Linda Burney has always displayed pride in her Indigenous heritage, but also determination to fight for better outcomes for some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged Australians, as she explained in her maiden speech to NSW Parliament in 2003.
“Growing up as an Aboriginal child looking into the mirror of our country was difficult and alienating. Your reflection in the mirror was at best ugly and distorted, and at worst non-existent,” she told the chamber of the lower house after winning the seat of Canterbury for Labor in 2003."
A descendant from the Wiradjuri people, Burney grew up in the regional NSW town of Whitton where she was raised by her aunt and uncle, after she was separated from her own parents.
The experience of her early years shaped her later views on non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australia.
“I did not grow up knowing my Aboriginal family. I met my father, Noddy Ingram, in 1984. His first words to me were, 'I hope I don't disappoint you.' I have now met 10 brothers and sisters. We grew up 40 minutes apart. That was the power of racism and denial in the fifties that was so overbearing."
“Acknowledgement of country reminds us that we are a place of many stories. It reminds us that there are many maps of Australia. The original map is one of more than 300 nation states—all sovereign, all different and all legitimate. It tells the Aboriginal story. It is a map that should be as well-known as the modern map of eight States and Territories”.
Prior to entering parliament Burney had a career as a teacher in NSW, as well as holding a number of board positions including SBS, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and the NSW Board of Studies.
She was also a Director General of the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Again her experiences growing up helped shape her, and in some ways helped determine her path into teaching and later Aboriginal affairs.
“Racism was never far away in my youth. I remember being told that we were the closest example to Stone Age man,” she said in parliament.
“The life expectancy for a non-Aboriginal woman in Australia is 81 and for an Aboriginal woman it is 66. No-one in this room would agree that that is okay.
“Education is the pillar, the cornerstone of social justice. It is education that can bring about equity - equity of outcomes. Many people have said, 'What got you into this place?' It is simple: I could read.”
Tragedy has shaped Burney as much as adversity . in 2005 her partner Rick Farley the head of the Farmers' Federation, suffered a brain aneurysm which left him disabled and confined to a wheelchair. He died in 2006 after a fall.
"As he was passing away, I was talking to him and I said, 'You just have to understand your life mattered and your life made a difference'," she said.
She added: "He never recovered from the aneurysm … but he put up the biggest fight I have ever seen anyone put up."
The pair met in the 1990s but never married. Burney has a son and a daughter.
Ms Burney was the first Indigenous Australian to serve in the NSW Parliament after her election in 2003. She later became the Minister for Fair Trading, Minister for Youth and Volunteering before she became Deputy Opposition leader after Labor’s defeat at the 2011 NSW state election.
Last year Burney revealed her history as a victim of domestic violence prior to meeting her late, long term partner Rick Farley
"My own story was being in a long-term defacto relationship with a man who was well thought of, but behind closed doors, it was a different story," she said in an ABC interview.
"It got to the point where the last beating was very severe and I knew that staying in the relationship was not good for me and it was not good for my children," she said.
Burney said for young Indigenous women suffering at the hands of abusive partners there were an added set of circumstances that had to be taken into account.
"I've seen this with young Aboriginal women who are in a violent relationship, but don't know it because it's become normalised," she said.
"Quite often there is sensitivity around a person's Aboriginality, of calling issues for what they are," she said.
"I'm past all that. Violence is violence, and it is a crime, and it destroys people's lives.
Burney will stand aside from her NSW seat of Canterbury and stand for the federal seat of Barton.
Her chances of winning the seat look strong. Barton is now a notionally Labor seat following an electoral boundary redistribution by the Australian Electoral Commission.