Wild Women and Rebel Girls

Originally published on Indigenous X 12 July 2018

NAIDOC 2018 theme Because of her, we can has put the spotlight on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. All around Australia, people are sharing stories of the strong, caring, resilient and successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in their lives – past, present and future.

There is strength in knowing that First Peoples have been refusing to sit down, be compliant, give up or be silenced since invasion. Below are a few of these inspirational wild women and rebel girls. It is because of them, that we can and we do.

Fight like an Amazon

Born in 1800, Tarenorerer (also known as Te Nor) was a Tommeginne/Plair-Leke-Liller-Plue woman that fought back. Tarenorerer was abducted as a teenager and sold to white sealers living on the Bass Strait Islands. They called her Walyer. Sealers kept Aboriginal women and girls as slaves, often subjecting them to rape and assault.

From a young age Tarenorerer witnessed and experienced settler-colonial violence, but she refused to become servient to the sealers, and other invaders. Tarenorerer escaped and returned to mainland Tasmania in 1828.

In the north, she gathered Aboriginal women and men from different groups. Tarenorerer showed them how to use firearms and guerrilla warfare tactics, including attacks on colonialists’ sources of food and economics. She then led this group of resistance fighters, which included her brothers and sisters, against the settler-colonists.

Tarenorerer soon became infamous. G. A. Robinson, Protector of Aborigines, called her the Amazon of Van Diemen’s Land, after he heard how Tarenorerer would taunt men to come and fight her. She is known for saying that she ‘liked a luta tawin (white man) as she did a black snake’.

Abducted by sealers again, Tarnorerer was taken to the Hunter Islands. On Bird Island she was forced to hunt mutton birds for the sealers. There, she hid her identity by taking the name Mary Anne.

She was then given to John Williams, who lived with a group of white men, and the Aboriginal women they’d taken captive, on Forsyth Island. In 1930, she was moved to Swan Island, where her true identity was revealed.

Robinson ordered her to be kept in isolation, as he feared she’d lead another revolt. Sadly, Tarnorerer, undoubtably a courageous young woman, died from influenza in 1831.

Badimaya artist Julie Dowling payed tribute to Tarenorerer in her painting Walyer(2006)

When enough is enough

Daisy Bindi (Mumaring), a Nyangumartu woman, was born on the edge of the Gibson Desert around 1904. Her early life was spent on a cattle-station near Jigalong Depot (later known as Jigalong Aboriginal Reserve). As a child she helped her mother, who was a domestic on Ethel Creek station. Daisy became an accomplished horsewoman and worked alongside the men.

Concerned about working conditions and lack of wages for Aboriginal station hands, as well as ongoing police harassment, Daisy stood up alongside others that led the 1946 Pilbara strike. 500 men, women and children walked off the stations south of Nullagine, making their way to Port Hedland.

Daisy’s contributions were also instrumental in the worker’s rights movement spreading to inland Pilbara stations. Despite push back from authorities and settler-colonists, including violence towards the Aboriginal strikers, Daisy and the other station-workers stood their ground for three-years.

After a fall from a horse resulted in a leg amputation in 1959, Daisy turned her attention to access to education for Aboriginal children. Finding support from the Union of Australian Women in Perth, she successfully lobbied for a school in Pindan.

Daisy passed away in Port Hedland in 1962. Noonuccal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s (1920 – 1993) wrote a poem about Daisy Bindi in The Dawn is at Hand.

Uncaged birds sing the sweetest songs

Martu women Molly, Daisy and Gracie were well-known for the legendary great escape that inspired the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Sisters Molly and Daisy Craig, and their cousin Gracie Fields, were forcibly removed from their families in 1931. For many decades, Aboriginal children of mixed ancestry were removed by the government to force assimilation into white society. The children were sent to government or church-run institutions to be taught basic skills, before being allocated to white households or stations as unpaid child labour.

In August of 1931, Molly (14), Gracie (10) and Daisy (8) were sent to Moore River Native Settlement, but quickly absconded. Following Molly’s lead, the girls used the rabbit fence to navigate the 2414 kms walk home to Jigalong. Sadly, Gracie was re-captured before making it home.

Nana Molly eluded authorities many times as a young woman, keeping herself and her daughters safe. She walked the fence a second time in 1941, after freeing her baby daughter from Moore River Native [sic] Settlement. She was forced to leave behind her four-year old daughter, in the care of a family member that was at the Settlement. By 1944, both daughters had been removed from her care.

Tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly removed under these race-based polices, and they are known as the Stolen Generations.

Gracie Fields died in her early 60s, in 1983. Nana Molly (Craig) Kelly lived on Country, at Jigalong, until she passed away in 2004 at 87 years. Daisy (Craig) Kadibill lived most of her life in the Martu community of Parnngurr. She achieved her wish of returning home to Jigalong before she passed away on 30 March of this year, at the age of 95.

Molly, Daisy and Gracie’s escape inspired Molly’s oldest daughter Doris Nugi Garimara Pilkingtonto write Follow The Rabbit-Proof Fence(1996). Molly’s life also inspired the sequel Under The Wintamarra Tree(2002).

Auntie Doris passed away in 2014 at the age of 77 years, in Perth. Remembered around the world as a strong voice for the Stolen Generations, she was the matriarch of over 100 direct descendants.

Stand strong, like an ancient tree

The fight for country and kin continues, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman often taking the lead. The current Djap Warring Embassy in Victoria is one example of standing strong.

In the Ararat region over 260 ancient trees are marked to be bulldozed, to make way for the Western Highway project. These trees, including a culturally-significant birthing tree, are sacred to the Djap Wurrung peoples.

Young Aboriginal people, such as Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, are standing alongside Elders and community to protect these trees.

Because of her, we will

This year, NAIDOC has been a chance to honour the women that have come before us. And it is a theme that gives hope, as we look around us. Across Australia there are countless young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speaking up to power, refusing to sit down. The future is in good hands.

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