioned something that had happened to an Aboriginal female in my State of Queensland. He referred to a girl who had been put into gaol allegedly for wearing a mini skirt on a mission station, namely Doomadgee in the north of Queensland. In his address to the Senate, Senator Keeffe also made some very strong statements concerning the Queensland Government and its treatment of Aborigines in that State. I was shocked when he made those statements. I was disturbed about some of the allegations he made. Being an Aboriginal and being very concerned about the plight of members of my race, not only in my own State but in the Commonwealth at large, I was very disturbed that such an allegation should be made against my State, its Government, the responsible Minister and the Director of Aboriginal and Island Affairs in Queensland. Naturally enough, 1 made my own investigations into this matter.

I learned to my dismay that the allegations made by Senator Keeffe were unfounded and were a fabrication in many respects. I have before me a Press clipping

Senator Murphy - Senator, you are not suggesting that Senator Keeffe fabricated anything, are you?

Senator BONNER - After I have spoken about this matter, Senator Murphy, perhaps you or Senator Keeffe can counter the claims that I make. Until that time you might be kind' enough or decent enough to bear with me and listen to what I have to say.

Senator Murphy - Senator Keeffe is not in the chamber at present.

Senator BONNER - I beg your pardon, Mr Acting Deputy President, but am I supposed to wait until Senator Keeffe arrives in this chamber?

Senator Cavanagh - No, you are supposed to notify him, as we do in such cases.

Senator BONNER - I am making a statement here because I have made investigations into the allegations that were made in this place. I am sick and tired of people using the Aboriginal people for political gain. It is about time that I, as an Aborigine, had something to say concerning the matters that affect members of my race in this country.

Senator Murphy - I do not think anyone would doubt that.

Senator BONNER - Would the honourable senator be kind enough to listen to me in silence until I have had my say? Then, if he has something to say, maybe he will be able to counter the claims I make. I was saying that I made investigations of these matters. I have a Press statement here which contains headlines in big print which read: 'Mystery over claim of mini skirt'. I have found that the person who was mentioned in the Senate on 9th March this year claims that she was not gaoled because she wore a mini skirt on a mission settlement in Queensland, namely the Doomadgee mission. She was told by the Aboriginal people on that settlement that mini skirts or skirts worn so short were regarded by the Aboriginal people in that community as immoral.

The indigenous people of this country prior to the coming of the white man were a deeply spiritual and religious people. With the coming of the white man our culture was broken down in many respects. We find that with the coming of the white man the beliefs of Christianity were embraced by many of the Aboriginal people of this nation. At Doomadgee mission the people have embraced the faith of the Brethren. This is a very strict faith. Its adherents do not believe in many of the things that we believe in, such as dancing, going to the movies and other things that they regard as being of this world. The Aboriginal people have embraced this faith. They believe there are many things that should not be used by the mission's community. One of the things that the Aboriginal people themselves complained of was the wearing of mini skirts because they believed that this was immoral. I have the statement of the person concerned. Senator Keeffe claimed that she was a girl. I ask you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and honourable senators, whether a female of the age of 29 years could be regarded as a girl or as a woman. This woman admits that she was not gaoled but was cautioned by the councillors of the community that to wear a skirt of that length was regarded by the Aboriginal people as being immoral. She was asked to lower the hemline of the skirt, as other members of the female community had done. This woman did not agree with the councillors; so she left the mission station and went to live in Mt Isa.

I have here a signed statement of the girl concerned. As a matter of fact, the person that was claimed by Senator Keeffe to be the one involved was not the woman responsible for this act. It was another person entirely. Here again, we have an honourable senator in this place making claims when he has not done sufficient research into the matter and is not completely in possession of the facts of the case. The person who was referred to by Senator Keeffe was not the woman who was actually told that she should not wear a mini skirt at Doomadgee mission station. Senator Keeffe also mentioned other matters. He said that the Aboriginal people of Doomadgee mission station were eating food that contained a lot of weavils and maggots. When I went into this matter and back to the time when the person who complained that this was happening, I found that the person was 14 years of age. When I related this to the age of the person and the time when this incident took place, I found that it happened back in 1955. I would say that in 1955 there were many communities such as this one in Queensland that may have had weevils in the flour and the porridge and whatever else may have been the case because at that time Queensland was under the regime of the Australian Labor Party. It is strange to me that when I look at this matter which occurred in 1955 I find that the mission station referred to was run by the christian and God fearing people. They were church people. At that time they had no support from the Queensland Government. The mission station at Doomadgee was supported by the goodwill of the people of Queensland, those people who went to church every Sunday and put their 2 bob in the collection plate.

