Today 25% of people who seek support from Wayside Chapel are Aboriginal. Wayside Chapel is also the place from which Charles Perkins, a famous aboriginal activist, started the Freedom Ride in 1965, which toured through small towns in NSW, as a non-violent protest against discrimination against Aboriginal people in Australia.
I live in Australia and am a proud descendant of the Wiradjuri people. When I was a little girl growing up it was just my mum and I up until I was 5 years old. My mother was kicked out of home with me as a newborn when she was just 20 years old. Luckily she was able to secure a public housing commission flat in Waterloo, an inner city suburb of Sydney.
I was raised knowing that I came from a long line of strong aboriginal women - survivors. My Grandmother passed away from heart a condition she had since she was a child when my mum was only 11 years old - had my grandmother received the adequate medical care she needed, her passing could have been avoided.
As a way of keeping connection to her and her memory alive it was important to my mum for us to identify as Aboriginal - to know our history. I learned about my culture from the stories that my mother had passed onto me from her mother, and the long line of mothers and aunties that had enriched our lives before us.
I was proud to be Aboriginal - I thought it was what made me strong. It wasn’t until I got older I realised that in Australia that is not the general view. Once my mother married, almost without us noticing and certainly unintentionally, we moved further and further away from our roots. Me being Aboriginal wasn’t talked about as much - except when I mentioned it at school one day beaming with pride, only to be ostracised by some of the other kids. I remember feeling hot with shame and deeply confused. It wouldn't be the last time that I would experience such feelings.
My story and many Aboriginal people’s stories is one of disconnection. People and families become fractured due to the effects of trauma brought about by the effects of colonisation. Exactly how has the process of colonisation brought pain to our people? Forced removal of children, suppression of language and culture and all of this has profoundly affected, and still effects the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people to this day. I could mention all the statistics, but I won’t.
Throughout my teenage years and early adulthood, I experienced firsthand the effects of this disconnection. When I had a daughter of my own I came to realise that if I didn’t begin to heal I would have nothing different to pass onto her. It was at this time I began to seek out my family connections, to reconnect with my culture and to heal.
What has always really stood out to me was the solutions that were being offered to most aboriginal people are disempowering. We come from the oldest living culture. We have the means of healing and thriving running in our blood. This is something that is not often spoken about, but it is what heals us. All of the focus and attention has been put on our poor outcomes, our poor health, and intergenerational trauma almost always presented as if it is our fault, and that we need to be fixed. However, what I witness is strong spirit and resilient people who simply need to be reminded of who they are and be given a chance and the space to reconnect with themselves. This is the only way that Aboriginal people can move from a state of trauma and reconnect with our cultural strengths to heal.