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Fri, 01.26.1923

Daisy Kadibil, Aboriginal Activist born

Daisy Kadibil (her note)

*Australia Day has been celebrated on this date since 1788 as Australia's official National Day.  Because of this, we are celebrating the birth of Daisy Craig Kadibil in 1923.  She was an Aboriginal woman housekeeper, cook, and Aboriginal activist.

She was born in Jigalong, an Indigenous community in the Pilbara region in northwestern Australia. When she was eight years old, Kadibil, her sister, Molly, and a cousin, Gracie, were taken from their home, and all three girls were sent to an Indigenous settlement near the Moore River, just north of Perth, the nearest city, about 800 miles to the south.  Their removal had been ordered under an Australian Assimilation Policy that sought to absorb Aboriginal people into the country’s white society by taking children from their families and indoctrinating them in the ways of that dominant culture.  Through their longing for home, they escaped in 1931.

The three girls embarked on foot on a treacherous nine-week journey north across rough terrain and used as their guide a barbed-wire fence that had been built to keep rabbits away from pastureland.  This quest for freedom inspired a book and the 2002 Australian movie “Rabbit-Proof Fence.”  The film, which depicted the girls’ journey, won numerous international film festival awards.  It also brought the issue of the stolen generation of Aboriginal Australian children to audiences around the world.  The movie was based on the book “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” (1996) by Doris Pilkington Garimara. The author was the daughter of Ms. Kadibil’s sister, Molly Kelly, and her book was partly based on her mother’s experiences during the journey. However, she interviewed Ms. Kadibil, her aunt, extensively in her research.  Ms. Kelly died in 2004, and the sisters’ cousin Gracie Cross died in 1983.

In his review of the movie in The New York Times, Stephen Holden described the movie as a “devastating portrayal” of Australia’s “disgraceful treatment” of its Aboriginal population.  “On the side of wrong is the Australian government,” he wrote, “which, for more than half a century, carried out this appalling program of legalized kidnapping.”

The three girls were among thousands of Aboriginal Australian children forcibly removed from their families and transported to settlement camps hundreds of miles away. Once in the camps, as they were taught the customs of white Australian society, they were forbidden to speak their native language. The assimilation policy started in the early 1900s and lasted into the early ’70s.  Paddy Gibson, a senior researcher at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, “This was an incredibly destructive policy which left in its wake a real trail of heartache and pain in Indigenous communities, which continues today.”

Ms. Kadibil spent many years as a cook and housekeeper on ranches in the Pilbara and lived much of her later life in Parnngurr, a community near Jigalong where her descendants continue to live. She was part of the Martu group, the traditional owners of a large part of central Western Australia.   Daisy Kadibil, the last remaining of the three Aboriginal girls to escape, died on March 30, 2018, in South Hedland, Western Australia. She was 95, and her death was confirmed by a grandson, Darryl Jones, who said she had dementia.

Tributes to Ms. Kadibil poured out across social media after her death.  “May you finally rest in peace with your sisters, Aunty Daisy Kadibil,” the South Australian Film Corporation posted on Instagram.  Samina Yip, who works for the Papua New Guinea Tribal Foundation in Australia, tweeted: “In this year of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Woman, why was she not given a state funeral?”  A private funeral was held in Jigalong.

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