Not Just Black and White by Lesley Williams and Tammy Williams
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