'Be proud and don't let anyone take that away'

February 21, 2010

Elaine Peckham is a Central Arrernte woman who lives on homelands in the West MacDonnell Ranges. She spoke at the Prescribed Area People's Alliance meeting in Alice Springs on February 12. The speech below is abridged from text prepared by the Intervention Rollback Action Group rollbacktheintervention.wordpress.com.

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I'd like to speak a bit more about myself and tell you how we are feeling about being on the Basics card at the moment. I was paying my rent and electricity although I live out on the land, the West MacDonnell Ranges.

So it should not make any difference me going out living on my land. But the day I went in there and had an interview, the day the intervention took hold of our lives, [they] tried to disempower us and say this is [what] you should be doing with your pension.

So the process that I went through was very disgusting and demoralising, because [when] I grew up we had nothing. We had little education. I was brought up in two worlds and for me to stand up today like I am is because my parents have brought me up the way I believe.

[My parents] told me from day one: "Hold onto what you've got, be proud and don't let anyone take that away."

We have to do that all again now. Why should we have to be walking this road again? We should not have to. We are being forced into living the way we are.

I could have moved back into town to get away from that Basics card, but why should I? I'm living on my grandfather's country and that's my obligation. We have few services out where I live. And those few services were a struggle [and] are [now] being taken away.

We've been hoping the next generation would come up and live better lives, but it hasn't happened. We are still not seeing the money that goes out to organisations. We have to keep fighting and speaking up about what we want.

Money means nothing to us, it's just our lives and our wellbeing for ourselves and our families. But how can we have that if the government is going to throw money to our people?

It's sad, I go back to the day that Basics card first rolled in. I've got a really good memory of what happened. I said I've already got my Centrepay [deductions organised] but it didn't matter at all.

I was an Aboriginal woman in there like everyone else. Everyday is like Invasion Day for me. I looked around Centrelink that day and it was happening to all of us. People couldn't understand what was going on.

To me, that day brings back a lot of really hurtful feelings that I have. It was very degrading to go through that process of being put on the Basics card. That's why I stand up so strong, because we're all struggling together to get what we deserve, but it's all been taken over because they took our human rights away.

[We were put on] that green Basics card just like that — just one day it took [them] to get us on it. And although I live on my land with little services, I still pay all my bills with my pension.

We are walking it, we are talking it and feeling it in pain. How long do we keep talking? How long do we keep going with this struggle? When does it stop, when does our journey end?

My children and grandchildren are feeling it already, and they keep saying, "Nanna can you tell us more about your growing up and your cultural obligations?" And I say I cannot any longer, its got to go on hold. Our lives have been on hold by what we're going through.

They still want to learn about those things, but it's weakening us. We need to be really strong and keep talking about those issues. I just wish everyone would come together more often and as Richard was saying let's really come back stronger together and support each other and forget about our own little needs.

Let's walk that path together and hold each other's hand. Not in dribs and drabs but united in a whole way and our belief that we can do it — we just gotta keep saying we're gonna get there.

Someone said to me: "Why don't you move into town, get off the Basics card?" But why should I move from the land my family sat down on and fought for? It's where we belong. I was given a choice by my family and [I] will keep that struggle up today.

That land means so much to us, [we won't be] losing our families and the struggles that they had before us. I hope that our young ones will take that struggle on too.

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