Introduction and acknowledgement

[Introduction in Bunuba]

Jalangurru lanygu balanggarri.
Yaningi warangira ngingirri ngairi yani yuwa muwayi ingirranggu, Gardigal yani u.

Good morning everyone, today we stand on the lands of the Gadigal people.

I am delighted to see all of you here today for this important occasion to mark the official launch of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) Project.

I would first like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we meet today, the Gadigal peoples of the Eora nation and pay my deep respects to their elders both past and present, and the generations to come.

I would also like to acknowledge Norma Ingram for giving the Welcome to Country. Norma herself is a Wiradjuri woman who has lived most of her life in Redfern and has done much to enhance the lives of Aboriginal peoples, especially those living in Sydney over the past 35 years.

Thank you Norma.

Thank you to the dancers at the Redfern Dance Company. You are all amazing!

Charlee Sue- thank you for your words here this morning. You are wise beyond your years and your leadership gives me much hope for the future of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls in this country. 

I would also like to acknowledge my fellow Commissioners, not just for their presence here today, but for their ongoing support and encouragement since taking on this position alongside them in April this year. And on this occasion, it would be remiss of me not to mention the important role played by former Commissioner and Minister for Education as she was then, Susan Ryan, who alongside the late Phyllis Daylight and Mary Johnstone launched the report of the Aboriginal Women’s Task Force, 31 years ago, entitled Women’s Business.

Can I acknowledge Senator Nigel Scullion, the Honourable Minister for Indigenous Affairs; and Senator Malarndirri McCathy and their staff who are here today and particularly Kerrie Timm and Anne Marie Roberts – two Aboriginal women who for so long have provided frank and fearless advocacy for our people within the realm of government. Alongside our Indigenous parliamentarians, you represent a very important part of the leadership provided by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women “inside the tent”.

To the Minister, can I say a sincere thank you to you and your Department for making this important work possible. I hope that this is the beginning of elevating the issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls across the country.

I especially wish to acknowledge my team for their hard work in making today possible. There is much work that lays ahead, but we know that so much of what we do as individuals is only made possible by the team of people that we surround ourselves with.

To our Project Ambassadors, Anita Heiss, Magnolia Maymuru and the 9 women on our Advisory Committee who have agreed to give their time and expertise to this Project, thank you. This Project is stronger for your collective wisdom. 

To the artists of We are 27 Creative, to Rikki and Elaine, who have created the artwork for Wiyi Yani U Thangani, thank you for capturing our vision for this Project with your talents so beautifully.

And finally, I cannot begin without acknowledging my Indigenous sisters here today and right across the country, who do so much in their various roles in community, in business, in government and beyond for our mob. You do our people and our ancestors proud.

Honouring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

It goes without saying that much of today is about honouring the legacy of the Women’s Business Report.  However, it is also about paying homage to the role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have long played in our communities.

The story of our women is so much more than what the modern world projects of us. It is so much more than the story of trauma and pain. It is also a story of strength. 

It is found in our protests and marches, in the sweat and blood of the colonial frontier, and in the early beginnings of many of the Indigenous organisations right across this country today.

Our legal and medical services bear the mark of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who, as innovators, saw the possibilities for our peoples when no one else did. These organisations are the heart and soul of many of our communities today.

An important part of our story is also told through the lives of our historical figures. Our heroines such as Barangaroo and Truganini speak to this. Together, they were staunch Aboriginal women who encountered British men who were likely ill-equipped and unprepared for the challenge that they presented.

But our story is found in the political leadership and the fearlessness of some of our best women. Giants amongst us, our women have stood at the helm, unwavering in the face of government might; women such as Lowitja O’Donoghue, Pat Anderson and Pat O’Shane, women who have done so much so that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples might have a greater say in our own lives.

It is found in these women and so many more. From the arts, to the classroom and to the legal, political and sporting arenas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women shine a light on themselves to the world around them.

Collectively, our women such as Cathy Freeman, Marcia Langton, Linda Burney, and Jackie Huggins have elevated the stories and the voices of our women to the national stage and beyond. They are dynamic and unapologetic and together they refuse to be bound by the stereotypes and assumptions or the language of deficit.

