NATIONAL, Canberra, May 25, 2005: The courage of the Stolen Generations has found a new voice in a 14-year-old Aboriginal girl who earlier today delivered a keynote address to 800 guests at Parliament House, less than a day after her mother was tragically killed.
Christine Jacobs, a member of the Stolen Generations from Perth, was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the National Day of Healing launch in Parliament’s Great Hall. But just hours after arriving in Canberra last night, Christine was struck and killed in a motor vehicle accident in the Canberra suburb of Hughes, while walking outside the home where she was to spend the night. Her daughter, Tamara, was present when her mother died. She was inside the Kent Street home when the accident occurred and heard screeching tyres, before running outside.
“I saw my mum lying there and knew something was wrong,” Tamara said. “I went to the hospital and I kept thinking of all the things Mum had ever taught me. She always used to say ‘Be as positive as you can Tamara’. I just have to accept that she is gone… it must have been her time to go.”
Somehow, the teenager from Maddington in Perth found the strength and courage to deliver her mum’s speech the following morning. In the process, she showed how much strength of character her mum had instilled in her. Tamara read her mum’s speech to an emotional Great Hall audience. She told how Christine had been removed at the age of two but after a battle with drugs and alcohol, overcame extraordinary hurdles to get her life back on track.
“I hated white people with a passion because of this,” Tamara said, reading from her mum’s notes. “I actually tried to bleach my skin when I was in grade 3 because “being black meant too much pain. When I reached 16 to 17 years of age, I gave up. I found a sense of belonging in alcohol, drugs, violence and gambling and having no self-respect for myself in anything. It was my pit and I felt comfortable there. I didn’t question it. To me it was the way my life was meant to be like – my destiny. I just accepted that it was all blackfella’s destiny.
“I stayed in this pit for years until I reached a point where I didn’t want to live anymore. I was prepared to take my life – I wanted to die. My kids spoke to me from a photo and I realised I had three very important reasons to live. They saved my life and were my inspirations for getting out of the pit.”
The words were already familiar to Tamara – just four days ago she had helped her mum write them, and then flown with her to Canberra to deliver them.
“When my mum was writing her speech she said to me, ‘What am I going to say?’ and I said to my mum ‘Talk about what ever you feel comfortable with’,” Tamara said.
Tamara said that she was very nervous about the flight from Perth to Canberra, but despite it being Christine’s first trip on a plane, gave her daughter some words of comfort to ease her nerves.
“My mum said that the pilots were angels flying the plane and on the wings there are two really big angels, Jamal and Sirrus, watching over us,” Tamara said.
Australian Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway, who MCed the National Day of Healing launch, paid tribute to Tamara’s bravery in speaking on her mother’s behalf.
“It’s an inspiration, the courage, I think, that Tamara has shown, that she wanted us to go ahead and she wanted us to provide an opportunity for her mother’s voice to continue to be heard,” he said.
Senator Ridgeway said Mrs Jacobs would be remembered as a powerful woman, with a passion for reconciliation.
“I think in many ways that in telling her story in this way, she’s tragically, I think, made the ultimate sacrifice to what the journey of healing is about, what reconciliation’s about,” he said.
Prime Minister John Howard said Mrs Jacobs’ death was a “heartbreaking event”. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley offered his condolences to Mrs Jacobs’ family and friends, and added: “Her daughter Tamara very courageously spoke on her behalf this morning.”
Tamara flew home this evening to Perth to be re-united with her family. She said she was relieved to be going home and felt comforted that she would be escorted on the flight by former Australian of the Year, Fiona Stanley.
Shortly before flying home Tamara told NIT; “I am very proud of my mum and I am so glad that she got her wish to go on a plane.”