My Side of the Bridge by Veronica Brodie as told to Mary-Anne Gale

I find some books particularly challenging to read, and most books which touch on Australia’s Indigenous people often fit into that category for me.  Many life stories are unbearably sad, but many are inspirational.  Auntie Veronica Brodie’s story is inspirational.  Yes, it is sad in parts, but this is the story of a woman who made a difference and who has inspired others.  Well worth reading.

‘I first heard Auntie Veronica Brodie tell her story one evening in 1995, and from that moment I knew it had to be published.’

This is the life story of Auntie Veronica Brodie (1941 – 2007), as told to Mary-Anne Gale.  This book was published in 2002. Veronica Brodie was born at the Raukkan Community (then the Point McLeay mission) in 1941, and was later sent to Adelaide by the Aborigines Protection Board to continue her education.

Veronica Brodie was an Aboriginal woman of Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna descent, and was a widely respected elder. In this book, through Mary-Anne Gale, she told of her life, of the challenges she faced, of the campaigns she was involved in for Indigenous rights.  Parts of her story horrified me:

‘I mean, we had government people in the Northern Territory who wanted full-bloods to be tattooed!  Do you realise that Hitler’s system of tattooing the Jews came from what they wanted to set up in the Northern Territory?’

No, I didn’t.  And I’m disturbed by it.

I was more aware of the grading:

‘They graded my kids when they were born as if they were grading fowl eggs.  My first two girls were graded differently – Colleen was declared one-eighth Aboriginal, while Margaret, the oldest one, was declared one-sixteenth Aboriginal.  You see, Margaret was quite fair, but Colleen was a little bit darker-skinned.  They both had the same parents, so it just goes to show how silly the system was.’

To read this book is to be reminded (albeit painfully) of elements of Australian history which are painful.  I was particularly interested in Veronica Brodie’s account of the fight against the bridge to Hindmarsh Island (Kumarangk).  How little we accept or know or choose to learn about other cultures. The campaign against the bridge was ultimately unsuccessful, but it did unite activists with local communities.

‘I want you to imagine your way back to the year of 1840 on the Port Adelaide River.  Just think what it would have looked like then.’

Auntie Veronica Brady fought and won her own battle with alcohol, which she addresses in the book.  She also suffered from a number of significant health issues.  What an inspirational woman!

Jennifer Cameron-Smith