They are a force to be reckoned with.

But we know that there are many remarkable women whose names are unknown to the public, whose tireless actions and achievements are quietly unfolding in the constant hum that drives our communities every day.

All of these efforts are intimately connected to our own. Like our mothers and grandmothers before us, Indigenous women have shifted with an ever-changing landscape that sees us balancing our role between two worlds. 

These women, together with the likes of the late Mum Shirl and the late and great Dr Evelyn Scott are women who have shaped the world that we inherit. Their struggles and achievements stretch back through time and find themselves in the opportunities that we find ourselves with today.

That I am the first woman appointed to the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner since the position was created is a testament to this fact.

As a proud Bunuba woman from the traditional lands of the Warangarri in the Fitzroy Valley, I am the product of so many women in my community, of my mother and grandmother before me.

In the spirit of this year’s NAIDOC theme, we cannot move forward without acknowledging that the lives of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are intertwined with our own, with mine.

Because of them, we can.

Legacy of the Women’s Business Report

In the same vein, I must acknowledge and honour the legacy of the Women’s Business report and the countless women who gave their time and energy to that process, both on the Task Force and within the community.

It is remarkable to me that this report represents the first time that the views of Aboriginal women were sought by government. Three decades later, Wiyi Yani U Thangani is a continuation of that journey.

It is clear to me that much more needs to be done to elevate the needs and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls in the national policy landscape.

This is a view that I put recently to the ALRC Inquiry, noting the invisibility of our women and girls in some of this country’s most pressing challenges.

The experiences of our women everywhere, but particularly in the justice space, and in the stories of people like the late Ms Dhu and Rosie Fulton and of our girls in care and juvenile detention are crying out for greater visibility, for greater coordinated effort and greater weight within the halls, laws and policy of government.

This Project must help deliver this for our women.

We cannot understand our challenges and our aspirations solely through the eyes of our men. We honour their achievements too as we remember the likes of the late Lester Bostock and Sol Bellear who have recently passed on, people who have stood beside us as we strive for a better future for our children and our children’s children.

We cannot deny that we are stronger through efforts that unite rather than demonise us. 

But equally, we cannot deny that our experiences, our disadvantage, our human rights and our success are all gendered. It is time for these experiences, this diversity and this reality to be reflected back to us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls in the language and solutions of government.

I have said that the rights of our women and girls will be a priority for my term and much of this will be shaped by what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls share with me over the next 18 months through this project.

I can already foresee some of the road that this Project will travel.  It is in the voices and the experiences of so many women that I have come to know already and whom I have mentioned today. 

From our sacred places to our urban centres, from our organisations to our enterprises and from our grandmothers and lawmakers, to our sisters in the LGBTIQ community – I hope to highlight the diversity that exists for us all as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls.

This process will not always be easy. As women, we know this statement to be true in life. This process will not shy away from the hard truths, but equally it will seek to highlight the enormous strength that exists amongst us.

This fact is not diminished by the inability of others to see this complexity.

There are significant opportunities to grasp here, to ensure that our women are not just a footnote or an add-on for the latest policy or programme, but that our needs and aspirations and our voices are at the forefront of the governments agenda – beyond the narrow frame of victimhood and dysfunction.

Friends and colleagues.

As with the work of the Women’s Taskforce in 1986, the role of myself and my team through this Project will be to first and foremost, to listen to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls.#T1

To my sisters’ right across the country, today I launch Wiyi Yani U Thangani for you. 

In the spirit of self-determination and a human rights based approach, this initiative will hear and honour your voices. It will be shaped by you.

I look forward to meeting with you, to sitting down with you and talking with you about your challenges and your aspirations for the future.

I encourage you all to participate in the community meetings and our submissions process, which will open shortly. I will not get to every community, but I will strive to hear from as many of you as possible through this process.

Together we will raise our voices as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls and together we will deliver a message to government that demands to be heard.

There is much that remains to be done. I ask you to walk with me on this journey. This Project belongs to you.

Yaninyja.

Thank you.


1.#F1 Daylight, P and Johnstone, M., (1986) Women’s Business: Report of the Aboriginal Women’s Task Force, p89.