NAIDOC Week puts Tasmanian women in the spotlight

PROUD: Aboriginal Elder and artist Judith-Rose Thomas, with one of her petroglyph pieces. Pictures: Phillip Biggs
PROUD: Aboriginal Elder and artist Judith-Rose Thomas, with one of her petroglyph pieces. Pictures: Phillip Biggs

Aboriginal women will be at the forefront of NAIDOC 2018, with the national week of Indigenous cultural celebration starting on Sunday. 

The theme of the week has been titled ‘because of her, we can’ which aims to highlight the importance of understanding and respecting the roles of Indigenous women in Australia.

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre state secretary Trudy Maluga said this year’s theme was more relevant than ever.

“They are our mothers, our elders, our grandmothers, our aunties, our sisters, our daughters,” she said.

“As pillars of society, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, have played – and continue to play – active and significant roles at the family, community, local, state and national levels.”

NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Celebrations.

The week originally started in 1938, after protests occurred in what was then named the Day of Mourning.

The day was expanded to a whole week in 1975, and later to include Torres Strait Islander people in 1991.

Miss Maluga said NAIDOC Week 2018 would be a chance to recognise Aboriginal women who have fought, and continue to fight, for equal rights and justice.

She said NAIDOC Week is a chance to raise a voice over the continuous struggle for access to education and employment.

There will be a number of events held during the week, including a flag raising ceremony held at the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre office in Launceston.

The week will be capped off with a rally held in Hobart at Parliament Square with the theme of ‘treaty’.

PASSION: Aboriginal artist and Elder Nannette Shaw, with one of her kelp sculptures.

PASSION: Aboriginal artist and Elder Nannette Shaw, with one of her kelp sculptures.

Aboriginal Elder and artist Judith-Rose Thomas also highlighted the importance Indigenous women have in Tasmanian Aboriginal culture.

Thomas and fellow Aboriginal elder and artist Nannette Shaw recently opened an exhibition in Launceston’s Sawtooth Gallery, emphasising Aboriginal culture through artistic expression.

Both artists agreed the week was about showing Tasmania the strength of Indigenous women in the community.

Shaw was selected as a finalist for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards, which will take place in Darwin this August.

Her art is centred around the use of kelp to create baskets and sacks, similar to how it was done in traditional Aboriginal cultures.

Shaw believes that Aboriginal art can be therapeutic as well as an engaging way for Indigenous women to learn about their culture.

“In a lot of cases with the girls I’ve worked with it reconnects them back to where they need to be,” Shaw said.

“So really I’m just showcasing that to show there is a variety of different things that we have in Tasmania, and we should be proud for them.”

Thomas’ art is focused on the use of rock carvings, known as petroglyphs to demonstrate the richness of Tasmanian Aboriginal culture.

She hoped her exhibits, which are the largest Aboriginal art pieces to ever be displayed in Tasmania, would give people a chance to see illustrations typically only seen in remote parts of the state.

Indigenous youth was another important issue for both artists. 

The Elders hoped their stories will encourage younger Indigenous Tasmanians to learn about and appreciate their heritage.

“We’re Aboriginal Elders so we have to try and encourage the young ones to do something constructive with their lives,” Thomas said.

This sentiment was also shared by Aboriginal art and history expert Doctor Greg Lehman, who lectures at the University of Tasmania on the topics of Aboriginal education, heritage management, culture and arts.

“It is those young Aboriginal people who look to and respect today’s Elders who will be most respected as the Elders of tomorrow,” Dr Lehman said.

When discussing NAIDOC Week, Dr Lehman said he also believed that Indigenous women play an integral role in society.

“The unbroken tradition of shell necklace making, preserved and practiced by Elder women, is a powerful example,” he said.

Dr Lehman also believed that Australia needs to better recognise the importance of Indigenous art, if it is to properly appreciate the full extent of Australia’s human history.