A spirit of determination | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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A spirit of determination

In 2003, Aunty Judi Wickes had both arms in plaster, $250 in her pocket and a determination to put on the Sunshine Coast’s first NAIDOC event.

She had no idea how many people would come. No idea what would happen on the day. No idea if there’d be enough food to feed everyone. No idea if there would be enough activities to keep people entertained. But she knew one thing: this event had to happen.

This quiet sense of determination is a trait that has unpinned Aunty Judi’s whole life. It has had to – it’s the only way she has been able to survive living with the knowledge her family was systematically dismantled over generations.

At 13-years-old, her grandad – a proud Wakka Wakka man from Nanango – was removed from his family. When Aunty Judi’s grandma was almost 20 – a fierce Kulkadoon woman – she was removed from her family.

It hurts to think about it – even now.

But for Aunty Judi, the one that carries the most pain is thinking about her aunty, who was removed from her family when she was just 10 years old.

“That’s why Kevin Rudd’s apology was so important,” Aunty Judi says. “I remember tears running down my face as I watched it.”

“It was an acknowledgement of what my family went through,” Aunty Judi says gently. “What my grandparents went through. What my mother went through. What I’m going through. What my children and grandchildren are going through.”

Aunty Judi says the trauma for many is transgenerational, getting transferred down from one generation to the next.

“A lot of people don’t understand that,” she says. “It affects you in so many ways.

“When I was born, I wasn’t even counted in the Census. I was flora and fauna until the law changed in 1967. I was refused entry to different places. There were so many places I wasn’t allowed to go because of who I am.”

Aunty Judi says this is why NAIDOC Week is so important.

“It’s an acknowledgement of Aboriginal people in Australia,” she says. “We’re here. We’ve always been here. We’re still here.”

“It’s an acknowledgement of Aboriginal people in Australia. We’re here. We’ve always been here. We’re still here.”

Aunty Judi isn’t angry. She should be. But she’s not. She talks with a calming, almost sing-song quality to her voice – a trait that has likely served her very well in her years working as a social worker and counsellor. It’s a job she was still doing back in 2003 when she started organising the Sunshine Coast’s first NAIDOC week event.

As Aunty Judi tells it, one night at her friend’s place, with two arms in plaster after falling off a step while holding some books, the two social workers simultaneously had the same idea to organise a NAIDOC event on the Sunshine Coast.

“Every year, a lot of us would travel down to Brisbane for the event in Musgrave Park,” Aunty Judi says. “But a lot of people couldn’t make it down to Brisbane so we just thought it would nice to have something up here.

“We were social workers, so we had the contacts.”

The Australian Federation of University Women Graduates, which later became Australian Graduate Women, donated $250 for sausages and bread rolls. Other government bodies and local businesses donated a few other items – enough to get the ball rolling on the event.

“We had no expectations about how many people would turn up,” Aunty Judi says. “We just thought we’d get some families together for a few hours in the park. It started from really simple beginnings.”

But even in that first year, with a meagre budget, Aunty Judi recalls the event attracting about 200 people. Now, almost two decades later, crowds flood Cotton Tree to take part in the event, which continues to grow every year.

“I think NAIDOC Week is important for all Australians – not just Aboriginal people,” Aunty Judi says.

“We need to come together on this. We’re all sisters and brothers. It’s about being with each other.”

This artwork was created by Arthur Conlon following the first NAIDOC event held at USC in 2003. It features the handprints of everyone who attended the event.

Media enquiries: Please contact the Media Team media@usc.edu.au