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Telling the Truth

Article excerpt

Largely ignored by the media, let down by the church, ostracized by relatives, shunned by the `Aboriginal industry' and the ALP Government, Dulcie Wilson is among a few courageous Ngarrindjeri 'dissidents' determined that the truth about women's business on Hindmarsh Island be heard. This is the story of her involvement and her views about where race relations in Australia have gone wrong.

I'M not an academic, or an activist. I am simply an ordinary person with a deep concern about what is happening to the Aboriginal people in this country. The Hindmarsh Island saga is just one example of what is happening in many areas.

My own involvement with the issue was motivated by my conscience. I was particularly distressed to see some of the younger Ngarrindjeri women, including some of my own nieces and cousins, being manipulated.

I was also distressed at the lies being told about Ngarrindjeri culture, and at the part played by journalists, anthropologists and even church dignitaries in supporting those lies.

The building of the bridge was, and still is, of no interest to me.

The moment when, after weeks of growing concern, I resolved to do something positive for the people whom I dearly care about came one day during what I call my quiet time of prayer. I was reading from the Book of Joshua: "Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage. Be not afraid; neither be thou dismayed, for I the Lord thy God will be with you wither so ever thou goest" (1:9).

When I read this, I burst into tears. I knew that this was my mission no matter what the cost - and cost it did. I knew that I had to try in some way or another to restore dignity and credibility to the Ngarrindjeri people, of whom I am a descendant. INVENTING WOMEN'S BUSINESS: The proponent women were claiming that the aerial view of Hindmarsh Island resembled a woman's reproductive organs. This appalled me. The idea is ludicrous. How would our ancestors have known what an aerial view of Hindmarsh Island looked like when there were no aeroplanes during that era? My friend, Dorothy Wilson, was present at a meeting on Hindmarsh Island when the aerial map was being discussed. Men were also in attendance; in fact, it was a man who pointed to the aerial map and said, "Doesn't that remind you of a woman's private parts?" I was dismayed that such people would cheapen and degrade Ngarrindjeri women and their culture in this way. So were many other Ngarrindjeri women, but they were afraid to speak out for fear of reprisal.

It was at that time that `women's business' was invented, for never in my 26 years of living on the Pt McLeay Aboriginal Mission had I ever heard or learned anything about `women's business' from any of my grandmothers, my own mother, my aunties or any of the senior Ngarrindjeri women. Three of my four children were born in the Mission hospital with an Aboriginal midwife in attendance and no-one ever referred to women's business on Hindmarsh Island. The most elderly of the dissident women, who is almost 76 years old, lived on the Mission for over 40 years. She too worked as a midwife with some of the senior women there. Nothing was ever mentioned to her about women's business on Hindmarsh Island.

I am puzzled by the sudden emergence of a campaign over the last two years to ban the building of a bridge when, in May of 1992, the Aboriginal Heritage Committee gave permission for it to be built because the archaeologists could find no evidence for doing otherwise. Today they say that if the bridge is built it will affect women's fertility. What utter nonsense! Barrages already connect the island with the mainland. Among those who worked on the construction of these barrages in the 1930s were Aboriginal men from the Mission: that didn't stop their women from having children.

A few weeks ago I read an article in the Adelaide Advertiser by an Aboriginal academic who had presented a paper at the International Women's Conference in Adelaide on the Hindmarsh Island matter. …