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.
But her maternal grandmother, a wirrloo (powerful healer/teacher) who gave her the name Minmia, insisted she be returned, which her mother and father eventually achieved through the courts. Also born of a white father and Koori mother, the old woman with the black skin and the piercing blue eyes said: “She’s got to learn the lore/law or the lore/law line will die, because it’s too important.”
Minmia was born with the wisdom and healing, the ability to see colours around people, or auras. “But they were just colours and my great-grandmother used to say to me, ‘You’re different, you’re different, you’re different.’ And I’m bloody different, all right, because I’m black and that’s what the difference I thought she meant. … She always told me I was a wirrloo but I didn’t give a rat’s about being a wirrloo – I didn’t give a shit. I thought, ‘I don’t care about that, I just want to be like them other kids up there. Why can’t people like me? What did I do?”
But her grandmother took the young Minmia with her and showed her the medicines, showed her the special places, taught her about the creator, Biami, the Father, taught her the lore/law.
“She said: ‘You’re born boss of self, you will walk your journey boss of self and you die boss of self. No one can make you feel bad unless you give them permission. No one can make you feel like you’re not of value unless you give them permission. You are responsible for your own happiness and nobody else.’ And that’s part of the lore/law – we’re a unit connected to the Oneness.”
Young Minmia would sit under the sacred quandong tree, hearing the stories, the lore/law, from her grandmother. Together walk the land. “We’d look up on Mt Tilba and we’d look across the plains and she would say: ‘That is artwork by Biami. Don’t you think that fella’s clever?’ And you’d see the shining water of the lagoon with the little fish jumping up and she’d say, ‘That’s the artwork of Biami. Isn’t he clever fella?’” Her grandmother would pick the medicinal “old man weed”, that her mother picked before her. “She’d go: ‘Isn’t Nungeena clever? Every year she sends this medicine back, every year, isn’t she clever?’”
Biami was always loving, forgiving, kind and the purest essence of compassion. But the Catholics taught Minmia of a wrathful god. “I thought, their creator is so nasty – oh, no wonder they’re mean. Right.”
Minmia was dismayed at this god who, they said, created Earth and gave man dominion over it, to do with it whatever he wanted. “And I thought that’s wrong – no, no, no. So big mouth me would go out in the playground and say to all these other litte kids, ‘No, no, no, listen to me – that fellow in there is really bad. That’s the bad fella. Don’t listen to him. You listen about Biami, he does this and he does that.’ So I was bashed stupid by the nuns.”
“It’s when we don’t keep our Miwi balanced and
focused it spirals out of control and it loses touch with our belongingness and when you become disconnected to your belongingness, you become disconnected from your compassion for others, for your tolerance for others, for your acceptance of others, so it’s a very serious condition. You know, it’s like spiritual malnutrition – that’s what we’re suffering from right now.”