Tell me my mother: Stories of Campbelltown’s Aboriginal Women
Campbelltown Arts Centre
“Stories of resilience and inspiration” is how I would sum up this collection of oral histories with 15 local Aboriginal women residing in the Campbelltown District. They are stories that resolve issues for each of these women, and help the younger generations understand the lives we are fortunate to have today.
Many stories revolve around the history of the local areas these women have come from across the State and even Victoria, and life under the Protection Act including mission life, as well the negative effects of alcohol and domestic violence on the family. But most stories end with life today in Campbelltown and the roles the women play in community activities such as the street patrols Gladys Lock is part of.
The stories are about reconciling the past for these women. Marnie Williamson says, “Reconciliation must begin within ourselves. As elders, we must strive to reconcile our own past, somehow make sense of it, or we’ll always live in this voice, shadows in our own land.” And in trying to reconcile such stories of hardship, the women also recall the funnier side of life and growing up, such as the first time Verna Barker saw a plane and how she screamed thinking it was aliens coming to get her.
I was astounded at the size of the families that some of these women raised and continue to raise. Jenny Brown had four kids of her own but raised another 600 foster kids, while Christina Craig has 93 grand kids.
Some stories were also interesting local histories such as Glenda Chalker’s entry about living at Pheasant’s Nest, which is named PN because it’s the first place lyrebirds were recorded at. The Lyrebird is also Glenda’s totem, so she feels especially at home at Pheasant’s Nest. I’ll remember that when next I drive to Canberra along the M5.
Most women had key messages for their children and for all young people. Sue Davis’ message was that we should respect one another, respect culture and respect ourselves. In line with that Kylie Dickson believes that “to earn respect, you’ve got to give respect”. Artist and painter Sue Grant advises that you should follow your spirit and your dreams and be proud. And Julie Hoffmanbeck’s words to her children and other parents are “The most important thing is protecting you and your kids.”
Judy McKay recommends taking one day at a time, enjoying a sunset or a sunrise, the birds chirping, and the smells around you. And to never lose the little child inside.
Some of the stories are about achievement for these women, and that is measured in different ways. For Norma Layt her greatest achievements in life were going to uni, buying her own home and bringing up seven children. I would’ve thought one of those would be enough!
The book is really about the role of the mother and other key women in our lives and Alana Moffatt talks about the guidance and knowledge she got from her Mimi (grandmother) and how that’s where her drive stems from.
Each short autobiographical narrative is complimented by a beautiful black and white portrait by Mervyn Bishop.
Finally, Ruby Langford Ginibi says she tells her stories to make things change and to make people wake up. And this collection of truly hard lives lived, by women who are not bitter or twisted, but who are full of love and compassion should really make some of our young people wake up to themselves and see that what they enjoy today is a far cry from what our old people had to endure.
This is an inspirational read about women, many whom were born in dire conditions and raised without the basic human right we enjoy today. Show them you appreciate their generosity of spirit to tell their stories by reading them, and in turn you will show and that they deserve a place, as Mona Porter says, “My philosophy is that in the world, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are or where you are from, you deserve your place in this world.”
This small volume is a gift to the Campbelltown community by these women, through the Campbelltown Arts Centre who coordinate the Campbelltown Intergenerational Aboriginal Project, through which this book was completed.
TO ORDER CONTACT:
Campbelltown Arts Centre
PO Box 57
Campbelltown NSW 2560
Phone: 02 46454111
Drop in to the Cnr of Camden and Appin Roads Campbelltown