Bonnie Edwards, the new chairperson of the Ambooriny Burru Board, doesn’t tell stories about sad things.
Her vision is firmly cast ahead, to a turned corner, where all local Indigenous people have access to employment opportunities, live healthy lifestyles and have something to look forward to, without having to rely on the government for everything.
“This is my aim. I’m sick of seeing our people walking around like zombies. Inevitably, we have to be part of the Australian economy. We have to try and make what we can out of it, make something of our lives and make something for our people.”
Bonnie was proud when she found out she’d been elected chairperson.
“I want to thank the board for trusting me with this responsibility. I also can’t believe they’ve elected a woman! I should have said thank you at the time, but all I could do was smile and smile.”
“During my term as chairperson, I want to see more Aboriginal groups join the Ambooriny Burru Foundation because we are building a strong organisation to do our business work through KRED. KRED has a fantastic team, it’s our team, and they’re working to do the best job for what we want and need. So with this in mind, I will stand up and say what I believe. And what I do say is what I mean,” Bonnie says.
Bonnie grew up fluent in both Jaru culture and the whitefella world.
As a child she lived with her mum and mob in the Bungles, running around as a, “… wild little blackfella.” At the age of nine, however, she was moved to the Halls Creek Australian Inland Mission Hostel, a school run by the Presbyterian Church for Aboriginal children with white fathers.
When she started, she was amazed her classmates couldn’t speak the Jaru language and the pressure was on to pick up Kriol—a language she would later use in her work as an interpreter.
At thirteen, she left school to work as a domestic servant on a cattle station owned by the ‘Lords of London’ where she polished the silver until it, “… glittered so much you could see their faces reflected in it.”
Polishing silver and starching sheets earned her eight dollars a month, which she carefully put away until she’d saved enough to leg it to QLD. It was in Brisbane she, “… learnt English, how to hold a knife and fork, and how to be a lady.”
With three languages under the belt it’s not surprising she picked up work as an interpreter when she came back to the Kimberley, yo-yoing between English and Jaru, Jaru and Kriol. It was through interpreting she earned the nickname ‘Scutta girl’ from Annette Kogolo—‘scutta’ being a local slang word for deadly. Annette was still learning the linguistic ropes and was grateful for Bonnie’s belief in her and support.
No stranger to mining negotiations, Bonnie has interpreted for Tanami Gold NL and Argyle Diamond Mine. She’s adamant that, “Proponents are benefiting from our land, so we need to make sure our people also benefit.”
She’d like to see KRED members use mining royalties to set up businesses, community development projects, to buy real estate, and to help people go back to country and run projects from country.
‘Scutta girl’ Bonnie Edwards has walked in two worlds for many years.
We welcome her warmly as chairperson of the Ambooriny Burru Board.