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. This recorded interview between Marie Taylor and Dr. Leonie Stella was conducted on 29 March 2001, in Coolbellup.
About Marie Taylor
Marie was born in Beverley, Western Australia and spent her early childhood in the Brookton area. At school she was a champion athlete setting records for long jump and hop step and jump. She has fond memories of her grandparents and attending the church in Brookton. Marie has raised 5 children who are all now young adults.
Marie’s parents were Community Health Workers who lived in Hilton. As a teenager she attended John Curtin High School and played hockey and softball for the school. She also played A grade hockey for the Fremantle Women’s Hockey Club, and the State schoolgirls team.
As a young woman Marie worked for Stammers, Coles, Red Rooster, local Shire Councils, Homeswest, the Health Department and currently is employed at Murdoch University.
Marie is actively involved in the Reconciliation process and supports the ‘coming together’ of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people through shared cultural activities such as the Walyalup Kambarang Community Festival in Cockburn, and the Yeperenye Dreaming festival in Alice Springs.
This is an edited transcript of the interview with with Marie Taylor, speaking with Dr. Leonie Stella at Coolbellup on 29 March 2001.
LS: Can I just ask you again, to help with the identification on the tape, to tell me what your name is, and when and where you were born?
MT: My name is Marie Jean Taylor née Collard. I was born in the town of Beverley, and at the age of 13 my parents came down to Hilton Park in order to give us an opportunity for education and employment. I was born on the 11th of May, 1948 – [and attended John Curtin High School].
LS: I thought we might start with you telling me some of the stuff you were telling me the other day about your parents involvement in the Cockburn Area and their involvement in the founding of different groups they worked with.
MT: My parents names were Fred and Jean Collard, and their main involvement down here was as employees with the Community Health Service. They were Community Health Workers in the Fremantle area and Cockburn was part of that particular Outreach. And they were also the co-founders of the Southern Suburbs Progress Association – an incorporated Aboriginal Association, which was responsible for the Aboriginal programs and people in this particular area including Cockburn.
LS: Were they involved in the local church as well?
MT: They did become members of the little Maaman O’Mia Church and used to support the Reverend Sealin Garlett in his work in the area of the City of Cockburn, and we were also involved in the induction service of Sealin many years ago now…
LS: Was that with the Uniting Church?
MT: Yes, with the Uniting Church, and as part of his work he was involved in setting up the Indigenous programs for the Uniting Church – and there is a name for that – at this stage I just can’t remember …
LS: You mentioned some work with older people?
MT: My mother, as part of the Southern Suburbs Committee helped set up the elders program as part of the Disability Services funding arrangements, and we began the program over in a house in no. 4 Roslyn Way, Coolbellup, which was rented to us by HomesWest and through the Aboriginal Housing Board, at that time. And that particular program was launched by one of the Ministers for the area at that time – John Dawkins.
LS: Would you have any idea what year that was?
MT: Oh, gosh no,
LS: You wouldn’t remember how old you were at that time, or where you were working..?
MT: I was actually working for HomesWest at the time, so it would have been about 15 years ago.
LS: About 1985?
Local community leaders
LS: And the Yongar’s, what was that?
MT: Yongar’s Youth Program, it was also a program that was set up by the Southern Suburbs Progress Association [Aboriginal Corporation] and the person was mainly involved with that was Maurice Rioli [married to Robin, Marie’s sister] and Brett Collard also had something to do with that, but it was fully supported by Southern Suburbs and an Outreach of theirs. The arrangement for that program was to work with the young people living under the City of Cockburn and at that time of the City of Fremantle. Because our Outreach was the whole Fremantle area, which at that time, the Southern Suburbs Progress Association worked for the whole of that area down here, not just under one specific council.
LS: You mentioned Sealin and Maurice just now, can you name any other leaders in your area?
MT: Some of the main leaders at that time were Betty and Spencer Riley who were involved in the program, Robin Rioli, Susan Pickett, Tom and Maureen Ford, and their family – they were very heavily involved. Ron and Elaine Gamble were also involved in the program. A lady by the name of Cherry Hooperman who worked for Family and Children Services in Fremantle, she is a non-Indigenous lady but her support for the program was much appreciated.
