Modest pioneer of Aboriginal rights
By BREE PRICE
UNDER a cloud of segregation and discrimination against Aboriginal people in the 1950s, one white woman from Lismore stood up and championed the cause for change in the Northern Rivers.
Tess Brill dedicated years of her life to raising awareness of the struggle the region's Aboriginal people faced.
But nearly 50 years on the 81-year-old doesn't like to draw attention to her contribution to increasing Aboriginal access to health services and amenities.
At yesterday's Freedom Ride 2005 celebration in Lismore's Heritage Park, Mrs Brill, who now lives at Hastings Point, was content to stand at the back of the crowd and commemorate the acts of others.
Freedom Ride 2005 celebrates the 40th anniversary of the original Freedom ride, by emulating the journey of a busload of Sydney uni students throughout NSW who brought attention to the level of discrimination towards Aboriginal people.
"I don't think of it (my contribution) that way. I'm always grateful the Aboriginal people taught me so much," she said.
Mrs Brill said it was a meeting held in Lismore in 1957 that set in motion her determination to improve the living standards of Aboriginal people.
"I just went along to the meeting attended by a professor and asked questions about social conditions," she said.
"An outcome was the formation of a committee between the two groups, white people and Aboriginal people.
"It was something new, but we realised none of us had any understanding of the issues involved.
"We wanted to change the living conditions of the Aboriginal community at the Cubawee settlement, on old Tuncester Road.
"We were just a group of volunteers and we searched every avenue possible to find a new site in Lismore where the settlement could be serviced with amenities that were part of everyday living ? water, electricity and sewerage.
"I felt it was an injustice. I felt concerned people were forced to live under such terrible conditions."
Mrs Brill said several years later the settlement was moved after intervention by the Aboriginal Welfare Board.
But Mrs Brill didn't stop there. She was also heavily involved in the formation of the Lismore Aboriginal Advancement League in the 1960s.
However, she said despite all the positive changes, Aboriginal people still faced serious issues.
"There has been a big change in access to education and social interaction," she said.
"But the change could only go uphill.
"Sadly the racism is still there and hopefully throughout the years ahead that will decrease and mutual respect will prevail."