What does it mean to have your voice heard – truly heard? Why is it important that our communities are the heart of decision-making and leadership for outcomes that will affect us? This October 2023, Australians will be asked a simple question: should we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our national constitution? As we head to the polls and the campaign heats up, we wanted to ask both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people why they will be voting Yes. In this collection, diverse storytellers came together to share their personal and real-life experiences that is motivating their support for the proposed Voice to Parliament. No matter what happens at this referendum, whether a majority of Australians vote yes or no – their voices continue to be a call for change. A call for a better, more just future… For an Australia that celebrates and recognises Indigenous sovereignty.
This story was shared by Nigena author and historian Dr Cindy Solonec. You can listen to the story above, or watch the video below. Cindy’s story is about the passing of her Aunty Edie and how the health system didn’t address her cultural and spiritual needs. This story was recorded at the Joondalup Reception Centre in September 2023.
Cindy’s story was also translated into Hindi by Lakshmi Kanchi in an effort to help spread the referendum campaign to more diverse audiences. You can download and read the Hindi translation here.
More about the storyteller…. Cindy graduated with a PhD in History from UWA in 2016 and her novel Debesa is a rewriting of her thesis that explored a social history in the West Kimberley based on the way her parents and extended family lived during the mid-1900s. Cindy lectures and tutors in addressing Aboriginal themes.
Hear Our Voice was made possible with funding from the Australia Communities Foundation.
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Copyright © 2023 Cindy Solonec
Photo by Duncan Wright. Video by Lenny Rudeberg.
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
View Story Transcript
CS: Thank you. Thanks, Ron. Well, kaya wanju. Does everybody know what it means? Yeah? As Ron said, I’m a Ningena woman from the West Kimberley. That’s Fitzroy River area, okay, Derby, really, West Kimberley. I probably know more Nyungar words than I do in Ningena words and that’s having lived here for the last 25 years in Perth. If we’re up in the Kimberley, we’d say Mabu. Thanks for coming along, everybody. It’s nice to be with like-minded people. And this Yes campaign, well, we’re all yes, I hope, here tonight, or you may be wanting to get a feel for… you’re still undecided, and that’s fine too. And if you’re the other way, that’s also fine, but thank you for being here.
For me, this campaign has been very revealing. I’m quite shocked actually at the disinformation and misinformation that’s going around about us blackfellas, you know. It’s really quite hurtful. And then when we’ve got some of our own mob, the ones that are the perpetrators, well goodness. Anyway, so storytelling. So I’m going to, I could probably tell you lots of stories that can sort of tie in back to why we would ask people to understand why we would need an advisory committee to the federal government.
So I’m just going to tell you one story. And I’m going to tell you about my auntie Edie. She was 94 years of age and she lived in Kununurra at Juniper Aged Care. Previous to that, she had lived in Derby for a while, but Kununurra is where she was seeing out her twilight years.
In February this year, my cousin brother, her oldest son, Lionel, called me and said, Mum’s got to come to Perth for a biopsy because there’s a growth on her tongue. And his wife, Lillian, was going to come down with her as an escort. And I said, all right, okay. And they said, we’re only coming down for a couple of days. And I said,
that’s right, that’s fine. If there’s anything I can do, let me know. And immediately I thought, this is probably a cancerous growth she had on her tongue five years ago that’s come back again.
And it was. She had had it removed successfully here at Charlie Gardeners Hospital five years ago and she’d have had any problems beyond that despite her age. She did really well, didn’t affect her speech or anything like that, but now this darn thing had come back. But this up in Kununurra they didn’t know that, so they decided to send her to Perth to have a biopsy.
Now I’m not medically savvy, I haven’t got a clue about medicine things. But if I did, I probably would have said: why are they sending this elderly woman from Kununurra, 3,000 kilometres, from Kununurra to Perth for a biopsy, can’t they do it in Kununurra or Broome or even Darwin? Why are they sending this woman from her little town of 6 ,000 people down to a city with two million people to have a biopsy?
