Australian Biography: Faith Bandler
Faith Bandler (1920–2015) was a descendant of South Sea Islanders. She was born in Tumbulgum, NSW.
During the 1950s, she became involved in the peace movement, and in 1956 was instrumental in setting up the Australian Aboriginal Fellowship.
In 1974, Faith decided to direct her energies to the 16,000 descendants of South Sea Islanders and, in 1975, made her first emotional journey to her father's birthplace on Ambrym.
She was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1995.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
My mother was beautiful, she had beautiful, long black hair, very long. She almost sat on her hair. It was blue-black and she was an exceptionally kind and generous person, very fastidious; she drove us mad in the house, particularly with the laundry. She had a thing about laundry. Like all the beds were covered with white marcella quilts and every Monday those quilts were ripped off and put into the big copper, which had a fire underneath it, copper and stick, but she always insisted that this be done and the sheets had to be blue-white, not just white. She wasn't much of a cook but she insisted that there should always be a lot of food however simple it might be. She sewed our clothes, she made our dresses until we were old enough to make our own. Well, I can say this, she had a tremendous influence on me, but it is only in the more recent years that I have seen this. You know, when I go around this house and I'm picking up things and I'm saying to Hans, 'Have you emptied the rubbish yet?' or have you done this or have you done that, and then I stop and I think, my God, this is what my mother did to me. Laugh ... yes, she had quite an influence on me.
What was her own racial background?
Well, you know, the truth is I'm only just beginning to work it out, now, that my mother was part Scottish, part Indian and of course very much Australian. I think that mixture contributed very much to her beauty. She had this deep olive skin against this jet-black hair. She had a hard background, it wasn't easy. My grandmother, her mother, was poor, but poor but pleasant, good to be with. There's a lot of Scottish habits, my mother had a lot. You know, nothing should be thrown away, and we had to bank, we didn't have to, but she reminded us that it would be good to bank our pocket money; had to take care of food, food was important. And clothes, you know, she'd have no problem at all cutting up old sheets to make table napkins or old towels. She'd rip them up so that the boys would have a towel outside hanging on the mango tree, regularly, a clean towel to wipe their hands on, this kind of thing, you know. I even do this today.
So you're a very good housekeeper, are you Faith, like your mother?
Well, unfortunately, I'm a good housekeeper, I've always managed the house, all the years Hans and I have been married and I hate it, I absolutely, hate it. But I can't bear disorder and I find it very hard to be at the sink and switch off and go to the desk. So, sometimes instead of switching off and going to the desk, I ring up a friend and we go down the road for coffee, only because, well, I mean who likes managing a house? It's so boring, so monotonous, so repetitive. If people ask me today, what would I really like in life ... [INTERRUPTION]
Now that was your mother, could you tell me now about your father? Who was your father, where did he come from and what sort of an influence did he have on you?
I don't think my father had the influence on me that my mother did, in actual fact. I don't remember my father awfully well because I was awfully small when he died. I can vaguely remember his funeral. I remember that my father had a banana farm up on the North Coast of New South Wales. You see, he was born on the tiny island of Ambrym, which [is one of] the islands of Vanuatu and he was kidnapped and brought to Australia as a child of 13 years old and he was put to work on the canefields as a child in Mackay. He told us all this. Like where we lived, it had two kitchens - there was my mother's kitchen, but there was his kitchen. It was a kind of lean-to, and there was an open fire where the yams were roasted and the taros and the big black kettle hung from the bar chain from the roof and there was a saucepan for the milk; and around that fire, these stories would be told to us by our father. I remember when my daughter began to listen to stories and every night we told her a story and I could tell her the same story or read her the same story night after night after night, and if I didn't sometimes, she'd say, 'Tell the one about, you know', and she could hear it a thousand times over. Well it was like this with my father. He could tell us about that trip coming over from Vanuatu to Mackay in Queensland, a thousand times over but it would be new, always new, so we would beg for the same stories again and again and he'd talk about oh, life in his village, the village of Biap. I went to Biap later and it was still, after all those years, just as my father had told us around the camp fires. So I don't want historians, and I don't want anthropologists telling me how my father got here and how he worked, because he told me and that's good enough. So he worked for nothing for years and years and years. It wasn't indentured labour, he'd signed no papers, he was enslaved. But he was a good father. From what my brothers said later - you see there were eight in the family, there were four boys and then four girls - and from what my brothers said, he was terribly strict. You know, he'd give an order and it had to be carried out, there was no funny business. But he was honest.
Now, he was only 13 when he was taken from his home and yet he preserved the cultural traditions, even to the extent of having his own fireplace and his own food and so on. It was interesting don't you think, that they meant so much to him when he was so young when he came and that he knew what to do.
His background meant a lot to him. And of course he'd been working with men very much older than himself and in the barracks where they were housed or maybe in their thatch-roofed huts that they built for themselves on the cane plantations, they would maintain their culture to a certain extent. They would sing their own songs, there was no question about that and they, of course, they all planted the vegetables that they were accustomed to eating in the islands, so they would roast the taros and the yams and they'd make taro puddings, that kind of thing and this of course had a very deep impact on my father, young as he was, and so he just carried on with the tradition.
Who took him from the village and what was the ship like that he came across in? What was that story he used to tell?
Well, I can't remember the number of days it took, but it took a long time for the vessel to travel from Ambryn to Mackay. But the thing, but some of the things he told us were how rough the sea was and how ill they were and how some had died on the trip, and of course they would be thrown overboard. Many died on the way over, many. Many of the old men, who were older than my father and who would come to our place of a Sunday. [INTERRUPTION]
So, my father told us the stories of his trip and how rough it was. He didn't talk quite as much about life in the canefields except that they were forced to get up early in the morning. They were issued with flannels and nail boots, I think it was, and that was about all, and cane knives, and so, of course, he just grew up in the cane field as it was. But he talked a lot about ... [INTERRUPTION]
So, could you tell me a little bit of the story of how your father was actually taken from the island and what was the nature of the trade that promoted such activity of taking people from their villages and how that was all organised?
The first person to send vessels into the Pacific was a person by the name of Ben Boyd, a rogue if ever there was one, and he was financed by the Bank of England to come out and get businesses going here in Australia. Around about 1840, the late 1840s, the first vessel that had kidnapped the people and brought them into Australia actually came into Sydney because Boyd wanted people to work on his sheep stations. And already the Riverina was being established and he had sheep there. So the first group of people who were brought, were brought as shepherds to work - if you please, people from Vanuatu, to work as shepherds, where the nights were bitterly cold. But most of those people died and then he began, Boyd began, to bring people for his whaling industry on the South Coast. That was at the beginning of the slave trade. So later of course, other people got ideas, and one by the name of Robert Towns, after whom Townsville is named in North Queensland. Now Towns got into the business in a very big way and at one stage it is said that he had over 30 vessels raiding the islands for men. [INTERRUPTION]
So, was it one of Town's ships do you think that brought your father? And how did the raids, how did they organise the raids? How did they induce the people to come or did they just force them?
The people were enticed to go out to the vessels because the crew would have trinkets of different kinds and when they would swim out to the vessels they would then be lassoed and pulled on board. But in actual fact, many were taken on board, they went up because they were curious. They had never seen white people, they had not seen a vessel, so I can understand that they'd go aboard to have a look around; then of course, they'd be pushed down into the hull and the lid would be closed. And you know, I heard these old men talking when I was so young, about their experiences and how it was for them, and some had been kidnapped from different islands, because some of the Micronesian islands were practically wiped out, and there were 60 000 in all who were brought. But I believe that was 60 000 men - I doubt if they counted children like my father - but they were put to work in the canefields. It was a vigorous trade and most of them were sold for the sum of £7/10/00, the equivalent of £7/10/00 - at first, of course they were sold in sovereigns or bought in sovereigns, but it was a very cruel trade. Some of the vessels were designed on the same design as the vessels that kidnapped the people from the African states, to be taken to what became the United States of America. So it was a vigorous slave trade.
And those that died on the ship, what did they die of?
Well, many were extremely seasick. I can always remember my father telling me how seasick he was because the boats would rock, you know, out on the ocean. But I would think they were fed very poorly and that would contribute to their illness no doubt. But when they were actually working on the canefields, many, many died and they were buried in common graves, at times. Sometimes they'd pick up the dead at the end of the day and they'd have to dig a big grave so they could get them all into it. And many died of pneumonia and pleurisy and to some extent malnutrition because at first the rations were very poor. And there was actually a Royal Commission held into the condition of the islanders at one stage, because it was believed that they were being underfed.
What put a stop to this whole trade?
The trade came to an end because there was an outcry from the anti-slavery movement in Britain. It began because of the American Civil War and the end of the slave trade there. And then Britain, of course, needed new markets for cotton and those who came first, certainly those that were brought by Ben Boyd were brought to be shepherds, but Robert Towns was in the cotton industry before the sugar cane, so he brought his first lot to work on the cotton because Britain was looking for a cotton market.
So your father came and worked as a slave in the canefields. When did that stop? How long did he work there and what brought an end to that period of his life?
Well, first of all there was the public outcry by the Anti-slavery Society and Australian people were also beginning to hop up and down and object to it. Not in a big way because not awfully many knew about it in the south and communications were poor then. But the trade stopped at the turn of the century and deportation then took place. Mainly, it was stopped because of public outcry. It would not have been stopped otherwise and then deportation took place and the people were rounded up to be sent back. Now my father wasn't sent back, because by then he'd married my mother and had a family and those who were married were permitted to stay.
So he married your mother while he was still working in the canefields?
No, no, no. He'd escaped and he'd left the north and had come down to the Tweed when deportation began to take place.
Now, could you tell me about the escape, why he did it and how he did it?
Oh well. I can only tell you the story of his escape as he told us and that is, he actually set off with his brother and his brother's partner whose name was Kate, a woman who I became very close to later, Aunt Kate, and they walked on and off from Mackay to Brisbane, only walking at night, so they couldn't be seen and hiding during the day. My father got a job, believe it or not, in Brisbane, as a house boy. He was a man by then, well and truly and he worked for a woman there, who taught him to read and to write and he took care of her and he looked after her and did her cooking and did her laundry.
Did she know that he was an escaped slave?
I don't know. I don't know if she knew he had escaped but he suited her. And then later he'd heard about other island people who had gone on to the north coast of New South Wales and started market gardens, so he thought he would do the same thing. But he really wasn't a gardener like my brothers, who all became good gardeners. He got a farm going, he didn't like the idea of going around knocking on doors, selling fruit and vegetables, so he got a banana farm going. Right up in the hills on the north coast of New South Wales.
And how did your parents meet each other?
How did my parents meet? To tell you the truth I wouldn't have a clue. But you see, island, all people who were other than white, did get together. They got together in churches, many were tongue-in-cheek, but it was a good place to assemble. You know, my father went into the ... there was a church built in his honour, by the people of island descent or islanders who had settled on Terranora Heights, a beautiful place and he'd go into the pulpit on Sunday and take the service but you know, I don't know if he really believed there was anything up there. I don't think so. I'm almost sure he didn't. It didn't rub off onto us.
So, it was really more a community and social thing, the church?
Yes, I think so. I recall as a child how we were all hustled into the sulkies, carts, it was a great gathering place. People would go from Tweed Heads, Coodgin, Burringbar, Murwillumbah, and they'd assemble on a Sunday at church there. It is a little bit vague to me, I'm very dependent on what my brothers and sisters have told me, but I vaguely remember the church.
Your mother was part-Scottish, part-Indian. Your father, being a South Sea Islander in Queensland at that time and probably also on the north coast of New South Wales, these people who were often called, in a derogatory way, Kanakas, Kanaks, were not looked up to in any way in fact they were often discriminated against. Do you think that it was quite an independent act of your mother to have married your father?
No, I don't really. I think she just liked him. You know he was six foot plus, straight as a telephone pole, a very good looker and I think my mother just fell in love with him. I really and truly do. Gosh when I get talking about my mob I can't stop, because it's all so rich. I look at the lives of so many people today and I think how empty they are compared with my life and even my life as a child and you know, it's difficult to talk about my father because there was just so much there. Like Sunday at our place. Sunday at our place was a great day and it was a perfect day of rest and I, to this day, am a great believer in a rest day and whether it's Saturday or Wednesday or Sunday or Tuesday, it doesn't matter. I think that all shops should close, people ought not to play sport and that we should have one quiet day in the week, play beautiful music. Well, my father absolutely insisted that Sunday should be a perfect rest day, absolutely. And we couldn't pick up a pair of scissors on a Sunday, or whatever. And yet many of the old men came to our place for their haircuts, so we'd have to wait until the evening before they'd get their haircut from my father. But Sundays were good days but they were ... and I think of it now and I remember how all of these men came to our place for Sunday dinner and there would be half a dozen or a dozen chooks cooked and roasted yams and the whole works. And my mother would make two plum puddings and they would be immense, like this, huge things in a cloth with masses of fruit and a dozen eggs in each. And whoever came would be welcomed and we'd all eat outside under the trees and these men would talk about their islands and they would talk in their own language. And there were the men from Malekula and Tanna and Ambrym, all the islands that make up Vanuatu and there they would be sitting there at our place, reminiscing, reminiscing in pidgin-English most of the time. And I think back now and I think how good those days were. We were poor but everyone around us was poor. The Irish farmers were poor and we bartered with the Irish farmers. We gave them fruit and vegetables and they would give us, like preserved fruits and there was one farmer, whose wife made tomato sauce, so we'd have homemade tomato sauce, and this kind of thing went on.
How many children in the family?
Eight, there were eight in our family. And we were all brought up to be very independent, extremely independent. And I recall my brothers being awfully good to my mother, when my father died. This independence has brushed off onto my daughter of course. I always think of my mother as a good feminist. You know, no one got out of the housework. My brothers did the ironing, my sisters did the laundry, my brothers did the cooking and we had to wash up. There was no fuss about it, it was just taken for granted. I recall my eldest brother who is quite a number of years older than me taking a partner, and they were partners for well over 30 years, and she never knew what it was to do the laundry, to iron a shirt, hardly ever cooked a meal, and my brother did all the shopping.
Where did you come in the family?
Second last, I am. It was the best part, I think.
Have any of the other members of the family taken up a public role in life the way you have?
I had a brother whose name was Walter. Walter Mussing. And he played A-grade for St. George and it was wonderful to go to a game and see him play, absolutely wonderful. You know he'd pick up the ball in his huge hands and no one could get it from him and he wouldn't run, he'd bolt from one end of the field to the other and his teammates called him, Wanooka, after the racehorse and when he played he was very famous, very famous indeed. Died a few years ago, three years ago. Beautiful person, great footballer.
I don't know.
Oh, I always had a yen for bright lights. I always thought about going to concerts in the Town Hall. I never ever believed I would, when I was a very small child, I would read about them, and when I actually had the opportunity to do that, it was wonderful. I met my husband at a concert in the Town Hall, changed my life.
When I came to Sydney? Oh it's so long I can't remember. I'm just so old now.
No, I think I was more than that. I was old enough to join the Women's Land Army and ...
So, you decided, at a point of your life on the North Coast, you decided that you needed to move to Sydney to make a life of your own?
