I was born in Brisbane and raised by a single Mum. My Dad is Tongan, but because I was raised by a strong Indigenous woman, I’ve chosen to honour her and acknowledge my Aboriginality first and foremost. That isn’t meant as a disrespect to my Dad or his culture as I’m proud to be both nationalities, but by embracing my Aboriginality; That’s me honouring her.
How important was your culture to you growing up?
Culture was important, but back then, racism was still rife. When I was a kid and I used to get bullied at school, my Mum always just said: ‘You are who you are. Just be yourself.’
It was just me, my sister and my Mum growing up. I was the youngest right up until I was 15 and my Mum had another girl, Zoe. Sadly we had another little brother but we lost him to SIDS. So just us three girls and I think because we’re much older than Zoe we looked out for her– she gets away with lots!
I’ve always been in Brisbane and worked in Administration roles for most of my life.
When family members were diagnosed with Bipolar and Schizophrenia, I developed a strong interest in mental health and this started me on a path to my career in community services.
I moved on to work with training organisations and around training on the Stolen Generations. But I’ve been working full-time with BCHS for five years, and on-and-off for about ten years.
I enjoy working in housing as it relates quite strongly to health. I believe health is a holistic thing, and that social integration, emotional wellbeing, and access to secure housing comes under all of that. You can be well in other aspects of your life but being homeless can contribute significantly to one’s health and have deeper impacts overall.
Our services at BCHS are solely for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. We want to empower our tenants into home-ownership, which we’ve been doing for the last eight months.
Most of tenants have been in their housing for quite some time too, 20 or 30 years, so we want to say: ‘Here’s the opportunity to buy your home, we’ll build a brand new one with those funds, giving the opportunity to the next tenant to buy one.’
I value interacting with the community and being able to provide new opportunities for them. It’s always rewarding to see someone purchase their own home through us. Also working with my nominator, Sally, is rewarding – she is exceptional at what she has achieved with BCHS. I don’t know why she didn’t nominate herself!
What does NAIDOC Week mean to you?
I always attend NAIDOC celebrations and I give my kids the day off school to attend. I just think it’s so important to take this time to celebrate our culture; our people; who we are.
I’ve also valued being a part of ‘Deadly Ears’ program through NAIDOC Week, which was a Queensland Health Initiative for healthy eyes for kids in remote communities in Queensland. I loved that, it was deadly going to those communities and meeting those little people – they’re so adorable and loved having outsiders come to their community.
What does this year’s theme mean to you?
Like I said previously, my Mum raised me singularly and I’ve chosen to recognise my Aboriginality first and foremost. That’s important to me because that just shows the strength of my Mother.
There are a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who raise their kids singularly and I think “Because of her we can” that’s a great honour to recognise them.
My Mum might not have done extraordinary things, but they were extraordinary to me. Racism was still rife in 1978 and I used to get bullied a bit in the playground and it bothered me. It made me an aggressive person back then, but as I got older, I realised that the reaction I was giving them is what they wanted and that I was lowering myself to their level; I have learnt over the years to just act with words not violence.
As a Mother myself, I’ve had five babies – I lost a young fella to premature birth, but I have a 20-year-old, 15-year-old twin girls and an 8-year-old. I want my kids to be proud of me for a number of things, not just one, but I drive it into my children particularly my girls to be themselves, to find themselves and be that person.
You know you’ve done a good job when teachers call you and say: ‘They’re so great, they well mannered, very respectful and that they have voiced her/their opinion/s.’
That’s what I want. I want them to debate things if they disagree, I want them to stand there and be confident that they can voice their opinion. My Mum, Aunts and Uncles instilled that value in me.
Looking back now, we didn’t have the best of everything growing up but we had everything we needed and my Mum makes me proud.
In saying that, I think I also need to acknowledge Auntie Les – my Mum’s sister. I also want to recognise my Godmother who’s Non-Indigenous, Auntie Carol. Those three women have a massive influence on my life. And I am truly grateful and blessed to have them.
Auntie Les was involved with Indigenous organisations as a cook and a Carer. I think I developed my own cooking skills from just standing around watching Auntie Les when I growing up.
My Mum and Aunties have always been there when I needed them, they’d drop everything just to help me. Auntie Les is deceased though, I missed her advice and wisdom greatly, although she’s been gone for quite some time.
I think that’s where my interest for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comes from. Auntie Les where she worked at Musgrave Park when it was down at Hope Street South Brisbane, and she helped out at the Hostels. I remember when I was younger going to work with her. Sure I had to get out of bed at 5:00am, but I loved it and she’d cook and I’d help mainly with the dishes but I still loved and valued that time spent with her.
What message do you have for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women this year?
It’s so important to take the time during NAIDOC Week to celebrate your culture; be proud of it, keep the celebration going especially for the next generation.
My advice for young women is to find yourself and be that person.
I tell my kids to always be proud of who they are and to be proud of their culture – that’s a message I’d love to share with all women this NAIDOC Week.
Originally published as part of QShelter’s campaign showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have contributed to the housing and homelessness sector and their local communities. View the full series here.
The Bigambul people are Native Title Holders in South-West Queensland. The Bigambul Registered Native Title Aboriginal Corporation holds our people’s native title rights and interests in trust for the benefit of our community.
07 3369 7145
PO Box 603
Cannon Hill QLD 4170
3230 Mount Mee Road
King Scrub QLD 4521