‘We can’

My mum, she was a strong lady, a cultural lady,” says Evelyn Mitchell.

“She helped us, talked to us and taught us, she put us on the right track.

“The big role of the woman is holding the family together.”

The role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women as leaders, trailblazers, politicians, activists and family caretakers is celebrated in this year’s NAIDOC Week, which has the theme “Because of her, we can”.

Perth photographer Sasha Mortimore says she decided to get involved in telling those stories after recently having a child.

“I think it’s important to tell their story and our story as women,” she says.

“There’s so many different things we can do that we couldn’t do before and it’s because of women from the past and their ancestors and our ancestors.”

Feeling inspired, Ms Mortimore decided to get in touch with Anne Mitchell, who she hadn’t seen in more than 20 years.

“We were at school together when we were about 12, and I had this idea for a project in relation to her family, because I knew they had in interesting story.”

• Grandmother and Nyangumarta woman Evelyn Mitchell is featured in a generational photograph alongside her daughter Anne and granddaughter Dana as part of this year’s NAIDOC week. Photo by Sasha Mortimore

Ms Mortimore photographed three generations of women from the Mitchell family – Evelyn, Anne and Dana – using the colours of the Aboriginal flag.

“My favourite image is the three generations looking towards the light and they are stacked on top of each other and they have little white dot paintings on their faces and wattle flower crowns,” explains Ms Mortimore.

Evelyn Mitchell shared her family’s story with the Voice.

The Mitchell family are originally from Port Hedland, and both Ms Mitchell’s parents were heavily involved in fighting for the rights of her people.

Throughout her life, Lucy Mitchell was a prominent activist involved in native title and land rights protests.

“My mum, she was a strong lady, she been in the strikes and she go to meetings and AGMs and talk about things: She wanted to help her younger ones,” Ms Mitchell says.

“We are the traditional owners you know, so we wanted the government to recognise us.”

Ms Mitchell says in her culture, women are the workers.

“We do more work than the men. Us women are strong in culture,” she says.

“Mum taught us to teach our grandchildren, teach our younger ones. My big sister Doris and I, we stay strong and stay on track like our mother.”

Ms Mitchell says something powerful happens when women come together.

“We always go off, ladies, and talk amongst each other.

“Talk about it, what we going to do and how we going to help our younger ones, that’s why we strong.

“It doesn’t matter what language we talk, you know when we get together and follow our dreams.” Ms Mortimore is currently seeking a space to exhibit her photos.

by MOLLY SCHMIDT

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