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 Whadjuk Nyungar Elder Dr Gerrard Shaw. You can listen to his story above, watch the video or read the transcript below.
Uncle Gerrard’s story is a warning that the injustices of past government policies must never happen again – and what it looks like when government works together with Aboriginal communities. A warning that this story contains reference to the Stolen Generations.
This story was recorded at the Joondalup Reception Centre in September 2023.
Gerrard’s story was also translated into Mandarin by Luoyang Chen. You can read the Mandarin interpretation of his story by downloading the transcript here.
More about the storyteller…. Uncle Gerrard Shaw is a Nyungar Yued Whadjuk man and Culture Keeper. Gerrard obtained his Masters and PhD at Murdoch University, writing about the reclamation of his Aboriginality and true events in the lives of his ancestors.
Hear Our Voice was made possible with funding from the Australia Communities Foundation.
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Copyright © 2023 Gerrard Shaw
Feature image: Original screen grab from film by Peter Cheng, edited by Centre for Stories.
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
GS: Thank you. Well, we’ve been listening to some very beautiful stories, very enriching words. As Ron just mentioned, I am Whadjuk Balladong Yued Nyungar. They’re my credentials and I can make claim to those things through my grandmother, Victoria Blurton, that connects me to the Balladong people. My mother was born at Catterby which is near New Noorcia and that connects me to the Yued country.
It seems to me, every Aboriginal, every Australian Aboriginal person, has been affected in some way or other by past policies. And, you know, there’s issues of Aboriginal deaths in custody, stolen wages, stolen children and that’s the one that I can identify with very strongly. I’ve been on that journey for most of my life.
I think you’ll find the statement in the Aboriginal deaths in custody royal commission, that if an Aboriginal child denies his or her identity, bad things will follow. And because I was removed from my own family, I was prevented from knowing who I was or where I come from. And it’s pretty much the story of any person who identifies as Stolen Generations. And in the past, governments have attempted to address these issues through royal commissions, even apologies, reports and enquiries, but that’s as far as those things go. And I think the Voice for us as Cindy was saying, it allows us to urge the government to go beyond words and do something about these past injuries that have been caused.
I was delighted that Ron mentioned Walyalup. I feel very close to the city of Fremantle. I’m part of the Walyalup Elders group there and I also was interested when Fitzroy Crossing was mentioned in that country up there, there’s Uncle Jack Shaw, who is connected. So, when you realise that you’re of Aboriginal descent, you’re never alone, you’re never alone, but the reference to the Aboriginal deaths in custody in that statement: if a child denies their identity, bad things will follow, that was certainly true for me, as Ron referred to.
But for the last 20 years or so, and it’s thanks very much to Aunty Marie [Taylor] who was mentioned, she is my niece, we are all connected, she was the one who welcomed me home. And it took me as you said, she took me under her wing too, and she was for me in those early years, my elder, the one to guide me and teach me, and she took me along to Walyalup to the first Elders meeting there. And I can only speak highly of Walyalup because there was first of all the Mayor Brad Pettit who initiated a lot of things, changing the date of Australia Day, which is a very courageous thing to do, and now the Mayor Hannah. These are people who have allowed Nyungar people to have a voice, to speak about things that can inform the broader community of the wealth of cultural stories, dreamtime stories, that fill all that whole area around Fremantle.
And I was interested to hear you talk about the [Cockburn] Wetland Centre, I think we might have met there, that’s right. I delivered my full story there on the Stolen Generations, sharing a little bit of my life. But you see, the big challenge is you can never recapture those lost years. And I think an example of that was when my older brother, who is actually my elder, and before I do any welcomes here in and around Perth, I’ve got to ask his permission, you see, and he’s more than happy for me to do whatever I can do. Yes, Luisa was hoping that he would have turned up to that day, the open day, but they got lost.
But just a couple of years ago, we had a Shaw reunion and we were privileged enough to have Len Collard there and it was a small group of people. And my brother, my older brother was there and he, for the first time, embraced me. Now we’ve been reunited for some years now, but that was the first time he could actually embrace me. And it was a beautiful moment. I felt owned by him, just as I had felt owned by Aunty Marie. And all the Collards, they’ve all taken ownership of me, and given me something that I didn’t have, that is an identity. And knowing who I am and where I come from. It’s something everyone needs to know and should never be prevented from finding those things out, because bad things will happen.