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My Australian Life: Lidia Thorpe

As told to Ros Reines

When Lidia Thorpe entered the Victorian Parliament last October as the first indigenous senator to be sworn in, she wore a possum skin cloak and carried a message stick. On this message stick, there was a single mark for each of the 441 First Nations People who have died in jail since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody ended in 1991.

The beautifully strong, 47 year old Gunnai-Kurnai and Gunditjmara woman, took the seat of former Greens leader, Richard Di Natale. Raising her arm as she entered the chamber, Senator Lidia Thorpe was a true woman warrior. It’s a demeanour that will no doubt stand her in good stead in the adversarial environment of parliament.

The possum cloak was for protection

It was given to me by an indigenous group in Bendigo, who work in family violence. So it’s about protection and safety. It’s also about being able to feel my people and my culture around me through significant times.

The Black Lives Matter movement is momentous

It also highlighted Black Deaths in Custody here and we want an end to it and for all of the Royal Commission’s recommendations to be implemented. I also want the government to start counting these injustices in real-time, as often the information is two years old, which is how it’s currently being recorded.

We want to be part of this Nation’s identity.

We need to stop the many injustices that many of my people face here that happen each and every day. This includes deaths in custody, removal of young children, the destruction of land and the imprisonment rates of aboriginal people. So we need this country to come to terms with that, get on board and get rid of these injustices. Everyone can benefit from that.

My life has made me strong.

I’m a domestic violence survivor and I’ve raised three kids as a single mum while also studying at university. This equipped me to advocate for a range of issues including women’s rights, public health, environmental protection, public housing and child protection. As Greens, we believe that our Federal Parliament should reflect the strengths and diversity of our society. That’s why we need politicians who have experienced poverty and adversity

I grew up around Collingwood in Housing Commission Flats.

We also moved around in Fitzroy and my nan had a flat in Northcote but we eventually got a house in Clifton Hill. I’ve always been raised around those areas because that’s where aboriginal people set up in Victoria. It’s where my family did a lot of work in those days. My grandmother was one of the founders of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.

My first childhood memory was around violence

Well it was pretty tough as I saw a lot of family violence and experienced a lot of racism. These two things have affected me and my upbringing and how I turned out as an adult. Certainly these are issue that I continue to fight against as I know how much it can affect one’s life, particularly as a child.

One of my favourite places to visit is Gariwerd.

You might now it as the Grampians. Gariwerd is a very spiritual place for Aboriginal people, because of the dreaming stories and the abundance of food, water and shelter it provides. Gariwerd also has around 90% of the rock art sites in Victoria. It’s my matriarchal, ancestral connection where I can heal. It’s my space.


Ros Reines is a Sydney journalist and the author of four books. She is currently penning her fifth - a memoir of a life in the me

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