Last night, while the country stopped to hear former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s resignation speech, another speech was delivered. Nova Peris, the first Indigenous woman to serve in the Australian Parliament gave her maiden speech.
She spoke of her Aboriginality, her mother’s life as a child of the stolen generaiton, her respect and love for her culture and art and her passion for the Northern Territory.
It is a beautiful, eloquent and moving speech. You can watch and read it below.
Thank you, Mr President.
I acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngambri and the Ngunnawal people on whose country we meet today. I pay my respects to my elders, past and present. and to our future leaders.
I am Nova Maree Peris. I was born in Darwin in the Northern Territory and I retain my strong cultural and spiritual ties to my country, to Mother Earth. I am a member of the oldest continuous living culture on the earth. I am proud that this hill that we meet on here today is culturally significant to the Ngambri people as representing the womb of the ‘Woman’ on this Country.
It is very significant to me to be the first Aboriginal woman elected to the federal parliament of Australia. Through my mother, I am a descendant of the Gija people of the East Kimberley and the Yawuru people of the West Kimberley. I am also Iwatja from Western Arnhem Land through my father.
Through my life I have come across many people from all walks of life who have inspired me; some through their wisdom and some through their courage and their ability to overcome adversity. But no-one has inspired me more than my grandmother, Nora Peris, a proud Gija woman. She was torn from her mother’s arms and lived on the Mission of Moola Bulla in the East Kimberley. ‘Moola Bulla is a long, sad and painful story’, she used to say.
This was home to her for 12 years. A river separated her and her traditional Aboriginal mother who was still living on country. She used to always say they were so close—yet so far apart. My Nanna’s clothes on the mission were made from stitched-together hessian bags. When the Second World War hit, the kids were released from the mission and for two years she walked and lived off the harsh Eastern Kimberley land. These conditions and her will to survive shaped her, and it was where she met my grandfather Johnny Peris.
Johnny Peris was a Yawuru Man, a Beagle Bay mission survivor who was also a proud stockman. They met and had 10 children. Four of their children were taken away and sent to the Garden Point mission on the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory. One of the four children who was taken—and is here today—is my mother, Joan Peris. She lived on the mission for eight years. She worked every day and never received a cent in pay.