LS: All these people were connected to that particular Youth program?
MT: Actually to Southern Suburbs itself. And it was through that particular program that we set up a lot of these Outreach programs at the time. So we concentrated on employment; we concentrated on youth, craft activities for the women and playgroups for the children. We used to have a little kids program called Boogies, and the helpers in that particular program were Debbie McIntyre, and Daphne Collard. And they used to look after the children while the parents sat down and did craft and learnt how to sew. And another lady by the name of Bee Brand, she was a Wedjala lady, she was also very supportive of the SSPA at that time.
LS: Do you know what year the SSPA would have been founded?
MT: That would have been founded back in the 1960s, because the involvement that my parents had with it before it was de-funded by the powers to be, had been involved for over 30 years in that organisation. And to have seen it go … be de-funded like it was was a tragedy to those people who gave up their time and energy on a voluntary basis, to work for their people and to improve conditions within the area was very sad and its a tragedy and should never have been allowed to happen.
LS: Would you like to tell me again, for the tape, how that came about?
MT: There was a CDEP program, funded as part of the SSPA, and the politics of family involvement with committees who seem to think that the funding that is set aside for particular organisations can be spent how they want it to be spent and the result was that the CDEP program was defrauded – I guess that is the word – and as a result of that funding was withdrawn [from the Association]. People went to Court for it, and it was very sad, and unfortunately it appears to have been a problem with a lot of organisations. Unless you know how to manage the funding for it, my advice is to stay away from it, because it is the problem for a lot of organisations who become quite powerful within an area, and people seem to think that the money can be spent on anything, and unfortunatley, as a result of that CDEP program funding being abused Southern Suburbs lost all of its funding. And I mean, I myself was part of that committee at different times, and I gave up quite a bit of time to support that organisation, both in a professional manner and on a voluntary basis to have seen it go down the drain like that and to see years of people’s time wasted makes one very angry.
LS: So it is about groups not using the funding the way the Commonwealth Government had asked them to?
MT: Exactly… . [pause] I am only glad, actually, that the old people’s program and the Yongar’s program are still going, and I am really proud to think that something that my parents helped set up is still going.
LS: What was your mother’s employment, most of her life?
MT: Most of Mum’s life was with either the Family and Children’s Services as a …oh they had a little word for it [Homemaker], it used to be a part time job [going into houses to assist women develop their homemaking skills] and as part of that job she was attached to the Southern Suburbs Progress Association, and then she applied for a job as a Community Health Worker, and then all of Mum’s life was spent as a Community Health Worker, she … towards the end of her career, was promoted to be in charge of the Community Health Workers. She loved her job, she worked for her people, and she loved the people that she worked for, and it was a tragedy for her to have lost her life so suddenly…
LS: Yes, I did meet her a couple of times – was she a Homemaker?
MT: That was the word yes.
LS: And your Dad?
MT: Dad, before he came down to Brookton was a shearer, a farm hand and a worker on the silos out in the country, and then when we came down to Hilton Park and set up a house – he bought a little house down there, one of the farmers lent him the deposit, and he bought the house in Hilton Park. He was again employed by the North Fremantle wheat bins I think they called it at the time, and then he decided to improve his education and he did a course through Edith Cowan University – both him and mum did that course – then he applied for a job with the Community Health Department. And he was also employed as a [Health] Worker. And then from there Dad went into the Alcohol and Drug Authority and then into Reconciliation. And now he is working over at Murdoch University as a Nyungar Language Lecturer, teaching our language to our people and to Wedjalas who are interested in learning about the Nyungar Culture and Language.
LS: That’s great, yes. You said a farmer lent him some money to help with buying the first house in Hilton, are you able to name him?
MT: Yes, well actually it wasn’t the first house that he bought because we actually owned the little house up in Brookton, it was like a little mini-farm, and he kept that and sold it a few years later, but the name of the farmer who loaned him the money was a gentleman by the name of Alan Evans, and that whole family supported our family and as a result of that Dad bought this little three bedroom house down here and when I look back, there was only three bedrooms and yet we … it housed Mum, Dad, 9 children and mum’s mother and father, Tom and Muriel Bennell. Plus the dogs [with a chuckle] …
LS: [laughs] What address was that?
