I was born in Bega in 1955. My mother and father were doing seasonal work.
In Bega it was beans, in Nowra we picked peas. My father was from Lake Tyers in Victoria and mum was from the Shoalhaven – her family’s from the Yuin Nation and Jerringa. My grandmother was from Lake Wallaga. I have two sisters and four brothers.
I was brought up in Falls Creek and in Bomaderry. My father worked in the paper mill. I lost my father when I was 16 and mum had to care for all of us.
When I left high school I met my husband, Sonny Brown. He’s well known in this area – he played with a lot of the soccer and cricket teams when he was young.
He’s from Kempsey, he came here when he was young and they lived in the old Aboriginal campsite beside [Coomaditchie] lagoon. I moved here when I was 19 and lived in one of the old Aboriginal cottages here [Coomaditchie].
We’ve got five sons and a girl. We had very strong parents – they kept us away from a lot of issues. We always lived around kids that were taken – stolen generation kids. We used to sit with them but they never told us why they were there.
My mother used to panic when they used to come and inspect our house – they used to look in cupboards and check the Aboriginal houses and make sure they were clean. If your house wasn’t up to scratch and there wasn’t enough food they could take your kids from you. My grandmother used to hide mum and them in the blackberry bushes.
The mission people stuck together. We suffered a lot of racism. We were a no-go area for a lot of people. It was the look of the mission for one thing and I think ignorance.
It’s a shame. There were a lot of characters – beautiful people that helped others.
Our homes were open to those on the streets. We looked after a lot of kids who were homeless – gave them a feed and a wash.
I went to West Wollongong TAFE with my sisters; we did secretarial courses and a program for women over 21. I got my associate diploma in youth and welfare work.
We [she and sister Narelle Thomas] did our bush regeneration classes in 1993, so we could work the bush over the back here. We created 10 jobs out of that for ourselves, with the help of our teacher, Tina Bain.
I got into art in 1993 through a very special lady, Sue Edmonds, who was working on a book, Noogaleek, on Aboriginal elders, including my mum.
We started painting Aboriginal art on our fences. The principal of Kemblawarra school came over and asked us to do a mural. It hit the papers and that was our art career under way.
We kept to ourselves, but Sue took us to all the art galleries in Sydney and then Tina took us to all the botanic gardens – that opened our eyes. They’re two special ladies that got us going – without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. We started engaging with the wider community.
We opened this centre [Coomaditchie] in 1993 because we had to become a registered body if we wanted to get funding to build a [bush tucker] track. Our community needed a community centre. Ever since then we’ve been hectic.
We run off-campus courses here, bush regeneration, art. We have partnerships with TAFE.
The important thing is breaking down the barriers and giving the students more understanding about Aboriginal culture.
When we go out to schools and universities we’re helping breaking down barriers and people get a better understanding of Aboriginal culture.
You go to other countries to see the Pyramids, the Great Wall Of China – you mightn’t see those buildings in our country, but by geez we’ve got a big history and it’s just as old as any other culture if not older.
If people stood in our shoes, they could see it from another side. It wasn’t that long ago that our people were the Stone Age people of the world. We want to keep our culture, we want to sustain it.
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