On the 28th of November, I was sworn in as the first Aboriginal woman to sit in the Victorian Parliament. Australia’s Aboriginal people have lived on this continent for 60,000 years and have a long and unbroken connection to this land. Unlike other Indigenous groups around the world, the Aboriginal people never signed a treaty with the colonising power, so control over this land has never been ceded.
Since British colonisation in 1788, Australia’s First Peoples have faced a long road to gain political acceptance. My mother’s people are the Gunnai tribe from Gippsland in South-Eastern Australia. During white colonisation, they were poisoned, shot and herded off cliffs in one of the most ruthless and systematic attempted genocides the world has ever seen. The survivors were rounded up onto a Christian mission camp and imprisoned on rations.
I am keenly aware that every time I stand in Parliament, I am in a chamber where until today, my people have been voiceless. Our lives have been debated but not reflected in our political system. Victorian Parliament House was once the seat of Government for all of Australia, and decisions in this building took our language away, removed children from our families, and forced us from our land.
Australia only granted my people the right to vote in 1967, and in 2017, Aboriginal children are still being removed from families Our people’s literacy rates are among the lowest in the country, and we are locked up at a rate 11 times higher than the general population. This is not because of fundamental flaws in their character but because of a system that has written them off.
I want to help change that. As the first Aboriginal woman to sit in Victorian Parliament, I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and feel a huge responsibility to continue their legacy. I grew up in an activist household and the women in my family worked tirelessly to support their communities. My grandmother Alma set up the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, which saved lives and helped hundreds of thousands of people across this country.
My family’s activism started at home. Nan took in countless people and offered them a safe place to live. Like Uncle Lou, a soldier who grew up on an Aboriginal mission where he contracted tuberculosis. Were it not for Nan, he would have had nowhere to go. The women who raised me taught me that community is everything.
It’s this background that has drawn me to politics, and to fight for the best possible outcome for our community. I look forward to fighting to protect country, ensuring integrity and transparency in politics, and making sure our schools are funded properly and that every child, whatever their background, has fair and equal access to the best education.