Christine Coyne interviewed for the City of Cockburn Aboriginal Oral History Project (2001)
The City of Cockburn Aboriginal Oral History Project records and summarises the oral histories of eleven indigenous people with a custodial or cultural connection to the Cockburn district. In this interview with Dr. Leonie Stella, Christine Coyne talks about growing up in Coolbellup, about her varied work experiences, and recalls various Aboriginal leaders and groups in the Cockburn area. The recording concludes with a short interview with Christine’s daughter, Bianca.
This is an edited transcript of the interview with Christine Coyne, speaking with Dr. Leonie Stella at Yangebup on 28 June 2001.
Leonie Stella (interviewer): I usually like to start by asking you to state your name and date of birth so that I can check the recorder, Chris.
Christine Coyne: Christine Kaye Coyne, born in Cottesloe, Perth WA, 30/12/61.
LS: Thankyou. I thought perhaps we could start by asking you what High School you went to and working from there…
CC: OK, I went to North Lake Senior High School, we were living in Coolbellup, and I left school in year 10.
LS: Did you go on and do any other training, like at TAFE or anything?
LS: So what jobs did you start out in?
CC: I started off working in Bunnings’ warehouse, it was on the Corner of North Lake Road and Leach Highway. And then I went from there to Coles, did meat packing, did receptionist, did shopkeeping, and did a variety of things and got an idea of what I wanted to do.
LS: So you learnt on the job mostly?
CC: Yeah, mostly on the job, yeah.
LS: So are you with the public service now?
CC: No, no I am with the private sector – Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
LS: And did you say it was with a particular indigenous branch?
CC: Yes, I manage the Indigenous Employment and Education project for WA, which is a National Project.
LS: How did you come to be doing that?
CC: Well at the time, when that position came up, I had been working for the Federal Government – for 10 years – and there was a few changes that were going on, and it wasn’t quite clear which way we’d go. Some of the jobs that I was doing would stay, but some of it was going to another department, and so on, and it wasn’t quite clear. Then I decided, well, I will just keep an eye on the paper and if anything interesting comes up I will go for it. So I was looking through the paper and this position came up, and I thought well, it sounds perfect. So I went for it and that was in 1992.
LS: So were you with DEET, in the Aboriginal Employment and Education Branch were you?
CC: Yes, yes.
LS: And how has this new job been for you?
CC: Great, great, yes, busy but great.
LS: So what is your role there?
CC: The main part of the role is to promote employment opportunities for Indigenous people – to get involved with training – I co-ordinate and present Aboriginal cross-cultural awareness; and sometimes bring in other facilitators but normally I deliver half of the program so yeah, it is constantly on going and more about providing opportunities for people that are probably less fortunate than me, I suppose.
LS: Yes. So you are not so involved in promoting private enterprise as much as getting Aboriginal people involved?
CC: Yes, getting involved in all the private enterprise in terms of encouraging them to become part of places like the Chamber of Commerce, because what Chamber of Commerce is, it is an employer based organisation. And what I find too, is that often Aboriginal people tend to go off and develop their own networks, and they never come into the mainstream, and if you are in business you really need to network with mainstream businesses and you need to be – you know – promoting yourself. So I have been involved in a little bit of that.
LS: Do you have any particular goals for yourself?
CC: Oh, I definitely do, [chuckles] yes. At the moment I am working full time at CCI, I also run my own part time business, I distribute Nu Skin products, so what I want to do in the long term is continue to do what I do, but probably on a consultancy basis. I like a bit of variety and I like doing both, so I could work for myself – work from home – have more flexibility with my time, more freedom you know – rather than the 9 to 5.30 stuff.
LS: Do you belong to any other Aboriginal Organisations, like are you on Committees and so on?
CC: No, I was recently on the Board of Directors for PEEDAC – which is a Perth Based CDEP, and I did that for approximately 12 months, but because a lot of my job is also working in with community based organisations, in terms of identifiying people for opportunities and informing them about what I am doing, and maintaining that community contact, I have got to be careful about conflict of interest. So… for that reason I have been involved with a lot of organisations, but not in that formal kind of capacity in terms of being on the committee and stuff like that. Because if that organisation then comes to us for assistance, and I am on the committee – well you know what it is like, you start to get conflict.
