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Women in Black with Jack Smit, Gavin Mooney and Ted Wilkes at the Perth departure ceremony
Photo: from left to right Project SafeCom's Jack Smit, who organised the farewell ceremony, Pam Morris (74), Gavin Mooney (professor of Aboriginal Health, Curtin University and the convenor of the Social Justice Network), Kathryn Newmar (62), Ted Wilkes (Indigenous Elder and Professorial Fellow at Curtin University) and Jane Paterson (70).

Women in Black on Whitefella business: walking to Canberra

Taking Steps Towards Healing

A long time ago, the biblical Three Wise Men came from the East, but the Three Wise Women whose reports are part of this page on our website came from The West - Western Australia. On 11 July 2006, three women started on a journey from Perth to Canberra, and this page contains some of the published information, their message to the Prime Minister John Howard and the Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough, and an open letter to all Australians.

Related pages

6 October 2006: The Palm Island Inquest findings: unacceptable political inertia - This is not an issue that should concern only indigenous people. Police should not be permitted to become a law unto themselves ... We are all diminished if we stand by and tolerate a response which shows such a systemic disregard for basic levels of human decency.

15 July 2006: Twenty-five Reports that line government bookshelves ... on Indigenous Australia - Australia already has a complete roadmap to indigenous well-being. Report after report was written, commissioned by governments. The one aspect jumping out and screaming for answers, is the absolute lack of will on the part of the Howard government to build on that roadmap.

7 December 2004: Palm Island: will Indigenous people get justice for Doomadgee? - "Cameron Doomadgee was found to have suffered four fractured ribs, a ruptured liver and torn protal vein. He died from these injuries he sustained while in police custody on Palm Island. Apparently he sustained these injuries when he fell off a table. Yeah, sure he did."

11 November 2004: Howard's way with The First Australians: shame, shame, shame - Welfare for showering yourself with soap - today is Howard's day for Howard's way with indigenous people. The PM is quietly, bit by bit, announcing his hardline welfare policy for indigenous people, he raids the only Indigenous newspaper we have, the National Indigenous Times.

At Parliament House

Below are some photos of the Parliament House press conference - and a question to the Speaker of the House by Carmen Lawrence MP, member for Fremantle ... because the reception of our Women in Black wasn't overwhelmingly positive ...

Lack of respect

Women in Black: Carmen Lawrence Question to Speaker

Parliament House Staff
10 August 2006

Dr LAWRENCE (Fremantle) (3.15 p.m.)--I have a question to you, Mr Speaker. On Tuesday morning, I am not sure what time but certainly around 9 or 10, two very fine women arrived here at the parliament after having spent some time walking across the Nullarbor to draw attention to the need to eliminate racism in our community--a very low-key affair, done without much fanfare, but of interest to the media. When they came into the parliament--with the approval of another member, not me--I must say they were treated with a lack of respect by the building staff and asked to remove the aprons that they had worn during that walk. The information on the aprons was very simple. 'Steps toward healing' is what it said on the front or the back, with a map of Australia, half black and half white, and hands reaching up to each other in relief, in reverse colour. They were required to remove that clothing before coming into the parliament and, although they did not complain greatly to me, it was clear that they were treated in ways that can only be described as officious and unpleasant. I wonder if you would investigate that matter, please.

The SPEAKER--I thank the member for Fremantle. As the member for Fremantle would be aware, the staff at the doors do operate under guidelines concerning statements, but I will certainly make further investigations on her behalf. [ Permalink to House Hansard transcript ]

Women in Black Walk: Perth and Canberra pictures

Click on the thumbnails to open the larger photographs

Perth departure

Official snapshot

Parliament House

Canberra Doorstop

Press Conference

Press Conference

PM 'a racist' - Nullarbor walker
August 08, 2006 10:00am

A PERTH woman in her 70s who walked across the Nullarbor Plain to highlight the plight of Aboriginal people has called Prime Minister John Howard racist.

Perth woman Jane Paterson decided to walk across the Nullarbor to try to change people's attitudes about Aboriginal people.

She said the attitude of the nation was guided by Mr Howard.

When asked if Mr Howard was racist, she said: "Yes . . . very racist."

Mrs Paterson was joined on her walk by Pam Morris, another Perth septuagenarian.

Mr Howard and Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough have both refused to meet the pair.

But Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce today met the women, along with Opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Chris Evans.

Liberal member for the outback South Australian seat of Grey, Barry Wakelin, will also meet the women.

Mrs Paterson and Mrs Morris are still hopeful of presenting a petition declaring the existence of "widespread racism in present day Australian culture" to Mr Howard and Mr Brough later in the week.