MT: 135 Samson Street, Hilton.
LS: We should get it Heritage listed! So that farmer was someone your Dad had worked for?
MT: Yes, yes, and we grew up with his kids and we used to go to school with them, and fight with them, and we are still very very friendly with those people now. Unfortunately Mr. Evans passed away late last year, and it was just like losing one of our family members.
LS: That is something I should ask you – and that is the date of the death of your mother?
MT: It was the 8th of December, 1989 – it was actually two days after Dad’s birthday.
LS: Thank you. You mentioned your Dad working at the wheat silos at North Fremantle, can you tell me of any other places in the area where Nyungars have worked?
MT: Um, I actually worked for Stammers Supermarket in Palmyra, and I worked for G.J. Coles and Coles Supermarkets, down in the Fremantle area and probably one of the first Aboriginal people to have ever been employed by them down here – I have worked over in Red Rooster, other Aboriginal people have worked for the local Shire Councils, for HomesWest, for the Health Department, and currently there are people working for Murdoch University. Aboriginal employment is very limited in this particular area…
LS: You mean unemployment is high or …
MT: Yeah, it is high, and opportunities for the employment of Aboriginal people is very very poor. I think there are some people working for the Job Link over in Hamilton Hill, and I think Aborignal people work for Centrelink, and there are a couple of Aboriginal Agencies down here that employ people as well.
LS: Could you name those [Agencies]?
MT: Gosh off the top of my head I can’t remember their names.
LS: But they are based in Coolbellup?
MT: One of them was at the Coolbellup library, and I think also at Anglicare. They had someone employed over there as well. The Pineview, they employed Aboriginal people to assist them, and the schools in the area now employ Aboriginal Education workers.
LS: What is Pineview?
MT: Pineview is the Child Care Centre just up here in Coolbellup, which has a lot of little Aboriginal children going to it apparently.
LS: How long did you say you had lived here?
MT: I have actually personally lived in Coolbellup off and on I would say for about 4 years. But recently it has been 2 and a half years that I have been here.
LS: And before that?
MT: Before that I lived in the Armadale/Kelmscott area and then during my married life I lived in Parmelia. My husband and I bought a house down there. And we have also lived over in Willagee, North Fremantle and before that I lived in Hilton Park with Mum and Dad.
LS: So what year did you marry?
MT: In 1971, I think it was..
LS: When you lived in Hilton with your Mum was that only before you married or also later on?
MT: Yeah before I married and then when my marriage split up I moved back with them for a little while and then after she passed away that’s when I moved out to Armadale /Kelmscott area.
LS: You mentioned your interest in sport the other day, and how you had set some records, would you like to tell me a bit about that?
MT: Yes, during my school years I loved athletics, and as a student in Brookton area I concentrated on athletics and in a couple of the long jump sections of athletics I set records, and one of those records was only broken about 5 years ago and there is another of those records that is still outstanding and hasn’t been broken. So I was quite proud of that when I had been told that.
LS: What were the records that were set?
MT: One was for long jump, and the other one was for hop, step and jump.
LS: And were they for adults, or under 17’s or what …
MT: No, they were for the junior athletic carnivals when we used to play against other schools [primary]. And then when I came down to Hilton to live I had to go to John Curtin High School in Fremantle, where I was the first Aboriginal to ever have attended John Curtin High School, and coming from a country school it was really daunting and education wasn’t my favorite priority [I missed my junior by one subject and had to repeat a year so I left when I was about 16]. So I concentrated on playing sport. I used to be Captain of the softball team and we always used to win the trophies there. And then in the winter time I played hockey for the school and because of my skill and ability I was chased up by the Fremantle Women’s Hockey Club and played A Grade hockey with them at the age of 14. And then through my education years I eventually made the State School girls team for hockey and was Vice Captain for the two years that I went for the team. Unfortunately though, in those days, we didn’t go [play] away, and the year I left school – the following year they started going away to play against other states.
LS: So you missed out on some interesting trips…
LS: That is really a very interesting point you made – that you were probably the first Aboriginal student at John Curtin, isn’t it, because that would have been what? About 1960?
