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Hetti Perkins on Herself

I am a curator of The Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney in North West Queensland. I belong to the Aland peoples from Central Australia, and the Quakabitu from New Queensland. I have four children and live in Sydney.

I was born in 1965, the same year that my father, Charles Perkins, as the first among the Aboriginals, received a diploma from the University of Sydney. So it can be said that the first Aboriginal only graduated “recently”. My father, still as a student, led the movement for Aborigine human rights. He founded a foundation for Aborigine issues in Sydney, where people would come from around the whole country seeking help in finding work, housing... My father was encouraged by Ted Noffs, a founder of the alternative “Wayside Chapel” (Family of All People) which embraced all religions. He spurred my father to enroll in university in order to obtain qualifications that were recognized in society, and thus gain a voice which could act within the structure of power in the realization of his goals.
...My father once met a man while traveling who compared contemporary Australia with that of a cover spread out across the land. The cover was white Australia, but when you lift up a corner you uncover the black layer below, completely preserved. Aboriginals are an integral part of the land, the country; we say that we do not own it, but that we come from it. ...Our sense and idea of community was changed in order to accommodate non-Aboriginals, which is nothing negative, rather, it shows how strong the Aboriginal culture really is. My father would say to me: “We cannot live in the past, but the past lives in us.”
> With the actual federal government Australia is becoming a society which is all the less just. People were left without any illusions at the beginning of the 21st century as compared to the optimism of past years. ...We achieved significant goals, for example, at the beginning of the seventies when an Australian Embassy was “installed” in a tent in Canberra in front of the Parliament building. This was an opportunity for radical Aborigine expression. What was being sought was a form of Aborigine influence on the Parliament and government structure. This was the catalyst for change which exposed racism in Australia, presented it to the international public domain and so disgraced the government which was then compelled to develop social consciousness. ...In the mid-eighties the Aboriginal Art Center was founded in Sydney, as a specific visualization of Aborigine issues. The political presence of Aboriginals is closely connected to the art movement which had been flowering for the last three decades. During the nineties we achieved some very important goals in connection with the law related to the Aborigine nation, for example, land rights. This was followed by a discussion on the right to indigenous names.

Underprivileged group

...We are now, it seems to me, despite all our achievements, in danger of sliding backwards...

...Aboriginals are the lowest socio-economic group in Australia and I do not believe that this will change significantly any time soon, especially with the current government. I don’t believe that this society, at least not until the end of the 21st century, will be able to be considered a just one.

...Aboriginals have restricted access to healthcare, running water and housing, and education compared with white people. There are significantly a greater number of them in jails. And there continues to be a high mortality rate of indigenous inhabitants as opposed to immigrant Australians. Aboriginals, also, more often suffer from kidney, heart and lung disease. There is a high level of drug abuse and domestic violence which we cannot observe as isolated cases, but rather as a consequence of traumatic experiences, as a specific type of posttraumatic shock of the “stolen generations”. 2

Whole families were separated actively, broken up; it was not assimilation that was carried out on them, rather elimination.

Most Aboriginals today live in cities, and one of the most important community in Sydney so that there institutions located here which deal with their specific needs and problems: services for healthcare and legal aid, children’s care...

...Currently, the worst fact, in a philosophical sense, is that the Aborigine nation and the Aborigine issue no longer exists. At the last federal elections, there was no mention made of the Aborigine issue, nor was it posed on a political level.

The Voice of Australia

...In the last little while, there has been an increase in the number of people who are declaring themselves as Aboriginals, which is the result of achieved political goals of the past 30 years, but Aboriginals still constitute a small part of the population, less than 2% of the population, that is, altogether some hundred thousand. And in addition to this, our presence in the international framework is rather significant, especially in art. Art production is a way of expression of the Aboriginal peoples, who are in themselves, the “voice of Australia”. In particular, it is the performing arts which are central, especially dance, contemporary dance. The songs of our singers are popular hits, we are also strong in theatre. In the area of visual arts we are represented at international biennials in conjunction with exhibits of Australian art. ...Aboriginals are for Australia some kind of visual sign-identity... For some Aboriginal communities artistic creation is even the only form of economic entrepreneurship tied in with tourism. The opening of the Olympic Games 2000 in Sydney represented a one-of-a-kind celebration of Aboriginal culture. ...In Australia there many indigenous languages and nations still exist, but today they nevertheless form an integral community that often spreads its political message through visual arts - as a “scalpel in a cotton ball”...

Prepared by: Silva Kalčić

1 One of seven video-interviews which Andreja Kulunčić and Ivo Martinović conducted in Sydney in October, 2002, within the presentation of the project Distributive Justice in the Artspace Gallery (Arts in Residency program).

The politics of “assimilation”, that is, of forced removal of part-Aboriginal children from indigenous families, was abolished in Australia in 1969. Children were removed, often with violent confrontations, by missionaries who would then give them up for adoption, or to the so-called “care” of white parents who would bring them up as their own offspring, mostly “light-skinned” children. Hence this is where the term “stolen generations” derives from.

Note by: S. Kalčić