‘Most people call me Auntie Rita, whites as well as Aboriginal people. Auntie is a term of respect of our older woman folk. You don’t have to be blood-related or anything. Everyone is kin. That’s a beautiful thing because in this way, no one is every truly alone, they always have someone they can turn to.’
Rita Huggins was born on Bidjara/Bidyara country at Carnarvon Gorge in central Queensland. As a child in the 1920s, she met white men for the first time: troopers who forced her family into cattle trucks and drove them south to Barambah, later Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve. At Cherbourg ‘we had to stay in one place now, while the white men could roam free.’
There were some happy times, but the only way out of Cherbourg for First Nations people was work. Rita worked as a housekeeper all over Queensland before meeting and marrying Jack Huggins. After Jack’s untimely death, Rita struggled with grief and the challenges of being a single parent to three young children, and caring for extended family and community. As the 1960s unfolded, Rita watched the rise of First Nations activism the 1967 Referendum, the Freedom Rides, new Aboriginal political organisations and knew she wanted to make something better for herself, her family and for all Indigenous people. She joined Queensland’s One People of Australia League and was an active member till her death in 1996.
In Auntie Rita , Rita’s words interspersed with reflections from her daughter Jackie reveal a life shaped by personal tragedy, the dramatic changes of the twentieth century and personal resilience. This moving memoir has been enjoyed by readers around the world since it was first published in 1994.
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