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Perfectly imperfect

Through adversity and spirituality, Aboriginal healer-teacher Minmia brings ancient teachings to all women with compassion and tolerance

55 minutes with Minmia

Interview by Cynthia Sciberras / Words by Renae Robinson

The world is suffering from spiritual malnutrition. Our Mother the Earth, Nungeena-tya, is hurting. But do not despair. All we have to do is hold the balance.

Minmia – wirrloo, law woman, Wirradjirri elder, great-grandmother, author, messenger of birds – offers this message of hope, even as the world seems consumed by anger and greed.

“Just think this – all I have to do is hold the balance, hold the energy of the balance of compassion, hold the knowing that Nungeena is strong, that the universe is strong, that this has to be cleansed and it will pass … so just hold it – just don’t give up in despair because if you send despair out there, it’s going to stay there.”

Minmia has had more than her fair share of despairing circumstances. She was named Maureen Joy Faith Smith, as white Australia would not accept an Aboriginal name. Born in Griffith in New South Wales to a Koori mother and a white father, whose relationship was very violent, she was not accepted by her Scottish-born grandmother. “She’d say to my father: ‘Do not bring your piccaninnies here in the day time – do not.’ So that was probably the first I heard that. I must have been very, very young. I heard that and I thought: ‘Why doesn’t she like me – what’s that?’ ” As the darkest of her siblings, even Minmia’s brother and sister would tell her not to walk with them to school.

That was in the Aboriginal Protection Board days, when children of mixed blood were taken to work as house servants, domestics and farmhands – the Stolen Generations. “My mother said: ‘If you see a black car come … just run and hide – run, run, run.’ So, you know, the black car come on a few times and we’d run but this day we were caught up in some game and I just heard this blood-curdling scream of ‘run!’ And you become paralysed. I turned round and expected to see this car way away and it was close.” Like a rabbit in the headlights, she ran the wrong way. “There was this man – only men, never women – and he ran after me and I ran and ran and ran – guess where to? Straight to the channel, the big main channel, irrigation channel. And I couldn’t swim so I ran the wrong way out of shock and fear and I got grabbed.”

She and her sister were trained to work as domestics. “We were put out into white people’s houses intermittently. We were terribly sexually abused – I have cigarette burns all the way up. I think that’s why I eventually got ovarian cancer.” Later she was sent to a Catholic home on Sydney’s north shore.