Mar 12, 2018
Dei Phillips is a Bundjalung woman.
Fierce and compassionate, she is relentless as an activist and advocate for Aboriginal people in Australia. In trying to arrange this interview, we kept having to postpone. Dei is always busy, whether it be marching on Invasion/Survival Day or seeking legal representation for young Aboriginal first offenders.
She is a passionate educator about pre-colonial history and geography. When I finally got to talk to her, it was more than worth the wait. I got to hear about the importance of language, story, and place. These things form our culture and identity. I felt that I understood more about how utterly devastating it is to have them stolen.
And it all began for Dei back in early primary school.
As a little girl, she found herself attacking a boy tormenting a small girl with cancer. While she regrets being in a physical fight, she learnt, in that moment, the feeling of strength that accompanies protecting someone else.
It was a defining experience, in terms of becoming an activist.
“That singular moment of watching this young girl, who was a white girl, be dehumanised for something that was completely out of her control.”
The basis of activism, says Dei, is the desire to protect.
The only Aboriginal child in her inner-city primary school, Dei would sometimes be sent to stay with her grandmother, a thousand kilometres away. Here, she went to school with family and cousins. The contrast between the two experiences was quite stark. Going to school with her mob was freeing.
“You don’t feel frowned upon, you don’t feel like people are making judgements on you as much as when you’re the only Aboriginal in the school.”
I’ve tried a few times to write up more of the interview for these notes. I thought I was just struggling to condense all the themes of it down to a short piece. But I’ve realised that, as a Settler woman, a descendent of English and Irish, I don’t feel it’s my place to write up the knowledge that Dei gifted me in this interview. So, I hope you are able to listen for yourself.
If you’re not able to listen, you could email me to ask for pdf of the transcript: admin at creatingspaceproject dot com