[tape stopped to assist daughter Bianca]
LS: What about sporting clubs, have you been involved in those?
CC: I played netball when I was younger, and what I found was that as I have got older and got bigger and better jobs I have exercised less, but I am conscious of keeping reasonably healthy, so I swim casually and play squash casually but I don’t do it often enough – and my partners drop out on me!
LS: What about church, do you belong to a local church at all?
Early life in Cockburn
LS: Well, I might go back a bit now,
LS: And ask you about growing up in the area, how did you come to be living in the Cockburn area?
CC: Well when I was a baby I actually lived, from the time I was born until I was about three in Gnowangerup and at that time – oh, and the reason I was born in Cottesloe was because my mother and father had come up here looking around for work opportunities and housing and she happened to be pregnant at the time and then you know the time came – Ha-ha! So yeah, I was therefore born in Cottesloe. Then we moved up here when I was about three, and we just happened to land in Coolbellup, so basically that is how it happened. And I suppose at that time my father had mainly done shearing and therefore he was looking for better opportunities and so we moved to the city.
LS: What are your parents names?
CC: Peter Stokes, and Maisie Woods.
LS: Were they involved in any organisations in Coolbellup?
CC: Um… no not really, my Mum sort of preferred to… she was one of those stay at home Mums, and so I suppose she got a little bit involved with the school – P & C, that kind of stuff, but generally she tended to be a housewife. And my Dad is non-Aboriginal so he tended to just go to work and come home and that sort of general stuff. Weekends my brother was quite good at football so he used to go and watch the footy on Saturdays and Sundays or when it was on, and that was about it. Most of their lives centred around home, and I suppose in those days there really wasn’t a lot of organisations around, and if there were you never heard of them.
LS: So we are talking mid 60’s – 70’s?
CC: Yeah, I was born 1961, so yes.
LS: So they didn’t belong to Southern Suburbs Progress Association or anything like that?
CC: No, but I was involved with the Southern Suburbs through work – at the time that Southern Suburbs was around I was actually working for DEETYA which in those days was the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, and I was working again in Aboriginal Employment, so I got involved with Southern Suburbs when they were expanding and developing, and I sat on a management committee that they had established for a while, but I was there in terms of my role in the Department.
LS: So was that to do with funding, or advice or …
CC: Funding for programs that they wanted to run or establish, yes.
LS: Can you recall any of the key Aboriginal leaders involved in the organisation?
CC: Oh yes, Spencer Riley,
LS: Do you know where he is working now?
CC: The last I heard of him was about 6 months ago and he was actually working for NEEDAC – that’s an organisation in Bunbury, – Nyungar Enterprise Employment Development Aboriginal Corporation, and they are basically the Bunbury CDEP organisation. I have since heard that he has moved over from that position and gone somewhere else but I don’t know where…
CC: But after the Southern Suburbs sort of stuff, he then went to ATSIC and I have seen him around the traps but he wasn’t someone that I got closely involved with.
LS: Was there anyone else comes to mind?
CC: Well, Clem Riley, Betty Collard, Spencer’s wife – , from a community point of view, there were people from Cockburn Council, Rob Avvard was heavily involved, and so the local council actually provided money for some youth programs and so they were also on the management committee. Other people on the committee were community policing – probably Victor Little was involved in those days, and Charlie Kickett. Rob Avvard was from the Council, representatives from Employment, probably some from Education and State government – so a variety of people actually were involved in terms of helping them to set up but once they got their grant from Lotteries they actually abolished the management committee, which was probably to their detriment.
LS: So what year would that have been?
CC: Oh, well I can’t quite remember off the top of my head because it is quite a while ago but I would say it would have been around 1988-9, yeah.
LS: Any other community leaders in the area that you can recall?
CC: Involved with them?
LS: Involved with anything really, in the area of Cockburn.
CC: Well I know that Jean Collard was heavily involved in terms of Health, and Fred Collard as well. Lennie was involved in Southern Suburbs as well, Sam Gowegati was also involved. Len and Sam tended to focus on getting youth programs up. Later down the track Anton Yarran got involved, Eric Wynne had always had an interest in Youth and school type programs – he was quite effective, and he is now the Commissioner [ATSIC]. And I think what happened was for some reason the Southern Suburbs tended to be an area where there was a level of support but not enough to actually get things off the ground. As opposed to other areas – you know, so yeah.
