Aunty Rita Wright - Adjournment Speech
On Saturday night I had the pleasure of emceeing an event in support of the Voice in Western Sydney. The evening was put on by the Kurdish community at its community centre in Kings Park and five Elders from Mt Druitt had been invited to speak. I want to tell one of their stories tonight. Aunty Rita Wright, a Muruwari Elder and a member of the Stolen Generation, told those gathered in the community hall her heart-wrenching story.
Little Rita was born in Brewarrina in 1953. In 1955 she was playing with her sister and cousins in the front yard when she was snatched with her sister by so-called welfare officers. She was just two years old, and her sister just four, when they were stolen from their mother. They were taken from Brewarrina to Marella Mission in Kellyville. Rita cried as she told those gathered that she never had her mother's love as a little girl but she was made to call the cruel white missionaries "Mum" and "Dad". Her and her sister were even made to sleep for a few years on mattresses in the chook pen. Little Rita was sexually and physically abused—as many of the children at the mission were—and she still cannot go to sleep now, at 72, without locking her door. These are Rita's words and her truth of what life was like at Marella Mission:
We worked as slaves, you know, the children. We were only kids. Marella was a farm; they had a big paddock. There was all plum trees. We had to pick the plum trees—climb up in the tree and pick as many, even though it took all day to do it. We had animals. We had kangaroos. Chris, she used to do the kangaroos, we used to do the chooks. They—he had prize pigeons. Sometimes I felt like just letting them all go cause I hated the farm.
My sister, Dawn, used to milk the cows and bring it back up in the buckets and put it in the big freezer. We had to skim it—get the cream off, make the butter every morning before we went to school. Do all the washing. Three lines of washing every day. Every morning before we went to school. We used to stand up on a box cause we was too little. And do it in the winter, in the rain, no shoes. Fix the toilets up when they was blocked. But not, not the education, I missed out on education.
Rita ran away at 15 and she survived. Now she says she cannot turn a child away if they come to her when they have nowhere to live because she does not want anybody to take them. She fosters 17 children and she now has 23 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Aunty Rita Wright has worked tirelessly to support Aboriginal children in the Mt Druitt and Blacktown areas, including developing culturally appropriate programs and services to support their education. She was awarded a Community Fellow award by Western Sydney University for her work. Blacktown, by the way, is where Governor Macquarie established the Native Institution in 1823 in order to effect "the civilisation of the Aborigines" of New South Wales, especially their children. It was one of the first public policies aimed at eliminating Aboriginal cultural traditions and enforcing assimilation with a European way of life, and Mt Druitt was where many people were taken when the Brewarrina mission closed down.
On Saturday night Aunty Rita was joined by four other Elders from Mt Druitt: Aunty Jenny Ebsworth, proud Ngemba and Muruwari woman and director of Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation; Aunty Kathy Donnelly, a Yura Laroi woman from the Gamilaroi nation; Aunty Sandra Hickey, a proud Wiradjuri woman who said, "The Voice just gives us a say because we have not had a say as Aboriginal people for a very long time,"; and Aunty Judy Curry, a Muruwari woman who was taken from her family in Brewarrina when she was just eight. All five aunties spoke so powerfully about why they are urging people to write "Yes" for a First Nations Voice to Parliament on Saturday. They each spoke about the pain that will be in their hearts if the No vote succeeds. They have had enough pain and trauma. If you don't know, write Yes and fill Aunty Rita Wright and her sisters' hearts with joy and love on Sunday.