Heather Kemarre Shearer born Tanya Fly with her amazing artpiece depicting her identity and journey to healing

Heather Kemarre Shearer born Tanya Fly with her amazing artpiece depicting her identity and journey to healing

Six weeks into her new role as National Project Officer, I caught up with Heather Shearer to talk about her involvement with the Stolen Generations movement and to find out more about her own personal journey and what she is hoping to achieve in her role. This is what she had to say as we shared a coffee in her home on Saturday 29th June 2013.

I went to the first meeting when Uncle Brian Butler picked me up in Alice Springs. We [Heather and her husband Tim Hampton] were living at Labrapuntja Homelands, 30kms out from Hermannsburg, and I was aware that there was a movement that was going to happen, but I didn’t know anything about what it was.

I was with Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre – working with the Tjuwanpa Arts Program at the time.

I had been down to Adelaide and had just driven back to Alice Springs and was staying at my sister in-laws place at Alice because I was too tired to drive back out bush. I woke up and was told that Brian Butler had rung ‘Lenny’ [Lynette Hampton] to see if she could contact me, and she said “well she is layin’ in my spare room right now”.

He [Brian Butler] was on his way to Darwin and wanted to know if I would come with him. I rang Tjuwanpa and they knew of my history and experience with Stolen Generations and the effects on the people of Hermannsburg and they said I was fine to go, so I went to Darwin.

Then there was the biggest mass of people that I had ever seen together, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal all to talk about the ongoing Stolen Generations Movement, this was back in 2001.

All these people wanted to work together and get the movement back on track to provide a strong advocacy voice for Aboriginal people, their families and communities.

I was excited!

After attending this particular meeting I knew that something was going to happen, I thought something big was under foot and I would wait and see what would happen next. My reluctance at the time was due to my art work and the fact that we were living at Labrapuntja.

A little while later I moved back to Port Augusta when my first granddaughter was 6months old, I moved so I could be there as a live in nanny. During this time, for 3 years it was, I didn’t work and it was the first time I had not worked in my adult life and it was by choice.

I started going down to Adelaide and catching up with people and finding out what was going on through Brian [Butler] and the Stolen Generations Alliance. It was during this time I was asked to attend a meeting in Sydney at Coogee Beach for the South Australia delegate to fill in as a proxy, I was elected as the new delegate at that time.

After my nomination as South Australian Delegate I then took up a position as a Field Officer with the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement and was juggling my commitments between the both of them. When I became the convener of the ‘Truth’ portfolio for the Stolen Generations Alliance I became more involved with the internal advocacy work of the organisation with a primary focus on looking at the senate inquiry into past forced adoptions.

As proxy for the ‘Healing’ portfolio convener, Cynthia Sariago from Darwin, I became involved in the development and Terms of Reference for the Stolen Generations Reference Group of the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.

So that is really where I come back into it all, trying to pull together from memory all of the work that was put together through the Link-Up’s to put together a submission to the senate inquiry hearings.

I also presented to the South Australia Aboriginal Parliamentary Commission, submissions on behalf of myself personally and on behalf of the National Stolen Generations Alliance for the development consultation process of the Greens Party Bill for the South Australia Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal.

Since I was 18 I have been entrenched in this movement. It was as an 18 year old that I applied for a job as a secretary at the Aboriginal Child Care Agency (ACCA) in 1978.

I was adopted into a non-Aboriginal family and grew up in Adelaide, completely cut off from culture and from Aboriginal people and I never knew that Aboriginal organisations even existed.

When I was told what the organisation was being set up to do – which was trying to keep families together and work towards healing the effects of past policies and procedures that impacted on Aboriginal Peoples lives – it kind of time warped me into something that I never even knew had happened to me.

I knew I was adopted and had been wanting to find my mother since I could remember, to the extent that I was ringing anonymously to the adoption agencies in the phone book from the early age of 11.

During my interview for the position with ACCA the panel if I had any questions and I said “can you help me find my mum?” They said “we can’t promise anything but we will try our best to help you.” And I said “well I want to work here then!”

So through ACCA a lot of the Link-Up services evolved. I went to the first National Child Care Conference in 1979 in Melbourne and that conference was the beginnings of SNAICC [Secretariat of Aboriginal & Islander Child Care].

I worked with ACCA’s on and off in South Australia until 1988 when I went back to Alice Springs and I took up the position as Coordinator of the Central Australia Aboriginal Child Care Agency [CAACCA].

SNAICC had been supporting the developments of the Link-Up services in an effort to get autonomous funding. I got see the Link-Up services in QLD starting with the movement for Cootamundra [Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls] and Kinchela [The Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Home]. It was all about Cootamundra really at this time as that was where Coral [Coral Oomera Edwards] had been and this was in a time when a lot of people began to look at their own histories within this history.

Kinchela came later.

There was a lot of reluctance and hesitancy to the movement; it brought up so many memories that people had tried to forget. So while there was a lot of support for its development, there was also a lot of opposition.

There are not enough people who understand the history of this, the true histories of the Stolen Generation, the movement and how it all came to be. Too many people are no longer with us that have been on this journey and we just need to get on with the job now.

I am so proud that we finalised the draft of a Stolen Generations booklet that FaHCSIA [Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs] are getting out and proud of the fact that included within this booklet is the recognition that the strength of Aboriginal People, to stand up against human suffering, has paved the way for other movements to emerge and be strengthened within the wider Australian community.

Successful campaigning, resilience, courage and strength that produced the Bringing Them Home Report, the Child Migrants Report, Forgotten Australians, Sacred Children, Senate Inquiries and finally the Royal Commissions.

We have shared our strength and dignity that has encouraged wider Australia to stand up and bring about the Truth for Justice and Healing for all Australians.

I am so happy that I am back working in this movement and I am really keen to get the Aboriginal Stolen Generations within the judicial system back within the agenda of the Stolen Generations Movement.