Aunty Veronica Brodie, 1941-2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

On May 3, Adelaide lost one of its strongest defenders of human and Indigenous rights with the death of Aunty Veronica Brodie, a widely respected and loved elder of the Kaurna and Ngarrindjeri peoples of South Australia. On May 11, more than 500 people attempted to crowd into the small Centennial Park Cemetery chapel to farewell her. To accommodate the hundreds of people who had travelled from around Australia to pay their respects, chapel staff took the remarkable decision to broadcast the commemorative service over the PA throughout the foyer and hallways.

Born in 1941 at Raukkan Community (then Point McLeay mission), she was sent to Adelaide by the Aborigines Protection Board to continue her education. For the last 40 years she lived in Port Adelaide, where she was a vocal Indigenous rights campaigner and strong leader for her people. She was a leader in the Kumarangk (Hindmarsh Island) campaign, which fought against a concerted effort by developers and ALP and Coalition governments to construct a bridge to an island in the lower Murray River held to be significant to Ngarrindjeri women.

While ultimately unsuccessful, the campaign was significant in uniting activists with local and Indigenous communities. It exposed the total inability of the Australian legal and political system to address issues of rights and justice for a dispossessed people.

Aunty Veronica's activism and advocacy ranged from social justice and rights-based campaigns such as Aboriginal housing, through to defending and reigniting traditional cultural practice. She was a leading figure in the establishment of the Adelaide Aboriginal Orchestra, the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music, the Aboriginal Sobriety Group, Warriappendi School, the Warraparinga Cultural Centre and Camp Coorong, and the development of various women's shelters and social programs across Adelaide.

Tireless to the very end, her recent activism involved the founding of the Lartelare Glanville Land Action Group in Adelaide's west. Aunty Veronica's great-grandmother, Lartelare — one of the last Kaurna people living a traditional life on the Adelaide Plains — was born on a site that is now under development as an up-market waterfront residential area. The Land Action Group is campaigning for Lartelare's descendants to be recognised as the custodians of the area and for the development of a Kaurna community cultural centre on the site.

As well as the hundreds of people at the commemoration, condolences were received from people and organisations around the world who had been touched by Aunty Veronica's fighting spirit and passionate search for justice for her people.

At a time when strong political leaders in Indigenous Australia are so desperately needed, her death is a great loss, but her legacy will live on in the many communities and organisations she led or helped establish throughout her decades of activism. Her life will stand as an inspiring example for future leaders.