MT: Yes, and just with my Hockey there is a record at John Curtin High School that has never been broken, I hit 10 goals in a game – [laughs] but I loved my sport, and I think in a way, deep down, I always wished I was a boy so I could play football and followed in my father’s footsteps. He was a champion footballer,
LS: And who did … no let me finish your story before we talk about your Dad’s football…. Were you able to play hockey much, later, after you left school?
MT: Yes, yes, I continued playing with Fremantle after I got married and played in the – what they used to call the Oldies Team, and then when we went to Kwinana to live I joined up with the Kwinana Ladies Hockey Club and played them and played indoor hockey with them, and was part of a grand final winning team as well. My foster daughter [Rodenna], actually followed in my footsteps and she rang me up the other night to tell me that she’s just joined up with the Armadale Hockey Club and she is going to play out there. So I was really proud of her.
LS: Yes, that’s great. When you said you lived in Kwinana you mean when you went to live in Parmelia with your husband?
MT: Yes, we bought a house down there…
LS: So your hockey days would have been in the seventies?
MT: Aah, 70s or 80s, yes, probably the early 80s and late 70s, yes.
LS: Alright we’ll just go back now to your Dad,
MT: Dad was champion footballer in Brookton/Pingelly Association and he won numerous trophies and he won 4 medals that are equivalent to the Sandover Medal, down in the country. He was also a champion runner, and he won the York Gift a couple of times, and so sport has always been a part of our life. And when he came down here to Fremantle he played for the East Fremantle/Palmyra team, I think it was the Sunday League, and he was still playing football at the age of 40. And East Fremantle used to pester him to come down and play for them but because of the family responsibilities he declined.
LS: Right, because he had to spend most of his time in the wheatbelt?
LS: And just for the tape, what is his full name?
MT: Frederick George Collard.
LS: I don’t think we got your mum’s full name on tape either?
MT: Yes, Mum’s name was Elizabeth Jean Collard, she was a Bennell and she was always known to everybody though as Jean.
LS: I think it might be nice to have a little more background on the tape, like you said your Mum was a Bennell, can you tell me what area they came from?
MT: The Bennells – in tracing our family tree, we believe that the Bennell family actually started from down here in this Southern Region of the Fremantle area. And one of my grandfathers, going right back, was Jack Monger Bennell, married an Aboriginal lady, he was a white man, and because of the problems that the family were having down here he relocated the family out to Lake Monger and Monger’s Lake is actually named after my great grandfather and I heard the story that he used to have a little house over by Mongers Lake and with the problems that were happening between the Wadjellas and the Nyungars back then, the Bennells then relocated down to the Brookton area and became part of the Brookton Community in the Balledong Nyungar tribe. But in tracing the family name through the grandmother’s name, we believe that the family has come from down here somewhere. And my grandfather’s name is Tom Bennell, and his Nyungar name was Yelekitj, and he married Muriel McGuire, so the McGuire/Bennell family is very strong and there is still a lot of us around. Then on Dad’s side, his mother’s name was Jane Shaw, and we have also traced the Shaw family. And just recently we’ve linked up with some of the Shaw family at Murdoch University who are there as lecturers and students. And one of them Gerard Shaw was placed in a home and he has only just linked up with us in the last 6 months.
LS: Mm, that’s nice remaking those links, isn’t it?
LS: There are a couple of things I might not know how to spell when I come to type this up, so can you tell me – the church –
MT: Maaman O’Mia,
LS: and that is the name of the church?
MT: That’s the name of the little Aboriginal church over here in Coolbellup that Sealin is Minister for…
LS: Does Sealin have a title, is he Pastor or Reverend ?
LS: the other one was Yelekitj
MT: My Grandfather’s name, yes Yelekitj
LS: Thank you. I wonder if you’d name your children on the tape too..
MT: My children’s names are; Jason born September 15, 1972, Aaron born April 14, 1974 and Chelsea born July 7, 1975. And my two foster children are Rodenna and Dennis, they were Wallam’s but we’ve had their names changed to Taylor so they are very much part of our life, and their children are my grandchildren, and my children are their aunties and uncles and brothers and sisters.
LS: Mmm. So with your first children, where are they now?
