Auntie Patrina Wendy Brown
Recorded and transcribed by Claire What’s your full name? Patrina Wendy Brown. My name used to Sims, May Sims, before I was married. My mother was Gwendoline May Sims and my father was Fredrick Ridgeway. Where and when were you born? I was born at Royal Newcastle Hospital in 1957 so I’m 62 this month. Where did you grow up? I grew up here on the mission for the first 19 years of my life before I moved away to Lightening Ridge. I spent all my childhood and my life growing up here. I went to primary school here and then to Roman Terrace High School. I then worked and met my husband at the age of 19 before leaving. I came back frequently to see my mother and my siblings. She passed away in 1966. I lost my dad when he was 44 years old to lung cancer. What memories do you have of the traditional aboriginal life? We had good memories. Dad was a hard worker, sometimes working 7 days a week. We grew up where my mum spent a lot of the time in the house. It was old fashioned back then where the men worked, the mother looked after the kids and the house. It was just how it was, we were brought up in that era. If dad had to work 7 days, mum had to go help him cull oysters wherever they worked. She’d take us along and we’d play and swim while she helped dad to work on weekends. I guess that was her way of not being away from him all the time. I grew up in that atmosphere with our parents. It was a good life. Dad was like a provider here on the mission. I remember on Friday nights at around 10.30pm or 11pm, he would put out netting in front of the mission on the water. We’ve got a reef just out the front and he would put a net out there before pulling it in at 4’oclock. He’d cut all the fish up. Sometimes he’d catch a tub of fish filled with all sorts of fish and mud crabs too. It was our job on Saturday morning to go to all the houses and give a feed of fish, we shared everything like that. He’d go out and get kangaroo once every week and then skin it before hanging it on the line. The community would take off what they wanted and cut it. My dad used to cut it into strips, roll it in flour and fry it. We grew up like that. Our main diet was fish. I don’t think there were never any overweight children on the mission because of that. When we around 12 and got home from school in the afternoon, we’d get in a boat and paddle across the Karuah River to fish. We never had any watches so we’d know when the tide changed it was time to head back home. We used to do that almost every afternoon, take turns rowing. We’d walk along the road and pick up bottles because you could get 10 cents for each bottle of Coke or Fanta. We’d get a sugar bag and walk along the road before cashing it in. Outboard motors were $2.50 a day so we’d go down and get one for the day. We’d go up to the top of the river, there’s a little creek and we’d catch mud crabs. There were big crab holes so we’d get bag and poke a stick into the hole. The crabs would come out angry because someone was knocking on their door before putting them into the bag. We used to do this all the time. This was our recreation, this was how we grew up. We’d also go down fishing in the open and drift. When you drift, you catch a lot of blue crabs. Sometimes the bottom of the boat would be covered in them. Sometimes when the tide was coming in quickly, we’d try to rush home but then drop an oar into the water. Since we can’t paddle with one, we’d go down just before the bridge before reaching the boatshed from where we would hire the boats. It was owned by Claude Johnson and my dad used to work there a lot on the weekends. We’d sing out ‘Claude! We lost our paddle’. He’d go out in his outboard motor to get the paddle and tow us back up to the mission. We’d do that with Claude. We were never overweight, we came from a family where we couldn’t afford a lot. There was eight in our family so we only got new things when it was Christmas or our birthday. I can’t ever remember having a birthday party, that was just something you didn’t do. We were just happy with having a birthday. We made our games up with sticks on the weekend but we were never allowed to play cards on Sunday. It was a religious day, God’s day, so there was no gambling then. My mum wasn’t that religious but she was a believer that you don’t play cards on Sunday. I don’t know why but we were just brought up like that. We had to go to Sunday school every Sunday, that was compulsory. We used to go to Tully Bible College where they would have services every fortnight. We had to get in a bus and go down. That was the only time we would dress up in those pleated skirts with the big pins, socks up to our knees, black shoes and ribbons in our hair. We’d used to love their lemon sponge cake so we couldn’t wait for supper. All you could think about wasn’t the service but the big lemon sponge cake! What does gathering back at Karuah mean to you? When Michelle rang me to tell me that she was going to do this, I was so excited to have these things recorded and to revisit where we used to do the washing down at the dam. Going down to the dam where mum used to do the washing was a big thing because I was only seven years old then. My mum used to put the washing in a pram and we’d carry it in our hands. It was a day out for us, a special day out where we played games. We’d never muck up though because mum had a job to do. She’d use a washing board and then boil it in the copper. She’d then put it on the clothesline, wait for it to dry, fold it, put it in our arms and come back. It was a full day down there. She’d also tell us to get in the dam and she’d have a cake of soap to let us wash. It was really good to come back and relive that. Today I’ve seen a lot of aunties I haven’t seen for a while. It was really lovely to get together and be a part of this. To make something of that and doing something of that dam would be very special for us. My eldest girl’s 43 but she’s down at Salamander. My other daughter who’s at Lightning Ridge always loved it down here. Every time they get to the service station, they get butterflies because they feel that excitement like me. They still do. They still say when they come down and they see that, their belly starts getting excited. They say ‘We just feel it mum’ because they would get to visit their family. I’m really glad they feel the same. When I bring my grandkids back and show them this, it’ll be really special. They will be able to relive that, know where we came from and where their great grandmother came from. I talk to them all about it, about their great grandmother, aunties and where they came from. It’s