LS: Yes, it seems a shame when you have got that many good people involved,
CC: Yes, and there were other people in the community that I knew of that were Elders as such but didn’t participate in that kind of activities, they just lived in the area.
LS: Can you name some of them for me?
CC: Yeah, Thelma Barassi was one, she was a Coyne, before she married, old Mrs. Moses was another one, then there was Fred and Jean Collard, and then there was [pause] Paddy Mourish, was around in those days, another lady Quartermaine, she used to be involved with the refuges. We are going back a long time now, so I don’t have much contact now and am just trying to figure it out … old Mrs Carmody – she was a relation – so there was also Patrick Humes, was another one, and his wife [Lorna] and that is about all I can think of off the top of my head.
LS: OK, I think probably we have just about covered the main topics I had down here – covered the Leaders and that community aspect, what about the sort of oral history while you have been living in this area – did people talk about the old days much – Like passing down stories about early days of trackers and shepherds or being on the land around this area?
CC: No, not really, I mean we heard more about the Swan River and that kind of stuff. And then I suppose down near the area sort of not far from South Beach and Port Beach, or Coogee beach, down that way.
LS: Ah, ha, what could you tell me about that?
CC: Well it was just that they were areas that people actually went, and for recreational and hunting and those kind of purposes as well as you know kind of meeting places, that sort of stuff.
LS: Do you mean an area like at Robbs Jetty?
CC: Yeah, I think a little bit inland from there. And then also down near East Fremantle, down on the point in the Swan River there …
LS: Point Walter?
CC: Yes, down there, probably more significantly down there at Point Walter, that’s probably a common point because it is on the River, and then on the other side was the Brewery – which was another meeting place, but yes.
LS: And just going back to South Fremantle for a minute, anything about the lakes along there?
CC: No, not that I remember, see basically up until I left High School you didn’t really hear much about anything. And when we went to school we learnt about Captain Cook and you know, even when we were in the class room they referred to us as “Natives”, and it wasn’t until later down the track that we realised that they were talking about Aboriginal people. So you know, as a young student you didn’t [hear much], because of the way history was taught – nothing was ever taught in terms of the real history of Aboriginal people.
LS: Yes, and because as you said before your Mum came from Gnowangerup so you wouldn’t have family talking about this area then…
CC: Yes, yeah… and as a child my grandmother didn’t come up here until I was probably about 17 or 19 I think, so all that time she was down there. So access to stories and stuff like that, you know, we didn’t have them because our history wasn’t up here.
LS: No, no. We seem to be getting through things in a really speedy way … I might just now go along to your own biographical details. I like to do a profile to go with the tape, so the kids of the future if they come across your name in a library they can situate you within their own family. So if there is anything that you don’t want to share, that’s fine, just say so – Your full name is Christine Kaye Coyne…
CC: Yes, and my maiden name was Stokes so I grew up as a Stokes… Mum’s name was Maisie Woods, Dad was Peter, I have a daughter, Bianca Kaye, born January 30 1990. I have got a son too, Michael David he was born February 21, 1979.
LS: What about siblings, do you have brothers and sisters?
CC: Yes, one brother, one sister – my brother is older and sister younger – Darrell and Janette.
LS: Places you have lived in, well we have done some of that…
CC: But there are some more! Spearwood, Hamilton Hill, South Lake, Darwin, Port Hedland, Geraldton, Mildura and that’s it I think – and now Yangebup, yeah.
LS: We’ve spoken about the schools you went to,
CC: Coolbellup Primary School, years 1 to 7. North Lake Senior High School …
LS: And did you speak the Nyungar Language?
LS: What were you doing in Darwin?
CC: I was working in the Pub [chuckles] – I took off when I was about probably 15 with a group of people and we went to Port Hedland. There were 6 of us and they all drove me nuts arguing so I ended up moving into the Pub and got a job. And then I decided to jump on a plane and fly to Darwin, on my own. So I did that, and two days later I got a job …
LS: At 15 or something?
