Not Just Black and White

Lesley Williams, Tammy Williams

Not Just Black and White
University of Queensland Press
26 August 2015

Not Just Black and White

Lesley Williams, Tammy Williams

Two remarkable women tell an inspirational story about the power of family and pursuing your dreams.

Lesley Williams is forced to leave Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement and her family at a young age to work as a domestic servant. Apart from a bit of pocket money, Lesley never sees her wages - they are kept ‘safe’ for her and for countless others just like her. She is taught not to question her life, until desperation makes her start to wonder, where is all that money she earned? So begins a nine-year journey for answers which will test every ounce of her resolve.

Inspired by her mother’s quest, a teenage Tammy Williams enter a national writing competition with an essay about injustice. Winning first prize takes Tammy and Lesley to Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch and ultimately to the United Nations in Geneva. Along the way, they find courage they never thought they had, and friendship in the most unexpected places.

Told with honesty and humour, Not Just Black and White is an extraordinary memoir about two women determined to make sure history is not forgotten.


Respected Murri Elder Lesley Williams has a compelling story to tell. Written in collaboration with her youngest child, Tammy, this memoir reads like a conversation between a mother and her daughter. Her story is a frank and moving testimony to the injustices and discrimination faced by Indigenous Australians forced to live as ‘inmates’ in government and church-run ‘settlements’ in the middle of the last century.

Lesley was brought up in the Cherbourg Settlement in rural Queensland and, like many of her people, she was raised to work as labourer/servant at the behest of the state government. Life in the Settlement was tightly controlled and highly regulated with weekly home inspections, insufficient food rations and strict work details for young and old alike; Lesley’s elderly grandmother was forced to work as a laundress even while she was the sole guardian of nine grandchildren. Families lived under the constant threat of forcible separation as individuals could be, and often were, sent out of the community to remote locations on work contracts.

Growing up in the era of the Queensland Protection Act, Lesley contributed decades of unpaid work. Wages were held in trust by the government and only token pocket-money was given to the workers. Many years later, widowed with three young children, Lesley drew upon her tenacious spirit to guide her children towards better outcomes. Tammy was a teenager when Lesley first began her crusade to reclaim her ‘savings’ from the government. A nine-year battle ensued which saw mother and daughter take their story to Michael Jackson’s Heal the World Children’s Congress and then on to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child conference in Switzerland.

Lesley and Tammy’s stories are not just about confronting injustice, but also about sharing a vision for equity and equality for all.

Natalie Platten is from Readings Malvern

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