Written by Dixie Link-Gordon
I see you, I hear, I feel you
sisters in so much quietness,
all reaching to break the code of silence bearing us down,
with almost no relief,
Our voices whisper across land and sea seeking to be free of shame and pain.
On a beautiful winter day in Sydney in August 2018 we moved as one up the Grand Parade of UNSW. With nothing but the sound of our clap sticks (traditional instrument) Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander Fiji, Maori, Tongan and Cook Islander women brought our stories through our language of resilience, sharing with our sisters and supported hand in hand by the UNSW Gender Violence Research Network.
Layers of oppressive legal policies and processes that directly impacted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have prevented so many practices, including the trading of information and resources about family, domestic and sexual violence with our Pacific sisters.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters were silenced as children from sharing the most intimate of violations. Many of us were stolen from our families. We were placed in homes, orphanages, hospitals or schools. We were not allowed to talk to each other about what was happening to us. We learnt very quickly to block our emotions. We played down our injuries and were outcast by dominant society. We were policed and silenced.
Women from childhood have been silenced by our families. As women in relationships we, of course, knew of rape and understood the pain. But to articulate and say what had happened to us was another thing. It is the same for domestic and family violence. We had no knowledge of where to seek appropriate support, and became lost in fear. Being empowered to have a safe living family is something so many of us work towards for our future generations. This issue always comes up when we are sharing with each other and, at times, with professionals and cultural healing groups.
We were told to go to church to engage spiritually in a safe place. There were things you just didn’t talk about. If you were sexually abused, you had no pathway to enable you to disclose. We practised silent prayers of hope and change.
There are layers of oppression in Indigenous communities, too. For a long time, it has seemed that all other matters of injustice are more important than issues of rape and domestic violence in our communities.
Breaking Silent Codes across Australia and the Pacific allows us as women to rediscover long-ago practices and trade stories, bringing us into an era of re-engagement and speaking as a movement of Indigenous women. We speak of the multiple atrocities that have sadly played out both in wider society and in our intimate relationships; sexual assault and domestic and family violence. It is the acts of sexual abuse that remain some of most heinous.
Breaking Silent Codes is a unique and aspirational project, and possibly the first time that Indigenous women across the Asia Pacific have gathered to discuss their stories of surviving sexual and domestic violence and collectively celebrate their resilience and strength.
Sharing and continuing this work is crucial and provides the potential for all people affected by sexual and domestic violence to realise the importance of sharing their experiences and benefiting from the support of others.
By taking our voices to the University of NSW, we created a whole community approach to share the rebuilding our cultural ties to the Pacific and each other.
We have now started work on:
- The preparation and publication of a hardcover book offering a collection of stories and art depicting women’s narratives of survival.
- A presentation about Breaking Silent Codes at the Healing Our Spirit Worldwide International Indigenous Gathering in Sydney from 26-29 November 2018.
- Generating much needed support for Breaking Silent Codes events in Aboriginal communities across Australia and the Pacific. Events will be led by the women who attended the Breaking Silent Codes forum at UNSW in August 2018, to continue conversations about sexual assault and domestic and family violence started at the forum.
- Consolidating links between Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander women and the UNSW Gendered Violence Research Network
- Developing a safe online space for Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Pacific Islander women to continue to Break Silent Codes, sharing stories and triumphs of cultural and spiritual responses to the issue of family and domestic violence and sexual assault in communities across Australia and the Pacific.
Many thanks to UNSW Staff including Professor Megan Davis, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Indigenous Associate Professor Jan Breckenridge, Mailin Suchting, and Kat Armstrong from the Gender Violence Research Network.
Dixie Link-Gordon is a community educator with the UNSW government.