CC: Yes, in the pub again, and stayed then for a while and then hitch hiked back from Darwin probably right through to Perth stopping in Geraldton, and stopped in Port Hedland as well, so I was just sort of roaming around, being adventurous, checking out the lifestyle, you know, of different people, different community groups. And I suppose it was then that I became more aware of the different Aboriginal communities, and how they sort of you know, how we were more sort of into mainstream in a sense then – as opposed to people living at the community level – being more urban. Then also I suppose I was pretty fearless and adventurous in those days – and I was rebelling from my father being pretty over protective. We weren’t allowed a lot of freedom, and so I was probably breaking out of the structured rules and that kind of stuff.
LS: Did you have trouble getting away?
LS: Did they give up arguing?
CC: Ah, yeah, and basically it was if you wont live in my house under my rules then don’t live here at all! So I chose not to live there! And I suppose in a way it was probably the best thing because I became independent at a much younger age, you know. Because I couldn’t keep going back for money, food and all that sort of stuff, you know. There were times I went without but I didn’t care.
LS: Anything else that you can think of about your life that you might want to put on record? Things that might be of interest to people in Cockburn ?
CC: Oh well I suppose you know I have always preferred to live in this area, I grew up in this area, and I suppose you know familiarity, I like South of the River. I like the fact that you have got reasonable access to the beaches, and pretty much everything else that you need. But I think that some of the things that probably need addressing are that there needs to be more stuff for Youth to do, and I suppose even as kids, we didn’t have much to do but I suppose in those days it didn’t really matter, but now the population is bigger and kids grow up with different [ideas]. With access to different shows on TV they are growing up faster, and so therefore they need more stimulus, and yeah I think there needs to be more things for kids to do at the younger age so that they can develop interests and you know probably a bit more structure and stuff life that. But generally I have been happy living in the area.
I work – I suppose I am not the conventional [sort of woman/mother] I spent 6 years on the pension – used to lie on the beach and think ‘all those suckers that go to work!’ – not me!!! [laughs] Once I had my son, I mean I was only just 17 when I had my son – and so once he went to school I decided I’d go to work. And basically I haven’t stopped – I have had one year off between having him and her – and I suppose what I do now is that my job is hard at times but I do it so that for me I feel that I have been more fortunate. I suppose I get enjoyment out of trying to help people get more direction and get more opportunities and make positive changes for themselves. But not only that, I like to work because I like to be independent, and to be a role model for women but particularly Aboriginal women.
LS: That’s really great, thanks you for that. [You want to add something?]
CC: Yes, when we moved up from Perth we were one of the few Aboriginal families here at that time, so when we went to school there were a number of Aboriginal families that were around and they were Kicketts, Loos – which were our relations – Jones’, Humes, and over time you saw more and more families sort of moving up [from South] probably based on the same reasons that other families had moved into the area – and also the fact that industry was beginning to boom in Perth, and so people were coming up for employment, and I suppose the situation within the farming industry [was poor] and I suppose more of the history is that how it is for Nyungars is that what a lot of people don’t understand is that most of our history was taken away – so the Elders didn’t have anything to pass on, because they probably spent most of their time in the Mission days, and that’s what you hear about [Mission life] and as a child you sort of absorb some of that, and then as an adult you sort of come to understand more of what it meant, you know. So I suppose it was – well for a long time in my life I probably knowing it, but not absorbing it, and then as an adult I was understanding what it was that had actually happened: how things were taught, and how things were hidden, and not what actually went on at the community level, yeah.
LS: I think this tape is going to run out – if there is something else we can turn it over …
CC: No, that will be about it, and if I want to add anything else to the transcript I’ll do it then.
LS: Yes. Ok, thanks.
Last 5 minutes of recording not transcribed – Short interview with Christine’s daughter, Bianca Kaye Coyne at Yangebup on 28 June 2001.
About Christine Coyne
Chris was born at Cottesloe, Western Australia and spent her infancy with her parents in Gnowangerup. Just before she started primary school, Chris moved to Coolbellup with her family and they have lived in the Cockburn area ever since. Although working her way around Australia as a younger woman, Chris now lives in Yangebup with her daughter Bianca, and works in the City of Perth.
In this interview Chris speaks about her previous varied work experiences, and her current employment with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry as the Manager of the Indigenous Employment and Education project (WA).