Celebrate NAIDOC Week 2018 by getting to know, and learning from, some of Australia’s most inspiring Indigenous women.
Each and every year, Australia celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout NAIDOC Week. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Because of her, we can’, and focuses on the essential role that women have played, and continue to play, across all aspects of society.
We got in touch with a handful of Indigenous women who inspire us, and who are working tirelessly towards a better Australia, and asked them a few questions about themselves, about what they’ve learned, and about how we – as a country – can do more for our women and Indigenous people.
Our final feature is with Ngarra Murray, a member of NAIDOC Committee who works as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' Program National Manager at Oxfam Australia.
Can you tell us a little about where you’re from, who you are, and what you do?
My name is Ngarra Murray and I’m a Wamba Wamba (Gourmjanyuk), Yorta Yorta (Wallithica) and Dja Dja Wurrung (Yung Balug) woman. I grew up in country Victoria in a place called Shepparton and I’m now based in Melbourne. I'm a mother of four children and the second oldest of 12 siblings. I’m a member of the National NAIDOC Committee and I work at Oxfam Australia as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' Program National Manager.
Are there any influential women in your life who’ve helped you get to where you are today? What have you learned from those women? In what ways have they – whether directly or indirectly – helped you?
I come from a long line of warrior women who paved the way, but my biggest influence in my life was my grandmother, Nora Murray. She was born on the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Mission on the Murray River in New South Wales, where schooling was provided to grade 3 standard, and strict religious principles were emphasised. It was a place where from 12 years of age, young girls on the mission were often taken and sent to places like Cootamundra for domestic service.
My Nan, along with her mother Lady Gladys Nicholls, and many of our people, walked off the mission in 1939 in protest of the harsh living conditions, and the callous and discriminatory treatment that they’d experienced. As a teen my Nan moved to Melbourne, where she lost her father to a tragic car accident. She worked in the canneries and factories, got married to my grandfather Stewart Murray and raised eight children. My Nan was a humble, remarkable woman and her strength and resilience made me who I am today.
How important is it for future generations of Indigenous women for there to be strong role models for them to be inspired by and aspire to? How can we help get those women in the positions they deserve to be in?
It’s very important. We need examples of strength and positive influence. Strong black women everywhere, of any age, must be that example. We need to let the younger generation know how powerful they can be and what they can aspire to. We need solid role models that our young women can look up to. We need to prepare the younger generation for the world they will inherit.
If you could give some advice to your younger self – about life, work, success, setbacks – what would you say?
Make the most of your opportunities and never give up on what you really want to do. Dream big.
What has your career taught you, so far, about leadership, leadership qualities, and the difference between good and bad leadership?
Being a leader in itself is a challenge. For me, as an Aboriginal woman, the foundation for all levels of leadership is community, as I believe leadership is shaped by family and community. My family taught me the importance of respect, community, culture and integrity
My career at Oxfam as taught me the finest values of justice, equality, inclusiveness, and the dignity and worth of every human being. These values make up the core of who I am and what I represent. Leadership is about supporting our communities to accomplish our goals and aspirations, and help create a better future. There is a leader in all of us; we just need the right encouragement and support.
In terms of recognising Indigenous people and culture in a real, tangible and meaningful way, Australia has a long way to go. Where do we go from here?
Since colonisation, our people have borne the brunt of extreme prejudice and discrimination. They went through a torrid cultural transition being subjected to the social cultural, linguistic, and environmental destruction of our peoples. There needs to be some formal processes of truth-telling and Australians must learn the real history of this country.
Continuing the passing on of our identity and history to the next generation ensures we connect the past to the present. The narrative and stories that we tell today are the ones that will define the next generation.
What steps do you think Australia, and Australians, need to take to ensure future generations of women are free to live, work and thrive? What does real equality look like?
We need more women in parliament, more women in positions of power and influence, more women in the decision making roles making decisions that directly affect the lives of our women. Our women have often been socialised into traditional roles in a patriarchal society and have integrated these traditional values on inequality, between men and women, so it’s a hugely symbolic breakthrough for gender equality when something shifts.
When I heard of our first female Mayor in the Torres Strait, Vonda Malone and our first Victorian Aboriginal Member for Parliament, Lidia Thorpe, those moments made me so proud. Those moments in time became important markers of women’s progress in local government representation and political participation, and it provides a valuable insight into how we encourage women now and in the future to make a contribution in a democratic arena.
I believe women have a powerful role to play in leading change and my hope is that my daughters and their daughters will be part of a diverse and inclusive community that respects, resources and cherishes the role of our women.