Comment was being sought from the government.,21598,20057503-2761,00.html

MEDIA RELEASE: Three Perth women walk to Canberra against racism

Project SafeCom Inc.
(On behalf of "Women in Black" Perth)

Media Release
Friday July 7 2006
For immediate Release
No Embargoes

Three women well into their sixties and seventies are setting off next week Tuesday from Perth in Western Australia to cross the Nullarbor on foot and deliver to Canberra's Federal Government seat the message that Australia needs to heal and complete its journey with Australian Indigenous people, and they will call upon the Prime Minister to curb entrenched racism in Australian society.

A departure ceremony is scheduled for 1pm on Tuesday 11 July, at the corner of William and Hay Streets in Perth, the usual location of the group's weekly vigil in front of Wesley Cathedral.

The three women, Jane Paterson (70), Kathryn Newmar (62) and Pam Morris (74) will be "armed" with both completed and blank petition sheets - to be completed by locals they will meet along their stops in towns and villages on the way to the ACT - urging the Federal Government to implement "wise, respectful and compassionate policies" that curb "overt and covert racism" also through media advertising, and that include a revision of educational textbooks to include information about Aboriginal Culture and what they call the "true history of persecution, slaughter and enslavement of Indigenous people following the white invasion".

Spokeswoman Pam Morris comments that this journey is not on behalf of Aboriginal people, but a representation of white people who recognise that most of the dire circumstances of Australian Indigenous people can only be understood by opening up to the context of the white invasion, and the attitude of the invasion of Indigenous culture by white people.

"Millions of dollars are wasted unless we address at its core the roots of disparity between Aboriginal and white people, a result of white supremacy attitudes that is still on display in Australia and reflected even in recently announced policy frameworks of the Federal government," says Ms Morris.

"If we talk about the journey of healing, then we need to start by healing our own attitudes and abandon supremacy, say sorry and we need a more compassionate and caring approach to Indigenous people," Ms Morris concluded.

An Open Letter to All Australians


Dear Friends,

We write this letter to you all from the depths of our hearts. We ask only that you read it with an open mind.

Women in Black, readying themselves for departure from Perth to Canberra

There is a wound in the spirit of this lovely country, and it cannot be healed until we White Australians face the reality that WE are the cause of much of the despair and misery which is the life-long sentence of many Aboriginal Australians today. The cause of this wound is racism - the culture of white arrogance that assumes our innate superiority over indigenous people.

Many of you will agree with this truth and support our efforts to bring it to public awareness - but many more will vehemently deny it, and oppose what we are trying to do. We have no wish to stir up contention - our desire is only to heal our land and our people, and to help create a society where all people walk proudly and confidently without fear, and live together in harmony, with mutual respect.

There is much that must be done on a practical level to enable Indigenous Australians to enjoy the quality of life that most white people take for granted. But it is our belief that this can never be achieved until those of us who make up the dominant culture of Australia are willing to take the painful journey of facing the truth of our often unconscious racist attitudes -attitudes which underscore the policies and actions adopted by authorities in addressing Aboriginal issues, and have resulted in the oppression and degradation of Aboriginal people since the British invaded this land more than 200 years ago - attitudes that prevail to this day.

Racism is an insidious evil, sneaking its way into our daily lives in ways we often don't recognise. We have to be taught - our awareness must be raised - before we can acknowledge that what we may have thought were kindly attitudes are revealed as patronising, and that feeling "sorry for" Indigenous people is often demeaning. It is not enough to care - we must also learn to understand.

There are steps we can and must take to address the evil of racism in Australia. This is not a process of blaming others, of finding fault or passing judgement. The first and vital and probably the hardest step we must take is to face the truth of what has been done to the original and rightful occupiers of this land. Only then may we look at what we can do to make reparation, to redress the wrongs, the injustices, the persecution, the suffering endured by Indigenous people for generations, that are the natural outcome of our belief in White supremacy. And only then will there be healing for this wounded land.

We earnestly and humbly ask you to take the first steps of this painful journey with us, that we may learn together as we seek a better way - a way that brings unity not division - a way in which all of us, black and white, may walk together and embrace each other in a common cause.

Racism degrades us as a people. There is no "us and them". We are all in this together. It can be done - it is up to us.


An Open Letter to the Prime Minister, The Hon John Howard and The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Mal Brough

Dear Sirs,

We, the undersigned, agree that there is widespread racism in present day Australian culture. This racism is evident in the attitude of many white Australians to all non-white inhabitants of this land.

We hold the earnest belief that this racism is the direct and underlying cause of the tragic living conditions of many Aboriginal Australians today.

We therefore request that the government take all steps needed to eliminate this racism and suggest employing the following:

  1. Education in schools: Speaking the truth. Textbooks must be revised to include information on Aboriginal culture, and the true history of the persecution, slaughter and enslavement of Indigenous people following the white invasion.
  2. Media advertising to raise public awareness of overt and covert forms of racism.
  3. Example set by government of wise, respectful and compassionate policies and attitudes in all their dealings with Aboriginal people.

