When I was studying law, I was so inspired by my Aunty Lorna’s bravery to take on the Commonwealth.
The treatment she received as a child, the bravery as a mother with children taking on the colonial settlers judicial system, to try and bring justice for the treatment she and many other Indigenous children experienced from the racist forced removal policies should not be forgotten.
Aunty Lorna Cubillo was born at Banka Banka Station, north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.
In her evidence to the Child Abuse Royal Commission, she described a loving early childhood.
“I was happy at Banka Banka Station. I was always well cared for and looked after. I was close to my grandmother, Alice. I was surrounded by my tribal kin. Food was always in good supply, goat's milk, vegetables, meat and bush tucker. I was in good health.
She went on to describe the fear of white men taking children away.
“I was hidden and painted up to disguise my lighter skin colour. My mother and grandmother in particular were afraid I would be removed. They were also afraid of being shot. They spoke of a recent massacre of Aboriginal men, women and children by whites. Whenever a truck came to Banka Banka Station and we were about, we would run into the bush.”
When she was around 5-years-old, Aunty Lorna was taken away from her family and community to the Phillip Creek Native Settlement and then the notorious Retta Dixon Home, where she suffered years of physical and emotional abuse.
Aunty Lorna’s bravery and sense of obligation to seek justice for the way she was treated, drove her to be part of the landmark court case.
The Commonwealth spent more than $8 million fighting the claim and in August 2000, the Federal Court in Darwin dismissed the case.
On the rare occasion Aunty Lorna spoke about the case, she told me that she felt the hearing made her out to be a liar. She told me that it hurt her deeply and that she had no reason to lie about what happened to her.
In 2008, Aunty Lorna travelled to Canberra with other members of the Stolen Generations to hear the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliver the national apology.
A true reflection of the woman she was, Aunty Lorna said that sorry was enough for her.
The legal system let Aunty Lorna and many other Stolen Generations people down. There was an opportunity to correct a wrong but the opportunity was missed.
I hope that I can be half as brave as my Aunty and many other members of the Stolen Generations who experienced such an ordeal.
Her bravery to advocate and put herself out there for the system to again assault her to justify their terrible actions continues to inspire me.
Such bravery for justice for our people whether it be incarceration, deaths in custody, the ongoing removals of our children is needed more than ever.
I salute you Aunty, be at peace with your family.
- Larrakia, Arrernte and Wadjigan man Eddie Cubillo is a Senior Indigenous Fellow at Melbourne University. He is Lorna Cubillo’s nephew.