As I arrived at the courtroom for the very last time after 26 years, I think about my career and how I brought about change. I never thought I would want to study law and become a public servant but certain events in my life has made me think differently. The racism that I experienced at an early age made me learn how to fight for myself and brought out my battle spirit. The teachers and fellow students would treat me a certain way but my parents had helped me to hold my head up high and learn that even though I come from a different background, I could achieve success as well as anybody else.
Being a half-caste was difficult. I did not have the same rights as everybody in Australia and I was very fearful that I would be taken away from my family to be put with white-run reserves. Despite all the adversities I faced, I managed to get a full education and graduate as a teacher in Queensland. In fact, I was the first Indigenous woman. When I moved to Sydney, I realised that I wanted to become a lawyer when after I heard of an incident which police officers were charged with violence against two indigenous women. When I heard of this case, I was very unimpressed in the way the police officers were being treated like they were the victims and the two women were being treated as if they were the perpetrators of the offense simply because of their heritage. That’s when I realised I wanted to do something that could help them and change their situation, I wanted to become an advocate for Aboriginal people.
When I finally graduated from University of New South Wales, I was set on my path to initiate change in the community. Already I had become the first Aboriginal woman in Australia to complete a law degree and become a barrister. I was able to influence an unfair system, from within. But my main priority was to enhance the health, housing and education facilities for my people as I knew what it was like living in poor conditions in Queensland. As a lawyer, I was very focused on the land rights of Aboriginals and I was the leader in the fight. After working on committees and task forces promoting Aborginal issues, I was appointed to head the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. In moving to this position of power, I was able to make government decisions that could beneficially impact Indigenous Australians. Not only was I the first Aboriginal person but also the first woman to become a permanent head of ministry in Australia.
I raised awareness to the unfair disadvantages that Aboriginals had like higher death, mortality and imprisonment rates. In the years, that I was in the public eye, I gained some criticism but some admiration for the way I was so outspoken for the topics I was passionate about. While politicians like Joh Bjelke-Peterson was calling me a communist alligator, the newspapers like the Sun-Herald newspaper were calling me highly respected Aboriginal activist.
When I stopped working for the government and returned to law, I became the first indigenous magistrate in Australia. I had a very progressive mind and when it came to the cases I had to use my judgements in, they were considered very controversial for the judgement I made. But my main priority was to enhance the health, housing and education facilities for my people as I knew what it was like living in poor conditions in Queensland. I was very much focused on the land rights of Aboriginals, discrimination and women rights. I was the leader in the fight. With being a woman and an indigenous women, I hope that all my achievements I have accumulated over the years of my career, have managed to inspire others Aboriginal women and men and make them realise that their heritage does not stop them from having the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The determination I have for my fellow people will pave the way to justice and will foster into a happy future for all Aboriginals. I am satisfied with knowing that I have attempted and managed to make a change for all indigenous people that have suffered under all the racism and discrimination that they have had to face all throughout history.