While these three steps do not preclude the practical changes that are urgently needed in the areas of health, education, housing and employment, it is our conviction that unless the government also focuses on eradicating racism, there will never be healing in this land no matter how many millions of dollars are invested in practical improvements.

We urge that immediate action be taken to address these issues.

Pam Morris' farewell speech

Spoken at the send-off gathering in Perth, at the corner of Hay and William Street, in front of the Wesley Cathedral.

11 July 2006

Kathryn, Jane and I are about to set off on a journey. As we walk and drive across this vast continent, we will touch the lives of many people. We will speak with them of the need to face the truth of the other side of the history of the white invasion of this land - the Aboriginal side.

We will ask them to learn about the pain and suffering and devastation we caused - to read about the murders, the rapes, the massacres, the enslavery. Of how we stole the land from the people who had lived here for tens of thousands of years, how we forced them off their hunting grounds, poisoned their water holes, trampled their sacred sites, snatched away their children, shackled them in chains.

We will ask the people we meet to face the truth about our blood-stained hands, our shameful history, which has long been suppressed and denied. And we will ask them to bear the shame of that - the pain of owning the truth. To say, "Yes, we committed these atrocities. We cannot undo what happened. We are deeply sorry."

But before the healing can begin, there is one more question that must be asked. And I ask that question of you all here today.

Why do you think we white conquerors felt we had the right to invade this land? To try to exterminate the population? To plant the British flag on this soil and claim the land in the name of the English Crown, saying, "There is no-one here - only these blackfellows."

There is only one answer to that question. The reason we felt we had the right to do that is because the people living here were black - and because we had been taught that black people are inferior to whites, they don't count. That they are little more than animals. That white people are so superior to black people, they are entitled to treat the blacks any way they want.

And as Jane, Kathryn and I take our Steps Towards Healing journey, it is the residue of that white supremacist attitude that still lingers in our culture that we wish to address. It is lurking in the shadows - it has not gone away. It has been pushed down. Racism did not miraculously disappear because we stopped talking about it. It just went underground.

And it is this deep, unacknowledged, often unrecognised racism that has to be exposed. Has to be brought into the light and revealed for what it is - a deep festering wound in our land that affects us all. It must be cleansed before healing can begin.

And that is the purpose of our journey - to begin the cleansing process that prepares us for the healing to come.

Many of you here today have already begun your own personal cleansing journey. To the rest of you I say - begin today. Start educating yourselves. Learn the truth. Our flyers give you suggested reading to set you on your way. And then as your understanding grows, you will touch the lives of others and so help to hasten the healing of our land and of our people.

And help bring about that day when black Australians and white Australians will walk proudly hand in hand - as equals, as brothers and sisters, with mutual respect, valuing each others unique qualities. When the wound is healed we can all walk forward together.

Then we will have to ask the gifted Judy to paint us another beautiful logo - a logo where the hands that now reach towards each other are clasped together in a warm embrace.

I thank you all for coming.

Bless you all.

Many miles ahead for Women in Black planning a march across the Nullarbor

National Indigenous Times
Issue 109 - 13 Jul 2006
By Adam Gartrell

ISSUE 109, July 13, 2006: Three elderly Perth women will walk a 200km stretch of the Nullarbor Plain as part of a mammoth cross-country journey to highlight racism against Aboriginal people.

Pam Morris, 74, Jane Paterson, 70, and Kathryn Newmar, 62, members of the international peace network Women in Black, began their month-long trip from Perth yesterday (Wednesday).

The three, who are not Aboriginal, will travel in a campervan through a handful of West Australian communities, talking to local people about racism and urging them to sign petitions they will deliver to the federal government.

The women will arrive at the border of WA and South Australia on July 17, when they will begin their arduous 200km trek to the Nullarbor Roadhouse.

"We're not there to prove what great walkers we are - so if perchance we find that we're absolutely exhausted, we'll take a day off," Ms Morris said last week.

After completing their walk, they will continue in the campervan to Canberra, arriving in the first week of August to seek an audience with Prime Minister John Howard and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Mal Brough.

The trio aim to urge the government to "curb entrenched racism in Australian society" and move towards reconciliation with Aboriginal people.

"We haven't got an appointment with them yet. I think they're considering it," Ms Morris said.

"I very much doubt that that will happen, but still it's a hope."

Ms Morris, a retired nurse, said she was concerned the federal government was not doing enough to help Aboriginal people, especially considering details of shocking abuse in some Aboriginal communities.

"I personally feel that the government doesn't really have the will to deal with this in an appropriate way, and regards the issue of Aboriginals' low quality of life as a problem they just want to go away.

"I don't think they approach it with any sort of compassion or understanding." - AAP