Rest in Peace Aunty Betty King 2

Anthony Amis at FOE, (and a  former IWW member) writes in the Austrakasian Phoenix April 2006

Gournditch Mar Yigar-Kerrup Dhautwarrung Elder and eldest surviving direct descendant of the King of the Yigar clan.

I first met Aunt in 1993 when she was camped out in the scrub at the far end of Lake Condah Mission in her poogie.

We got on very well and over the years numerous other visitors met Aunty Betty at her bush home.

Aunt was a wonderful character who welcomed all visitors with a big smile.

In 1994 it became obvious to me that Aunt played a big role in the Aboriginal community in Portland.  In June that year we visited Aunt when she had helped organise an Aboriginal Tent Embassy in the main street of Portland.  She stayed in that tent for 6 weeks in the middle of winter before the Embassy was packed up.  

During that time she managed to help bring greater understanding about Aboriginal issues to the people of Portland, including the local government and also played a pivotal role when local councils were merged into a new Shire.   Some people wanted to call the new Shire “Henty” (Henty was a mass murderer of Aboriginal people in south west Victoria in the 1840’s).  It was largely due to the influence of Aunty Betty and the Embassy that that name was not accepted.

Aunty Betty made national news in 1995 when she was embroiled in a tussle with the flag bearer on Australia ‘Invasion’ Day at Portland. National news broadcasts across the country showed Aunt wrestling over the flag in front of stunned government and community representatives, one of which rugby tackled Aunt to the ground.  When Premier Jeff Kennett met Aunt in 1996 he was handed a bag of salt and a broken hand mirror.  “This represents all the lies you’ve told our people” Aunty Betty King  snarled.

Aunt took on the Federal Government in 1998 for the crime of Genocide and took on the State Government and Ballarat Orphanage in 2002 over the appalling treatment that she endured in government institutions when she was a child.  She once told me that kids in the orphanage, be they white or black always went to Aunt when they had problems. She stood up for their rights and almost always faced violent retribution by the authorities for standing up for those kids.  I believe that she retained those same characteristics all of her life.

Aunt was a very tough and proud warrior woman.  She had a very hard life in the orphanage, where she was sent after being stolen from her family when she was a young girl.  Her teeth were knocked out by the Minister, and her feet were severely damaged due to her being forced to wear shoes that were far too small for her feet.  Kids were often stockwhipped by the Minister. When Aunt turned 14, she was sterilised at the Orphanage.  She was put into Pentridge Prison at the age of 16.

She once told me that she escaped from Boggo Road jail in Brisbane in  the 1950’s.   A very tough life followed.

Aunt cared passionately about the environment, especially forests.  She attended protests at the woodchip mill in Geelong and attended forest protests in the Otways.  She was very pleased when she heard that logging was finally ending in the Otways in 2008.  She also protested about logging near Portland in the Cobboboonee State Forest near Portland.  Nothing got her more “worked up” than hearing about logging. Protests were held in the forests and Portland in 1999, with Aunty Betty leading the charge.  One of the scariest memories I have of Aunt was at the S11 protests in Melbourne in 2001.  Aunt had painted up for the occasion and several thousand people were left speechless when she took the mike and loudly vocalised her feelings about multi-national companies.

Aunt was an indigenous advisor to Friends of the Earth. She was a guest speaker at indigenous solidarity conferences in the late 1990’s and her artwork ‘Bush Fire Dreaming” was turned into a poster and sent all over Australia and overseas. Her artwork was a constant inspiration in her life and she was a very talented painter with a unique perception of nature.  One of her larger paintings now sits on the wall of Glenelg Shire Offices in Portland.

In later years Aunt became concerned about the spread of bluegums and loss of water throughout the region and expressed a wish that Lake Condah could be reflooded back to its natural state.  She was also a key figure in Native Title issues.

It was a great honour knowing Aunty Betty.  We had a lot of good times and some bad times and she was a welcome member of our family in Melbourne.  She had a big heart and was a very generous person who showed a lot of compassion to other people and nature. 

We will miss her very much. She is survived by her son Mark, her grandchildren and extended family.  She was 67 years old when she passed away.