Kaya wanju – hello and welcome in Noongar language.
I want to acknowledge the Traditional Owners on the land on who you meet today – the Gadigal People of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present. I also want to acknowledge other Elders in the room, particularly those from within our own community; but equally those from across the waters who’ve come to join us on our soil that means so much to us.
The theme of “our grandchildren’s grandchild” is very apt, given the time that has elapsed since the settlement of all of our nations; the impact that it’s had on individuals, on families and communities; the displacement; the policies that governments put into place that were detrimental to our culture. Because what we have to remember is our culture is the essence of who we are. It is our being, it is our making and our creation – through our parents, through our community and through Mother Earth – that makes us the individuals that we are today – the unique individual that each of us are. But I think the important part that we have to acknowledge is that the traumatic events of the historical imposition on First Nations people in so many locations has a residual effect that is profound. I saw it with my own mother, who was a Stolen Generation child and spent time at Roelands Mission. Her and her brothers and sisters were separated from each other, but over a period of time came together, and I once wrote in the foreword of a research document that they often had two families.
They had the family of those that were in the missions with them, because that was the only family they had. That was the comfort that they derived. And then they had their own families, who they met up with after their years in the missions had finished. And that impact left a residual element to capacity to be the best that they could be, or to give the love to a family. And we know from the research that the WA Aboriginal Child Health Survey did that the intergenerational impact is significant, both on the psyche of individuals – their social and emotional wellbeing – but equally on their mental health status. Because those events have that passed-on element to them. What’s important are the discussions that you have for the duration of your conference – the sharing of knowledge and history; the learning from each other.
What I’ve seen over the years in my short time has been the impact of Elders, whose wisdom and knowledge has been important; of the sons and daughters who have had to care for family members who were part of the Stolen Generation – the impact on their health. All of those factors have contributed to the way in which people have been suspicious of reform and change. Even as Minister for Aged Care, I hadn’t thought about the impact of institutions on the early years of an individual’s life and how that might play out when you have to go into residential aged care. And I’ve had Stolen Generation members say to me, along with kids from Fairbridge, kids from the clan groups, who said: we were raised in an institution, we were abused, and we are concerned that if we go into aged care our memories will resurface and that the institution we are in may not be as safe as we thought it could be.
And these hauntings of the past are powerful. They’re salient but they’re not recognised as openly as they should. And certainly, I have an incredibly privilege and the Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care and the Minister for Indigenous Health of seeing, firsthand, the impact of intergenerational trauma that has been handed down from mother, father; to son and daughter; to the children of ours and then, ultimately, the impact on grandchildren. And all of us work hard to circumvent that impact. We support each other, but at times we have to acknowledge lateral violence within our own communities is not helpful. When I consider what my mother, her uncles and aunties went through, and I’ve watched over the years their lives have been shortened by those experiences. But the flow-on effect to cousins and nephews and nieces is also evident, and that the disadvantage that I often see in families and in our communities is real and it does have its origins in the history of policies past.
So in your deliberations, work towards the solutions. Sometimes the bitterness of what has occurred is hard to transcend but I’ve seen people who transcended that in order to give their children and their grandchildren, and future generations, a better opportunity and chance than what they, themselves, had. I know with my mother and with family who have gone into institutions over that time; want the best possible journey. And my mother said to me she would always prefer that I achieved, as opposed to carrying a legacy of what she experienced. So as you spend time together, celebrate the strength and resilience of our culture, celebrate the strength of what we have within us that has kept us as nations, on our own Mother Earth, as strong and resilient, given the adversity that we’ve experienced.
I congratulate the organisers. Richard Weston, I want to acknowledge the work that you do along with many others. To all the dignitaries, I say thank you for bringing people together. And to the Elders, give of your wisdom, give the advice that is needed to steer our grandchildren and their grandchildren to a better future and a position of strength.
I wish you well in your deliberations.