Transcript: Self determination 1981 - 1989

Video length: 4 minutes 44 seconds

Speaker: Jackie Huggins

Self-determination means to me the ability for people to control their own affairs in whatever fashion that they deem possible. Self-determination is taking control of your lives and being responsible for that.

In the 70s there was a great agitation and radicalism. It was the height of the land right struggles and of course that has a flow on effect to the 80s and to the 90s and of course we saw the Mabo decision handed down in 1993 in our country. Long and sustained struggles our people had fought. So the 1970s were different in the sense that there was this great lead up into what would occur in the 1980s which was also around the cultural revitalisation of our people. Never before had we seen so many of our people aspiring and becoming artists that were taken seriously both in their communities and internationally as well.

Not only was it culturally strong, but also Aboriginal people continued their resistance around the struggle. There were riots and protests. I speak mostly of the Bicentennial 1988 and of course there was the Brisbane Expo in 1988 as well. Prior to that there was the Commonwealth Games in 1982. Our people felt of course things in our country were still not right. Our people were still dying so young and the social conditions were pretty horrific so the only way to do that was to get out, march and protest in the streets. So we saw a lot of that happen in the 1980s, and I remember being very proud going to the Sydney march of the Bicentennial and for me it was the very first time I could recognise Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people marching and working together and walking together.

Well the 80s were incredible years for me personally. I was very politically active and wanting to do great things for my people. We’ve got to remember too, that in the 80s it was a bit of an oxymoron because it was a decade of opportunity and a decade of decline. For instance, Australia was really booming at that time. Property prices were high. People were living a good life, in fact. It was called the ‘me decade’ because a lot of it was very prosperous. For me as an urban, younger Aboriginal woman I was having a great time in my life but of course on the other hand, you know, I knew that still my people living in humpy’s and cars and in tin shacks without the possibility of running water even in some communities. So despite all the gains of the 1980s and prosperous years we still had our people living in abject poverty. And of course the longevity rate was 20 years less than that of other Australians.

I’d heard of AIATSIS and I always thought of it as a place who had these stodgey white anthropologists that studied us and how different things have changed from then. I think Billy Wentworth was the Chair at the time and the world opened up when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander board members became enlisted on the Council. So it did change, but AIATSIS was a place I knew through my academic training where one would go to for lots of records. It was, and still is, the premier institute for Aboriginal research in this country.