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Transcript of interview: ABC Radio, Sydney 702: 9 July 2018: NAIDOC Week

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WENDY HARMER: Hello Linda!



HARMER: Thank you very much indeed. Same to you! Of course this is the annual

celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, and I love

this theme. I’ve been reading so many extraordinary stories Linda, of women

who’ve prevailed in incredibly difficult circumstances.

BURNEY: It is a fantastic theme. i think it’s the best theme that NAIDOC has had

for many many years. Clearly it makes Aboriginal women very busy this week. I’m

on my way to Wreck Bay, to the Aboriginal Community Council. They have a whole

week of celebrations down at Wreck Bay which is, for people listening, that’s um

south of Nowra. I’ve got enormous commitments throughout the week, that has -

as has everyone including a two day national Aboriginal women’s conference at

the end of the week at New South Wales University, and of course the massive

ball on Friday night at the convention centre.

HARMER: Well, I mean, you know, just the frocking alone is going to keep you -

BURNEY: I’ve got my own picked out -

HARMER: Well you are always beautifully turned out. You’re a bit of a fashion

plate really, aren’t you? So we know you’re going to be looking gorgeous. But they

- I was listening to an interview yesterday, but I can’t remember the girl’s name

was - and she was saying that that so many times it has been the women in the

family in Aboriginal society that has kept the whole thing going, has kept the family

together and it - and this role hasn’t been acknowledged as much as it should’ve


BURNEY: On a very serious point that um is absolutely correct Wendy, I think it’s’

very much recognised that Aboriginal women, particularly at a local community

level that have kept communities together, kept families together, provided untold

care for children. And when you think about the history right across this country -

let’s just look at New South Wales, back in 1909 when the protection law was

established and Aboriginal people were forced to live on government reserve with

mission managers or reserve managers, it was the men that - well everyone

suffered - but the men’s role was completely taken away. They had to seek

permission to move off the reserves to work; you had to seek permission even to

marry; and that of course is when the Stolen Generations was taking place. But the

role of women in some ways continued as the nurturers. And women were the

ones who were given the rations, were given the government blankets, given the

clothes, given the sugar, given the tea - shocking conditions but you can see how

the roles were really affected, the traditional roles of Aboriginal people at that time.

ROBBIE BUCK: Linda take us back even further, what are the - what have been

the roles for women in - I know there’s probably a lot of variances because you’re

looking at different nations all over the country -

BURNEY: Yeah -

BUCK: But - you know, what, what often were the roles of women -

BURNEY: Well -

BUCK: When you go back hundreds of thousands of years?

BURNEY: Well the - very important question as well - because when you travel

across this country there are women’s sacred sites, there are men’s sacred sites,

there is women’s business and men’s business, which is still very much the way

that First Nations people organise our conferences, our gatherings. I was up in the

Northern Territory earlier this - uh last month - and there was a huge bush

meeting, where there was discussions with women and discussions with men, and

those roles were very much respected. The women’s’ roles were about um in many

ways - if you think of the Gadigal, you think of the Eora women, with amazing

women like Barangaroo and her sister, and each of them and aunties it was about

provision of certain foods, of fishing, the gathering of bush foods, so there was a

role of provision to everyone, but there was also - and there remains a very

important role of course in birthing, in nurturing, in educating, and very much

providing the rock for that family to coalesce around.

HARMER: We know I guess the dark side of the history Linda, but I guess this

week is about celebrating all those women who have achieved so much.

BURNEY: That’s true, I mean the darkside as you know is absolutely shocking and

you know you look at the - when you break down the numbers of children that

removed through those dreadful policies - the disproportionate amount of young

women that removed is very stark - and that was about breeding out the black and

all of those terrible things that we know about - but this week is a celebration and a

recognition of that story, a recognition of the incredible stories of Aboriginal

women. A lot of people say to me, who inspired me and who were your role

models? And my role models are women that you will never see their names on

television, or in the papers, they’re women that have you know taken in kin, they’re

women that have just been the absolute rock solid foundations of communities, of

local organisations, and the families and I think that’s who we’re celebrating this

week is women, Aboriginal women that have endured and given so much back to

the community, that’s what this week’s about.

HARMER: Well so many great stories that I’ve read already, so many stories that -

gee, they’re just such triumphs of the spirit, I’ve got to say Linda that reduce you to

tears. And the heartbreak there is so deep.

BURNEY: The heartbreak is extraordinarily deep and what you’ve really picked up

on there Wendy is this thing that we’re learning about more and more and more

people are talking about, that intergenerational trauma that‘s experienced. And

you can see it in young Aboriginal women that may not - you know, they were two

generations away from being taken, and - but it’s still there. But the other thing of

course, is just the extraordinary generosity of Aboriginal people and in particular,

Aboriginal women, and despite that history, despite that story, understand that the

way we lift ourselves as a nation is collectively. And it’s women that are so

amazing at doing that.

HARMER: Mmmm, yeah and what I’m also loving in this stories that I’m reading,

as you’re doing right now, is turning around and honouring that generation and as

you say those women - names that we might not know, I’ve met a whole lot of

them already in the past couple of days.

BURNEY: You have! I know you have!

HARMER: I know, just reading their stories is so great and one thing that comes

through too Linda, and I’ve seen this said a fair few times too, when people tell us

to just get over it -


HARMER: When you know, just get over being removed and being stolen, it’s not

something that’s going to happen anytime soon.

BURNEY: Well that is a ridiculous notion because that means you’re denying

history, you’re denying truth and none of us want to do that that. The way in which

a nation grows into itself is acknowledging the truth and that’s a story from first

peoples from around the world and the one thing I wanted to share is that is that

the co-chairs of the Nation Aboriginal Islander Observance Day Committee is, and

one of those of course is Dr Anne Martin who is speaking at this national

conference and her story and her - it was really part of her idea - to have this

“because of her we can” as a theme because of her daughter’s story - and her

daughter’s young children - one of them who’s extremely ill - and the triumph and

the generosity and the care that mum’s giving that little girl is just beautiful.

HARMER: Well Linda, we wish you all the best for the week and we will be looking

out for all those stories as they come to the fore and -

BURNEY: I’m certainly going to very tired by Saturday -

HARMER: I was going to say, you’ll be ready to take a load off by Saturday, that’s

for sure I hope you’ve got some comfy shoes with you.

BURNEY: I sure do!

HARMER: Good on you, thank you so much.

BURNEY: Thank you .