7 December 2017 saw Australia become the 25th country to legalise marriage between people of the same sex. Love essentially won. Images of my uncles and partner during the celebration on Oxford Street in Sydney filled me with feelings of jubilation and success. Australians voted in favour of love and so was born a defining moment written for the history books.
After the feelings and emotions of celebrating passed, I began to think about what equality meant and how this could make change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia.
In 2017, Australia also celebrated 25 years since the Mabo decision and 50 years since the 1967 referendum. Both anniversaries were milestone achievements in themselves, however, how much equality do we have as the First Peoples of Australia today?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still face key factors of inequality, such as: high incarceration rates, health issues, access to lands, high rates of children being taken away from their families and the need for self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples.
The first Boomalli Mardi Gras exhibition was held in 1994. The curators were Matthew Cook, Rea Saunders and Brooke Andrews. This year, Boomalli’s Mardi Gras exhibition is called Luscious All Sorts: LOVE WON. As curator, I wanted to express the idea that if equality could happen for marriage, then it could maybe one day happen for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia.
Being lesbian is natural to me and my family supports me no matter what. My grandmother always told me that it doesn’t matter who you love, just as long as you’re happy. I’m not the first in my family and I was raised in a supporting environment. I’ve always maintained my connection to country through my traditional story lines, family bloodlines and spirituality and laws. I will continue to do this for the next generation and pass my knowledge down as my elders did before me. They always had time for me and taught me right from wrong.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, now known as the Sydney Mardi Gras Festival, will be celebrating 40 years this year. A significant milestone and an appropriate follow on from 7 December. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQI peoples, we still have a long way to go in order to be equal.
Art is a very personal and inward form of expression. There have many instances in my life that have altered the way I paint. Being an Aboriginal lesbian woman has opened me up to a variety of experiences, both good and bad. As a kid I remember when my Uncle Malcolm Cole took me to the park to play with the kids at the playground in Glebe in the early 90s, the kids were throwing stones at both of us. I guess it was being Aboriginal and he was gay, loud, proud and we didn’t fit the social norms of the time. This was a traumatic experience for me as I was only a child. However, it is fitting this year for Mardi Gras that people are honouring and remembering Uncle Malcolm for his 1976 Captain Cook float.
When I paint, it’s a part of me telling my story, I use my knowledge of past events to express the strength, stories and experiences that I have faced in my life. I think about the many role models in my life such as my mother, nan and uncles. The many places I have been, the many different people I have met from all over the world have influenced my life. But most important to me are the moments in my life spent with my mob. I refer to the mob in this context to the people I fight for.
Similar to marriage equality, we need to face the naysayers and critics and confront our nation’s truth that this land was never ceded and we are sovereign peoples with rights to land and culture. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples we have always being here and I believe that in telling my story it will help the younger people have the confidence to have a go, and follow your dreams, no matter how hard life is. There is always support for you and sometimes you have to step out of the closed up spaces around you and believe in yourself and your abilities.
I always say I live in two worlds – I am following my dreams by working in the city but always returning home to my mother’s and father’s countries.
This article was first published by Guardian Australia on 1 March 2018 as part their collaborative partnership with IndigenousX
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