MANY TRIBES ONE PEOPLE: Chinchilla Elder, Rose McCarthy Turnbull at the chinchilla Botanical Parklands for the town's first official flag-raising ceremony, as part of this year's NAIDOC week celebrations.
MANY TRIBES ONE PEOPLE: Chinchilla Elder, Rose McCarthy Turnbull at the chinchilla Botanical Parklands for the town's first official flag-raising ceremony, as part of this year's NAIDOC week celebrations. Kate McCormack

Chinchilla elder urges indigenous community to come together

A WARM smile spreads across Rose McCarthy Turnbull's face as she shares a small portion of what it has been like growing up as an Aboriginal woman.

Despite significant challenges, the 73-year-old is the first person to tell you she has and always will be a strong believer in the future of indigenous Australians.

Her lifelong motto has proudly been "many people, one tribe” and she is a passionate advocate for unity within the wider Chinchilla indigenous community.

The Chinchilla community elder is all too aware of what injustice feels like but she believes it's the small steps, such as hosting the town's first official flag-raising ceremony to commemorate this year's NAIDOC week, that are beginning to make a world of difference to her people.

Originally from Cunnamulla, Rose's father Alf McCarthy was one of the first indigenous men to die in police custody in the Brisbane watch house. That was in 1966.

"He was having an asthma attack and of course the police came and locked him up and he died in jail that night,” she said.

In the 90s, Rose marched on Brisbane's parliament house, protesting the death of Cherbourg man Daniel Yock who was brutally arrested by police in West End.

She has lived through great personal tragedy but also witnessed pivotal change in the treatment of First Australians. It was a proud moment the day she witnessed the first Aboriginal man, Ken Wyatt, sworn in as Minister for Indigenous Australians earlier this year. "We've got to move on from the past and all the atrocities and put them behind us,” she said.

Rose is the matriarch of the family with eight children, 24 grandchildren and 36 great grandchildren.

She lost her 26-year-old daughter in 1991 and has since come to believe everyone is put on the earth for a purpose and the only way to move forward is to move on.

In her NAIDOC week address on Monday morning, Rose spoke about the need for unity.

"I've always been a big believer in many tribes, one people and my heart goes out to people of all races and background who are singled out because of their colour or social standing,” Rose said.

"The biggest thing in Chinchilla is lack of communication - Aboriginal people in this town need to come together.

"Chinchilla is a beautiful place and ever since I've moved here I've never come face to face with racism but if we're to move forward, the indigenous community needs to work towards a common goal together for our children.

"The kids are the ones who really miss out when a community don't get their act together.”

Despite growing up through an ugly period of Australia's history, Rose said she had nothing but a wide-eyed hope for her people and an open hearted love for her country.

"There's nowhere else I'd rather live,” she said.

"We're living in a very lucky country and I'm really proud to be an Aboriginal Australian.”

"Despite being sheltered by my parents, I have seen a lot of horrible things but it's all in the past and we all need to move forward.”

Rose said Monday's first NAIDOC flag raising in Chinchilla set a precedent and helped to build momentum for the years to come.

"It's great to see the flags flying high after all these years and it was beautiful to see such a good turn out for the first flag raising ceremony, but I do believe council are able to achieve more,” Rose said.

"I'd like to see more acknowledgement of the traditional owners around the parklands,” she said.

While Rose said she could see the intent was there with the sandstone yarning circle she believes more of a priority could have been invested in honouring the local tribe's heritage around the parklands.

"The totem of the local tribe, the Barangun people is a carpet snake and I think it would have been an appropriate gesture to the original landowners to incorporate that into the parklands deign.

"It would have been nice to see a councillor or two here to see the flags raised and come and acknowledge the indigenous community here in Chinchilla."

"But today's ceremony was a wonderful start for Chinchilla's indigenous people and it's only going to grow bigger and better from here.”

To see more of the flag raising ceremony, take a look at our photo gallery bellow: