AT 90 years old, Maisie Weston’s passion for standing up for her people is as strong as ever.
The Noongar Wagyl Kaip Elder and mother of eight from Rivervale has just been named the Naidoc Perth Female Elder of the Year, but prefers the spotlight to shine elsewhere.
“I would have never nominated myself, ever,” Ms Weston said.
Despite her surprise at being nominated, Ms Weston said she was honoured to receive the award.
Her experiences from childhood shaped her into a determined advocate for Aboriginal rights.
“It was a bad time for people like me. Being Aboriginal, part-Aboriginal, it didn’t matter, you were all classed the same and treated the same. And we weren’t able to go to the State school, we went to a little mission school. So we were at a disadvantage from the start. At the time, the Government was sending people away left, right and centre. The Stolen Generation. Back then they went mad, they sent kids everywhere,” she said.
“I had a photograph, years ago, in 1939 an anthropologist came. They were taking everyone’s details, your forefathers, as far back as you could remember.
“A fascinating time, I suppose, for them but they put everybody through a lot of questions – the colour of your eyes, how tall you were, how long your fingers were. All this kind of nonsense. You felt like you were a criminal, I suppose, right from the word go. You never ever felt at freedom.”
Ms Weston went on to work as as a field officer with the first Aboriginal Legal Service in Perth, working with indigenous people on legal matters, housing and a variety of issues.
“I felt good in that job because I could seek justice for people. I loved it,” she said.
During the 1970s she worked with young girls at the Nyandi Women’s Prison, advocating on their behalf.
She also travelled to South Africa representing the Elders Council to attend an Aged Care Conference and said she felt an affinity with the country during her time there.
At 90, Ms Weston still has people seeking her advocacy and advice and the Elder said her dream was to have groups of older Aboriginal women living together, giving them their own space but with easy access to group areas to have a yarn and a cup of tea.
“I can’t see why we have to live alone when you’re that age. I’m sure there must be some cluster type homes where you can have two there, two there, and a little courtyard,” she said.
When it comes to this year’s Naidoc Week theme – Our Languages Matter – Ms Weston said language, along with land, was of key importance to indigenous people.
“We’ve been desperately trying to hang on to (our languages). At one point, you weren’t allowed to speak it,” she said.