I wanted to have a life of my own and it would never have developed, living in a country town in New South Wales. There is nothing more certain than that. You see, the island people were not segregated as the Aboriginal people were and we had the right to vote. We didn't exactly have, or my brothers didn't have the right to work because they were banned from joining unions, the AWU, but so were the Aboriginal people. But the Aboriginal people where I grew up lived way out of the town - it wasn't a government-controlled reserve - but they lived all together, but I'm sure that was for protection for each other. We didn't live like that. We lived more among the Irish settlers and the local farmers and we developed great friendships with those farmers. We kind of looked after each other.
Did you have anything to do with the Aboriginal people at that time?
I know that we had nothing whatsoever, no friendship at all with Aboriginal children and they didn't go to school. They were just there with their parents. There was no relationship between us and the Aboriginal people at all. One never saw Aborigines in the township at all. It was very different for the descendants of the islanders. The Aborigines of course were treated very cruelly by the white people in the town, in the country towns, even to this day they are still racists. It is very deeply imbedded.
Did you experience any racial discrimination yourself?
Well, I didn't really experience racial discrimination, but I think that had an awful lot to do with my mother. You know, she was a very proud woman, she would walk down the streets of Murwillumbah and I have told this story before, but if the businessmen didn't doff their hats she wouldn't respond to their greeting. And you know she kind of ...
... set a standard. She set a standard for us
When you were growing up on the north coast of New South Wales, was your family discriminated against at all because of your colour?
I'm sure my family was discriminated against because we were black, I have no doubt at all. But the discrimination never emerged, we were always very involved in different local activities and I have grown up anyhow always feeling quite comfortable wherever I am. And if someone who is white has a problem with my blackness then that it is their problem, it's not mine and they have to deal with that. And I guess that's how I have grown. I'm sure that people discriminated against us.
What was your family's relationship with the township?
My family had a good relationship with the township. There is no doubt about it. We had a splendid relationship. People knew us and we knew them and it was hard, during the latter years of the Depression, which are very vivid in my mind. It was terribly hard, because no-one was working and one of my brothers continued to work and he actually was feeding the household. But it was a time when I think the family came closer to the poor whites, because I can recall the whites coming to our place for their supply of fruit and ... well not vegetables so much, but particularly fruit and the fruit just grew. You know you'd throw a seed out of the window and the next morning it would be a tree. [INTERRUPTION]
So, could you describe the way common hardship drew the people of the town together, the poor whites and the ...
I believe my family and other island families as well came very close with a lot of the white families who were suffering as we were in the latter years of the Depression. I truly do. And, like we had a wonderful orchard of all kinds of fruit and vegetables, more so fruit and though the poor white families, who were really battling, had lost their jobs, the working-class whites found their way to our place often. And they would come and sit under the trees and perhaps eat the persimmons or the mangoes or some of my mother's mulberry pie. I recall those days. The roads were filled with young white males who had left, walked from Melbourne to Sydney and from Sydney to the north coast and they had nothing, absolutely nothing. And they - I think they told each other about our place, because often two would come and my mother would give them a piece of damper or bread if she had it and they would cut her some wood but one thing she used to say is, 'You know, they should be eating fruit', and sometimes she would give them a knife and a spoon and tell them the pineapples were ready, they could cut the top off a pineapple and scoop it out with a spoon and eat them and they often did that. But she always said to us, 'Make sure they don't take the spoon and the knife', and so we would hang around you see till they'd go. So we had very strong links with whites, very strong. So much so, if I might say this, that today I never think of myself as being black or white or brindle or whatever. I think of myself just as a human being.
Your mother had her methods of maintaining her dignity within the township and insisting on certain standards of greetings which you have described to us, what about your father? Did your father similarly have a certain standing in the town that he insisted on being maintained?
My father demanded respect, he really did you know. I can only tell you what my brothers have passed on to me. They worked with my father and they were very close to him. And I shall tell you this story. My father was very comfortable on the north coast of New South Wales because his brother had settled there. His brother was my uncle, Uncle Charlie, and the story that is very vivid in my mind regarding my father's battle for his dignity is that he and his brother, my Uncle Charles, went into town with the sulky for the weekend or the week's supply, usually of flour because flour was bought in large bags for us and also sugar and other things. And they were driving home and they had to drive past a cemetery and there was a young couple visiting, I suppose, their departed in the cemetery and the woman apparently had never seen blacks before so closely and she called out to her husband and says, 'Come quick, come quick, here are two black men coming'. And my father overheard this. So he pulled his beautiful horse to the roadside and he got out and he took his pants down and he turned his behind to this couple and said, 'Yes and lick my black arse'.
What did your mother think of this story?
Well, nothing was told to my mother for a long time, but my uncle had told the story to my Aunt Kate and Aunt Kate took this, because she had been enslaved on the canefields, she was used to this kind of thing, but my mother wasn't. And she was appalled, absolutely appalled.
So you were telling us about how you came down to Sydney. You came to Sydney when you were a young woman to make a life of your own and it was about this time that war broke out?
So, what did the war bring for you?
Well, the war brought to me a lot of sorrow. I hated the war. I was - I never got used to the idea of picking up the Sydney Morning Herald and reading off the deaths of so many hundreds. I never got used to that. But the war also brought ... in a way it divided my family because some of my brothers worked for ... helping the boats off the coast of North Queensland. They worked there. And one of my brothers joined the Army and died on the Burma Railway. So it brought a lot of sadness and I, at one stage, felt I should be doing something, so I joined the Land Army and I can tell you, that was an experience in itself. There were the bright days and the bright nights and the cheerful days but the work was heavy and the work was hard. [INTERRUPTION]
What did you do in the Land Army? What was the work like?
The work was hard in the Land Army, extremely hard. Perhaps I think of it being much harder now, because I find my own garden just so hard. I find it difficult. But of course I was young and physically strong, just so strong, I was. The work was hard. We were moved from one town to another to harvest the fruit or the vegetables or whatever it might be. We were paid poorly, less than the males who were working there or who were managing us. It was camp life with camp discipline. It didn't suit me one iota.
Rough and ready. The first camp I went into was in the town of Young to pick the cherries and the month was November, I think. It was so long ago, I've almost forgotten. But we were camped in the showground and we had a straw palliasse and that was it. And there were these ablution blocks and we were up early in the morning to harvest the cherries until late afternoon. You picked the cherries into huge clothes baskets. And it was tough living in a country showground pavillion. This huge pavillion and there we all just slept on a palliasse. Forget about privacy of any kind. There was nothing, absolutely nothing. We just got used to being naked in the presence of so many others. What did it matter? And one of the lovely things that happened there, I can recall ... there was often a concert given by some of the locals on a Saturday night. It was beautiful. They'd come out to the showground, give us a concert and the local farmers would have us for afternoon tea on Sunday with real scones and clotted cream. And I was shown great hospitality. [INTERRUPTION]
So there were some good times when you were in the Land Army. What were the good things you remember?
Well, there was good companionship. There were good people in the towns. They were good to us but we were good to them. And I suppose that is all I can say as far as good things are concerned. You know I can recall going away without leave to have a great weekend somewhere or other, in Sydney to see my brother play football or to go to the Army camp over at Kapooka, outside of Wagga or something like that and have a whale of a time. Of course one couldn't be kept locked up for doing these wicked things because you had to take the fruit off - they were in a hurry - so one knew when to strike. But I was moved around, together with my sister, from Young to the Riverina, to Bathurst. And there in Bathurst, we were camped in the great Stewart Castle, Mount Pleasant, and there we cut the asparagus for Edgells. I didn't cut an awful lot because the season was just ending as I got there, but I was put to work on picking tomatoes and harvesting cabbages by the millions and you worked from sunup to sundown. And it was hard work, it was extremely hard. I think the sad thing about the Land Army girls' part in the war [was] that there was never any acknowledgement afterwards. They weren't considered a force, they merely filled in while the men were away. When the men came back from their jobs, the women were forced to go find something else.
So, how was that explained, how long were you actually in the Land Army?
So when it came to an end, that had been your livelihood, such as it was. What were you given, some retraining or were you given the opportunity?
Nope. No-one was given anything after the war, at all - nothing, virtually nothing. I think one of the good things about spending those three years in camp with the other women was the friendships that had developed. And I have a couple, to this very day, to this very day, and shortly I am going off to London and I will look one friend up and we have been friends since then.
Did any of you think of getting together, as you did later in your life - you've become very good later in your life about forming movements to get what you wanted - did anybody think about getting together to make sure that the Land Army women got some recognition?
Not to get recognition, they got together as a club to have some social life and to be together and I think that has been very good. But I think that what happened ... we all, I became very involved after, in one thing or another, after the Land Army and there weren't any others exactly like me. So no-one did anything about any form of acknowledgement. Personally I don't think it's too late and if the present government has half a heart they ought to have a look at it.
Because you don't get service benefits or anything?
None whatsoever, no service benefits of any kind.
So then what happened to you? What happened next?
Well, you know - incidentally, I found being in uniform very hard to take during the Land Army days but we had to wear uniform and when we were on leave we were subject to all the disciplines that the Army was subject to. I guess we broke out more often but nevertheless it was a tough life and discipline was there. So when the war was over, I came back to Sydney and I remember getting a job working in a shirt factory. It didn't worry me a bit. You know, I think there is a place for monotonous work. I remember the great dancer, Margaret Barr, a great friend of ours. Margaret actually helped Hans and I to build a house that we lived in and she only died last year or the year before. But Margaret did charring for women up here and she said, 'I have to, I work my dances out, I create my dances when I'm charring'. So there is a place for it.
So you worked in a shirt factory?
Yes, and then I worked, I served a short apprenticeship making clothes, making dresses and well, after that I became rather politically involved in what was happening in the world and ...
Was it about this time that you met Hans?
Yes, he changed my life. I can't think about that area awful much, because he just changed my life, this man. He really did.
Well, you know, I mean, I didn't have an awful lot of lovers in my life, I can think of two who were really very beautiful, but when Hans came, I thought this was absolutely wonderful and ...
I don't know. I really don't know what he saw in me. I think he saw a rather wayward woman. He certainly saw a very independent person. It was about this time that I got involved with the Margaret Walker dance group. She had created a lovely dance that revealed the discrimination against Aboriginal people and then she took that, she made up her mind to take that dance to a festival in Berlin. So I went off to Europe, as a dancer, would you believe. It's crazy isn't it. [INTERRUPTION]
Music has always played a big part in your life. Tell me about your love of music and where it began and how it developed when you came to Sydney as a young woman.
Well, there was always singing in the house that I grew up in and the boys played mouth organs and my mother sang and she used to dance when she'd sing, in the kitchen, around the table. Well I just loved music.
What music did you hear in your house as you grew up?
Well, we only ever heard classical music. There was - my mother wouldn't have anything else around the place. Mind you, all the Robeson records were bought and Tauber and Crook and Melba and so on. So, you know, it rubbed off very strongly onto me and I came to Sydney and I met a woman by the name - a man and a woman by the name of Paul and Bobbie Williams. She is Norma Reid, the pianist today. Paul came from Vienna and he was a singing teacher and I'd been singing around the place a bit, not knowing awfully much about it, but I wanted to understand what singing was about. I wanted to learn to have the physical experience, so that I would be able to appreciate, perhaps, the recitals more when they brought a singer out. So I went to Paul and he gave me lessons. He was a great musician. And he taught me German and no lieder was sung in English - unheard of. And I loved those lessons in Potts Point, or at the Cross really in Tusculum Street in the Cross. And they were wonderful occasions. So Paul ... and I went to Paul regularly and I wasn't a good student, because I didn't practise. I just wanted to know what the voice could do and how the voice functioned. And so this went on for quite some years and it was at this stage, of course, that I met Hans.
And he shared your love of music?
Yes, but in a different way. Hans is a listener but he grew up in Vienna and after school he'd pay an Austrian schilling to go and stand in the Opera House to hear an opera. And he was there until his student days, until the Nazis went in, in '38, and then of course the SS called and arrested him and took him to the Dachau Concentration Camp, where he was for, I think, 9 or 12 months. And he had an aunt who managed to bribe the SS and get him out. And from Vienna he went very quickly to London and then he came to Australia. But of course that's his story and it's sad and terrible but really it has its joys also. But I met Hans in 1951 and I met him at a concert. You see I was subscribing to the concerts and he was also subscribing, and I changed my seat and somehow or other I was sitting near this nice bloke and someone introduced us at interval. But he was about to go to Tasmania and I was about to go to Berlin, so we said we would see each other possibly, sometime, maybe in the dim, dark future. There were no affairs then, you know. We were just nice friends and so I went off to Europe and I went actually through Western Europe as well as Eastern Europe and I went to see the Dachau Concentration Camp. And I saw Europe, five or six years after the war and it had a very deep impact on my life. I couldn't believe as I walked around Berlin or Warsaw, Budapest, I may well be walking over so many bodies buried beneath the rubble; terrible, just dreadful. Anyhow I came home and Hans came back from Tasmania and in 1952 we got married.
What was he like? He was lovely, he was. He had been living as a bachelor at North Sydney and I was living at Balmain at the time. And when we got married I moved to North Sydney and North Sydney was lovely then, it was a village. It's so ugly now, but it really was lovely. And we knew everyone, everyone knew us. It was marvellous. I had my daughter while we lived there and she had her first two years in North Sydney. When she would cry, Hans would put her in the pram and walk her around the streets to see the butcher and the corner shop.
You had a lot of interests in common with Hans too, or did he bring some of the those interests to you that you hadn't had before?
No, I truly believe that Hans and I had common interests. Like we both enjoyed the concerts and we do to this very day. This season we have changed from Saturday to Thursday after all those years. Well, we had that in common. And we had similar politics, there was no question about that. And we were very, very outspoken about our beliefs, our political beliefs.
Now you'd had this experience of going to Europe and the impact of post-war ... [INTERRUPTION]
Your trip to Europe had had a tremendous impact on you and really changed your life and your view of the world. Could you tell me a little bit about that and how that had happened?