MT: Jason and his partner live out in Kelmscott, they have four children, Aaron lives in Parmelia, he has got four children with his partner, and Chelsea lives just around the corner here in Coolbellup, she moved up here in the passed three months, and she has got two boys. My foster children between them have got 5, Radinna has got 5 beautiful children and Dennis has got one little boy, but Dennis is in prison, which is a tragedy.
LS: Your siblings, yes …
MT: I am the eldest of 10, Mum and Dad had 9 children but since Mum passed away Dad has remarried and they have got one little boy, and I keep forgetting and when ever I see him I say come here to Nanna!
LS: Oh, yes,
MT: So yes, I have a little brother the same age as my grandchildren but he loves it and so do they. And I have got 4 other brothers, actually 5 brothers and 4 sisters. Neville, Freda, Betty, Geoffrey, Sandra, Robin, Leonard, Brett and Emmanuel. And they are all spread out from one end of Australia to the other.
LS: I might turn over the tape there so it doesn’t run out in the middle of your sentence…
LS: Are you aware of any stories from around this area, from the past, do people pass on stories about the Cockburn area.
MT: Well, when we came down here from Hilton Park, Coolbellup was still bush, and there wasn’t very many Aboriginal people down this way. We were part of … the only other family that I knew of that lived in the Fremantle area was Sully Humes’s family and when we used to come out here, there was almost nothing. We used to drive down from Brookton to Hilton Park along the Forrest Road area and so the stories that were involving Nyungar people are very limited. And a lot of the elders who would have been able to tell us those stories are no longer here. Yeah, which is sad, and so we have got to now rely on history that is up in the Aboriginal Affairs Department [State Government], and the libraries to try and find some of those stories. But I am actually in the process of reading a book which tells stories so maybe that could be something that, as a bit of research, I could find out and give to you. But I do know that Lake Coolbellup, Bibra Lake, used to be called Lake Coolbellup, and the Nyungar name for that lake is Coolbellup. Coolbellup is actually a Nyungar name, it is to do with what we call louse and if you visit Bibra Lake you will see that there are a lot of birds and that around which attract fleas etc. which Aboriginal people would have assumed were nits and louse as well. So that is where the name Lake Coolbellup comes from.
LS: Oh, right, so perhaps when they went to that lake they caught them off the birds or something…
MT: Yeah, so actually it is something that I would like to see – that Bibra Lake be changed back to Lake Coolbellup in recognition of reconciliation.
LS: Yes that would be a good idea… when you were in Hilton you didn’t hear any stories about that area?
MT: Not very much, as I said I am reading books now which is slowly starting to give me some information about the whole area, but I do know that this whole area when the ships came in, and the soldiers started shooting at the Aboriginal people, the Nyungar people more or less just moved, backed off, and that was one of the reasons that they all went over to Monger’s Lake …
LS: I was just asking you about Hilton, [Marie’s puppies continue to make a noise]
MT: And as the soldiers started shooting and killing off the Aboriginal people, they eventually moved right back out to places like Lake Monger and relocated. And I guess the tragedy for the Nyungar people is that a lot of our history is lost, our language was almost wiped out, and we have had to rely on the stories that white people have written down, and that [is something] some of the old Nyungars are slowly getting the confidence to talk about now.
LS: Did you ever hear anyone refer to a man called Kimba?
MT: [pause] No…
LS: It is the name of a man I came across in an oral history transcript kept at Fremantle Library, he was said to have lived in the Hilton area right up until the 1920’s or so. I thought I would ask people if they know anymore about him…
MT: I know this book that I have got is fairly in depth so if I find anything I will fax it over to you. It is just stories about the south west Aboriginal People [collection of edited [Peter Bridge] accounts by Daisy Bates]. But again, it is from the Wedjela perspective, so you have honestly got to ask yourself, you know, how true is a lot of the stuff that is written. I mean when I look back now I guess what I should have done when my grandparents were alive, was sat down and got them to talk more. And I am only sorry that I weren’t able to do that, and my father he is starting to talk a lot about the past now as a result of working for reconciliation. That has been a great healing process for him, and just from my observations, when we moved down here to Fremantle you could feel the racism…
LS: That would have been when you were in your early teens?
