Since Ruth Abdullah became part of the Stolen Generation aged just seven, her focus has been preventing further injustices by helping Aboriginal people know their legal rights.
Her dedication to this cause has on Monday led to her being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), for service to the indigenous community of Western Australia.
Born in Derby to a Djaru/Gidja mother and Gurindji father, the 69-year-old told AAP she’s now “part of the furniture” at Kimberley Community Legal Services, where she has been an Aboriginal liaison coordinator since 2000.
With a positive, sunny, happy go-lucky disposition, Ms Adbullah is a proud role model for younger generations, saying “they see how hard I had to work. It’s about respect and looking after yourself”.
The former Anglicare counsellor educates non-indigenous staff on Aboriginal cultures and custom, saying her previous work at the Department of Child Protection was often with staff who judged families before visiting and listening to them.
“It doesn’t work at all. Aboriginal staff pave the way,” she said.
Government services to indigenous communities need to be more streamlined, she says, and the customs and rules of individual groups should be respected.
Ms Abdullah said her personal experience drove her to prevent any more children being taken away like she was, urging instead for “family looking after family” through mediation and counselling.
Taken from her parents in Alice Springs, she was separated from three sisters and sent to St Mary’s Hostel with her brother, where they weren’t allowed to approach their parents if they saw them.
She said it was “heartbreaking” and the school would cut their pocket money if they broke that rule.
She left St Mary’s aged 17 and reconnected with her parents in WA, studying her culture to re-find her identity, which she now urges younger generations to hold onto.