News

Aunty Bertha tells inside story

ABORIGINAL HERSTORY: Mick O’Regan and his interview subject Aunty Bertha Kapeen at the Bangalow Museum.
ABORIGINAL HERSTORY: Mick O’Regan and his interview subject Aunty Bertha Kapeen at the Bangalow Museum. Digby Hildreth

BERTHA Kapeen's mum used to have to stand outside her Cabbage Tree Island home with her children every Friday while the reserve manager's wife inspected the place, wiping the surfaces with her finger.

If she found dust, it meant a black mark: several black marks led to the children being taken away by the Welfare Board.

When Bertha went to the pictures with her best friend, a white girl named Ruby, they weren't allowed to sit together.

On public transport, it was "if you're black, sit down the back".

Aunty Bertha, now 77 and a Bundjalung Elder, shared these and other painful memories with Bangalow journalist Mick O'Regan in the latest of the Bangalow Historical Society's "Inside Story" series on Sunday.

The Tea Rooms were filled with people keen to hear about the Aboriginal experience from one who had lived through it.

Taking her lead from her strict and hard-working parents, Aunty Bertha raised her eight children to focus on their education and to take pride in their ethnicity.

They all finished Year 12 and got jobs, she said.

Life wasn't easy, even after 1967 when Aborigines gained the vote, and Aunty Bertha obtained an "exemption certificate", permitting her to move next to whites - a move recommended by the Welfare Board so she could "learn how to live".

Despite such humiliations, and a fierce loyalty to her people, Aunty Bertha taught her children that white people were here "for ever" now.

She was "still a bit sad and angry" about the abuses suffered by Aborigines, she said.

"But I wanted to do something with that anger, so I made it my business to talk about Aboriginal history," she said.

She joined every school council and committee she could, and eventually, through sheer force of personality and familiarity came to be accepted by the white community.

But, she said, while there were "a lot of good people in the white world", racism still existed and she experienced it personally on the streets of Ballina.

And Aborigines were still classified as "flora and fauna" under the Constitution, she said.

Until that changed, and Kevin Rudd's apology translated into real action, Aunty Bertha said she would continue her fight to have her people get the acknowledgment and respect they deserve.



Join the Community.

Get your local news, your way.

Stay Connected

Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.

Kirra clinic eating away at addiction

Ian Waugh and Monica Colmsjo hope Bridging the Barriers, a clinic run out of Kirra Hill Community Centre, will help locals to tackle addiction in a holistic way.

Preventing relapse is the big hurdle to overcome drug addiction

Sand erosion check needs wetsuit

Council officers Mitch Liddell, Steve Sharp and Warren Boyd.

The surprisingly low-tech way we monitor sand erosion

Kingscliff musician claims most votes to play US festival

Kingscliff musician Casey Barnes has landed a place at the Country Summer Festival in California.

Casey Barnes has won a competition to perform at a US music festival

Latest deals and offers


Blake Lively Film Shot on Gold Coast

Blake Lively in The Shallows.

New trailer for shark thriller The Shallows starring Blake Lively.

Dash Cam of Head-on Crash

Head-on crash after overtaking in fog.

Disaster as driver overtakes in fog at night.

Spirit of Tasmania Ferry in Rough Seas

Rough seas toss ferry around.

Passengers scream as ferry rides through high seas.

How a sacked real estate agent made $725k in four months

Agent is now under investigation by the industry watchdog

VIDEO: Art Deco fan pays $835,000 for Imperial Hotel

No Caption

Iconic "Impy" sold at a bargan price to bidder who loves Art Deco.

RBA warns of future apartment oversupply

Toowoomba: Crest Apartments and Burke & Wills, Ruthven Street ( view from Neil Street) Photo Bev Lacey / The Chronicle

RBA says oversupply of apartments poses risk to household finances