Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, Champion of the Indigenous Peoples, Dies at 85

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, as a teenager believed to be the first Indigenous female lead to star in an Australian feature film and later to become an Aboriginal rights activist, has died on January 26 in Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory of Australia. She is 85 years old and lives in Utopia, an Aboriginal homeland.

Her daughter, Ngarla Kunoth-Monks, said the cause was a stroke. Her family gave permission to use her name and picture.

Mrs. Kunoth-Monks has been cast in the lead role of “Jedda,” a movie by Charles Chauvel, which he wrote with his wife, Elsa. The story follows a teenager raised by a white woman from her Aboriginal culture after her mother died in childbirth. She is eventually kidnapped by an Aboriginal man (played by Robert Tudawali).

Chauvels went to her school in 1953, cast her in the lead role and took her to locations around the Northern Territory and in Sydney. Away from family and school, she recalls feeling lonely and scared. She said Mrs Chauvel bullied her and on several occasions she tried to escape but failed. She didn’t know how to be an actress, so she did as she was told, saying the words she was given.

“I was in a state of confusion, a state of trauma,” Ms. Kunoth-Monks said in an interview with the National Film and Sound Archives of Australia in 1995. “I really didn’t want to question what I was doing there, or what they were going to do to me. I was literally petrified that I would never see my family, or my country again.”

She attended the premiere in the summer of 1955 at an isolated theater in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, but, she said, was allowed to sit in the whites-only section.

In a review of “Jedda” in The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, critic Brian McArdle wrote that despite some rough edges to Mr Chauvel’s direction, “This is easy. is the most significant film to have emerged from an Australian studio in the past two decades. ”

Ms. Kunoth-Monks said she was horrified when she saw the sexual context of the scenes with Mr. Tudawali in which he touched her. But as an adult, looking back, she realizes in her character her assimilation into the world of her white adoptive mother, a theme that holds true not only for the lives of people like her in Australia, but also for people like her. is the theme that drives her future activities.

Rosalie Lynette Kunoth was born on January 4, 1937 in Utopia. Her father, Alan, sheared sheep. Her mother, Ruby Ngale, is a homemaker and an Aboriginal of the Anmatjere group. Her father’s background is mixed: his father is German and his mother is an Aboriginal.

Five years after the release of “Jedda” – the only film in which she acted – she joined an Anglican sect in suburban Melbourne, where she took her last oath as a nun in 1964. But she recalls feeling protected from Aboriginal abuse. whom she followed on television, and left the order in 1969. The following year, she married Bill Monks, with whom her sister had known Mrs. Kunoth-Monks when she was still a nun. .

She soon joined the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, where she persuaded university students to help young Indigenous students with their schoolwork, and established what she says was the first group home. for Aboriginal families in Victoria with the goal of keeping children apart. their parents.

She left in 1977 to run a motel in Alice Springs; started the social work section at a hospital there; is the chair of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service; a commissioner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, advisor on Indigenous affairs to the premier of the Northern Territory and president of the Batc started Academy, a school for Aboriginal students, also in Northern Territory.

Malardirri McCarthya senator in the Australian parliament from the Northern Territory, in a statement following Ms Kunoth-Monks’ death, praised her for being “softly spoken but resolutely focused on challenging the apartheid regime .”

In 2008, Ms. Kunoth-Monks was elected to a four-year term as president of the Barkly Shire, a local government organization in the Northern Territory. It is a year after the Australian government imposed a series of laws on the Northern Territory that were, in part, designed to crack down on child sex abuse and alcoholism in Indigenous communities.

A series of government measures – known as Interventions – include the mandatory acquisition of dozens of Aboriginal communities under five-year federal leases; restricting the sale, consumption and purchase of alcohol in certain areas, and linking income support payments to schooling of people on Aboriginal land.

Ms. Kunoth-Monks opposes the Intervention as discriminatory because it explicitly targets Australia’s Aboriginal peoples. As part of her protest, she and Pastor Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, a clan leader and ceremonial lawyer in the Northern Territory, met in 2010 in Geneva with the United Nations International Convention United Nations for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The two later released a report that said: “Ordinary Australians can see this injustice in a democratic country and know it shouldn’t be happening. When you share with an agency such as the UN,” they write, “they immediately see that Australia is racist and that the Government does not govern in a spirit of peace and order. ”

In addition to her daughter, she survived many grandchildren; her two sisters are Teresa Tilmouth and Irene Kunoth; her brothers, Don Kunoth and Colin Kunoth; her adopted daughters, Elaine Power, Natasha Adams and Patrice Power, and her adopted son, Mathew Adams. Her husband died in 2011.

In 2014, Ms. Kunoth-Monks was a prominent vocalist in “Utopia”, a documentary by John Pilger about the persecution of First Nations peoples, as Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people call it.

In an Australian television panel discussion after the film’s premiere, she made clear her opposition to the federal government’s policies towards her people and any attempt to force assimilate them.

“This is the country I come from,” she speaks. “I am not from abroad. I come from here. My language, in spite of my chastity, is trying to penetrate my brain by assimilationists – I am alive, I am here and now – and I speak my language. ”

She added, “I practice my cultural essence.” Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, Champion of the Indigenous Peoples, Dies at 85

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