70 year old Judi Wickes always knew her family had a hidden secret, one that caused her parents terrible grief.
But it wasn't until she had children of her own that she discovered what that secret was.
She was Indigenous, and growing up in Queensland. But it was never acknowledged that her grandfather had been deemed ‘exempt’ from his Indigenous status.
Exemption certificates were granted by state and territory authorities, and granted basic human rights denied to other Indigenous people: permission to send their children to local schools, being served in stores, employment and wages.
Judi's grandfather Roy Smith was removed from his family as one of the Stolen Generations. He wrote to the government to apply for an exemption from his Indigenous heritage.
“My grandfather first applied in 1920, and he didn't get it,” Judi Wickes told NITV News from her Sunshine Coast home.
“He wrote to the government saying where he was, was horrible and he wanted his exemption because his last sentence is, ‘I'm sick of it.’"
‘A secret they took to their graves’
He had to wait another six years, when he was 24 years old and married to Daisy, Judi's Kalkadoon grandmother. Roy and Daisy were both Indigenous, but their identities were erased due to policies of the day.
“Pop and grandma never talked about their earlier life. It was a secret that they took to their grave. And that was because of the government," Judi told NITV News.
The Kalkadoon and Wakka Wakka researcher has been digging into Queensland’s archives for almost two decades, and helps educate families on their own histories.
“There's really only been in the last 20 years that I've been researching that I was able to tell my mum and tell my family. And that's very hurtful, It's that shame.
A new book, Black, White and Exempt is hoping to lift the lid on the experiences of Indigenous people living under exemptions and their descendants.
The collection of works details the lives of those who lived while exempted from their communities and classified as ‘White’.
It’s estimated that thousands of exemption certificates were issued before the practice was formally ended in 1967.
Editor of the collection, Dr Lucinda Aberdeen, at La Trobe University, told NITV News she hopes the book can be used as an educational resource.
Many people are aware of the Stolen Generations and its impacts, but less is known about the exemption policies, according to Dr Aberdeen.
Exemption certificates 'less well known'
“Achieving and maintaining exemption was really difficult and really unjust…they were still under the state surveillance to ensure they upheld the conditions of exemption.
“There's a lot less recorded and known about Aboriginal exemption and the loss and hardship inflicted across generations of Indigenous Australians.
“This book can bridge that knowledge gap,” Dr Aberdeen said.
Judi Wilkes said her children and grandchildren are now far more aware of their heritage and legacy than she was.
"That history needs to be open and we've got to know about it, to know who we are, to pass it down to our children and grandchildren.
“It was all about freedom. That was the most important thing."
The authors are hosting a virtual live panel discussion Wednesday 31 March 2021