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lip top 10: indigenous aussie women

Evonne Goolagong Cawley, 1971

Evonne Goolagong Cawley, 1971

Did you know that Friday 9 August was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People? Pronounced by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1994, the day aims to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population, so this fortnight, I’m going to have a look out some of our own great indigenous women. I’ve tried to go for a bit of cross-section here, hence why no Cathy Freeman.

1. Bonita Mabo
They say that behind every great man is a great woman, and that was certainly the case for Eddie Mabo. He is known for the battle that culminated in the Mabo decision – granting land title rights to Aboriginal people – but Bonita didn’t just stand in the background saying, ‘Yes, dear’. She was busy starting Australia’s first Aboriginal community school while raising ten children, and is now campaigning for the rights of South Sea Islanders, a cause she put on the back burner until her husband succeeded.

2. Deborah Mailman
It actually wasn’t intentional that I have listed Deborah Mailman after Bonita Mabo – Mailman played Mabo in an ABC drama that aired last year – but it is a very nice coincidence. There were countless actresses I could have picked but I chose Mailman because she is arguably one of the most recognisable. She was also the first Aboriginal actress to win an AFI for a leading role.

3. Samantha Harris
We’re moving over to the modelling world now. Not going to lie, I don’t know much about the industry, but from what I’ve read, the ridiculous number of magazine covers and catwalks Harris has graced make her mega successful.

4. Oodgeroo Noonuccal
Noonuccal was the first Aboriginal Australia to publish a book of verse. Her poetry was often used in her activist work, which some critics labelled as propaganda. A bit of trivia: she was aboard a plane that was hijacked in 1974 and forced to fly all around Africa for three days.

5. Linda Burney
In 2003, Burney became the first Aboriginal person to serve in the NSW Legislative Assembly, winning the seat of Canterbury for the ALP. She’s still there, and is now also the Opposition’s deputy leader, Shadow Minister for Planning Infrastructure and Heritage, Shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation, Shadow Minister for the Hunter, and Shadow Minister for the Central Coast – just to name a couple of her roles.

6. Carol Martin
Still on the politicians, Carol Martin was the legislative assembly member for Kimberly in WA, and was the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to any federal, state or territory parliament, pipping Linda Burney by two years. Sadly, she retired this year, following racial slurs that were directed at her as a result of her supporting a petroleum company’s plans.

7. Essie Coffey
Coffey did a lot of work for reconciliation and land rights, but what I reckon I love most is her refusal of an MBE. She knocked it back because she didn’t call herself a member of the British empire.

8. ‘Mum’ Shirl Smith
This is a name I remember from primary school, and from my reading, I can see why we were taught about her. Here are a few of things she was a founding member of: Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Medical Service, Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the Aboriginal Children’s Service and the Aboriginal Housing Company in Redfern. The Tent Embassy guys! THE TENT EMBASSY! THAT WAS HER!

9. Dr. Sue Gordon
Gordon was the head of a lot of inquiries and councils in her time, and was the first Aboriginal person to head a government department in WA, and the state’s first Aboriginal magistrate. It was the magistrate part that caught my eye the most, but then, maybe I just watch too many crime shows so my brain recognises buzz words now.

10. Evonne Goolagong Cawley
Here’s why I dropped Cathy Freeman! Fourteen tennis grand slam titles, and was the world’s number one player for a while. You may look at the likes of Serena Williams and Federer now and think that that’s not too unusual, but it was pretty darn good for the ’70s.

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