Anyway they came down only expecting to be here for two days. They stayed at the Allawah Grove Hostel in Guildford which is an Aboriginal hostel for Aboriginal people who come to Perth and need medical attention, that’s where they stay. So they put my elderly auntie into the hostel. It’s a lovely hostel by the way, if you’ve ever been out there, anyone ever been out there to Allawah Grove? Yeah Carol has, yeah. It’s really nice and the people are very comfortable there but it’s not an aged care facility and Lillian was not a trained nurse in aged care.
So they came to Perth, they were there expecting to have the biopsy the next day, then go back to Kununurra. Well they didn’t have an appointment at Royal Perth for two days and they said you need to come to Royal Perth and have a blood test.
So she went there and had the blood test and Lillian phoned me up and she said, can you pick us up? and I said yeah, I’ll be there in 20 minutes. Well 20 minutes to them is like eternity okay they come from a small town where everything is one minute away and they phoned me up, I was in the car going there, they said: where you? So I said I’m coming, I’m coming. So we got there, so this was really a big cultural change for them. So I took them back out to Allawah Grove and then they were told in two days time you’ve got to go to Fiona Stanley and have an x -ray.
No biopsies still, right? So the people go to Allawah Grove, go to the medical, their medical appointments in a courtesy bus that’s provided by Country Health and he dropped, he’s a lovely guy, the driver, they really liked him, this Noongar man. They dropped them off at all their appointments around the city. Now this turned out to be a really long and tiring day for Aunty Eddie and for Lillian.
They had to go all the way to Fiona Stanley and then, I don’t know how long they were there, then come back out again to Guildford on the bus that got caught in a traffic jam. I think it was probably on the freeway or somewhere, so they were, it was a really long and tiring day for my very elderly Aunty. So they got her back there and this was, I think it might have been on the Friday and still no biopsy.
Then they said you need to go to Royal Perth Hospital next week to see the surgeon who’s going to do the biopsy. So this is already over a week by the time they got to see the surgeon, so he’s had a look at it. This was a disgusting -looking big lump on her tongue, really awful. It was full of pus and all sorts of things and she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t swallow, she couldn’t talk because this was just restricting everything, but she was really hungry and Lillian was becoming more and more worried. So she tried to give her some soup out there at the hostel. Aunty Eddie couldn’t keep it down, so she got me to go and buy some custard and I went and bought some, you know that KFC mashed potato and gravy,
Well we tried that and that didn’t work either, Aunty just couldn’t get it down and what about we try pureed baby food, you know, you get them all jars. We got that,
still nothing, she couldn’t swallow. All she could do was have some sips of tea and and anything that she could drink, bit of water or tea, meant that she was also transferring the cancer further through her body.
Anyway, after another week, now she’d been down here for two weeks now, and Lillian was beside herself because she knew that her mother-in -law was starving. She didn’t know what to do. So she put her in the taxi, took her to Royal Perth Hospital to emergency, and they had to admit her. So she ended up in the hospital. In the meantime, the doctors were talking to her sons, and one’s in Karratha and one’s in Kununurra, and one in Karratha was the one who was in charge of all her affairs. So the doctors would only speak to him, and he would tell us what was going on.
He said, look, we can’t do anything. And my cousin in Karratha said, just get everybody to come and say their goodbyes, she needs palliative care, she’s not going to be here for much longer.
So she had nieces and, sorry, she had grandchildren here in Perth who came to see her. So we all went there every day to see her. They all came and visited her in the hospital, she had a lot of visitors. Even some flew down from Broome to see her because they knew that she was going.
But we knew that she needed, now this is where this is really important, she needed to be back on country to die so that her spirit left her body in the East Kimberley , yeah, and not in the corridors of Royal Perth Hospital.