My trip to Europe had a tremendous impact on my life. I can recall first going by boat from here, from Sydney to Naples in this huge delegation of people who were going to a cultural festival, and more strange a combination of people I have never been involved with since. There were dedicated Christians, there were dedicated communists, there were quite a number of people from the trade union movement and there were dancers and there were singers and it was wonderful, absolutely wonderful. And we were on this boat together for nearly five weeks from Sydney to Naples. And I guess what struck me - I remember being in the streets in Naples and seeing the bullet marks in the walls and I'd never seen such before - and going through Europe, going through Italy, where Italy was a very poor country. They were experiencing the Marshall Plan and Italians were eating spaghetti out of tins. And I recall going, having to be hidden from the Italian Police because we were going to go to a place behind the Iron Curtain, and that was East Berlin. And being taken to a mountain outside of Genoa, called Cogaletto, high mountain in the bush, in the mountains and we were all taken up there and put into tents and we were half hidden there. And there was very little to eat, very, very little to eat and I know that the Italian people who were taking care of us, went without, in order for us to eat. And then one day news came through, saying that this dance group had to get to Berlin even if no-one else got through. This was in the midst of the Cold War. And so, I recall, Margaret Walker saying, 'Well, Faith, we have to go ahead'. And I said well, that was okay. Well we were taken down from the mountains and we were put on a train to go from Genoa to Milano, and we changed from there, for another train to go to Zurich and this was all very new to me. I thought it was absolutely wonderful to see these places. But the marks of the war were deep and people were poor and people were hungry. So in Genoa they said to us, 'Now we are going to put you very quickly onto a plane and you will go to Vienna and from Vienna you will go by train to Berlin'. So we danced our way through. No sooner would we stop for a night and Margaret would get her piano accordion out and get us rehearsing. So we went over to Vienna and it was not the Vienna I envisaged. I recall the West Bahnhof being badly bombed and the Opera House but once again we were taken out of the city and camped outside, where the young Austrian people took care of us. And one day they said to us, 'Well now you're getting on the train, you're going to Berlin', and I can't remember how long that lasted but it lasted an awful long time and the train moved along at about 5 kilometres an hour, sometimes 10 maybe. Every now and again, we'd get off to go and get a drink of water. And this was Europe after the war. There was nothing. It was flat, absolutely flat. I think of it now and I often wish to God that these people who are so enthusiastic about getting into the Army and the Forces of any kind would do well to see what happened after the last war in Europe. And I went into this, what was once a great city of the world and there was hardly a thing standing and the Humboldt University was there but badly bombed and we were housed there and we were fed there but we were very aware that as we ate, others were going without. And so, you know, then one day, someone came along, I can't remember who, but said, 'Would you like to go to Bulgaria?' Bulgaria, I'd only ever read of Bulgaria, and so I said, 'Yes, of course'. So Margaret's group divided up and I went with three of the dancers by slow train from Berlin through to Bulgaria and there was nothing standing. I saw the ravages of war - it was terrible, dreadful. And I arrived, the three of us - there were about five of us - and we arrived in Sophia and we were met at the station by thousands, it seemed to me, of people who were sort of welcoming us. And one day someone said, 'We'd like you to go and see some of the children's kindergartens'. Child-minding centres, I think they were because the women were going back to work. And so I was taken out, right through Bulgaria it seemed, to the Valley of Roses. But there were these old castles that were once, of course the property of the wealthy people, and they had been converted into kindergartens, schools, and child-minding centres and I went into one and they said to me, and I said to them, 'Where are the parents?'. And they said, 'Well, the parents were killed by the Nazis and they cut their heads off and they put them on sticks. This is what they did to the men and then they made the women go along and identify them and here are their children. Because this is what war is about.
You must have been one of the very few Western people at that time who travelled through Eastern Europe?
Well, I was not supposed to go, as far as the Menzies Government was concerned. We were in the midst of McCarthyism. It's hard to describe to the younger generations how we suffered during that time. People with independent thoughts, people with politics that the government didn't agree with. You didn't have to hold a ticket to the Labor Party or a ticket to the Communist Party to be persecuted and that's what the people of today in Australia ought to remember.
But, hang on, weren't you part of an official cultural delegation?
No, it wasn't official. They just got themselves together in spite of the restrictions on movement in the country. [INTERRUPTION]
So Faith, you travelled to Eastern Europe with this cultural delegation without really the permission or approval of the government at a time when travelling to Eastern Europe was really frowned upon by the Australian Government. Were there any consequences for you of that?
The consequences of doing what I should not have done, gone to Eastern Europe, were I think quite serious. Those days, one got a passport and in that passport there were listed 10 countries for which it would not be valid and it included the whole Eastern Block plus Korea and Vietnam. But not to be deterred, I mean if you are in Berlin and you've never been to Europe and they said, 'Would you like to go down to Bulgaria?', you'd be crazy to say 'no'. So I went to Bulgaria and I was in Czechoslovakia for a while. It was sad, it was dreadful, it was depressing and I was away for about eight months or more. And after I went through the East, a couple of Australian friends of mine said, 'Would you like to go through the West now?'. They had just bought a car and that was really something because so few people owned cars then, and they had just bought a car in England and I said, 'I'd just love to, no trouble'. And so it was very cheap to live in England then, so we packed the boot with cheap food, you know tinned stuff and things like that and we set off for another, I think about six weeks, travelling during the day and camping by the roadside at night or in a youth hostel, but mainly by the roadside in some field of corn or whatever it might be and often sharing our meal, particularly in Italy, with the Italian farmers and they had so little. I recall on one occasion we camped outside of Verona and we were just making bed by the side of the road and the farmer came down and said, 'Oh come up and share, you know, come to my kitchen and share'. We went up to his house and he gave us shelter that night and most of the time we were just sleeping under the stars. But they had soup with a bone and that was it, that evening, and we shared our food.
How did you get into the countries of Eastern Europe without a passport? Why did they let you in?
Oh well, all the European countries were participating in the festival and so all gates were down. We just went through, no problem.
So what were the consequences for you in Australia for having gone through?
Well, I was in Europe until February, I think, the following year. I left in June here and well, I got on the boat to come home with my colleagues and when we got into Fremantle - you know you line up to have your passport stamped - and when they stamped ours, we were in a queue, we were altogether, they stamped it and tossed it over their back into a box and we didn't see them again.
You mean you lost your passport?
So our passports were confiscated for going into the Eastern European countries and such was freedom during the Cold War.
So what would have happened if you wanted to go somewhere that you needed your passport for?
Well, we couldn't get one, because we'd used the passport for countries that it was invalid for. [INTERRUPTION]
How long did you lose your passport for?
Well I didn't apply for my passport for about 10 years after that, but that was because I didn't have an opportunity to travel again. But I really don't know how long it would have taken before that particular rule was lessened. But you see in that delegation there were people of all political beliefs and religious beliefs. There was a big representation from the churches, the trade unions; but regardless, their passports were confiscated, they were just taken away and we were deprived of the right to move out of the country, in actual fact, and they were hard times. Apart from the fact that we'd just come through a war, a hot war, we were then moved into the cold war. None of this surprised me because I knew that great people in the world were suffering as a result of McCarthyism. And there was Paul Robeson, who was really imprisoned in Harlem, without a passport for a long time and the author Cedric Belfridge, and they were people who were called up before the Un-American Committee as you know and deprived of the right to travel. And it was the same here. And Australia was very fast becoming a little America.
Oh, I'm sure they were, they probably still are. I'm sure they were. I can recall when Hans and I were first married for instance, Hans was already building a house and that was the first house we lived in at Frenchs Forest and finally we moved into the house and the agent, who was the agent for the apartment we were living in in North Sydney came and told us one day. They said, 'Mrs Bandler, after you moved away from here, we had a visit from ASIO and they said, "Could you tell us where the Bandlers have gone?"'. And I don't know whether he did or not but he didn't know anyhow. But of course ASIO was interested in me and interested, I'm sure, in a million other Australians. Horrible little snoopers that they are.
Now specifically they were interested in you because you had been in a communist country along with all these other people ... but then there were also other activities which might have drawn their attention to you?
Oh yes, Of course, I'm sure.
... but then there were also other activities which might have drawn their attention to you?
Well I was very involved in the New South Wales Peace Council. Now you know these days - for the last 20 years or so - the streets can virtually fill with people who are prepared to take to the streets in the cause of a lasting peace, hopefully. You didn't do it then: you went into the streets then and you'd probably lose your job the next day or the next week. Many people lost their jobs during the Cold War period. I was very involved in the New South Wales Peace Council and you know, I began going around speaking at meetings, telling people what I had actually seen in Europe and what the war had, how devastating it was. Because Australians were far removed really from what was going on in Europe, even after the declaration of war. So you didn't talk about peace, you didn't even mention that word.
Hans was involved in the peace movement as well.
Yes he was, that's his story of course, that's Hans' story,and he paid very dearly for it.
Well he lost a job, two in fact. So, many people like Hans lost their job, particularly in the professions. I was going to say I did a little campaigning in the last elections and I wondered, I'm old now, and I swore a few years ago, I'd never get up again and campaign for anything, I'd had more than enough in my life, and I really made up my mind to enjoy my old age. But I found myself involved in the last elections because I had a terrible fear that we could return to a Cold War if the Labor Government was not returned. And that's what got me up. Really, I mean talking about this stirs the emotions in me, it really does, because Australians have suffered very much at the hands of the Americans, I might say at the hands of the Americans. And you know the sad and terrible thing about it today is that Australians are now thinking like the Americans. You know, money, sex and food - and there is very little in between.
People in your circle at the time, were they conscious of the fact that they might be under surveillance? Did people get concerned about it?
Oh we all were, oh goodness yes, we all were. We all knew our phones were tapped. Like, we had a telephone and not very many people had a telephones in the '50s and we had a telephone. But if I wanted to call someone in particular and talk about a peace movement thing being organised here or there or wherever, I wouldn't use our telephone, I'd go to the North Sydney Post Office and ring up. So, you know, they were tough days.
Who were some of the people that were involved with you at the time? You were a great friend of Jessie Street weren't you? Was she involved in the peace movement at the time or did you connect with her at another time?
Jessie actually involved me in the peace movement and I think it's sad today that Jessie is remembered as only a feminist. Jessie was more than a feminist, Jessie was one of the world's greatest fighters for peace and she belonged to the world, she didn't belong to Australia only. And I was down in Melbourne and I travelled back on the same plane as Jessie and when we arrived at the airport, I think we were waiting for her luggage or whatever it was, she came up and she said to me, 'We have to do something about the Aborigines. We've got to do something to lift them out of their misery'. But she was instrumental in getting a very vigorous peace movement going in Australia. It was she who made me fully aware how dangerous it was for the world to rearm.
So Jessie Street got you involved in the peace movement and then, subsequently, was that her suggestion? Was that what got you involved in the great, great cause of your life which was the movement for change for Aborigines?
Yes, I guess. But before I actually met Jessie, there was an Aboriginal woman by the name of Pearl Gibbs and she tried to get me involved in an Aboriginal movement. She said [we need] a good movement, you know, one that isn't controlled by people outside, one that we create. But Pearl tried to sell me this idea before I went to Europe and I had my heart set on getting to Europe and dancing around the place. So it didn't have much of an impact, her request to me. But when she came back and Jessie had talked to me about this matter of human rights for all people, I began to listen a little more carefully to Pearl, although still reluctant to get involved in anyone but myself, I suppose. I mean it was all right for me. Yes I guess it was those two women that got me moving and so organisations were formed, not to issue charity but to change government legislation, and that was important and mainly because of the ideas from these two people. There were others as well who had good ideas as to what should be done but you know, ideas are one thing, action is another.
Now it was the action that was so extraordinarily successful. I wonder if you could tell us what it was about that Movement for the Advancement of Aborigines that actually produced the really quite remarkable results that it did. What was it about the way that it was organised, the action that you took and the strategies that you adopted that you think made it so successful?
The success of the organisation that I was involved in for Aboriginal rights rested on the fact that no person involved was there for his or her own interest. And that was the strength of the organisation. No-one was looking at the thing to carve a career for themselves out of it . The first organisation I was involved in to change government legislation was a state organisation called the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship and this woman, Pearl Gibbs, she and I founded it jointly, in a house, believe it or not in the house of two poets, Marge and Muir Holburn, down at Kirribilli. But in that room were some really famous people, wonderful people - Helen Palmer - and there were only about 9 or 10 or us but it was Pearl's strength that got the thing going and kept it moving. And we were a mixed bunch it's true because we actually had people from the Liberal Party, people from the Labor Party, the Communist Party, from the churches, just a scattering, there weren't many of us but people somehow or other left their politics on the doormat and their Christian beliefs or whatever, and it was this tiny group that brought about major changes in the State of New South Wales under Pearl's leadership. Pearl ... you see, the Aboriginal people in New South Wales were totally controlled by the government. They were locked away on reservations. When I say locked away, they couldn't move in and out without the permission of what was known as the Aboriginal Welfare Board. And Pearl's one ambition was to demolish that Board. She had sat on it and represented her people on it and on one occasion I can remember her saying, 'It's May Day, come and walk, come and march on May Day', and I said 'too right'. So she went down to the waterfront and got some of the wharfies to make a poster for her and it had a huge flame of fire and below was 'Burn The Board'. And she said, 'The Board should be destroyed because it controls my people's lives. And so this tiny little organisation worked towards that end and in 1969 we achieved it. We achieved it because of the dedication of the people in the group.
Now it was actually formed, the Movement, 10 years before, it took 10 years ...
No, no, that was the national body. Now the state body really did not continue for long after that because we had achieved that goal of abolishing the Board, in other words, giving the Aboriginal people freedom of movement and a few other things. Now they were under the control of the Board. If they didn't want to be under the control of the Board, they could buy themselves out for 10 shillings and get an Exemption Certificate. And I had a friend who said, 'Well you know, the publican wants to see the certificate before he gives you a grog, if you haven't got it, you don't get a grog, you don't get a beer and sometimes they splash it on the counter and it falls to pieces and then you have to go and pay another 10 shillings to get another one'. And this was a man who had served in the war, I might mention, an Aboriginal person. But to come back to the founding of the national body. The national body was known as the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and it was formed in 1957 in Adelaide and we sent an Aboriginal delegate over. You know, we had a few barbecues and raised a bit of money and got him on the train and he went off and that was the founding of the organisation that brought about the major changes in the Federal Constitution, the Referendum that changed the Constitution in 1967 and we worked for that Referendum from '57 to '67. And I remember, it might have been '65 or something like that, going over to Redfern, to a friend's place, Ken Brendel, and we were doing some posters for a demo, and I started talking about, you know, 'I can't do too much, I've got the Referendum', and Ken would say, 'Bugger the bloody Referendum, we want houses to live in, we want our kids to go to school'. And the immediate needs, of course, dominated the people's lives and I was talking about something airy-fairy as far as most of the Aboriginal people were concerned. They didn't have houses to live in. 'Referendum, look, don't give me that', Ken used to say, 'I don't want to hear about that, we're here, you can see us and we've got nothing, nothing, we're hounded by the cops', you know.
So how did you explain the connection between the Referendum and their problems?
I didn't explain the difference because I couldn't. I'd open my mouth about the Referendum, and they would tell me, 'Oh stop it Faith', you know, 'you just go on'. [INTERRUPTION]
What was significant about the Referendum to you, why did you feel that it mattered so much?
The Referendum was very important to me, it was more important than any other issue that had to do with the Aboriginal people. I was never one to get involved with charity and to this very day, I find it hard to accept that we have to have charities to solve our problems. But the Referendum, if I could tell you first that, prior to the Referendum, the Aboriginal people lived under six different laws. Each state had its own law, own set of governing laws of the people and if, say, New South Wales was pushed to build a few houses, or something like that, they would say, 'We haven't got the finance, only the Commonwealth has the finance'. Put a road in here or a road there, 'We haven't got the finance', they would say. And it was probably better in New South Wales than it was in any of the other states. Appalling in Western Australia for the Aboriginal people and not to mention Queensland. So it was Jessie Street's idea that all those state laws should be abolished once and for all and it was she who drafted the first petition for the Referendum. So very few people understood at the time why we were pushing for a Referendum, but it was mainly to get Federal resources available to solve the housing problem, the medical problem and so forth and so on. It had absolutely nothing to do, incidentally, with the right to vote, because by then, most of the states had the right to vote in Commonwealth elections [?] and I hear, it distresses me so, I hear younger Aboriginal people being interviewed on radio, talking at meetings, 'Well, the Referendum didn't mean much', they said, 'what did the right to vote mean for us'. It had nothing to do with the right to vote, nothing at all. It had to do with making Federal resources available and nothing else.