MT: Yes, I was thirteen and a half when we moved down here, and people had never seen Aboriginal people before, and the only place where I felt comfortable was when I went over to the Baptist Church [East Fremantle] where I was treated as part of the family of the church. And I made friends with a Wedjela girl ….
LS: Oh, that’s right – I am sorry to interrupt you – you were telling me that before so I was just going to ask you about that Church, where was it?
MT: It was the East Fremantle Baptist Church, and my friend’s name was Jean Ather-Smith, and she was the one who sort of helped get me the jobs that I eventually was successful in getting. And …
LS: Was she the same age as you?
MT: Yes, we were at school together – and I still see the family even today – and why we went to that church over there was that at the time there was no churches here that we knew where to go to – No Aboriginal churches, nothing. And my father knew the Minister over there, he was Pastor Ron Bodero and his family, and we loved it. And it… just the networking and the community linking that I was able to experience as part of the youth group was wonderful.
LS: And that was the youth group there, not here?
MT: Yes, and I learnt a lot of things from the church and I guess that is where it gave me the confidence to help work with the Aboriginal community, ..
LS: Yes, you mentioned before that you had helped set up a Sunday School?
MT: Yeah, before Sealin even was based here at the church I had been asked by a young man by the name of Keith Truscott to come over and help set Sunday School up here, and we used to do it on a Sunday afternoon. And then, unfortunately, we moved away down to Parmelia, so my links with the community were sort of broken for a period of time. And then a few years later I got a phone call from Sealin asking me to participate in his induction. So I took a major role in Sealin’s induction at the little church over here [Coolbellup]. Over the years I have attended on an off and on basis, we got Sunday School started over here at the little church and now he has got people there who have kept that going so it has been great. The only pity is that there is really not a base there for Sunday School to be held at the same time as Church and it would be great if maybe the Council [City of Cockburn] could maybe make a donation of a little outdoor place so that Sunday School and youth programs could be run there at the Church.
LS: What is the address of that Church?
MT: Its on the corner of Mammolius and Waverley Road, just down around the corner. But Sealin has done as wonderful job in the area, and his commitment to his people has been superb. And his Christian faith has been wonderful to experience.
LS: While we are talking about school, could you tell me about the Homework Group that you were involved in?
MT: We helped set up a little homework group as part of the Southern Suburbs Progress Association and we had tutors come in and work with the children, and that helped a lot of kids. It gave them something to do after school, and when the kids were on holidays we used to run weekly programs for the kids to come, and take them away on bus trips, Len [Collard] would actually, he was part of one of those programs, and we took a bus load of kids down to the Cockburn Sound there, and they went snorkeling and swimming and it was great. The sad thing is though, when trying to work with the Aboriginal people, was lack of funding. It …. parents couldn’t afford to finance any of their children, and so we had to rely on funding to run programs for kids, and believe me it is not an easy task trying to get money from places that could help run programs. And it is a sad thing, because when I went to … when I was playing sport and things like that, my parents couldn’t afford to pay anything, but all my fees were waived, and I mean, back then, fees were very slight when you compare it to today – you need an open ended cheque book, especially if you have got a large family. And I honestly believe that that is some of the reasons why we have children who are dropping out of school, who are not participating in sporting activities, [and] it is because the fees are too high. And I think that is why a lot of kids are turning to drugs too.
LS: Yes, I think you have got a very important point there…
Important local places
LS: I asked you about your knowledge of the area, and you said you hadn’t had the opportunity to learn a lot about it, but mentioned Coolbellup Lake, are there any other places that you know of that are especially talked about in this area, or between the sea and here…?
MT: Another important area is just over next to the lake, and that is where Murdoch University is actually based, it has been noted that sections of that area used to be women’s places, and men’s place and quite possibly a burial ground.
LS: On the site where Murdoch University is?
MT: Yeah, and I do know that Len is trying to seek funding to get that researched properly. There was. … I was reading the other day about a place over in Yangebup, which I believe was an initiation ground, just over there, but again, as I said, I have to go through that book and get that documentation out, and give you.
LS: When you were talking about teaching the Nyungar language, are there any of the plants and animals in this area that you could name in Nyungar?
