A story by Sister Kate's Home Kid's Aboriginal Corporation
Authors: Tjalaminu Mia (SKHKAC/CEO) and Deanne Tann (SKHKAC/Administrator)
The above image could be seen at first glance simply a group family photo taken of five generations of females in the Dixon, Keen-Farmer family. To us, this image also represents something much more because of the woman who sits just outside of the frame, Emily Farmer nee Coyne. Emily's own image has a strong presence in itself, but it also represents something bigger as it signifies our connection to a family tree made up of many women over six generations.
Emily was a strong advocate for the human rights of our collective people. Although she got on with the white community in her home town of Katanning, in South-West Western Australia, she faced much heart ache in her younger years when she was taken from her mother at eight years old and put into domestic service with a white family who owned a small farm near the Stirling Range. Emily battled through this pain and fought back to become the proud parent for her own family of twelve children. Her four sons were sent to fight in the Great War, two buried in France and two came home. The story of her sons is highlighted in the Aboriginal produced film The Forgotten by her film maker great-great grandson Glen Stasiuk.
Emily was a powerhouse in her day, a traditional healer and spoke her traditional language all her life with her oldest son uncle Harry. After her husband, Grandfather Farmer, passed away, Emily raised her big family alone. She lived with her remaining children in Katanning till her death in 1952 at age 96.
My mother Beryl Dixon, knew Emily personally and was very close to her while growing up. At the age of 91 years herself now, Beryl can still remember many things about Emily which she has shared with us all through the decades, relaying our rich family history and memories. My mother tells Emily's story to the point of making one feel that you are right there with them, in the midst of the their personal experiences - feeling you know this woman Emily at an intimate level. Emily Farmer is not just a name but a real family member with a strong connection to us, and who we now look up to and have grown up with though the generations.
We all feel close to Emily and know her to be the tap root of our big family due to my mother keeping her memory alive. However, there is a further link that we all have in common, that was not a planned family memory, and that is that we are all Stolen Generations Survivors or descendants of women who were a part of the dark Australian history at one time in their lives.
The women in the group photo are all closely related, my mother Beryl, myself, my eldest daughter Deanne, her daughter Amy, and Amy’s daughter Alirah, who are all involved with Sister Kate’s Home Kids Aboriginal Corporation. My mother, is a senior Noongar Elder and at 91 years of age is one of the oldest living Sister Kate’s Home Kids parents. She still attends and supports our cultural healing programs and community engagement events which is wonderful at her age.
My mother has always shared with me and my children our family history. Emily Farmer (nee Coyne) plays a major role in my mother’s story and Emily has now become a part of our lives over the generations.
As my mother always say, "Remember that we come from strong stock and knowing this can help us to face any adversity that may come our way in life - and also remember what Grandma Farmer used to say – ‘You can achieve anything if you really put your mind to it, but as long as it doesn’t hurt other people in the process - it’s important that you always keep in mind family honour and be respectful to those less fortunate than yourself."
Being part of Emily’s descendants and getting to know her through my mother sharing her memories with us, this has helped us all know who we are as Aboriginal women, and to believe that we can achieve and live happy and successful lives. In the spirit of this year's NAIDOC theme ‘Because of her, we can’ and we can also jointly say, because of Emily; ‘Because of her, we have’