It also changed, didn't it, the fact that Aborigines were specifically excluded from being affected by general laws and rights that were generated by the Commonwealth for all Australian citizens. It brought Aborigines within the whole general picture of people living in Australia, so that there was a very important piece, an important section of the Constitution that had to be changed. Could you explain that to us?
Well, Section 51 of the Constitution had to be changed, [INTERRUPTION]
Why did there have to be a Referendum over it, why couldn't the Commonwealth decide to override the states?
Well, first of all to change a Constitution, whether it's a Federal Constitution or a State Constitution, it can only be changed by a Referendum. And here you had this tiny little group of people, who had nothing but dedication and a sense of justice - not a cracker, not a penny - challenged by this woman, Jessie Street, to change the Federal Constitution, if you please. But we had to change the Federal Constitution if we wanted the resources of the Federal Government and the rights that the government protected, the people's rights and we needed the state laws to be abolished for this reason, that they created such tremendous confusion. You could be a relatively free person, walking around Victoria and you come to New South Wales and you find you've got to go up to Bridge Street in Sydney to get permission if you can go and see your uncle and aunt, if you please. Then if you move over the border into Queensland, well the very fact that you go over the border into Queensland, you could be arrested without reason. So there was a great need to abolish those state laws and bring everyone under the Commonwealth Federal law. With, incidentally, the migrants who had come recently, who had all the protection and privileges of the Federal law. So that is the main reason why it was important to have a Referendum, we had to change the Federal Constitution. Certainly the people were not counted in the census before then and they are now, but you know, the matter of health was a major problem, the matter of housing, and all of these serious issues are linked. Like, how can you send your kid to school if you haven't got electricity for them to do their homework by, if you haven't got a bed for them to sleep on. So they are linked. The need for housing, the need for education, the need for good health were all very, very important areas and we needed the money, we needed the financial resources to do it. The states didn't have it and that was the reason why we had the Referendum. But the campaign lasted for 10 years and it actually took our house over. There were three, four women in that campaign who as good as worked around the clock. Three of whom worked consistently, and it's a lesson today to the Aboriginals and the Islanders and the Torres Strait Islanders, these three women worked all those years together. One was a Torres Strait Islander, one was an Aboriginal person and myself and we worked in unity and in actual fact really loved each other; you know that affection is there to this day. But we showed something for our unity and therein lies a lesson for the young Blacks of today, I'm telling you - and that was Dulcie Flower and Kath Walker and myself. And Kath put in an immense amount of work into that Referendum. [INTERRUPTION]
It was three women who did it. How did you manage, how did you live? You had a little girl at the time, a child to look after, how did you organise all of this, how did you manage to do it all?
Well it was very difficult for the other two women who were involved. It wasn't so difficult for me because I had Hans and I could never have done it without him. I mean I just couldn't have, I couldn't. And Hans was a wonderful parent. My daughter was - well the Petition was already moving before she was born, but Hans was just a very good parent. I mean, things were shared automatically and we were very fortunate. We had a full-time person who was able to, if I was delayed, and seldom though it was, getting home before her after school, then this person would be there, so that was good. But if you say, how did we do it? I don't know how we did it, I really don't know. I was out having a drink one day with Fred Hollows and Fred had just returned from the North and he was so angry. He was talking, he had spoken to a group up there and he wanted them to get some sort of a little organisation going which would keep in touch with him, you see. And he said, 'Well what do you think, Faith, these bastards sat there and the first thing they started talking about - well how many four-wheel drives they should have'. Well, we didn't talk about four-wheel drives, the need for four-wheel drives, that would have been a great luxury. You know, we just thought it was great to have the use of a telephone. And how did I do it? Well sometimes it was cheaper for me to hop into a plane and go to Canberra and use our Senior Vice President's telephone in Parliament House, who was Gordon Bryant, and sit on the phone for a few days ringing around Australia at the government's expense. And that would have cost more if I had stayed home and did that telephoning. That's how we did it.
And how did you finance yourselves, generally?
We didn't have any money, we didn't need money. I try and tell people today that wonderful things, great results, great needs can come without money. And they look at me as though I'm silly. Young Blacks fronting up for high salaries. Unheard of it was for us. There was no money.
What was the main strategy that you used during this time as a group to get your - to get the public focused on this problem?
We used a Petition and the Petition brought people from many different walks of life forward and I guess it also brought people forward who often wondered what they could do anyhow. And true, it is said today by some of the young Blacks, 'Oh well, it eased the whites' conscience'. But even if it did, and I'm sure it did, and that's what the Petition probably did, the overwhelming result has just been wonderful, just been wonderful. But by circulating the Petition, it broke down the barriers that the states had erected as far as Aborigines were concerned, because the Petition went over the borders and brought the people together.
I detect a certain amount of distress in you, that it isn't always recognised what a big difference followed from that change, that change that occurred as a result of the Referendum. Do you feel that it isn't appreciated sufficiently by contemporary black people what was achieved by that?
I feel today that it isn't understood by contemporary black people. Because we now have a generation who has never known what it is to be locked away on a reservation, we have a generation who has not known what it is to be controlled by white administrators. But they should be told and they should read about it and know more about that area of their history because it turned the tide in no uncertain way, in no uncertain way. But it did more than that. I think the very fact that that Petition was presented in the House for 10 years, in the Federal Government's House for 10 years, every day the Parliament sat, someone would hop up with the Petition and as Menzies said, 'You people have made history, you even got me to present your Petition'.
And after he had confiscated my passport I might say. But well, every member of the House had presented it and he hadn't. So Gordon Bryant decided he'd ask him to. And he asked him to present it and he said, 'Yes I will'. So, you know, that is what a petition is about and people who go around peddling petitions today ought to see them through to the end. You don't leave a petition hanging in mid-air, you have to pursue it until you get the final result. The reason why you got the petition up.
So there was a great deal of determination in all of this.
Ah, you had the Executive of this Federal Council and I think there were about 13 or 14 of us, throughout the whole of Australia. Each state had a State Secretary. It functioned on nothing. If you had to get to an executive meeting in Canberra or Sydney, you had to find out how to pay your own fare. You had to sometimes pay for your own lunch or whatever it might be. It was an unbelievable dedication on the part of those people. And one person, one Aboriginal person, who was involved in that today works for the New South Wales Ombudsman and she told me one day when she got the job, 'It's a sort of recognition I suppose for what I have done in the past'. But nobody else was recognised, no-one else, we all went back to doing what we'd been doing before we got involved.
But after the Referendum and they had to set up Aboriginal organisations and departments and so on, were none of you applicants for the jobs that came up?
Oh no, they wouldn't have us, we were all too left, I'm sure. I looked at the blacks who went in on the first government organisation, which was the Council for Aboriginal Affairs or something like that, I've forgotten what it was called and they were people who wouldn't have touched the work we were doing with a 20 foot rod, you know. But they were respectable, they had good respectable politics.
So you didn't actually apply for any of the jobs because you thought you wouldn't get them?
I did actually apply for one, immediately after the Referendum in 1968, mainly because I was asked to. But you know, someone tapped me on the back and said, 'Don't be silly'. And certainly, I think that those of us who worked together in that group were people with independent thoughts, independent people. The white people were very special people. I think of the scientist from Melbourne, Shirley Andrews, the doctor from Melbourne, Barry Christophers, and they had other interests. They were, of course, concerned people, concerned that the indigenous people of this country were deprived of basic human rights, and so the white people who were involved in bringing about that change were very special people, very special people.
But Faith, you weren't an indigenous person either, were you?
No, but you see, I've told you, I got dragged into this by Jessie and Pearl and they were powerful women, strong women. And here was me, you know, young, pretty game. Well you know, when Jessie would put an idea to you, she would be convinced that you would accept that idea. And I had wonderful times with her during this period. I can remember she would come back from the United Nations in the midst of the Cold War and she rang me up one morning and she said, 'Come into town for lunch'. And we were in one of those beautiful old shops - you know, the Moccador and Repins - which was part of Sydney and we were in the Moccador, that was the one we always went to, and I had my daughter with me and she was about two at the time or something like that. And there was Jessie sitting there, she had all these marvellous ideas about what we should be doing about getting this Referendum and so forth. But before, when she sat down, the first thing she did was to run her hand under the table to make sure it wasn't bugged by ASIO.
(Frank Heimans - Director) Will you talk about your role in the Referendum to Robin?
Yes, I will. But I do remember her saying, looking at Lilon and saying, 'Now you must make sure she is always economically independent'. But my role in the Referendum was I think, a very positive role. When Jessie and Brian Fitzpatrick had drawn up the Petition, Jessie actually placed that in my hands and said, 'There you are, now go and get yourself a Referendum'. Well you know, it was my life for 10 years. I dreamed it, first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The telephone rang all day, the telephone rang all night. I spoke at numerous meetings from say, '63 until '67, to schools, to unions, to churches, Rotary clubs, APEX, business women, the universities and it was around the clock and it was a terrible, emotional drain. You know at night I would be absolutely exhausted and I guess our daughter was brought up as much during those years by Hans as she was by me, but always one or the other was certainly in the house.
The three women who were at the core of it, that you worked with. Did you bring very different qualities do you think to it? You and Kath ...
And Dulcie ...
... Dulcie, very different sorts of people, were you complementary to each other? [INTERRUPTION]
We three women worked together in different areas to some extent. Kath, Kath was so dedicated. Why? Because she understood what it was about. She knew and very, very few Aboriginal people knew what it was about. Nobody had time to explain, we were impatient, we had to get on with it. But Kath brought in a different element to the one that I took to the Executive table and Dulcie still another one, because Dulcie still hung to her Torres Strait Island culture; but I think what we had in common, that played a very important role, was that we were truly feminists. We had this feeling of a sense of equality also as we met with the men on the Executive. They may not have felt we had, but we had. You know, I'm sure that some might, as they did, put me in my place or try to and also with Kath, but it didn't work. We didn't know our place.
As a South Seas Islander you had the rights that you were fighting to give to the Aboriginal people and the people of the Torres Strait Islands. So you were a little different from the other two in your perspective of it because these were rights you already had. But at the end of the day with the results that came out of it in a material way for the Aboriginal people, did you ever feel that your own people were left, in a way deprived, even after you had done all that work? [INTERRUPTION]
I felt my people have been left deprived after the Referendum because after all, they were here under forced reallocation, a terrible thing to do to any people anyhow, but it's only the more recent years that I have been thinking about my own people and what they have missed out on. I was involved in the Referendum more because it had to do with basic human rights. And I had seen in Europe what had happened when the Jews were deprived of those rights and I was aware that the Aboriginal people were deprived of those rights here in Australia, because they were shut away. But I didn't think seriously about it, here, at first, but I was involved in the Referendum. Basically, it had to do with Human Rights. It was at a time when we had a lot of people adopting Australia as their country in the late '50s, the early '50s. And they were strangers, they couldn't speak the language, they didn't have skills applicable to the environment of this country but they had been given the right to vote and they would have the protection of the Federal Constitution. And the very people who owned the land were deprived of these things and I guess it had to do with the fact that I became very indignant. I became extremely indignant.
You also became an excellent speaker during this time, well-known and looked out for as a speaker. When you first began speaking in public, did you take to it like a duck to water or were you nervous?
I have never known what nervousness is. A little, certainly, but can I tell you this. That if you are really filled with fire to reach a goal, shall we say, the nervousness goes. You know you've got to win hearts and minds and it's a big job and you really haven't got time to get nervous. We won a lot of hearts and we won a lot of minds. I suppose the greatest obstacle of all has been the white bureaucrats who moved in very rapidly, who incidentally wouldn't know us for political reasons, who saw us, I think, as a pack of rabble running around the countryside talking about a Referendum. But some of those people moved into some very cushy seats once the money became available after the Referendum.
Do you think that overall, given that there has been criticism of the way in which Aboriginal Affairs have been administered and so on, do you think overall it's been much better off that Aborigines, in the material sense, in the sense of housing and all the things that you listed, are now better off than they were? [INTERRUPTION]
Oh, you can't compare the situation today for the indigenous Australians with that of the situation prior to 1967, you cannot. I know and I am aware that there are very, very deep pockets of deprivation, even in New South Wales, I'm aware of that. But if the funding doesn't penetrate to the right places or the places in need, only they themselves are to blame and that is different. I think it was the most wonderful thing that we had that Referendum. Nothing was done before or done after that created such a change and as many people have said, not only have the Aborigines lived, they've multiplied, because of the Referendum.
When did you start getting interested in the plight of your own people, of the South Seas Islanders?
I became interested in my own people when, after the Referendum, I discovered that some of them were fronting up as Torres Strait Islanders or as Aborigines in order to receive those benefits which flowed on as a result of the Referendum. And I was very saddened by that and I feared that they would lose their identity. They were in this country through no choice of their own and I was sure that they would eventually lose their own identity and I guess that disturbed me more than anything else. And it saddened me to see them move over to be something that in fact they were not. So in 1973, I think it was, I was up in the Richmond electorate and I went to a meeting that Gough Whitlam was speaking at, and there was so many fuzzy wuzzies there that you couldn't count them, because they're all Labor people you know. And Gough was speaking there and I had to get back to Sydney in a hurry, so I cadged a ride off him. And on the way back he came to the back of the plane and I was able to tell him, 'Look, they're all good Labor people in that room and you notice they're all my mob, they're all the descendants of the South Sea Islanders'. And Gough stiffened up and he said, 'Why don't you form an organisation, Faith?' and the next year we formed a National Council of Islanders. But it was, as I said, it was because I could see that they would become other than what they were, that got me involved. I don't want to be involved you know, now or ... and then, of course, there was the Royal Commission into Human Relationships, and together with a friend, I made submissions on behalf of the Island people and the findings were that they should receive all the benefits that the other two groups receive, except Land Rights of course. But then, there was a change of government, and of course, Gough was booted out and Fraser came in and the whole findings were shelved and nothing happened. Well, of course we started again, when Hawke was elected and was Prime Minister.
So does the organisation only include those who were brought here, like your father was, or does it include contemporary immigrants who come now from the South Seas?
That's a very important point. The organisation only includes those who are the descendants of those who were brought originally to work in the sugar industry. No-one else, because others really haven't got a claim to special benefits; but my people, I think, are a very special people, in many ways. They've got good stickability, they get a job and they hang on and they have survived against tremendous odds, tremendous odds. They are truly the forgotten people of this country. I have no doubt, whatsoever that that problem is going to be solved. I have no doubt. The Prime Minister assured me when I saw him for a cup of tea, that it's not a problem. There are only 15 or 16 000 of us and as he said to me, 'Faith, it's peanuts'.
So, what do you actually want for them? What is it exactly that you would like to achieve?
I would like to see them have assistance for, in the education area, for tertiary education, if they so choose but even to just stay at school now. I want to see them have decent houses to live in and also to have good health. They have those facilities that are available to the other two groups should be available to them. [INTERRUPTION]
Exactly what is it that you want to achieve for your people?
I want my people, the descendants of the South Sea Islanders to have access to those areas for help, to those areas of great need, for housing, for health, for education. They are so basic. I don't want to see them having to front up as a Torres Strait Islander in order to get those benefits, because I truly believe that the country owes the people those benefits.
