Image: Rodney Start
Source: Museum Victoria
My real name is Melissa Jones. People know me as Lisa. I'm from Mildura area, Ladji Ladji. Mum came to Melbourne to work. We lived in Braybrook and then we lived in Sunshine. She had two jobs and she never got the pension until 75. And we had Nan there, she was a shearer's cook. My family is women-driven so we all have a voice.
My brother Michael was a boxer so we had the cousins come down from Robinvale, the boys. We used to love it, dropping them big medicine balls on their bellies. There was heaps of us. Nan managed to feed us all and keep us going, and Michael boxed.
When we lived in Fitzroy, we used to go to a youth centre. We used to go to the Cubbies and then when you're old enough you could go to the FC. We went away to snow camps and when I was sixteen I was paid as a leader to go and teach a lot of young kids how to ski. Every year we'd go up to the snow and I'd teach them how to ski, and go rock-climbing, survival camps. We went up to Uluru for the handover. First time I'd been to a corroboree and it was scary, fascinating, all in one.
Mum's husband died at war, my sisters’ father and my brother's father, so mum wasn’t married. Uncle Dick used to look after Michael and Nanna Maude had Janette. My sister Janine was with my mum and her mother and they used to pick grapes in Swan Hill. When they see the black car coming, Janine would have to hide in a suitcase and she'd be pushed under the grapevines. She used to say sometimes she'd be let out when it was night time. That's how she remembers running from this black car all the time.
We never went through that because Mum brought us this way, Mum worked, Mum fought when welfare come around. I don't know how Mum kept us all together. She must have been very resilient because there were eleven of us in the house and never got taken away which I really thank my Mum for. A lot of people did get taken and horrible things happened to them. I was one of the lucky ones, actually, and that's how I see it. And that's what I say to my kids - Mum had it hard, we've got it easy these days but we've still got to know about our culture.
I pass it all on to my daughter and the younger boys there, trying to get them to understand culture because they're brought up in a white man's way. Living in Melbourne, for us to go back home to Country, it's pretty hard if you haven't been there for a while. We never got taught cultural stuff when we were young. Nan used to speak her tongue and when we used to try and speak it she'd give us a clip. ‘Don't speak that, the white man will come take you away.’ So we didn't start learning our culture until we were in our late twenties. Our younger kids are learning it now. Ladjis, the lost tribe, wasn't lost, we just moved away for work!
Getting to know your culture, where you come from, what your totem is, was an eye-opener for me. Twenty years ago I didn't know nothing hardly about my clan group. I knew a lot about Aboriginal stuff but not your own, where you come from, because a lot of people wasn't talking back then. Information doesn't get passed on and it's a shame that it stopped.
I'd never seen a photo of my grandmother, my great-grandmother Katherine at Ebenezer, and it's good to see some faces and make that connection. I always thought we were just from Mildura. You find out your connection once you get into land justice. I've been involved with the Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group for seven years now. I just stepped down as co-chair, give someone else a go at it. But Land Justice has taught me a lot about legislation and policy writing and a lot of government red tape that we have to go through to achieve land justice because we can't claim for Native Title. Hopefully we'll get our Traditional Owners Settlement Act through. So we have to negotiate with the government to change legislation so that we can have partnerships instead of the state holding everything. Lobbying the government has been very rewarding for me. Pushing me and it makes me a bit stronger standing up for our rights.
Yulendj is very exciting. It's a voice for our culture. It's another way of showing that we weren't the race that we'd been portrayed to be. This is how we lived, and our system lasted for so many years and that's good that the museum's going to portray that.
Sharing's been amazing, sitting around with Elders you learn more. I find the knowledge around the table is very valuable. I take in everything. I feel like being the sponge at the moment. You just absorb everything and hopefully I can use it when I'm that age. Getting it out now with the kids and that. Hopefully this will educate people and make them understand you've got to look after the land for the land to look after you.
There's this feeling that comes over you. It's happy and it's sad all in one. It's like you're happy you're seeing sacred things and you feel sad that they're locked away and people can't see them, but then they're locked away for a reason, so we can have them forever.