In mid June this year, news broke that Lidia Alma Thorpe was successfully elected to replace former Greens leader Richard Di Natale. This makes her the first Aboriginal Senator for Victoria and the first federal Aboriginal representative for the Greens. Thorpe is a Gunnai and Gunditjmara woman, who also became the first Aboriginal woman in Victorian parliament as the member for Northcote in 2017.
There are moments in time which create space for reflection. In that reflection, the mind tends to compare and contrast the past and present. On June 19, the importance of representation became more apparent than ever before. Both for myself and hundreds of Aboriginal community members across the state of Victoria.
Engaging in the system that governs our people is challenging, even more so when we haven’t seen ourselves represented in the state apparatus. Comparatively, it is so much easier to picture ourselves on the outside protesting legislation written about us without consulting us.
This moment forces a change in the mindset, the past being unrepresented and the present now feeling this tidal wave of relief and almost disbelief that someone like us is now there, in the building designed to destroy – destroy it didn’t – Lidia Thorpe’s successful election signifies survival and so much more.
The fight for human rights, self-determination and justice isn’t a new one to the Victorian Aboriginal community, of which Senator Thorpe descends from. The strength of our community and ourselves as individuals is built upon the work of generations before us.
Despite inhumane, racist government policies (such as The Aboriginal Protection Act of 1869) our people have risen with wisdom, integrity and grit.
The stories behind the establishment of services such as: The Victorian Aboriginal Health Service – (VAHS), Melbourne Aboriginal Youth, Sport and Recreation (MAYSAR) and the ‘Aunty Edna’s Funeral Fund’ will forever remain the foundation of our community’s story of strength, resilience and survival.
Growing from this, we’ve seen the rise of DjabWurrung women fighting to protect sacred women’s country in Western Victoria. Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) have led thousands to rally against many injustices. Grandmothers against Removal (GMAR) Victoria are fighting to protect the next generation.
There isn’t one word that can describe how I, as a young Koorie woman, felt when the community learned that our sister had carved her way from the roots of our community to the halls of federal parliament. There are songs though.
Tracy Chapman’s Talkin’ Bout a Revolution: “Poor people gonna rise up and get their share. Poor people gonna rise up and take what’s theirs.” Alicia Keys Underdog: “They said I would never make it, but I was built to break the mould. “
Not all of us are built to break that mould. Not all of us find the strength to rise above systemic disadvantage. But Lidia has. We know that she will continue to do so, because she’s not alone in her struggle. Her community stands beside and behind her.
As a member of the Koorie Community here in Victoria, I would like to thank The Greens party members for choosing Lidia. Your selection is historic and one that has realised the hope our communities have so desperately longed for.
Participating in the colonial government is difficult for Aboriginal people, but now that we can see ourselves represented, we may have reached a turning point in this country. Our nation may be ready to accept leadership from the oldest living culture in human history.
-Sissy Eileen Austin is a Gunditjmara Keerraay Woorroong DjabWurrung woman. Sissy is South West elected member to the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and has been actively involved in the protection of DjabWurrung country since 2018.