Now, you have described yourself as a reluctant organiser, a reluctant person in causes and yet there have been a number of big causes in your life. There's been the cause of peace, there's been the cause of the Aborigines, you're involved in environmental causes, you're involved as a Republican. So for someone who's reluctant, you've been remarkably active. Can you explain that? [INTERRUPTION]
Well, I've always been a doer.
So when you say you're reluctant, you do it out of sheer necessity. These things must be done. Where does the reluctance come from?
Well, I want to get on with my writing. I think the most joyous hours and days and weeks of my life are those hours that I spend at my desk. And I'm writing a novel at present and I'm also touching on my autobiography, which, incidentally, you people are taking a lot of, but that's okay. So I'm reluctant for those reasons, that I want to get on with my writing more than I want to do anything else. I really do, I want to tell it as it was and at present, I am writing a novel and I have been writing it for the last two years, but all of these things have crept in and the only way I can get on with it is to go away from the house and I have done that on several occasions. But this is a very important novel to me because it has to do with this woman, my Aunt Kate, who was enslaved as a house girl on the canefields. So I have that reluctance because of the other side of me.
Why are you writing the novel about Aunt Kate?
Well, Aunt Kate played - she didn't play a big part in my life, but I used to watch her as a child. After a funeral the wakes would be at Aunt Kate's place and she'd cook these wonderful buns, all professionally done, the right touch, you know to cook buns with a shine - mine never have a shine. And she had a lovely little fuel stove and she used to bake the ducks to perfection. And she had a way of gathering people to her house and they'd come in droves and just sit down and be fed by Kate. And her clothes were so beautiful; beautiful tussore silk skirts and silk blouses and her kid lace-up boots. So I have to write about Kate. It's a wonderful story.
It must have been very hard for the women who were brought as slaves. I imagine they would have also often been abused by the people who took them.
Well indeed they were abused. Indeed they were. But many of those women survived. They were very strong. And black women are strong. You know they played a very positive role in the rights for blacks and they tend not to waiver. They go through with it, they see it through.
Do you think they might provide some of the hope for the future of the Aboriginal groups? I mean although the Referendum has brought big changes, there are still problems there. What do you see as the biggest problems facing the Aboriginal groups now, and the Aborigines as a whole community? And do you think women might have an important part to play in finding solutions now?
I can't really comment on the present-day situation for the Aboriginal people. I'm too far removed now and it's their world. I feel it's not my world. We have one commonality and that is that we are black, but we are miles apart and, if there are problems there the older women would be the women that could mend that. They're not in groups or organisations because they are ambitious for themselves. They are there because they want to see the right thing done. It's the same in the movement for the Island people, it's the women who carry it, always.
I feel like I need a better explanation of why the South Sea Islanders are so deprived. People don't understand they don't get the same benefits as the Aborigines - Austudy, Abstudy, that sort of thing.
So what claim do you feel that South Sea Islanders have for special consideration and what kind of consideration do you think they should be given?
In the first place, they have a claim because of their background and their forebears were brought here forcibly. If they had never been brought, then they would have had their own land and their own culture. So I think they have a very positive claim for some form of benefit. Now what happens is that, say for instance, not today so much, but previously, if a black person went into a hotel, say in North Queensland and they were refused service? That hotel proprietor would not ask them if they were an Aborigine or if they were an Islander. They were black and that was sufficient. And the very fact that they have suffered all of the racial discriminations that the Aborigines have had, places the Islanders in a very special category. They are perhaps the most deprived of all groups now in Australia and they have been deprived equally as much socially as the Torres Strait Islanders and the Aborigines. Sure they had the right to vote, but it didn't mean awfully much as far as a job was concerned.
At the moment they have the same benefits as all white citizens have of the country, but they don't have any of the special benefits relating to Aborigines. Would you like to see them get the same benefits as Aborigines.
Well they have the benefits. They can apply for pensions as all other Australians can, and there are Social Security benefits that go with it, but they need special assistance because they have been locked away since the middle of the last century, one generation after another, totally deprived of a fair deal. Simply because they are who they are. They don't happen to be white Australians or white migrants, so they need that help just as the other two groups have needed that particular help.
So, specifically, which piece of assistance do you want them to have access to?
Well I believe they should have assistance in the educational area, I think that's vital, so that the kids can stay at school, just stay at school. And I think that they have got to have, they ought to be able to qualify for special housing and they ought to have health facilities available because those are the most basic areas of all. And I'm sure that once they are given those extra concessions, they will become a very independent people, but they need the assistance, they need that to get a move on. [INTERRUPTION]
Faith, how was your father and people from his island at the time actually taken? How were they taken from the island? What was the story of that? [INTERRUPTION]
The taking of the people from the islands was called 'blackbirding' and blackbirding really means a very vicious form of capture or of kidnapping and so it was. At times the captors would entice the islanders out to the boats with various trinkets and so on but if the islanders who swam out became suspicious in any way they were hauled aboard. The captors would just throw the boat hooks out if necessary and bring them in that way or else they would lasso them and bring them in by the neck if necessary onto the boat. And once they got them onto the boat they would then put them down into the hull and pull the lid down, shut the lid down. It was anything than gentle, it was rough. I want to say though that there were some who came voluntarily, mainly because they wanted to know what was happening in this place, Queensland, not Australia. And it was - apart from a ruthlessness - there was also a tremendous determination because each man, not woman, cost so much or could bring so much, so the more they got the greater profit there would be in the trade for them.
How did they use the boat hooks, could you describe that?
Well, if a man swam very close and perhaps they thought they'd lose him or he couldn't make it aboard, they would just throw the heavy hooks that they used on the boat, down onto his neck, onto his arm or some part of his body and haul him up onto the boat. It was a method used that was quite foreign in many ways to even a slave trade. [INTERRUPTION]
So what was the effect in the village when all their men had disappeared?
The taking of the men had a very serious effect on the village. In the first place, they were the keepers of the traditions in the cultures and this was being drained very heavily, and also they didn't come back. They didn't go back to the village so there was - the whole exercise was surrounded with a mystique for the villagers. How come they went on the boats and they never came back? It is true that in later years, some did go back. Some even went back twice and they went back to Queensland and decided Queensland would be the shot. But the majority didn't and so there were children growing up without fathers, grandfathers; and the very important people in the total structure of the whole culture were no longer there. But the immediate effect was the mourning, the sorrow, because many had witnessed the cruelty that was exercised by the crew of the vessels and so there was great sorrow in the villagers. There was much mourning and loss.
Well the profiteers of this trade have over the years been very carefully camouflaged, held in the background, but of course mighty businesses, organisations, like CSI.
Who were the people who really profited from this trade?
Well there were some of the biggest companies in Australia and their whole foundation was based on the trade - CSR of course and Burns Philp - and Burns Philp remained in the trade for many years, many, many years. So the Islanders not only gave their labour but they also gave up their traditions, they gave up their land. They couldn't claim land once they got here and so in the building of these businesses for the Australian economy and development, tremendous sacrifice was made by the men who were brought to Queensland.
And back in the village, you actually went back later yourself didn't you, to visit Ambrym, the island that your father had come from? What did that visit mean to you? Could you tell us about it?
Well it was quite an experience for me to go and find my father's village. First of all, I had spent all those years of my life, working for the rights of Australian indigenous people and then in the early '70s, I thought, well enough is enough, I want to do something now that I've always wanted to do and that was in some way [to] record the story of the life of my father. And so I began first by talking to my brothers, who were so much older than me. And it was really going and seeing my eldest brother, who was living on the north coast of New South Wales, that I found for the first time the name of the village that my father came from and so I thought, well, this is not good enough, if I'm going to research it, I really have to do a decent job. Well, I remember Hans coming home one day from work and I said to him - we had just been to Kenya and you know, we hadn't quite recovered with jet lag when I got this idea that I should really find the village of Biap, which is the village of my father's. And Hans had been back at work for about a fortnight or something like that and when he came home, I said, 'Hans, how would you like to go to Vanuatu?' and he said, 'Yeah, sure, when?', so I said, 'Well, soon'. And so we set off. And that in itself was quite an emotional experience. I didn't think it would be. I thought it would be quite romantic; you know, I'd find the islanders and I'd go there and I'd tell them that I belonged to them and they belonged to me and I'd eat coconuts and bananas and all this sort of thing. But it wasn't like that at all. It just wasn't like that and I recall taking two other friends with Hans and we arrived in Vanuatu and just putting my feet on that soil was quite overwhelming - I can't describe it - just there in this touristy city. Anyhow we decided that the very next day we should look for the island of Ambrym and I had a rather inadequate map and very little more but we decided that we would go downtown and ask around, where is Ambrym and how does one get to Ambrym, because Ambrym hadn't then an airstrip.
Did you find the people who had been your father's immediate relatives?
It was interesting. After a couple of nights we were housed in the local clinic but we were told that if a woman was in labour then we'd have to go and sleep under the trees or somewhere. So we were in the clinic and each morning someone would be sitting outside with maybe a pair of roosters or some bag of yams or something like that and they would be claiming me, that I was their cousin's cousin or some link, some close link with one or another. But then finally they decided they had really found the right person who really was my brother. Well I said no it can't be. And the morning they brought him up - he was sort of ushered up as it were, with quite a lot of the women and children and he had, they had put beautiful flowers in his hair, frangipanis and hibiscus and so forth - and they had two pairs of roosters and they said to me, 'This really is your brother'. Well it wasn't of course, but it was, because he was in direct line with my father in the tree, as they said. And I found that, I can't tell you, it made me feel that - I had never felt that I belonged, quite as much as I belonged to this group of people.
So your father had only been 13 when he left. Was this man actually your cousin?
Well that's what they told [me]. They said he was my brother but when they took me to his village which was actually adjoining my father's village, they said there were conflicting reports, might be your cousin eh? Maybe not. They weren't quite sure, but they were awfully keen to make that link. But there were people in the village who had my father's name. And my daughter's name is Lilon, and one day I went out to record some singing from the young children and they gathered around and they were absolutely fascinated as I'd play the tape back to them, so they sang. Regrettably I must say, they were hymns in pidgin-English, some were, because they had been quite Christ-ridden for a long time. Anyhow, there was a little girl and she was looking down at me and I said, 'What is your name?'. And she said, 'Lilon'. And it's an island name.
Where had you got the name from when you named your daughter?
From a cousin, Lilon. But I knew that it was an Ambrymese name, so.
For the men that were taken away on the boat, like your father, the destination ultimately was the canefields. What were the circumstances on the canefields? Could you describe those for us, how did they work, how were they treated, were they whipped like slaves elsewhere, were they paid, what were the hours that they worked and did they have any opportunity to get away? [INTERRUPTION]
The life on the canefields was certainly very different to that on the islands. In the first place of course there was no need for regular hours and their life was controlled mainly, or they lived by the tides, the moon, the sun and the seasons. And [then] going into Queensland where they were forced to live in barracks, roughly constructed barracks with iron roofs or else they could, if they wanted to, and many did, build their own thatched huts, thatched-roofed huts. And it wasn't a free life anymore. They had to get up in the morning and they had to work all day from sunup to sundown and it was very, extremely hard. They were controlled by an overseer and if the overseer didn't have a whip, he'd have a gun which was very threatening. And the people of course, knew what guns were about, by the time they'd left the ships, because many had been fired on in the hull, if they, in any way created a stir of any kind. You know they would stamp the top - the crew would stamp the top and just shoot down into the hull, throw the bodies over ... So they knew what guns were about. The gun in an overseer's hand was very powerful indeed. And so they worked and worked very hard. Women worked also. Women worked in the canefields and very little is said about this but I can remember my father's friends and relations, who were women, who were brought over here, who were put out to work in the cane and women had their babies in the canefield. Pregnant women worked there and worked as hard, they were kept out in the sun all day. It wasn't anything but an easy life. But at first, of course they were never paid. It is true that later others came and could have been called indentured labourers, because they were paid, but when my father came in the 1880s they weren't being paid anything. Some were being paid a pittance a little later, but very little. So it was an exceptionally hard life, it was a controlled life, they hadn't the freedom to move around as they would like to and they were really compelled to attend Sunday schools that the missionaries conducted and it wasn't what they wanted to do awfully much at all. They'd much rather go down town and have a good time and get together or whatever it might be, but they were forced to attend the Sunday Schools and the missionaries often sent their teachers on to the plantations where the people were.
Did that result in them being educated though?
True, I believe that the missionaries in some ways benefited the people's lives by helping them to read and helping them to write. It was limited certainly, but that was useful, otherwise they would not have had that benefit. But there was very little else and they were looked upon, to begin with, they were looked upon like the horses and the wagons, the equipment of the farm. They were part of the equipment and they were owned, and they were virtually owned and often they were sold with the farm and passed from one hand to another. It didn't happen very often but it did, in fact.
Oh yes, a price was put on them. My father never talked about the price that was put on them, but later in years, I encouraged Ed Docker, the journalist and author to research and write a book on the enslavement of the people and in his research he found that many were sold, were bought, sold and bought for £7-10/- a head depending on the size of the man and there was always a great demand for the men who came from the islands of Ambrym or Tanna because they were the very big people and the strongest and could endure the hard work that much better. So you know, Australia has a lot to be ashamed of. CSR today and Burns Philp should now think of repaying all that they took. It's not too late.
So you were - how did your father get away? I mean, if he was owned, how did he get out of that situation? How did he escape from it?
It wasn't easy for anyone to escape because of their isolation. And because they were in an unknown country and a vast and huge country. So it was very difficult for my father and his brother who was with him to escape from the planter that they were with, but they did eventually. And they could only do it by walking away. And so they just walked away into the night, so they couldn't be seen and ...
Did they make preparations for going? Did they save, they had no wages to save, how did they, it must have been a really desperate move?
It was an absolutely, an absolute desperate move for those who left and I do remember my father telling us that his belongings were wrapped in a piece of cloth, a little piece of cloth, not awfully much bigger than a man's handkerchief and that's all they had to carry. But then, of course, that made the escape easier. But he always said that they didn't own anything, nothing. And I'd just like to tell you that they were given rations of tea and sugar and flour and I think some meat but very little else, and it was a similar ration that was given officially to Aboriginal people. But they died in great numbers and I am sure that many of their illnesses was caused by malnutrition and also probably as a result of a harsh treatment on the journey from Vanuatu to the shores of Queensland, because they were beaten, they were practically starved on the vessels and I'm sure as a result of that, many died and they died of pneumonia - pleurisy and pneumonia and measles - and they were buried in a common grave which they had to dig. And I recall clearly the old men telling us these stories on a Sunday when they would come to our place - I was a child - and they'd talk about how bad it was to dig the grave of your own people. They were buried in common graves. They died like flies.
When they set out to walk to Brisbane were they pursued?
No, but there wasn't, they were not pursued as they set off to walk to Brisbane but I think they were still afraid there was that danger of being captured, you know, it was walking into the unknown. And they had heard about Brisbane and they knew that there was this big city south of where they were and they headed for it.
But they had never seen a big city before?
No, no, but they had heard about the city because, you know, people were moving backwards and forwards before the turn of the century. Island people, who had already gone to Brisbane, in fact. And you see, my grand ... my mother's mother lived in Brisbane and she was very elderly when I was very tiny, but I can recall how people came there to her and they would sit around talking how they walked into Brisbane from the north.
