ABORIGINAL elders Doolan-Leisha Eatts and husband Walter are proud of their culture and heritage but remember a time before Australia’s first people had basic rights.
The couple have dedicated their lives to helping Aboriginal youth through their program, Aboriginal Urban Services, for more than 40 years in the northern suburbs, including the City of Stirling, and actively worked to keep their culture alive.
In light of National Reconciliation Week (May 27-June 3) and the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, Mrs Eatts, a Whudjuk Ballardong woman, said while the referendum gave Aboriginal people basic rights like being recognised in the census, racism remained in everyday life.
“Nothing changed straight away at all when the referendum happened,” she said.
“They still treated us the same as they treated us before – it didn’t change.
“You’d go into the shops and stand there and they would serve all the white people and not you.
“You had to stand up and be proud of who you are – whether they liked it or not so that’s what I did.”
Born in 1939, Mrs Eatts grew up on Badjaling mission in the Wheatbelt and said her parents used to hide her under hessian sacks from welfare workers.
“Dad used to go wherever he wanted because they were trying to take me away and put me in a home because I was fair-skinned,” she said.
“Nyungah people weren’t allowed to own property – they didn’t even own their own children – welfare would come and take them away.”
Born in Derby, Mr Eatts said his mother was part of the Stolen Generation, a trauma that stripped him of his identity for many years.
“I had no identity and no culture, I didn’t even identify as an Aboriginal because my mother was stolen from her Aboriginal family as a two-year-old child,” he said.
“It was only when I married Doolan-Leisha that she taught me to be proud of who I was and put me on the path of finding my people and culture again.”
Mr Eatts published his autobiography Somewhere Between: Not White, Not Black, Not Wanted in 2014.
“My mother was a proud Aboriginal person who was stolen from her family as an innocent child – we all felt her pain as her children, all the heartbreak and sorrow,” he said.
Mrs Eatts also published her book Our Country, My Nyungah Home, which recounts stories from her grandmother who lived in the Kings Park area when Europeans arrived on the Swan River.
Mr Eatts said constructive reconciliation would only be achieved when Aboriginal history, culture and language were taught in all schools.
“If young people were taught the full history and language in schools that would create change,” he said.
“People need to tell their stories and recognise Aboriginal people’s perspectives.”
Mrs Eatts said Aboriginal people encountered racism every day, with Aboriginal youth over-represented in detention centres.
“We worked at Banksia Detention Centre, there was hardly any white kids locked up there,” she said.
“They teach Aboriginal kids to be ashamed of being Aboriginal by not teaching their culture, history or language.
“We need the non-Aboriginal people to understand us, walk with us and know what we have been through, what we are going through and what we are trying to achieve.”