‘I’m a survivor’: Aunty Judith and the fight for culture

“I’m a survivor”, my good friend and Aboriginal activist Aunty Judith said to me two years ago, shortly after I moved to Australia from my homeland Spain.

At the time, I didn’t know half as much about Aboriginal culture, native title and Canberra’s tent embassy, but I could see that she was, indeed, a survivor. 

I could see the tiredness of a long-time warrior and the bitterness of years of lost battles in her piercing green eyes.

We were sitting inside the home she had been squatting for the last few weeks on Fremantle’s High Street, sipping a cup of tea. Her, an experienced Indigenous activist, and me, a young inexperienced reporter looking for a story.

She had just received an eviction notice, but she wasn’t going to leave the house without putting up a fight because the house, she said,  stood in Aboriginal land.

Aunty Judith was born in Amangu Yamatji, Geraldton, but like many other Aboriginal children she was taken away from her home to be raised by a white family.

She grew up in Mosman Park, 400km away from her home, and she only found out she was adopted when she was 7 years old. 

Since then, she fought to reconnect with her Aboriginal past. But like many other members of the  Stolen Generation, she had lost touch with her own language, culture, family and identity.

Her culture, like herself, had been stolen.

In an attempt to make a difference to the lives of other Aboriginal people, she renounced her Australian citizenship and moved to Canberra’s tent embassy to campaign for indigenous rights.  

Since, she has fought for juvenile justice, education, housing and land ownership reforms, and for constitutional changes to compensate wage and land loss so other indigenous people don’t have to endure what she and her family did.

Reconciliation, is not only about apologising for past grievances like Aunty Judith’s, it’s also about bridging the gap she has so desperately tried to narrow.

According to Oxfam, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still die 10 to 17 years younger than non-indigenous Australians, and one in five indigenous households are in Australia’s poorest 10 per cent of households.

With NAIDOC Week just around the corner, I remind myself of the importance of reconciliation and Aunty Judith’s fight for equality and respect.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which recognised Aboriginal and Islander peoples in the census.

It also marks 25 years since the Mabo decision which recognised the intrinsic bond between Aboriginal people and their land. 

It is true that Australia has come a long way, but until issues such as deaths in custody, economic and education inequalities and community closures are addressed there’s still a long way to go.