Friday, July 13, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Because of her, we can
NAIDOC week passes in La Perouse

I find Barb Simms, 70, loading pictures of inspiring Aboriginal women onto her Facebook page, including one of her dear departed mum, all with the message of this year’s NAIDOC week: “because of her, we can”. There was a morning tea out here earlier, and tonight Simms will head into the NAIDOC awards at Darling Harbour for a big “yarnup”. She got tickets, although she’s annoyed at how few were offered to the locals at La Perouse. “A lot of people didn’t get them, unless you were in the know; tickets could have been given to the elders.”

None of the women from “La Pa” are being honoured tonight, although there’s a strong history of Aboriginal accomplishment out here. The first Aboriginal sports women came from La Pa mission, says Simms – they played an old hybrid of tennis and cricket, called Vigoro, and Simms was a state representative. The grandmother of famous rugby players the Ella brothers, Rosemary, was the first Aboriginal woman to work in a school canteen. La Pa is far enough from the city that the Aboriginal community gets forgotten, says Simms. “We’re like fringe dwellers. But you come out, it’s so vibrant, it’s alive, it’s active. A lot of our elders have never left country. Go to Redfern, there are no traditional people in Redfern. They’re here.”

La Perouse is named after the French explorer Jean-François de Galaup, Comte de La Pérouse, who arrived just after Phillips’ First Fleet had quit Botany Bay, where Cook planted the first British flag 12 years earlier, and decamped for Sydney Harbour. “La Perouse is the oldest contact community. It would’ve had an Aboriginal name. The Bidjigal people were here. We were here when Cook came in. We were here when Cook sailed out. We were here BTF, Before the French.”

Simms grew up on the mission at La Pa, and now does the Welcome to Country regularly. Simms grew up with a view of Botany Bay off the back porch. She remembers her father taking her around Bare Island to eat oysters off the rocks – and a bit further round, past Little Bay, to catch abalone, which they called “mutton fish”. The whole area used to be tough-as, but with water views and a relatively short commute to the city, homes round Little Bay now sell for a million dollars plus. “Today every man and his dog wants to live out here.”

Simms works at the Guriwal Aboriginal Corporation aged care facility at Yarra Bay House, where the La Perouse Land Council is based. She started up a big breast cancer morning tea and fought to get the breast cancer screening van out to La Pa. “When the van did come, we detected six women with breast cancer,” Simms says.

Simms has a life story and a half. Her father was Bidjigal, descended from “Queen” Emma Timbery, and was taken away when his mother died in childbirth. He grew up in Bomaderry children’s home and worked as a chauffeur from 15. “He was a common slave,” says Simms. “His meals were put on a tin plate and slid out the door where the dog comes in; he was never allowed to sit inside and eat with the people.” He then did an apprenticeship on the railways out at Moree, before he returned to his family in La Perouse. Her mother, also named Barbara, was a Wandi Wandian woman, from the south coast, who was expelled from the mission school at Nowra because she wouldn’t pick up the cow pats and put them on the manager’s strawberry patch.

In 1957 Barbara had a heart attack when Simms was nine, and “the welfare” came and took all five kids off to children’s court at Glebe, where they were charged with neglect. The boys were sent away. Her brother Vic wound up touring with Col Joye, Judy Stone and Little Pattie back in the day, and was on Bandstand and Six O’Clock Rock. The girls were held in detention at Bidura, and then sent back to the La Pa mission, where they grew under the thumb of the welfare. “They could do anything and they did do anything,” she says. At 15, Simms went to work at a steel wool factory at Rosebery. Her papers were stamped “disease free” so she could stand in a factory and work next to white women. She had to have morning tea and lunchtime alone. “It was humiliating; it was degrading; but it happened.”

since this morning

In an exclusive, The Guardian reports that the Australian government awarded foreign aid contracts worth $489 million to Sinclair Knight Merz, a political donor that was found to have been systematically bribing high-level Vietnamese officials.

In The Australian, Peter van Onselen writes [$] that the appointment of Treasurer Scott Morrison’s former chief of staff Philip Gaetjens as Treasury secretary is unprecedented. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has accused the Turnbull government of “stacking” the public service, Fairfax reports.

Crikey’s Bernard Keane writes [$] that “My Health Record” could be our worst government data breach yet.

in case you missed it

The Guardian reports that the Queensland and Victorian governments will be hit with a new television advertising campaign by GetUp! and Greenpeace in an effort to persuade them to veto the National Energy Guarantee at a critical meeting of energy ministers in early August.

Coal power generators have backed [$] a plan to have taxpayers underwrite investment in new coal-fired power stations, according to the AFR.

In The Australian, David Uren writes [$] that new Treasury secretary Philip Gaetjens “is a polarising figure, seen by many – even inside the Coalition – as a political warrior for the Treasurer … Nobody ever leaves a meeting with him wondering where he stands”.

Also in The Australian, tougher vetting rules imposed by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton have cut [$] 21,000 from the annual permanent migration intake, which has fallen by more than 10 per cent to less than 163,000, returning it to levels last seen in 2007.

In The Conversation, Ruth McPhail writes that “more and more Australian women are facing a silent career killer … Menopause is one of the last great taboo subjects in the workplace but its impacts are great – and it’s time we talked about it.”

by Lisa Clausen
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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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