Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, champion of Indigenous peoples, dies at 85

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, who as a teenager was considered the first Indigenous woman to star in a feature film in Australia and later became an Indigenous rights activist, died on January 26 in Alice Springs, Australia. Northern Territory of Australia. She was 85 and lived in Utopia, an Aboriginal homeland.

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

Ms Kunoth-Monks has been cast in the title role of ‘Jedda’, a film directed by Charles Chauvel, which he wrote with his wife, Elsa. The story is about a teenage girl who is raised outside her native culture by a white woman after her mother dies in childbirth. Eventually, she is abducted by an Aborigine (played by Robert Tudawali).

The Chauvels had come to her school in 1953, chosen her to lead, and taken her to places in the Northern Territory and Sydney. Far from her family and her school, she remembers being alone and scared. She said Ms Chauvel intimidated 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, speaking 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 Archive of Australia in 1995. “I really didn’t want to ask about what I was doing there, or what they were going to do with me. I was literally petrified at the thought of never seeing my family or my country again.”

She attended the premiere in the summer of 1955 at a separate theater in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, but was allowed, she said, 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 in Mr. Chauvel’s direction, “It is by far the most important film to emerge from an Australian studio over the past two decades.”

Ms Kunoth-Monks recalls being horrified when she saw the sexual context of the scenes with Mr Tudawali in which he touched her. But looking back as an adult, she recognized in her character’s assimilation into the world of her white adoptive mother a subject that was not only true to life for people like her in Australia, but one that would enliven his future activism.

Rosalie Lynette Kunoth was born on January 4, 1937 in Utopia. His father, Alan, sheared the sheep. His mother, Ruby Ngale, was a housewife and was an aborigine from the Anmatjere group. Her father’s parentage was mixed: her father was German and her mother was part-Aboriginal.

Five years after the release of ‘Jedda’ – the only film she starred in – she joined an Anglican order in a suburb of Melbourne, where she took her final vows as a nun in 1964. But she remembers s to feel safe from the difficulties of the aborigines. peoples, whom she followed on television, and left the order in 1969. The following year she married Bill Monks, whose sister had known Mrs Kunoth-Monks when she was still a nun.

She soon joined the Ministry of Native Affairs, where she persuaded students to help young Native students with schoolwork, and set up what she said was the first group home for Native families. in Victoria whose aim was to prevent children from being separated from their parents.

She left in 1977 to run an inn in Alice Springs; started the social work section in a hospital there; was chairman of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service; a Commissioner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, an Indigenous Affairs Advisor to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and President of the Batchelor Institute, a school for Aboriginal students, also in the Northern Territory.

Malarndirri McCarthy, Australian Parliament Senator for the Northern Territory, in a statement after Ms Kunoth-Monks’ death, praised her “quiet but determined focus on tackling institutional racism”.

In 2008, Ms Kunoth-Monks was elected to a four-year term as President of the Barkly Shire, a local government entity in the Northern Territory. This was 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 sexual abuse and alcoholism in Indigenous communities.

The government’s series of measures – called the Intervention – included the forced acquisition of dozens of Indigenous communities under five-year federal leases; restricting the sale, consumption and purchase of alcohol in certain areas and linking income support payments to school attendance for people living on Indigenous lands.

Ms Kunoth-Monks objected to the intervention, calling it discriminatory because it clearly targeted Australia’s Aboriginal people. As part of her protest, she and the Reverend Dr Djiniyini Gondarra, a clan leader and ceremonial lawman in the Northern Territory, met in 2010 in Geneva with the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of racial discrimination.

The pair then released a report which said: “Ordinary Australians can see this injustice in a democratic country and know it shouldn’t be happening. When you share with a body like the UN,” they wrote, “they immediately see that Australia is racist and the government does not govern with a spirit of peace and order.”

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

In 2014, Ms Kunoth-Monks was a featured voice in “Utopia”, a documentary by John Pilger about the mistreatment of First Nations people, as the natives and Torres Strait Islanders are known.

During a panel discussion on Australian television after the film’s release, she voiced her opposition to the federal government’s policies towards her people and any attempt to forcibly assimilate them.

“This is the country where I come from,” she said. “I’m not from overseas. I come from here. My language, despite the whiteness trying to enter my brain by the assimilationists – I’m alive, I’m here and now – and I speak my language.

She added, “I practice my cultural essence of me.”