At that time the Queensland Government did not support the mission station. There were about 4 government settlements in Queensland, namely Cherbourg,

Woorabinda, Palm Island and Yarrabah. The Labor Government certainly did not give any financial support to the mission station; it was supported by the goodwill of the God fearing people of Queensland. Let us go back to look at the Labor Party's attitude towards Aborigines in 19SS during its term of office.

Senator Cavanagh - I hope the honourable senator would not use the question of Aborigines for political reasons.

Senator BONNER - I am talking about the attitude of the Australian Labor Party towards the Aboriginal people in 1955. At that time, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Queensland - a Labor government Minister - referred in one of his statements in Canberra to the Aboriginal people of Queensland as the Queensland niggers. At that time, I as an Aborigine, and as many other Aborigines in Queensland, were referred to as niggers by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Queensland.

Senator Milliner - The Liberals used to belt them with a stirrup iron.

Senator BONNER - Yes. I remember living in Queensland when many people referred to Aborigines as niggers. I remember the time in Queensland under that regime when I was working on cattle stations and I had to eat my meals at the woodheap, when cattle station owners treated Aborigines with a stirrup iron. But this was under a Labor government. I find lt quite humorous that various members of the Australian Labor Party say they will do so much for Aborigines. As a matter of fact, I have seen the Labor Party policy in regard to Aborigines in Queensland. But I fail to find in it a statement that was made by a very prominent member of the Australian Labor Party in the other place. I am referring to Dr Douglas Everingham, the honourable member for Capricornia. In one of his statements, he gave his way to treat the Aborigines today and to overcome a lot of the problems that we face. I have the statement here. The statement was made by a man who in Queensland is regarded by the Aboriginal people as the knife man. He is called the knife man because he believes the only solution to the Aboriginal problem in Australia is sterilisation. I happen to be an Aborigine. Dr Everingham sits in the other place, and his policy for Aborigines in Queensland and for the Aborigines of Australia is that they should all be sterilised. I wonder why he advocates this kind of policy. Perhaps he is a little afraid because today the Aboriginal race has the fastest birth rate of any race of people in the world. I wonder whether the Labor Party is just a little bit afraid that perhaps the Aborigines might one day build up to such a stage that they will be too many in number for the Labor Party to be able to control and use for political purposes, such as they are using today. I feel quite sure in my own mind that I as an Aborigine could well fill all the galleries of this Parliament with young Aborigines and not so young Aborigines if I were inclined to use Aborigines for political purposes as I find the honourable senator from Queensland apparently is doing today.

I wonder whether the honourable senator who was making such claims about Aborigines in Queensland remembers a particular case in that State in which he was going to show the Queensland Government, the Director and the administration on Palm Island exactly how to handle Aborigines. He took under his control and into his very very capable guiding hands a young Aboriginal woman who was creating quite a deal of trouble on Palm Island because of her misbehaviour. He said to the administration on Palm Island: 'You people do not know how to handle Aborigines'. He had her exactly 3 days and we have not seen the girl since. We do not know what happened to her. He was not able to help her. I am not creating a stir. I am quoting facts and figures. I live in Queensland and I am very sick and tired of people who would use the indigenous people of this country to further their own political ends. It is time that we started looking at this problem of the indigenous people. It is time that we started to look at our indigenous people as human beings who are entitled to the same opportunities and privileges as any other people in Australia. When we get down to the stage at which we use Aboriginal people for our political gain, I think it is time that we-

Senator Milliner - Where is your evidence?

Senator BONNER - On 9th March I sat here and listened in silence to a member of the Opposition, because I was shocked and disturbed at some of the allegations he made. But when I went home to my own State and started to investigate these things I found that he was far, far wrong. The honourable senator mentioned the names of people. But these people have denied what he has said in this House. I think it is time that he was shown up for the fake that he is. Thank you, Mr Deputy President.

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