Each year The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) produces a poster for International Women’s Day.
This year, we chose a striking image from our pictorial collection. A black and white portrait of an Aboriginal woman, strong and pensive.
All we know about this woman is that the photograph was taken in NSW around 1890. But we can recognise that she is someone’s daughter, likely someone’s sister, perhaps a mother or aunty. She is a pillar of family, community and culture as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have been for tens of thousands of years, to little acclaim. AIATSIS exists to tell the story of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia. The woman in this photograph is not forgotten and on this year we pay our respects to women like her. This year the NAIDOC Week theme is because of her, we can.
We want to celebrate the strength of the women who have gone before us to create the world we live in today.
Australia’s history is rich with pioneering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women- Truganini, Pearl Gibbs, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Evelyn Scott and Pat Anderson to name a few. From first contact to the Uluru statement, women have been there on the front line, fighting for a better life for our people. But how many Australians walk through the multi-million dollar Barangaroo precinct in Sydney and realise that the suburb’s namesake ruled the waters nearby over 200 years ago, her presence and authority legendary amongst both Aboriginal people and the British colonists?
From your local community to the world stage, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are trailblazers who break down barrier after barrier. They keep the family unit strong, sustain resurgent communities and create a world where Indigenous children grow up dreaming of being doctors, lawyers, writers, activists, politicians, musicians, artists, filmmakers and Olympic gold medallists. It wasn’t all that long ago that Evelyn Scott, Faith Bandler, Joyce Clague and Eleanor Harding dreamt of Aboriginal people being included in the national census.
This NAIDOC Week we should all reflect on how we are even able to conceive of the society that Australia can and should be- because of her, we can.
- Craig Ritchie is the CEO of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).