just different times. What does culture mean to you? How is culture a part of your life? Culture’s a very heavy part of my life. I’m a very proud Woromai woman and I’ve always been proud of my culture. I can go back to years ago when I was a little girl when they started the aboriginal rights. I’ve been a part of that in Newcastle and Sydney. Our parents always told us why we had to a part of it and keep our culture alive. All my employment throughout my life has been aboriginal identified jobs because that’s all I’m interested in. I feel as though I want to make a change for my people and change their lives. I want to make it better for them. I worked for a service school for aboriginal home care and before that I did 8 years in aboriginal housing to benefit my people. This was the same with home care, I wanted to make a difference in their lives as I’m connected to them and I grew up in a mission. People grew up on the streets which was different to on a mission as well as how you share and support each other. All the houses used to be together, everyone was always welcomed and we shared. We were the only house on the mission which had power and TV because my brother played for Australian Rugby League. He was one of the first aboriginal players to be picked and it was very hard to be picked back then. You had to be exceptional. Since he played for Australia, mum and dad bought us a TV so we could watch him play. When we’d have movies, everyone on the mission took turns to come in to watch it on different nights. My cultural life was all about the sharing and it’s very special. I just wish that the languages were allowed when we went to school. It’s taken years to get it back, to be allowed to speak your language. I just think it’s so bad that it’s taken so many years to acknowledge our language. We should have been allowed to speak it. Better late than never though, it’s better that people are learning about our cultural ties now. What are some of the changes in our society you’ve seen in your lifetime? Our languages, our ability to vote, the referendum and the freedom riot. I’ve seen people who have paved the way to make these changes occur pass this onto people to carry this on. We can’t give up the fight, we’ve got to make changes. We’ve got to support each other and stick together to make these changes. If this doesn’t happen, it’ll just die. I think people are starting to listen to us about its importance. It’s taken a long time. At Lightening Ridge, the culture up there is abundant. However, since it’s remote up there it’s a bit different. I think it’s more pushed in the Outback than down here. It’s more supported and practiced. All the kids up there can speak ‘welcome to country’ in their own language. The white kids are doing it too because of their exposure to reconciliation. People are starting to respect our culture more, this is a big thing. What are some memories you have of school? We had a good school life, we had good teachers. Mr Pepper was the principal and we had Mr Gordon for a long time. They were special teachers because we didn’t feel segregated, they treated us very good. When we had reunions where Mr Gordon was still alive, he remembered what we talked about. When your book was full, they’d give you a new exercise book to do your work in. I once said, “Mr Gordon, my book’s full”. He’d reply with “Sober it up”. He’d do jokes like that and I’d tell my granddaughter who laughs. Many years ago when you say ‘full up’, that would mean you’d get drunk. At that time, we laughed and thought it was funny. We had some good teachers. Margo, my cousin and me represented state softball for a few years. We then went to Roman Terrace High School. I left school when I was in year 9 much to my mother’s dismay. She was really upset that I left school. I did oyster farming, waitressing, had 5 children and then decided to go back to university. I went back and got my degree in adult education because I was sick of labouring, waitressing and working behind a bar. I shouldn’t have left school but I was ready to go back and do it. I graduated in 1996 and it was the best thing I ever did. I was ready to do that then. When we went to Roman Terrace High School, there was bit of racism then. I think it had to do with not feeling comfortable then because there were some people there who would say things and have arguments with. I was ready to do what I did when I did it. I never looked back and I’ve done heaps of things through my work experience. It made me a better person as well as for me and my grandkids. I’m a mentor for them now as well as their mother and nan. It gave me the skills to be a mentor. I tell all young kids how important education is and how I grew up. Everyone has a dream but you need to be educated if you want to achieve it. What are the main difference between going to school then and going to school now? I don’t think the kids now go through what we used to. Back then, the kids never got in trouble for what they said or did. Now the school’s got their hands-on bullying, they prevent it before it gets too much which is a lot different. A lot the times we didn’t say anything back then because we didn’t want to create trouble and conflict. We just learned to live and avoid it. What are some historical events that you’ve experienced in your life time? Freedom rights, they were historical events in our life that we were excited about. When Obama became the president of the United States, I thought oh my goodness, times are changing. Maybe one day we’ll have an aboriginal prime minister. Everything’s always changing, you just never know. Someone’s going to come along and be exceptional as well as inspirational. One day, it’ll happen with us. All in good time. What message you want to leave for the future generations. My mother and father brought me up saying you’ve got to work for what you receive, don’t expect anything from nothing and treat people accordingly. These were the basics we were brought up with and I never wanted to be racist. These are the same things I want to leave. I say this to my grandkids they’ll hand it down to their kids. If my grandkids make a remark about something, I’ll pull them up and tell them why they shouldn’t say that. When you don’t like people bullying you and making remarks about you, that’s how they feel. Everyone’s go their own lives going on, you shouldn’t tell them or expect them to be like you. People have a right to be what they want to be. Acceptance has got to be there. When we have meetings, I like it when people talk up. I encourage that because that’s how you get results. You’ll get an answer.