MT: Well you have got the gum trees outside [Marri] which is the Warrup, and the bottlebrushes, the banksias which are the Maintj its called a marnch? The black cockatoos that come down we call them munich because they remind us of a policeman, I have magpies here dropping in which I actually feed, and we call those Kulbardi, and the crow is the Wardong, the little willy wagtail we call chitty-chitty, and the blackboy is the balga – and there are a lot of balgas around here and maybe the council could look at renaming some of the parks and that around here too. Give them the Nyungar name in recognition of the Nyungar culture and Nyungar people. I think it is the one thing that is actually sadly or missing from Coolbellup specifically, is the lack of recognition of Nyungar culture. When the park down here was redeveloped and that, it is a pity that Aboriginal people weren’t involved in that … just down on that main street..
MT: Yeah, because that could have been given a Nyungar name to recognise the trees and shrubs and that over there. The naming of Beeliar was great because that actually is a Nyungar name, and also Yangebup is – talking about the yanjid or the shrub that is found down by the water …
LS: the rush – that’s a yanjid?
MT: Yes, the rush yes bullrushes, is yanjid in Nyungar, so that is obviously where that name came from. But it would be great to see more names because most of our towns throughout the South West have been given Nyungar names, such as Quairading, Gnowangerup, …. a lot of Aboriginal influence throughout the State.
LS: Yes, I have always thought it was good that we’ve managed to save a lot of the names, and when you go into look at the old maps – have you ever looked at the old maps,?
MT: Yes, I actually teach them as part of Nyungar culture, and I have got a program..
LS: You have got a computer program with then on?
MT: Yes, and as part of Nyungar Cultural Studies, what we are teaching is we are teaching the language but we are also talking about the culture of the people so that we are sharing our culture with the people who are learning. Why we set it up was to originally teach our Aboriginal students that came in to university because many of them had not experienced even their Nyungar culture – and as a result of it being successful it was requested that we offer it as an elective to mainstream students which it has been given that approval. And we are the only university in the nation that teaches the language to these students.
LS: And that is the most obvious thing that we haven’t actually done in the interview, and that’s talk about you and your work …
MT: Yes, so I teach at Murdoch, Kulbardi Aboriginal Centre, I was originally employed as the administration assistant, but it was made clear to me that I may not have had the clear administration expertise but I was employed because of my knowledge and skill and experience within the Aboriginal Community, non-Aboriginal community and for my cultural experience as well. And I have been with Kulbardi centre now for near on 2 years. Previous to that I worked for Armadale Aboriginal Joblink as the Co-ordinator, and my work there included finding employment for Aboriginal people, offering training to the Aboriginal people and I was there for nearly 4 years. And on my resignation I was actually contacted by the Department of Education and Training and was informed that my statistics had been the best in the State. And I worked in the area that had the biggest unemployment in Australia.
LS: So when you say your statistics were the best that means that you had more success in finding people work?
MT: Finding work, or encouraging them to go back to education, or do education and training work.
LS: So what years did you work there?
MT: It was from about 1995 to 98 – no 94 to 98, no 95 to 99 – and then previous to that I spent a couple of years with Yorganup Aboriginal Child Care Agency, as the senior case consultant. And that was working with LinkUp and child placement, working very closely with the Department of Family and Children Services. And then previous to that I spent 8 and a half years with HomesWest down here in the Fremantle Region, and my … when I first started with them the problems that they were experiencing with Aboriginal Housing were incredible. And it was hard working in that particular area. It wasn’t easy, you got abused, you got sworn at, you got threatened, even though they were your own people, and one lady actually accused me [she said] “oh you wouldn’t know what it was like to live in a tent” and I had much pleasure in turning to her and saying well actually I do, I was brought up in a tent. But apart from that, I was actually threatened and pushed around by one Aboriginal lady while on a visit down in Kwinana. But my biggest success story with HomesWest was that we didn’t evict one Aboriginal family in all the years that I worked for them. My aim was to work with the family, try and negotiate, encourage them to pay their bills, which we did, and when there were problems I actually incorporated the help of the City of Cockburn to help get Aboriginal families to clean their yards up. When they refused to acknowledge my contact and my letters and requests to clean their yards up I went back to City of Cockburn and requested that they send out a work order, which they did. And after a while I saw a huge improvement in the way the Aboriginal families started to learn to look after their yards, look after their homes, and what we did we looked at relocating those families into new homes when new homes were built – as like a reward system. And I mean that was totally unofficial but I had the full support of management down at Fremantle, and with the Aboriginal Housing Board who was technically my employer. And to see, you know, the housing now that Aboriginal families are being placed into has been great. And I think the best thing that could have happened was the upgrading of Coolbellup. I think that in upgrading Coolbellup it encouraged the Aboriginal people to look at what’s available out in other suburbs and many of them have been relocated very happily, very successfully.
