Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 29 - No 1 Contents 41
POLICY • Vol. 29 No. 1 • Autumn 2013
LIBERATING ABORIGINAL PEOPLE FROM VIOLENCE
In the lifetime of my parents and my white parents-in-
law, a police party led by a First World War veteran went
through my people's country and shot dozens of men,
women and children in response to the murder of one
white man. They were not punished. In the early days,
white station bosses could flog Aboriginal workers in my
country with whips and get away with it. That frontier
violence happened in my country much more recently
than it happened down here in New South Wales. We
still remember those times. Our parents lived through
them and saw these things happening. Every Australian
should know this history. Many still don't, or don't
acknowledge it, or don't want to talk about it, especially
on Australia Day.
Now all of that frontier violence is gone, although it
seems to us that sometimes some police, in some places,
can still kill our people and get away with it. There are
those who have said to me that I shouldn't talk about
Aboriginal violence because it will encourage racists.
It will make Australians forget the white violence that
we suffered. It will mean that we will lose some of our
It will encourage people like Pauline Hanson and her
followers. The people who talk that way are not losing
their loved ones. We are burying our children and even
our grandchildren. Our young men are filling the gaols.
We need to talk about the reasons for that, and when
the problem is our own then we need to admit that and
do something about it ourselves.
My people do accept violence more than whitefellas
do. In Australia, only the police are allowed by the
law to use violence to keep order, to protect citizens
from crime. And they have to be very careful they only
use it as a last resort according to the rules. Not long
ago, in my parents' lifetime, my people didn't have a
police. Everybody had to learn to use violence to protect
themselves and their families. There was nobody else to
do it for them. All small-scale, hunter-gatherer societies
are like that. Whitefella society used to be much more
violent than it is now. My people were violent not
because they were black or Aboriginal but because they
were human with no other choice.
My people have kept up that tradition of the use of
violence. We all learn to fight and we all feel justified
to fight when we think that we, or our loved ones, have
been insulted or are in danger. We are still taught that
men have the right to beat their wives. Women do not
have equal rights under our customary law. The grog
and the drugs and the petrol that whitefellas have
brought into our country have made all of our problems
much, much worse but they are still our problems.
There is much more violence now than ever before.
Whitefellas are not killing us anymore; we are
I have lived with this violence all my life. Too many of my
loved ones have been killed, have killed themselves, or
have lost their freedom because they have used violence
on others. I carry too many scars on my body and on
my soul to deny that my people are violent. Those who
say violence, especially against women, is not part of
our culture don't know what they are talking about.
It has been part of every traditional culture, including
whitefella culture in the time of my parents. We are
part of the human family; we have problems with our
traditional culture just like everybody else.
Now we Aboriginal people have to give up the
willingness to use violence. To do that, we need a
cultural change. This is up to us and we can do it. After
a long, hard fight we became Australian citizens. We
asked for equal rights. We can't now deny those rights
to Aboriginal women to preserve our culture. We want
the same rights that all other Australians have.
On Australia Day, I sat at Olympic Park with a big crowd
of very excited and happy Sri Lankans. Most of them
were also Australian citizens. There were Sri Lankan
and Australian flags waving about. We watched a ritual
battle going on. Sri Lanka won. I was surrounded by
extremely happy, warm, welcoming people the same
colour as me. They have a completely different culture
I wanted Australia to win but I was also very happy
for all those happy Sri Lankans. It meant so much
to them to win for a change. And they seemed very
happy to have my husband and me sitting with them.
They certainly made us feel welcome. I was very happy
on that Australia Day to be an Australian.
When I think of Australia I think of those Sri Lankans, of
the Scotsman who loves my daughter, of the Sudanese
The following is an edited version of the
speech Bess Price, Member for Stuart
in the NT Legislative Assembly, gave at
the launch of Stephanie Jarrett's book
in Sydney and is reproduced here with
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