You described how your father got a little bit of education out of Sunday school. Could he in fact read and write?
My father could read and my father could write, quite well as a matter of fact and he kept a diary after he arrived, he left Brisbane and went to the Tweed to settle there and acquired a banana farm and he kept his books very well, didn't make much out of the banana farms but it was enough for us to live on. And he kept his books, did everything himself. And there was a local paper, which was called the Tweed Daily, and after school my brothers were expected to pick up the Tweed Daily, when they picked up the bread or whatever else they had to pick up to bring home, and my father would never go to bed till he had read that Tweed Daily from page to page. And the more he read of course the better he became at it. [INTERRUPTION]
At the time that you began to be involved with the movement relating to the conditions of Aborigines, what kinds of conditions did you find the Aborigines living in?
I first saw the appalling conditions that Aborigines lived in when I was actually in the Land Army and I remember people, Aboriginal people, being brought by trucks from Cowra to Young to pick the cherries. They weren't permitted to pick together with the Land Army girls but they were separated and I learnt then that they were getting a paltry wage, I can't remember exactly what it was, but I was really quite shocked. And they weren't provided with - they weren't given a break. They worked, they always worked through the day, quite a number of women working then. And then later again, I found that they were shut away on a reserve outside of Griffith, on the Riverina, at a place called Wattle Hill, I think it was. But they were separated and they were segregated and were never seen to be in the streets. But I was also aware, at that time, and that was during the war, that the people had been treated very badly by the white settlers to begin with and that was continued through to that particular time, and that they were totally dependent on the government for an existence. There were some, of course, who did fruit picking during the season but were exploited even there, and they just happened to be poor outcasts.
Now they weren't subject at all to the wages, conditions, that had been negotiated and applied across the country. They were absolutely separately dealt with from that, so they could be paid very low wages. What kind of wages were stockmen paid, and what kind of wages were domestics, the women who helped in the farms? What were they paid at the time you began campaigning?
When we began the campaign for the Referendum, the situation for black stockmen for instance, was very bad. Many were paid absolutely nothing. They were given rations of flour and beef and tea and this was in the late '50s and the early '60s; and they worked on the cattle station; if they got wages, they were paid about half the wage that was paid to white stockmen. And we had on our Executive, of course, several trade unionists who became very concerned about this. But many women, many women for decades worked in the houses for absolutely nothing. Those who were paid, well they weren't. The money was not paid into their hands, the money was given, paid into the Commonwealth Bank and if they wanted some of that money, they would have to go to the local police sergeant - and imagine how intimidating that would be - to get permission to withdraw their money from the bank. And there was a woman who came down from the north on one occasion to tell us how really bad it was, and this was in the early '60s, and she said she worked from daybreak until night in the house. She really ran the house and she really brought the children up, but she never saw any money. And on one occasion she thought she'd really like to own a bicycle, so she plucked up enough courage to go to the local police sergeant and said she'd like some money from the bank. And the police sergeant, said, 'What do you want it for, Annie?' And she said, 'I want a bicycle', and he said, 'you don't need a bicycle'. It was a bad time, it was a time when even in the most advanced state of New South Wales, children could still be taken from their parents. Now much has been said about this in recent years, but no-one has really spelt out the terrible consequences of this situation where children are forcibly taken away from their parents, as most were, and they would grow up and they'd marry, perhaps, and they wouldn't know who they belonged to. And this went on, of course, up until quite recently, not that long ago at all. So that was another area of great concern for the Council. These particular concerns drove us on and the longer we were involved, the more was revealed.
Were Aborigines very restricted in their freedom of movement as well? Could you describe how they had to ask permission and so on to do anything, if it was to get married, move around, do anything. Could you talk about that right across the country.
I think that the concern of the Federal Council, FCAATSI, at the time was the right to ... the freedom to move was withheld from the Aboriginal people. And, for instance, if one wanted to leave a reserve they had to get permission from the governing body whatever it might be in the various different states. And it reminds me to tell you that this also applied to that beautiful film star Tudawali, Robert Tudawali. He was brought to Sydney to work on a television series and was living or was accommodated not very far from where we were living at the time, at Frenchs Forest so he was a regular visitor to our place, and we'd pick him up particularly in the evenings, because it was so cold where he was. We had a warm fire but we first had to get permission to pick him up. He was a man who had outstanding talent, a person of considerable skills in his own right, having to seek the permission of another person, to go out for an evening ...
... and while he was here, his movements were controlled or watched or directed by a welfare officer, a white welfare officer. And I found that extremely degrading to a man with tremendous dignity and it was quite a sad experience in my life too, to see that. But people in Queensland were virtually living in prisons. On one occasion I went to Palm Island, and I saw Palm Island as a huge concentration camp because no-one could move off the island and no one could enter the island without permission. And I visited the gaol there together with the late Senator ... I've just forgotten his name, sorry ...
... and I visited the gaol there and I was appalled, absolutely appalled and a tiny little gaol where there were four people where there should have been one, and there was nothing but a bucket, nothing whatsoever, and filthy, absolutely filthy. And the people were totally controlled by the Director, who incidentally was a white South African at that particular time. And my visit was just before Gough Whitlam came to government, came to power. And it was a great experience for me to go back with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, then, who was Gordon Bryant and to be able to call a great big meeting under the big tree and exclude the whites. It was wonderful. I mean that is what the Referendum did, of course, but ...
Now you saw and the people who worked with you for the Referendum saw that these problems couldn't be dealt with just separately. Before we leave the problems by the way, I should ask you about what were the health problems that Aboriginals faced?
The Aborigines had serious health problems. Trachoma of course, which was rife, and there were many other illnesses that were very common among the people, I really don't feel I can enlarge on that.
What sort of medical care did they get?
They virtually had no medical care. They had many illnesses without medical care or medical attention. If they wanted that, they would have to go to the big public hospitals and that was extremely intimidating and you had people who were quite ... working there who were quite indifferent to the problem, to the serious illnesses that the Aboriginal people had - quite indifferent. Ah, but if I could just say, on the matter of wages, I think, what concerned us most of all were those people who were working in the cattle industry and they were outstanding horsemen, they just handled a horse so magnificently, they were, as it were, born in the saddle of a horse and they worked so hard. And without them, as with the cane which could never have been developed without the labor of the Australian South Sea Islanders, so it is with the beef industry, which could never have been developed without the slave labor of the Aboriginal people and that in fact, in many cases, was what it was. And this disturbed the trade union people who were on the Executive of FCAATSI and we investigated with our trade union contacts in the north what the wages really were anyhow. And then actually, a GP from Melbourne, Dr Christophers, said, 'It's time to go for equal wages', and the Council went for equal wages for black stockmen and in 1965, before going to the full Arbitration Court, the black stockmen were granted equal wages. But that was not, I mean they didn't, they weren't given the equal wages, in fact, until 1968. But it was a major achievement.
Were you involved with the Gurindji and their plight?
Yes, oh the Gurindjis were a very special people, very special people and I went to visit the Gurindjis and I had to, we had to cross a creek because as you know, they walked off the cattle station.
For the young people that don't remember this, could you just very briefly summarise what that case was?
Well the Gurindjis, of course, were a very special group of people who lived, had their community in the Northern Territory and still do, but they were put to work on the cattle stations that were owned by Vesteys. And Vesteys, of course, owned most of the cattle stations in the north; they were English Lords who resided in England, absent landlords, but ... [INTERRUPTION]
During this time who were campaigning for improved conditions for Aborigines? There was interest from overseas, in fact there was a visit also from your childhood hero, Paul Robeson, during this time wasn't there. Could you tell us about that?
Yes, Paul Robeson came to Australia in the early '60s with his wife, Islanda. It was a wonderful experience for me to meet Paul but equally a great experience to meet Islanda, who was a journalist - author and journalist and a representative in the United Nations. Islanda was a very special person in many ways, a women of great independent means and I became friends with Islanda. But it's true, you know to meet Paul Robeson for me was, it was like I hear people talk about meeting the Pope or the Queen or whatever. But I met Paul Robeson and he meant more to me than any other great person did in fact, because Paul Robeson stood up for what he believed in. And for standing up for what he believed in, and that was for the equality of his own people, he was persecuted for it, locked up for it, in Harlem for years. His whole career thrown on the rocks and there would not have been ever in the history of the world, one with a voice like Paul Robeson's. And I treasure it to this day; it's nice to begin the day with that voice. But he did come, and I found it hard to believe that he was actually going to come and put his big feet on Australian soil and he did. And I went out to the airport with many others to meet him and he just looked, he looked strong and powerful but also tired and weary and life had been very tough for him. He'd been treated so badly by the Americans and he said to me, 'You must tell me more about your people'. Well, actually he meant the Aboriginal people and so I had an occasion to meet him, after meeting him at the airport, and to show him a film that was made on the Warburton Ranges. And I shall never forget his reaction to that film, never. It was a film taken on a mission station where the people were ragged and unhealthy and sick, very sick. And we took this film and we showed it to him. He was staying in the Hotel Australia and we showed him the film and Paul then was wearing a black cap on his head, to keep his head warm. He was no chicken then, of course, and Islanda always insisted that before a concert he should rest that day, but she allowed him to come down and have a look at the film, in the Starlight Room, as they called it, in the Hotel Australia and as he watched the film the tears came to his eyes and when the film finished he stood up and he pulled his cap off and he threw it in his rage on the floor and trod on it and he asked for a cigarette from someone. Well a lot of people smoked in those days so there was no shortage of cigarettes and Islanda said to me, 'Well it's many years since I've seen him do that'. He was so angry and he said to me, 'I'll go away now, but when I come back I'll give you a hand'. He was beautiful, but he died and he didn't come back.
Well that must have fuelled your determination to continue with the struggle.
Tell me about the launch of the struggle. There was a big meeting at the Town Hall wasn't there? There was a certain amount of scepticism about how this little band could grow to something as big as it needed to grow to, to achieve its goal. Could you tell us about that beginning?
In 1956 when Pearl Gibbs got me up off my seat to form the Aboriginal Australian Fellowship, Jessie Street was then a patron, became a patron of The Fellowship as it became known. And you know Jessie had been at me for a while and telling me that we had to have that Referendum. So she drafted the Petition and I succeeded in getting the Executive of the Fellowship to accept this draft of Jessie's and to exploit a printer friend, Rodney Hall, to run a few thousand copies off, and to circulate the Petition. And someone had the bright idea, and I think it was our Secretary at the time, had the bright idea that we should have a public meeting and launch the Petition. So, you know, I have always been one who believes in going right to the top, having the full blast. So I said, 'Well why don't we go and see the Lord Mayor and have a meeting in the Town Hall'. And there were, I say, about eight of us, without a farthing, not a cracker, so they said, 'Well, why not?' And the Aboriginal President at the time, said, 'Well, yes, I think we should have the Town Hall, there is no reason why we shouldn't. Now I'm friends with so and so', I've forgotten who it was, 'and I'm sure that he can arrange for a deputation of us to see the Lord Mayor about hiring the Town Hall for a public meeting'. And we were sitting in this tiny little room in George St. and this is where it was all cooked up, in fact. 'Well', they said, 'why not?'. Well we went and saw the Lord Mayor and we said we would like to hire the Town Hall for a public meeting and we intended to launch a Petition for a Federal Referendum, and he looked at us in amazement and I shall never forget it and he looked at us and he said, 'Are you sure, you don't mean the foyer?' And I said, 'No way, we need the Town Hall'. 'Oh', he said, 'Mrs Bandler, but you know it takes 2 500 people, something like that'. I said, 'We'll pack it'. He said, 'Are you absolutely certain, it's not a good thing to have a half-filled hall'. I said, 'Oh, we'll fill it'. And the others joined in and said, 'We'll pack it'. And then we went back to the little office and over a cup of tea, we thought my God! We said to each other, 'What have we let ourselves in for?' because in the meantime, we'd found out that the rent was something like £70 or £80 and we didn't have 80 pennies to our name. So we got the handbills out, we went to the wharfies and we went to the Seamen's Union and a few other unions and said, 'Would you circulate these, we're going to have a public meeting at the Town Hall and we're launching a Petition for a Federal Referendum, for the rights of the Aborigines', and the unions took them, and took the Petition and the handbills and particularly the Seamen's Union. And they were marvellous because they were able to drop them at all the ports around Australia. And when the actual meeting in the Town Hall took place, we had someone who'd come over from Western Australia who had seen the handbill that the wharfies, eh, the seamen had distributed. And that was a big thing in 1957, to go from one state to another, for just a meeting. You know, we weren't walking in and out of planes as we walk in and out of our bedrooms today. It was a very different situation travel-wise. Well anyhow, so when the unions came in behind us, a few of the churches, a bit reluctant, talked about the little groups of 'reds' sitting down there in the office in George St. and whether they should in fact unite with us or not. And they were very hesitant, but there was one by the name of Reverend Alf Clint and another two or three, one by the name of Bill Childs, I think he was an Anglican parson, but they came in fearlessly and supported us and stood by us with the unions. So then of course, the deposit had to be paid for the Town Hall and they said - I remember our President, Bert Grove, saying to me, taking me aside very quietly after an Executive meeting and saying, 'Do you think you could ask Hans to put up the deposit, we could pay him back'. So I went home that night, and I said, 'Hans, have we got any money? Do you think we could pay the deposit for the Town Hall?'. So Hans said yes, that would be okay. So we paid the deposit for the Town Hall. I don't know it might have been £20 or £10 or whatever it was, I don't know. And then the night came. In the meantime we had mobilised people like ...
So were your expectations that you were going to fill the Hall, were they justified?
The Hall was packed. The doors opened and I was inside arranging the flowers and the doors opened and the crowd just filled the Hall. It was wonderful. We got our deposit back so we were able to buy a bit more timber for the new house.
It was a great night and the Petition was launched.
Now you were very conscious of the discrimination that went on against Aborigines, but you've already told us that you didn't experience any of that discrimination yourself. Were there no incidences in your life when you were in some way treated differently because of the fact that you were black?
Oh yes, oh yes, people discriminated against me. It's true that perhaps there were times when I didn't notice it and I was told later, was I aware? But I remember being thrown out of a pub in North Queensland with Kath Walker.
Well, we were sitting in conference all the morning, on a Saturday, and in ...
Have you ever been thrown out of a pub?
