Lidia Thorpe: I stand​ ​on​ ​the​ ​shoulders​ ​of​ ​my​ ​ancestors

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.10905

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.10760

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