Carolyn Briggs

Carolyn Briggs, 2013
Carolyn Briggs, 2013
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria
Celebrate us, celebrate the Country you’re on, celebrate your being.

I struggled because of lack of education, lack of skills. It took me a long time to understand that I had something else that no-one else had. I had a mum that gave me stories. What went before me was my rights, my birth rights of who I am. Maybe it was her strength, Louisa Briggs’s strength, her granddaughter’s strength, and my grandmother. They’ve all instilled something, a pride. I carry generations of resistors and resilience. I’m a vehicle of many people who went before. I'm starting to try and give them a place, honour their place in history.

I don’t think people give us much recognition, even though Victoria has probably the most political mobilisers. Just look at William Cooper. Look at Derrimut, look at Ningerranaro, look at Barak. All these people left us a legacy, and if we can’t honour them, who can? The early borderers, the early resistors, all played a role in the history of this country. And who can tell their history but their descendants?

Yulendj is all those stories of connection, in a safer environment than we’ve ever had before. To be able to feel safe, teach people to see us, hear us and that we still play a major part in the history of this country. And it’s really good catching up with other people who you are part of. Learning about each others' stories. You’re in awe of them, and they’re a part of something that's bigger than all of us.

We've got to leave that legacy for the next generation. We need to give them a sense of place and identity or they'll merge into the mainstream. We're seeing amazing things emerging, like film, the continuing sporting prowess of our young people, having other heroes to celebrate. It will not just be this state, it will be a national and international standard of excellence. I think that takes strength of character dealing with a lot of issues that you have to deal with in an institution. We’ve also got to celebrate that the institution is allowing us an opportunity to play a major part in the next stage of our history. We’ll actually be seen as the descendants of a generation of people that never gave up their sovereignty, never gave up their struggle. We just come in different shades, but there's a whole intelligence emerging, of all the struggles that went before them. And the only way we can honour them is to give a major focus on something that is very uniquely Victorian.

You have a commitment and a responsibility, you can't be secure unless you bring people along with you. Sometimes I've always wanted to run away and just be my own identity. It would be easier I think. But I believe I had an ability to do other things – my mother instilled that into me, and I finally listened when she was gone. And it all started to make sense. I think we don't know these things until later on in life when that strength of family has given us some sense of belonging. I believe in family because of community, understanding community is family. And you have the obligations to give back, directly or indirectly. So when I worked with the kids that mightn't have had their family, you’re like their extended family. When I worked in education, when I was setting up child care centres, it was all about what I understood about what family was. We all have an obligation to care for each other.

So if anybody asks me, I'm made up of a whole lot of other people that have contributed to my thinking, who have given me strength of values and beliefs, that family is the essence. I think we as Elders have to keep re-awakening ourselves, to keep up with the impacts and changes that are occurring, because I think that we’ve got to understand that we live in the now. We’ve got to be confident enough to say, celebrate us, celebrate the Country you’re on, celebrate your being.

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Panel in First Peoples exhibition

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