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An Aunty's Fight

Guest Author -

The Uluru Statement from the Heart firmly put Indigenous issues across Australia on the national agenda.

But in a 24/7 media cycle, the sad reality is that headlines come and go.

Thankfully long after the TV cameras turned their lenses in 2017 to cover the statement, there remains a woman determined to fight every day until her people â€" the First Nations peoples of Australia â€" are respectfully recognised in the Constitution.

Aunty Pat Anderson is a household name in Aboriginal homes around the country.

It's a name likely to grow in recognition as the push for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament continues.

Ms Anderson has served in the Aboriginal health sector for more than half a century. In the 1960s, she had a radical message for government â€" that Aboriginal people needed their own health service.

They don't like going to mainstream clinics. People stare. Racism is rife.

It was Ms Anderson's push, along with others, that created Australia's first Aboriginal Medical Service.

"I think the concept of justice and what's fair and not fair, I learnt very early at Parap Camp, where I grew up in Darwin alongside a whole lot of other Aboriginal families," she told the National Indigenous Times.

"I can remember my mother taking in her child endowment book â€" a precursor to family allowance.

"They had to explain to the superintendent of native welfare how she was going to use her endowment money. He would ultimately decide whether she could have the whole lot or a portion."

Co-chair of the Referendum Council and Lowitja Institute chair, Ms Anderson has her sights set on achieving significant constitutional change.

It won't be easy. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is on record with concerns about a Voice to Parliament becoming a burdensome "third chamber" of politics.

And Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, has said he would prefer setting up a body like the Productivity Commission to weigh in on Aboriginal policy matters.

"This is the latest battle in a much longer battle for our advocacy which has lasted generations," Ms Anderson said.

"The fight now, for constitutional enshrinement of a Voice, is a continuation of everything else that we've done. In fact, (Aboriginal activist) William Cooper was talking about this back in the 1920s.

"I think that's what keeps us going; that continuation of the struggle that everybody before us went through. I think that's what drives a lot of us.

"We are the next generation. This is our turn to have a go. Those of us over 18, Blak and white, we have an opportunity here ... We are not there yet, but maybe we have a chance this time."

As head of the Lowitja Institute, a prestigious research centre originally set up to train health workers, Ms Anderson is bursting with pride that an authorised biography has just been released about the facility's namesake, Lowitja O'Donoghue.

Dr O'Donoghue was the inaugural chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, where there was a very broad agenda for constitutional change and recognition.

The creation of ATSIC and the concept of a parliamentary body, even in the early 1990s, was something people were campaigning for.

Much of the work of people like Anderson, UNSW pro-vice Chancellor Indigenous Professor Megan Davis and Cape York Institute founder Noel Pearson has been inspired by Dr O'Donoghue.

"People like Lowitja have that steely determination," Ms Anderson said.

"They seem to almost thrive against all the odds. They have that ruthless desire for change and to provide a better life for those around us.

"In Lowitja's case, and I think in our case as well, we have tried to give a voice to our mob, many of whom are voiceless."

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By James Smith


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