LS: Oh, that’s good because I wondered about that, that people might have been being moved out when the land values went up…
MT: Yes, well I was too at the time, but the people were offered a choice, they could either come back to their home once it was redecorated, or they could move to an almost brand new house, or a brand new house. So I actually attended a meeting down here because I had that same concern. But when I saw what was being offered I thought, oh well, go for it, you know. And just about everybody that I run into, when I am out and about that have moved on that have moved out have relocated very happily.
LS: And they don’t find travelling a problem?
MT: No, no … and I think the bus services are been improved enormously. When I first moved down here you only saw a bus once every half an hour or hour.
And then previous to HomesWest, I worked 8 and a half years for the Health Department down at Kwinana as a cleaner, but part of that job was helping out on the telephones and things like that as well. Because that was a new building and they were starting off from scratch. But I guess – this was my saddest memory of working there – was about 3 days after we started down there the young receptionist was murdered. And her body found just over in the bush next to the centre, so that’s my saddest memory of my employment with them.
LS: Do you remember what year that was?
MT: Oh, gosh my son was 6, that was his first year at school, and he was born in 1972, so it would have been 1978.
LS: I think we have just about covered everything that it was suggested we do, so really its just a matter really of whether there is anything else you would like to share, bearing in mind that this tape is going into the Cockburn Shire Library for people to listen too.
MT: I think one of the things that I am really pleased with is the fact that non-Aboriginal people have supported Reconciliation, and I think that even though Reconciliation looks like it is being defunded, I think that City of Cockburn and the people that live in the City of Cockburn can continue to support reconciliation and lets work towards improving each others lives not just the life of one particular people, because if we are honest, non-Indigenous people have just as much problems as Aboriginal people have. I think I would like to see government sink a bit more money into local government so that local government can help support the Aboriginal people into their communities, and I am in favour of seeing places like ATSIC wound up, and the money given to the local Shire Councils to employ Aboriginal people in their area to run programs that will improve the face of the Aboriginal people within the community and set up programs that can offer the beautiful Aboriginal or Nyungar culture that we have and share it with the rest of the community. I am actually going to the Walyalup Kambarang Community Festival meeting tonight at the Council Hall over here, in order to see what is going to be happening from that social point of view. And I guess my links with Cockburn City Council have – go back a long long way even though I didn’t live in the area – through employment and advice, they have always been in contact with me, even though I lived down at Kwinana at the time. And with Southern Suburbs I had supported them off and on over many years, and to have seen it go down the drainpipe was probably a big disappointment to me.
LS: What is the Walyalup Kamabarang?
MT: If you just hold on I will get you a pamphlet.
LS: So it is a Cockburn Aboriginal cultural festival that is being held every year? I think I went to that one last year, did they hold that up near the animal sanctuary at Bibra Lake?
MT: Yes. And the other big project that I am involved in is called Yeperenye Dreaming, and that is a festival to be held in Alice Springs and it is a coming together of all Aboriginal groups from throughout Australia, and I have been given the task of encouraging people to attend and that is one of the reasons that I am going to this meeting tonight. To see if anyone would be interested in coming over to Alice Springs and setting up a little stall for a week. And I think the that the way that the coming together of the people is going to be through such activities like this where our culture and that is being called, and maybe just in closing I would like to say Nidja allah ordja, nidja Nyungar boordja, nullark pokijka, djinnang djiniam, nidja Wedjela Nyungar kaitijin koora bo-kojee
LS: Thank you very much.