Aunty Joan Hendriks: Lest we forget.
8.1.1936 – 26.1.2020
Blessed are you, when people insult you and persecute you and speak all kinds of evil against you because of me. Mt. 5:11
Tributes, eulogies and commendations have greeted the passing of Aunty Joan Hendriks, a wise and revered Ngugi woman and Quandamooka Elder. First Nations, religious, political and community leaders of all persuasions have acknowledged her commitment to culture and reconciliation as well as being a friend, teacher and unforgettable companion.
The scope of these plaudits reveals the single-minded determination and transformation of Aunty Joan, she did not commence tertiary education until mid-life, who received ACU’s highest honour in 2012 as Doctor of the University, for her contribution in the field of Aboriginal education, reconciliation and justice for Indigenous Australian peoples.
Incredibly her humility, commitment and compassion never deserted her. Even in Aunty Joan’s final week she contacted others to arrange future events. The funeral celebrant joked that her mobile and passwords were being buried with her to enable ongoing connections!!
But the story of Aunty Joan is also about the triumph of the paschal mystery. Her ability to endure the very tough moments of life, even to the point of metaphorical death when her resilience to rise again radiated hope, promise and a creative way forward.
Understandably she chose Matthew’s Beatitudes 5:1-12, as the gospel for her final Eucharistic Celebration. Verse 11, see above, resonates strongly for me given a discussion we had some three months prior to her death. The insults, the persecution, the racism she experienced as a First Nations woman not only make one shudder in empathy, but simultaneously give rise to the wonder and awe for one who is able to overcome such animosity with an enduring zeal for life.
The following transcript is an extract from my discussion with Aunty Joan, three months prior to her death.
JH: …. When I was born in in 1936, my Dad brought me back to where he was born in Bulimba, at a time when assimilation policy was put in place in 1935.
We could move back here and we were not to fraternise with our own people. There were five families from Stradbroke Island that were here. My Mother and her cousin, bloodline to country, lived next door to each other and never once did we enter into one another’s house because we were not allowed to.
The only time we got to talk was when going across the river in the old Hetherington Paddle Steamer and nobody was watching over you. But never once (did she enter her cousin’s house next door).
SJ: What would they do if you were seen talking?
JH: It was just against the law. You could move in around inside the Boundary Streets around Brisbane where Aboriginal people were not allowed to go in after sundown.
But they allowed that. They first had the protection policy in 1897 and the assimilation policy came out in 1935. You could move into those areas but you were not to fraternise.
SJ: You mean fraternise with other Aboriginal people?
JH: No even your own family. We lived next door.
SJ: So, what are you supposed to do?
JH: Just be quiet. Yes, because that was a means of assimilation. Turning us into good white people. Western citizens.
SJ: That was shocking.
JH: Yes, it is shocking to know now and this is why we have got so much turmoil.
And I keep on bringing us back to my core of creativity which is the two-world view today and we had the 2016 theme for NAIDOC which was the importance of story and the Aboriginal story. I grab all these little things and I thought to myself now here is a guide.
And in my ‘Welcome to Country,” particularly at citizenship ceremonies, I always bring into the focus how important it is to quote the 2016 theme of the importance of story. And today we are working on multiculturalism and if we do not have the First Nations people of Australia recognised, their story, however are we ever going to have an authentic multi-cultural Australia?
Incredibly, despite these insults, persecution and verbal abuse, Aunty Joan remained hopeful to the end and in many of her talks concluded with these reconciliatory words of fellow Quandamooka Elder, Aunty Kath Walker, the late Oodgeroo Nunucal:
To my Father’s Fathers,
the pain, the sorrow
to my childrens’ children
the glad tomorrow.
Well might the reader ask: What is my response when people insult me, persecute me and speak all kinds of evil against me????
(Image from Pixabay by Sandid)