And if she had died there, which I’ll tell you that we did get her home, if she had died there, that spirit probably would have been floating around or lost in the corridors of Royal Perth Hospital with a lot of other Aboriginal people who die off country.
So these are the sorts of things that, you know, culturally, people are not aware of. So I was really, we were asking the doctors, we were saying we need to get her home. He said, well, they said, we can’t really do much. If there’s a Royal Flying Doctor flight, if it’s an air ambulance going up to Kununurra, we’ll put her on it. But we’re not putting one on especially for her. She has come down with commercial flight. So RFDS was something different.
So, I actually wrote to the member of parliament for the Kimberley, Divina D’Anna. She was really good. She got onto the hospital straightaway, but what they told her was nothing that we didn’t already know, you know, so she really couldn’t do anything. But she was really concerned. She said too many of our mob die off country in the city because they have to come here for treatment. So, she took that on board.
But then the strangest thing happened. This woman in Wyndham had a heart attack and a flying doctor had to be sent up to Kununurra to pick her up. So, guess who they put on that plane? So it was Friday afternoon and I was over at Coventry Village and Lillian phoned me.
She said, Cindy, where are you? And I said, I’m in the shop. She said, they’re going to put mum on that plane now in one hour time and she’s going back. And I said, oh, fantastic. Well, we were all so excited about this that she was going to be on that plane going back to Kimberley.
So I hopped in my car. I hit every red light on the way to the hospital. And when I got there, the paramedics were just transferring her from her bed into, you know, the stretcher to take her down to the ambulance. And then she was taken out to Jandakot. Then the flight went to Broome, overnighted, and then on to Kununurra. So Aunty Eddie got home four days before she left us.
She died in Juniper Aged Care up there, all family. She’s got… She really wanted to be up there too because her husband and her youngest son are buried in the Wyndham Cemetery.
There’s all this family up there. So her spirit left her in Kununurra. So that really made us happy. And just to go on to the funeral, that was one of the most beautiful funerals I’ve ever been to. If anybody’s been up to the East Kimberley, you know what the landscape is like, how beautiful it is. The Wyndham cemetery is a few kilometres out of Wyndham. All the Aboriginal people, they’d all come together and they put up marquees and barbecues and everything. It was a great send-off, not in the church, but the priests did come out there.
The other thing I will tell you that also impacts people in remote and isolated areas is that she died on the 15th of March in Kununurra. She was buried on the 1st of June. That was because the Fitzroy River Bridge, you might all remember, got damaged and the road was closed for a few months so they couldn’t get her home.
Sorry, they could get her home, but the funeral director who does all the Aboriginal funerals in the Kimberley is based in Derby. So that meant he couldn’t get up there with a coffin and do everything and he had a backlog of people in the East Kimberley who needed to be buried.
So eventually, 1st of June was when we were all able to go to Kununurra. The road had opened, just opened by then and people were able to drive up and say goodbye to her.
So that’s how I sort of link these things back to the Yes campaign and why it’s really important to have Aboriginal people, an advisory body advising government about, not just cultural things of course, but lots of things, lots of issues. People actually know, they know the answers, they know how to work with them, but we haven’t been listened to for a long time.
If this [Voice] is embedded or enshrined in the National Constitution it means it can’t be removed, unless we go back to a referendum. It means that governments now have to listen to Aboriginal people and be advised by them whether they take it on board or not. They can’t change it and we just hope that on the 14th, isn’t it, the 14th? We hope that it’ll get across the line, yeah?
So you understand, you know, Australians, as Australians, we have much to be proud of. We have the oldest living cultures in the world, yeah? Isn’t that something to be, to praise up, to be proud of? We have the most beautiful landscapes that, you know, mining companies, Aboriginal people are progressive, but we don’t want heritage blown up. So we have, Australia and all of us, it’s our heritage. The landscapes with the storylines in them, with the heritage that is there in this country belongs to all Australians. We don’t, you know, we don’t want that lost anymore, so these things are all important. And that’s my story.