I've been thrown out of a pub, I truly have. I was at a conference in North Queensland, it goes back a fair while, and the union delegates who were there asked Kath Walker and I if we'd go down to the pub for a drink after the session was over on the Saturday afternoon. And we said 'Yes, of course'. But Kath and I sat alone, on our own because we wanted to talk to each other. And we weren't served. So, either Kath or I, but we both went up to the counter and said we want a drink and they said, 'Well, we don't serve coloured people here'. And I can always remember Kath saying, 'No, no no, we don't want to be served coloured people, we just want to be served a drink, that's all'. And they wouldn't serve us. So that was, it wasn't a bitter experience, it rather amused the both of us, because what happened of course, a black ban was put on the pub and later some of the Aboriginal people told us they couldn't even walk that side of the street because they'd be called in for a free drink. But I was also thrown out of a pub in Redfern, yes indeed. A couple of the Redfern people went in for a drink and they were refused, they were testing the waters. And so they rang me up, and said, 'Now we were thrown out of the pub, Faith, and you forget about that Referendum and get over here and do something about this'. So what we did was organise a lot of our friends who were with the media at the time and quietly sneaked in and mixed the tables up between blacks and whites and my sister and I went up to the bar and said well, we'll have this and we'll have this or whatever it was, and he says, 'We don't serve you here'. So we didn't kick up a fuss, we went back and we just said to our mates from the media and from the unions and a few of the politicians, 'They won't serve us'. And the story is always told that it was one of the biggest blues that the pub in Redfern had ever experienced and the owner was ushered down into the cell for protection from the media. So I've been discriminated against, I have yes, but I can't think of anything except in London on one occasion. This was in the early '50s when I went off to look for a flat. But that was in London and when I arrived in the agent's office there, he pointed to the board and there was a notice saying, no Jews, no coloureds - that's what they called black people - no children and no animals. So I've had these experiences and I'm sure that many people have had problems with me but it hasn't affected me. I've seen it as their problem as I say, I don't see it as my problem, and I haven't been aware of it at the time. We weren't discriminated against as children.
One of the things that is very striking about you Faith is this tremendous confidence that you have. Now somebody who is black and who is a woman and who has had a background where people generally expect you not to stick up for yourself. What was it about your upbringing, what is it about your personality, where does this confidence and ability to assert yourself come from?
I assert myself. I know I'm a very confident person. And I'm sure that that comes from my mother. And my mother would never accept anything that wasn't straightforward and that wasn't above board and she would always want to know that there were no strings attached to any friendship of any kind that she might have. My whole family are all rugged individualists or were and they were extremely independent and all worked extremely hard, which gave us our independence. I'm always so certain of myself, I know, and maybe there are many times perhaps, when I shouldn't be and I say to myself, well what the hell! And if I'm invited somewhere to perhaps welcome a visitor or address a group of people or something like that, I say to myself, well they wouldn't ask me, if they didn't want me, if they didn't think I could do it. These days I find myself saying no, quite a lot to many such invitations because as you get older, you can take less stress. And I thoroughly enjoy my old age, I don't like it being disrupted awfully. I'm a confident person and I'm sure it had a lot to do with my mother.
Tell me about your education, how were you educated?
Well, I, my brothers and sisters had an opportunity to stay at school a long time because they went before the Depression. And in the Depression it was awfully hard for me to stay at school. I remember I had an exam coming up and the soles of my shoes began to come to pieces and my mother sat up the night before to stitch them back on with string and what they called, a palm needle so that I could go and do the exam and I'm sure I was able to stay at school through those very hard days because of the energy that my mother put into it. But I stayed at school until I was 16 and then I only wanted to do one thing and that was to earn money. Because to me it just seemed that money gave people independence. I liked my school years, they were good years.
So did you complete through to the final ...?
No I didn't. I didn't complete through to the final, but I came to, when I came to Sydney, I went to the night school in Cleveland St and I did shorthand and typing and also did English and I stuck at that for quite a long time in actual fact and I guess, sometimes I feel I can say, as Gorky did, 'My life has been my university'. But I've done courses that have been very helpful with WEA. I don't want to do those things anymore now, but I did them until fairly late - it's only three years in actual fact since I have given up my music lessons. And I always also felt they were a very big part of education, very important part of my education.
After 10 years hard work, how did you feel when the day of the Referendum, the actual day came?
The day after the Referendum was a day filled with a lot of good wishes, we congratulated ourselves. So much of the time spent on the phone that day had to do with ringing up each other saying, what hard workers we are. But it wasn't really I suppose for a few weeks after that, that I realised fully what an impact it would make on the affairs that have to do with Aboriginal people.
Sorry stop, I think the chair may have moved ... [INTERRUPTION]
Yes, I think it did.
How did you feel on the day of the Referendum?
I woke very early on the morning of the Referendum and I was hoping that someone would ring me up. I always dreaded the thought in the end, when the telephone would ring, I would wonder who was asking for what. But this day I really wanted someone to ring up and comfort me I think because I feared the worst. I didn't want to believe what we wanted would come about. I was afraid the disappointment would be very difficult to cope with, you know. I just felt that I couldn't cope with the disappointment of the Referendum not being carried, so it was a strange feeling I had that morning. Anyhow, I had someone who had agreed to drive me around in Sydney to the different booths and I put coffee in the basket and we did all those things on all polling days in the past. If we paid a visit we took some hot scones and thermoses of coffee or tea and that's what I did that day. And in the evening I went into the tally room and I was there with some of my mates and it was so exciting, it was just so exciting, I can't tell you. It was wonderful.
Were you really surprised though, you must have had a fair indication, here was something with bi-partisan support, and the support of both the churches and the unions. Were you really surprised?
I was surprised by the victory we'd had because although it was bi-partisan and it was really a single issue, as good as, it wasn't in any way complicated for the voters. I was surprised for this reason that it had to do with the original people. It had to do with the people who were almost completely annihilated and should we expect all of these descendants and even some who were still exploiting the people to cast a vote in favour of us, and that I really couldn't comprehend that at all. It was difficult for me to believe, you know, that so many racist middleclass, workingclass, whichever class - there were racists everywhere - and would they really vote the way we wanted them to vote? After all, who were we? But they did.
Well, the total voting population voted and those in favour of the 'Yes' vote, I think it was something like 90.2%, unbelievable. And the highest 'No' vote was in the electorate that takes in the township of Kempsey in New South Wales, and Kalgoorlie. They had the highest 'No' votes, not surprisingly of course.
So did you then feel with the results that followed the Referendum, do you feel now able to answer those Aboriginal critics, who were sceptical of the value of the Referendum and who said, look we want housing, we want all of these things - and couldn't see the connection? Do you feel that you were vindicated in your belief that this would make a difference?
No, not really.
But did you see the results come in after the Referendum?
I didn't see the results coming immediately after the Referendum, that is for sure. Things seemed to be static for quite a while. It didn't really have awfully much to do with whatever government was in power at the time, but rather it seemed difficult to get moving, because it was going to involve major changes. And the people themselves, I'm sure, didn't envisage these changes that have come about. I don't think I'm sure that many more so of the people of my age, the Aboriginal people of my age, envisaged the results coming about as quickly as they did. Today of course we hear young people talking about how slow it is and so forth and so on. It isn't. The changes brought about in the last 25 years since the Referendum have been quite remarkable, quite remarkable. I mean we have young black kids walking in and out of universities as we walk in and out of our front door. Before the Referendum in 1965 there were something like 13 Aboriginal children in secondary school in New South Wales. I think it's a tragedy that the young people know so little of that part of their history today.
Do you feel a certain sadness personally, that having worked so hard for all of that, the result is in terms of the current leaders, among Aborigines, often not recognised and that you personally have never really properly been acknowledged as being very, very important to that history among the current Aboriginal leaders?
Look, I don't think that we human beings should go about changing or trying to improve situations that are drastic for other human beings and expect to be rewarded. This is what life is about, it is about getting up and helping each other and doing the best we can, to raise people out of their misery. I don't think that those people who worked for that Referendum thought about rewards or thought about acknowledgement and I certainly didn't. I mean, there were people who were involved in the prevention of war, people who went around asking for the Atom Bomb to be banned. There were people who were very politically conscious and people who knew what the lack of rights meant to a particular group of people and they were not the people who went around and said, 'Well now, really you should honour me for all that I have done. Look at the Aborigines today'. I don't look at the Aboriginal people today and expect them to say to me, well, thanks Faith, you know. Not at all. This is what we all should be doing. Everyone should be getting up and everyone should be involved in preventing what is going on in different countries that has to do with putting one group down against another on the grounds of race. And whether it's in South Africa or whether it's in what was Yugoslavia or in any other part of the world, we should be doing just that, and I see it just as a human being's duty to get involved in raising people to be equals in society.
Within your own family what sort of principles have you used to raise Lilon? What kinds of things have you tried to teach her about to be a good human being?
Well, I don't think I deliberately tried to teach my daughter anything. I think that the lives which Hans and I have lived have just rubbed off onto her. I know how loved she is with her colleagues. It's hard for me to talk about her, because she is too, it's too close. But she's a very special human being, it's true. But I'm a believer in parenting and I don't think it can be done in a casual way. I think you've got to put a fair bit of energy into it and you know, I called her to the piano for about 16 years of my life, the first thing in the morning. And she rewarded me with her playing, that was beautiful. I mean a parent does, can do so much and I felt I did something there for her. But with her other skills, well they're hers, and I guess they've been developed because of the environment that she grew up in.
What made her decide to be a doctor?
Well, I really don't know why she decided to be a doctor. I really don't know. I know she's one to accept challenges and I thought at the time, well, so be it. Save the lives of people, treasure the lives of people, be good to one's patients, be with one's patients, be comforting to one's patients, to be reassuring and to be honest and to be truthful. Those are the things that I would expect of her and I'm sure that they are there for her patients.
You adopted an Aboriginal son at one stage of your life. Could you tell me about that,? Why you did it and how it happened and what became of it?
Well, we only had Lilon. And I guess there is no woman on this earth who hated being pregnant more than I did. And I thought, well there are an awful lot of kids who haven't got a roof anyhow and Hans thought the same way. And we asked the Aboriginal Welfare Board and also the Child Welfare Department, well we said to them, 'We have room for another one', and one afternoon they rang us up and told us, 'Well, here you are, come and get him', and we did. And he was with us for about 10 years and then he expressed an opinion, strong opinion or strong wish that he wanted to find his own parents. And we did the best we could. I often feel that in that area, perhaps of the family, I might have failed. It doesn't upset me, I mean we all do what we believe is right at the time, and that's what parents should remember. Whatever we do, we always do for the best and he found his own people and I'm sure that meant a lot to him. It left a vacuum for me, a very deep one, but we have to go on living.
No, I don't, no.
So how old was he, when he came to you?
He was about two and a half, a tiny little thing, and on one occasion we had a visitor who called to see us and she looked at this tiny little thing and she said, 'He's like a baby Harold Blair', and Harold Blair, at that time, of course was at his peak.
And so he left to find his own parents and went back to live with them?
Well I don't know, I guess, whatever happened I'm not quite sure.
And so you grieve a little bit about that?
I did, I don't now, I don't now. You know a lot of things, it's easier to live when you get on in years, you don't take things so hardly, you've seen so much and you've left so much behind you. Like I can take the death of my friends now, who are my peers, easier now than perhaps I would when I was a few years younger. So I can take sadness and disappointments now, much easier.
What would you say is the philosophy, the principles that you use to guide your life. When you're trying to work out your priorities and your values in what you think is important. Is there, I know this is a very complex question to ask you to answer simply but are there certain ideas that guide you?
Yes, I think so. Yes, I'm sure, there is. We live in a very materialistic society and I think my ideas have a lot to do with my trying to combat this mania to acquire, regardless. Or, and it's being able to put oneself in another person's position and to be able to feel a little more deeply what a very ill person, a very sick person ... to understand better how they are feeling about about to go and leave this world, to die. And I think also that it has a lot to do with trying to understand how the young people feel today and if I'm disappointed about anything awfully much, I find a great disappointment in the people who are now in their 20s or 30s or so, who are out for, as it were, a quick quid. You know this idea of owning and possession appears to have taken control of their lives. But I have a fair ... off and on, I have something to do with very much younger children and school children and I think they think more about the people of the world, the other people of the world, other than themselves. There is a terrible self-centredness now about. These bloody yuppies who really make me angry, they are wasteful and they are extravagant and they are pushy and they think about no-one's future other than their own. And that is a rather new element in Australian society and I don't like it.
You've worked all your life very hard for people who have been materially very badly off and you yourself live in a degree of comfort, in a nice house with a good income, does that ever worry you?
No, I'm not worried by my comforts in this house at all during the years that I've worked in the Aboriginal movement or for the Island people today or whoever it might be, or in the Women's Movement because I believe we've got to look after ourselves as well as we can if we want to go out and help others and small comforts mean a lot to me and they prepare me well for the day ahead. But you know, like, the women who brought about the assistance for families in the '30s and I think it was known as the Child Endowment, they weren't people who needed that, they were middleclass; and upperclass women were involved in that. They didn't need child endowment from the government, and yet they brought about those changes and I'm sure it had a lot to do with the fact that they had some comforts, you know at night. They didn't have to worry where the next meal was coming from and if one is relieved of those stresses then one can think about, one can get their ideas together to find out how you can put others in the situation that you are in.
Jessie Street had a very big influence on your life, in getting you involved in public causes. Did she have any influence on you privately in giving you values for yourself or your family?
Oh Jessie influenced my life, God only knows, I can't tell you. I often found it difficult. She tended to ring very early in the morning and I envisaged Jessie sitting up in bed with her breakfast and me trying to get Lilon off to school and cutting lunches and what have you. But she did influence my life, this is true. And she told me on one occasion how she was always determined to make her own daughters economically independent in their adult life. [I was] having lunch with her one day with my daughter who was about two at the time and Jessie looked over the rim of her glasses and said very thoughtfully, 'Now you must make sure that you make her economically independent'. So she had, yes, she had a very, very strong influence over my thinking and you know, like, she it was who said to me, 'What we have to do about the Aboriginal people is to help lift them out of their misery'. And that's what the battle was all about, to help lift them out of the misery so that they were no longer different; that they belonged to mainstream but retained their cultures. And this is what we ask of the migrants - you come in here to our country, but you retain your culture, it enriches us. And so this is what Jessie was on about, but Jessie also, of course, she was a feminist and I often think that it must have been easier for her than it would have been for me, to have been a true feminist. But I don't think it was really, because I would imagine that her class would certainly think that women ought to know their place, even perhaps more so than my class but she influenced me in many things, particularly the need to work for peace. She said, 'We don't need arms', she always said, 'Arms are there to destroy and we don't need to destroy each other. And there's plenty of food', she used to say, 'there's plenty of food for everyone, we just have to make sure it's distributed equally around the world'. She was a woman with tremendous vision who looked beyond the city of Sydney and beyond the four walls of her lounge room. And she used to visit me and I recall on one occasion she came to dinner. I said, 'Come to dinner and bring four people'. And she did. And this feminist, this great feminist arrived with four men. And I'd worked very hard that day to make the dining room look really special and I had yellow flowers everywhere and brand new yellow curtains that I'd made and I cooked a beautiful leg of veal and I put my all into it as one does for very special guests. But what did she say when she walked into the dining room? She looked around and she said, 'Oh well, this is lovely, now who did all of this?', and I in a very weak voice said, 'I did'. I was ashamed to tell her I had, because she would say to me, 'Now your place is not in the house, you must get help. Your place is not in the kitchen, you must get help', and often I would wonder, help, who's going to pay them? Dear Jessie, what a wonderful woman she was.
Now the other great influence that you've talked about was Hans, Hans, your husband. And he supported you in many ways. Would you tell us a little bit about all the different ways in which Hans has supported you through your life's work?
