Prisoners step up

A dancer waits to go on stage.
A dancer waits to go on stage.

Guests braved the blustery winds and heavy downpour and were led to the prison gymnasium on Monday for the presentation, and were greeted with a small Acacia Prison Naidoc Week pin.

The presentation began with a couple of songs by a trio of prisoners on electric and acoustic guitars and keyboard.

The dancers, with their faces and bodies painted, performed five dances, each telling a different story about Australia wildlife and Aboriginal culture.

The audience watched in respectful silence throughout the presentation and applauded at the conclusion of each dance, but it was the moving speeches by guests Unity of First Peoples Marion Kickett and her daughter Tanya Williams that tugged on the heartstrings.

Ms Kickett, who had not given an address in a prison setting before, spoke of her husband Phil, an Aboriginal Vietnam Veteran.

‘My husband served in the war in 1967 when Aboriginal people weren’t even recognised as people of this nation. They were still classified as flora and fauna,’ she said.

She said a trip to Canberra in 2010 gave her a chance to look up her father and uncle’s history.

‘They fought side by side and looked after each other,’ she said.

Ms Williams offered words of support, encouragement and inspiration to the prisoners, listing a number of Aboriginals who have been in the international spotlight for their achievements, such as athlete Cathy Freeman and singer Jessica Mauboy.

She told them that when they were released they would have sons, daughters, nieces and nephews waiting and to make sure they had the chance to live up to their potential.

Prison director Paul McMullan said with the Aboriginal population of Acacia Prison fluctuating between 35 and 40 per cent, it was important to recognise and nurture their culture.

‘It is the highest percentage of Aboriginals in any Australian prison,’ he said.

‘The focus is on the survival of the culture, and to build bridges between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal prisoners.’