Yamatji Noongar woman Carol Martin explains what NAIDOC Week motto Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!, means to her

Jessica MoroneyGeraldton Guardian
Yamatji and Noongar woman Carol Martin.
Camera IconYamatji and Noongar woman Carol Martin. Credit: Jessica Moroney

STANDFIRST

To mark NAIDOC Week, we bring you the stories of three very different, but influential, Aboriginal women who are leaders in their community and living, breathing example of the call to action to “get up, stand up and show up”.

Carol Martin was born an activist, and developed a strong sense of pride since her parents would lead herself and her siblings to rallies as children.

That drive to instigate change propelled her into politics, with the Yamatji and Noongar woman becoming the first Aboriginal woman elected to any Parliament when she served as Kimberley MP from 2001 to 2013.

Now based in the Greater Geraldton region, Mrs Martin remains a strong community member known for getting things done. These days instead of travelling to be at Parliament or dealing with constituents’ issues, she enjoys a slow morning surrounded by traditional painting and art.

Her family is central to her life. Proud of her 22-year-old granddaughter, Leanne Dolby, for being a finalist in this year’s Miss NAIDOC nominations, Mrs Martin said even though she didn’t win, what she did was an achievement.

“You’re a winner by just doing it,” she told Ms Dolby.

Mrs Martin said she was pretty great on popular app TikTok, after her granddaughter uploaded a video of their family success as Indigenous women.

Mrs Martin’s political pioneering is well known, while her Margaret-Anne was the first Aboriginal to gain direct entry into midwifery in Australia. Ms Dolby will be the first doctor in their family, while her 12-year-old sister is a natural artist.

“She just pours it out. When she comes and stays with me, she uses all my canvas and paint,” Mrs Martin said.

But the 64-year-old says Indigenous people continue to be mistreated in their own country by policymakers. She dove into her past this week, when she opened up to the Geraldton Guardian about the times she has had to “get up, stand up and show up” — like NAIDOC Week’s call to action promotes.

Growing up in Perth, Mrs Martin said she was able to function in both the Aboriginal and mainstream worlds. It wasn’t until she moved to Broome when she was 16, she learned a different way of being.

“Aboriginal people were reasonably well-respected. Aboriginal people were happy, they were on their country,” she said.

Mrs Martin was told to hide her traditional stories and identity while growing up in Perth. She said she was always respectful of people’s beliefs and political ideology, but was also aware of structural racism towards Indigenous people.

Yet, Mrs Martin said she always chose to get up, stand up and show up.

Although NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate the history and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Mrs Martin has lived through reforms, and said she saw an urgency to keep young Aboriginal people alive.

She said there must be consequences for dehumanising Aboriginal people for more than 100 years.

“I know it’s NAIDOC Week, but let’s have a touch of reality. You celebrate our culture, but take our kids away,” Mrs Martin said.

A review into deaths in custody found that as the Indigenous juvenile jail population increased — proportionate to non-Indigenous — the likelihood of increasing numbers of Indigenous youth dying in custody would increase, unless significant reforms were introduced.

Mrs Martin said it was time to stop using resources on removing children from families, and begin to put them into reconstructing families.

“When you’ve had three or four generations, if not more, of that sort of behaviour, then is it any wonder people self-medicate?” she asked.

Taken into foster care at one point in her life, Mrs Martin was put into a ladies boarding school in Perth where she suffered from racism and bullying, but unlike her Indian school friend, she fought back.

“The school girls didn’t want me and another Indian girl there, they used to flog this girl. I was out of there within 10 weeks,” she said.

Not long after that, Mrs Martin ran away, back to her family.

Mrs Martin said she was semi-literate when her education ceased at 12 years old, and the Education Department tended to have low expectations of Aboriginal students.

“When I was going into high school, I was loving it. I just wasn’t getting the support I needed because of the low expectations of what Aboriginal kids could do,” she said.

Mrs Martin said she always had a strong connection to literacy, and never gave up on educating herself in life.

“I knew I could read and write and I had a passion for reading. I have this nerd gene that triggers every now and again, where I have to read and research,” she said.

Mrs Martin didn’t become a citizen until she was 10 years old.

“Aboriginal people had never been counted in a census, which meant we weren’t citizens. We were property of the State — a responsibility,” she said.

Mrs Martin’s uncle and community leader George Abdullah was an important advocate for equal rights for Aboriginal people. In 1966, he managed the Aboriginal Advancement Council’s Centre in Perth. He would tell people “don’t be ashamed, be proud of being an Aboriginal”.

Mrs Martin said NAIDOC Week should be a time for everyone to reflect on the truth of Aboriginal history, and how hard Indigenous people fought over the years to preserve their culture.

“If you know who you are, where you came from and where your country is, you’re there already,” she said.

Reliving her memories, Mrs Martin said it was important for people to be prepared to get up, stand up and show up.

“When I think about all these things in my living memory, yes, there has been a little advancement for some of us,” she said. “Because we took the chance.”

Mrs Martin said if people were willing to have a crack at it, change could be good.

“When it comes down to it, your life is what you make it. If you don’t take risks — you don’t go forward. When you get up, stand up and show up, that helps,” she said.

“Get the courage to apply for jobs or scholarships. Then, when you stand up to go for the interview, turn up.”

Mrs Martin said it was important to gather young people together and convince them there is a future.

“Helplessness, hopelessness and despair leads to one thing.”

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