Hans has supported me, I think the greatest contribution he had to our partnership was sharing the parenting of our daughter because he was a very good parent and he always wanted to be with her. He loved being with her and she was never a nuisance to him, never ever. And I can see him going off, taking her to the first concert she ever went to, and she had my seat for the first part of the concert and then the second part, she'd have Hans' seat and we would toss this around a bit. So he shared that a lot, not because he felt it a duty, as indeed many men do it today out of duty, because they feel it's a duty. He did it because he enjoyed it and he loved it and if you were to ask him, he would say exactly as I am saying, he just enjoyed being with her. But then there were other things - like, it's nice to be, to have a partner who thinks as you do politically and you know, to share a few things in common. We didn't exactly share food in common because Hans, I couldn't come at some of the stuff that was cooked up in Europe and he'd start and cook up here, I couldn't but those were minor things, insignificant. And we shared the garden, to this day we share the garden and that's made life easy, but the most important thing of all, was his good parenting and he allowed for space in the relationship. And if he wants to walk out tomorrow and go overseas, he doesn't say to me, 'Will it be all right?', and I know that I can do that, and we've both done it. We've done it dozens of times over and we might ring each other up from wherever we are, or we've sent cards or we write to each other. He's made it nice to know that we can come back to this house and carry on living. But this space has been very important in this very long partnership and it's 41 years old almost. And it's not only being able to go out when you want to go out, without saying, 'I beg your pardon?', but it has a lot to do about how you live in the house. And I like to know that I can have breakfast in the morning and go into my study. And he likes to know that he can do that and we don't ask any questions. So we keep that space in the house, and it's a trust ... it's a trust. So those are the things I think that have bound me to this man.
Now you've been involved in about all the major causes of your generation, throughout the '60s and '70s, the protest movement saw you at the front of many of the protest actions and you are currently involved in a lot of things. Could you just summarise for us all the different actions and causes and activities that you've taken up publicly.
Yes, I had very deep involvement in the movement for peace beginning in the early '50s and going through to the Vietnam - the war in Vietnam. And I got out in the streets then with, I suppose, a million others and my commitment I guess to that, the cause of peace I guess is greater than my commitment to anything else today. It has the highest priority of all. I become disturbed when I see what is going on next door in East Timor, I think Australia should hang its head in shame. And I have other involvements too, that are enjoyable. I'm on the Executive of the Republican Movement and I hope I live to see that eventuate. So, that doesn't drain me, that's really a pleasure. And I have a deep involvement with the H. V. Evatt Foundation. I was a great admirer of Dr Evatt because of the energy he put in for the rights of human beings the world over and also into the rights for the Aborigines, as he did in 1949. He was a man with tremendous courage and he saved us from the jaws of the Menzies Government when that government threatened to ban the Communist Party. If it were not for Evatt it would have been banned. Well that would only have been the beginning because we saw what happened in Nazi Germany. The communists were banned and then the trade unionists were banned and then the churches were banned and then it goes on, it doesn't stop there. So Evatt is to be honoured for what he did then. So it's a joy and a pleasure to be on the Executive and Vice-President of the H. V. Evatt Foundation. I like working with my colleagues there very much. And those are the major things that I have an involvement with now. But of course, I say peace has the highest priority but my writing does to and I want to get on, write a few more things before I go off. [INTERRUPTION]
What did you think about the Captain Cook Bicentenary celebrations in 1970?
Well, I didn't think very much, I was appalled to see so much money being spent on the celebrations at a time, in actual fact, when the Aborigines needing ... housing need was not met, it was not being met. And I felt all along that the money spent on the celebrations would have solved many, many problems for the Aboriginal people but also for poor whites. You know, so often we get our priorities wrong with our celebrations in particular don't we? And that was one time that I felt that they got it wrong.
Why are you a republican? And before you became a member of the republican movement, how did you show your conviction that Australian should be a republic?
Well in the first place, I would say that my whole family were republicans maybe, except for one or two. My mother wasn't. I mean she was a monarchist. She covered the walls with photographs of the Royal family that were cut out of newspapers and we used to rip them down. Why am I a republican? Well, I'm a republican because I feel that Australia is adult enough to make its own decisions without consulting someone 12 000 miles away. I'm a republican because I think we have a great need now to be an independent nation, mainly because we have a large population of people who have never known the monarchy, it's meaningless to them, absolutely meaningless. That they have to swear allegiance to something away over on the other side of the world to me, I think that it's unreal, completely unreal. I'm a republican because it was the British Empire and under the British Empire that the colonies were established and in the establishing of these colonies many of the indigenous people suffered very seriously, including my father. So, you know, why should I want to bow to people who represent a system that destroyed so many people, destroyed the culture of so many people, so destructive. I guess those are the main reasons.
But the British Empire did want to honour you at one stage, didn't they?
Well, they did. I think that was in 1976 and I was offered an MBE and I did refuse it because I couldn't possibly wear that. [INTERRUPTION]
But the British Empire did want to honor you at one stage, didn't it?
Yes it did want to honor me at one stage with an MBE and of course I couldn't possibly accept that, but I did accept an Australian Award, an AM, and that's meant something to me.
Now just looking now at your life, as you live it now, when you say that you want to just concentrate on your writing but you still seem to have a lot of activities going on. What are the main things that you would like to achieve now, in this later part of your life?
I would like to complete the two books that I am writing at present, I want to put a lot of energy into that. Other things emerge and tell me I should be doing other things. I suppose, if I guess I've got the energy. I would today see a major force develop for the banning of the manufacturing of destructive, whatever it might be, whether it's just guns that people have in their house, or whether it's bombs or whatever, just the total banning of all destructive ammunition and I would like to see Australian people get up and say, 'Enough is enough. We must stop the sales of arms, we must stop the manufacture of arms and the sales of arms'. That incidentally is what I would like to do. I would like to help mobilise a very strong force in that direction. But I know what I will do, and that's sit down and get on with my writing.
Now you were brought up by a father who was a lay preacher, you were sent to Sunday School, you have been associated with Christian people in the movements that you have been involved in, you joined with them to work with them for causes. How do you feel yourself about religion?
Well my faith has always been in people. I have great faith in people. I don't feel uncomfortable with people who tell me they are Christians and they belong to one church or another. I feel quite comfortable with people because that's their right to their belief and I have to respect that.
Well, my belief is in people. I fix my faith in people. I'm a great believer in the power of people and I think, you know, I'm a street woman, I believe we should make good uses of our streets. They are not just there for motorcars, they're there for us to get out and express our feelings of how we feel, particularly about war, about peace, the manufacturing of arms, the banning of the manufacture of arms and so on. And so my faith is in people and I can't say anything else other than that. It always has been and it always will be.
So you're not religious at all?
I'm not religious, no I'm not a religious person. I have respect for those who are and enjoy the company of many who are but it stops there.
What do you think about whether there is going to be anything after death? What do you think is going to happen after you die?
Oh, after I die. Well, there will be nothing. I'll be a pile of ashes, maybe in the garden or in the sea, up at the crematorium.
As you get older, do you think about dying?
Oh yes, I think about dying quite a lot. I wake some mornings and think, 'I wonder how many more mornings I will have?'. Life is not one long morning any more and you know, twilight is coming through. So, yes, I think about dying. I have no fear. I've got an awful lot to leave, but it'll be all right because I've had an awful lot.
When you look back over your life ... [INTERRUPTION]
When you look back over your life to date, what do you feel has been your greatest achievement, the thing you're proudest of?
Well I am most proud of having achieved that Referendum. It wasn't a personal achievement, it was a team achievement and I was part of the team. But I'm still most proud of that.
And what in your life has given you the most joy and pleasure?
My family. I love my family. I love Hans and I love Lilon and I love my son-in-law, Stephen Llewellyn. It doesn't go beyond that really. I mean the love for others is different. But the love for those four people now, is quite intense and deep. It gives me a lot of pleasure.
Has friendship played a big part in your life?
Friendship is my life. My friends mean an awful lot to me. My women friends mean so much to me. You know I have those women friends whom I can pick up the telephone almost any old time and talk to them and they know that they can do that for me. When we thought we were threatened in having our telephone conversations timed, that had quite an impact on me. I was very disturbed. I'm very dependent on the telephone to keep in touch with my friends, they mean a lot to me.
Do you feel you've brought to your life any particular strength that's enabled you to do more than a lot of other people around you have been able to do? Where does your strength come from?`
I don't know. I've got some strength and I'm not awfully sure where it comes from. I suppose a lot comes from my mother and my brothers and sisters. It's been easy to handle it, it hasn't been difficult. I think that very often people with a lot of strength find difficulty in coping with that strength. And I haven't got that problem. I know what I want and I know those things that make me feel most contented and satisfied.
What sort of situations do you avoid?
I avoid stressful situations now, as I would avoid a cyclone. and I avoid situations where people tend to want to push me around, or where people tend to flatter me and say, 'Oh don't talk about being old, you're still young'. I find that hard to take, you know. I don't like it, I don't like it at all. So I avoid situations where there are pushy people.
Do you have anything that you regret in the decisions or choices you've made in your life?
Well, I suppose there were many small unimportant decisions I've made in my life, I can't think of awfully many now or any at all, that I have regretted. I can think of many decisions that I have made that I'm quite pleased with, quite happy about and they've been decisions that have not only enriched my life but has also enriched the lives of others and they've been good, they've been good.
So there's nothing that you think, well look, if I had my time over again I would have done that a bit differently?
Oh yes, if I had my time over, I would have done many things differently. Many things, I am sure. I am sure that I would have given more of my time to understanding music a little more, I would have given more of my time to perhaps looking after myself a little better. I would have given more of my time to understanding people of other groups. I'm not awfully good at that. I try even now, I try but I find it hard and I find that I can become quite biased.
In what way? That is a very surprising thing for you to say, Faith.
Well, you know, I went through the war and during the war years I hated the Japanese so intensely I can't tell you, and the Germans. This is what war does to people. [INTERRUPTION]
It's surprising to hear you of all people who dedicated a very big part of your life to advancing the cause of a people that weren't yours and who is really almost a by-word for tolerance and understanding, to say that you wish you understood some groups better and that you've been biased. Could you - could you explain that?
Well, having gone through the war, those of us who went through the last world war as adults, I'm sure find it very difficult, Australians find it very difficult to forgive the Japanese. I do. I find it very difficult to forgive them for their vulgarism and their cruelty and their murderous actions in the Pacific. I think of the women nurses who were beheaded and the men who were on the Burma Railway. You see my brother died, he was on the Burma Railway and of course there were thousands of others and I lost so many friends in the war who died at the hands of the Japanese. Now ... [INTERRUPTION]
So the war - you think that war often leaves a legacy of hatred?
War does leave a legacy of hatred. It's left a legacy of hatred here in Australia and I know that it's left such legacies around the world. I mean how can we ask the Jewish people to forget what happened in Europe? How can they forget the Nazis? How can they forget those brutal SS men who dominated their lives in the concentration camps? When I talk about this need for my involvement and other people's involvement in peace I mean it because it means, if we have peace, we can do away with an awful lot of hatred. Sure, there are many wars based on religion today and I curse religions for it. They kill each other, they murder each other, they rape each other. And so there are many things that have got to be fixed up as it were. And one of the things that has to be fixed up with me, is to rid myself of this bias. It's not easy, it's very hard and I've got to work at it.
Perhaps there is a difference between forgetting and forgiving?
Well I think that the ideal thing to do is never to forget but to be able to genuinely forgive. And we ought not to blame the people of this generation for the crimes that were committed by their forbears.
Now while we're on the subject of your faults, Faith. What other aspects of yourself do you hope that you can improve on? Is there anything else that you have to tell us where you wish you were a little different?
You know, today, I am what I am. I don't want to be different. Maybe if I were asked to try and change a little 10 years ago, 20 years ago, I would find a space in which to try and change and be different. I can't do that now and I enjoy being me. I find nothing wrong in being just me. I enjoy myself, I enjoy my solitude. My hours of loneliness have much space between them. I tend not to get lonely, I enjoy being just with me. And sometimes when I'm very much with me and the phone rings, I see that as an intrusion. I don't want to change about anything now and I'm too lazy to change, it requires too much of an effort and I've put a lot of effort into so many things, I don't want to put a great lot of effort into awfully much now.
For the community, for the world, for the country, for the people that you've worked for and for the causes you have worked for - what are the things that you look forward to in the future? What are the things that you would like to see happen in the world that would make differences that would mean a lot to you?
Today I would like to see the small wars in the world end. I wish for nothing more. I would like to see the end of the suffering of the war victims as we see them today. And I would like to see the black people of the world, and when I talk about the black people of the world, I mean all the African states and all the African-Americans and the black people throughout the whole world, to be one with the world. That they ought not any longer be dependent on charities to give them their place in the world. Their place in the sun, the sun belongs to us all and the blacks should have their equal share. [INTERRUPTION]
If you had to sum up and describe your life, what would you say about the life that you've lived to date?
Well in summing up my life I can truthfully say that no-one has had a life as good as mine. I do. It's been a rich life, it will be easy to say when the end comes to this old life of mine, it will be easy to say goodbye, it won't be a problem there. I can't think of anything that I would want to add to my life. There were hard times and there were good times but there's been a fairly equal balance and I've been able to bear the bad times, great sorrows I've had, I've lost - all my brothers have died, my favourite sister died - and so I've gone through these bereavements and it hasn't been, well I mean I just have faced the fact that there comes a time when there is no more life to live and that was it.
Do you feel that luck has played, do you feel that you've been a lucky person, or do you think that you've made your own luck?
Well, I can say that I guess luck plays a small part in a person's life, one way or another, whether it's good or whether it's bad. Being with Hans has been great, you know, it hasn't always been smooth, but I'm always grateful that we've been mature enough to sort out the differences and we've been able to realise that this life together could never be replaced in any other way. I shouldn't say some of these things, but I guess the person who has enriched my life tremendously has been my daughter. She's just such a strong person and such a compassionate person and such a beautiful person. Like one of my friends said, 'I'm so glad Lilon's doing medicine, look as she walks into the wards, we'll all feel better just by looking at her'. And it's hard for me to say this because I've always made sure that I would never in any way possess her, to keep a great space, and I have succeeded in doing that, I would never go to her house without first ringing and she does the same for me and I've made sure that she has had her life entirely, her adult life, without any interference from me. But at the same time she's given me great joy, it's been wonderful, just wonderful having her.
You've got a new grandchild, a brand new grandchild, what do you hope for the future for that child?
Let me tell you this. We were at the birth, and when the grandchild was a matter of minutes old, my son-in-law, Stephen, brought her out and put her in our arms, this lovely little thing. She wasn't lovely then, I mean babies are awfully ugly when they're first born. Now my son-in-law Stephen is the nephew of Ernie Llewellyn - Ernst Llewellyn - and you might remember how he ... and one day shortly after she was born, her father Stephen was nursing her and she held her head this way, and he said, 'That's good, get that little space for the violin to fit in. So with my grand- daughter I won't see that many years of her life but I have thought how wonderful it would be if she was a violinist. Her mother could help her along to begin with and there is this tradition in the - someone has to keep up the tradition in the Llewellyn family.
What sort of a world do you hope that she will be living in?
On more recent days, I have become concerned about the future of the world and I know that the birth of this little one has had something to do with it. And perhaps that is why I have shown concern about the continuation of the manufacturing and the sale of arms because if we go on doing that we are going to destroy ourselves and I think that in all fairness to my granddaughter and there are a million or billion others of her age, they deserve a decent world to grow up in. We owe it to them.
Great, thank you, wonderful, that's it, good.