by Alex Cseh-Scurry
Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert's memoir
An exquisite portrait of growing up Aboriginal on the fringes of outback towns in New South Wales in the mid-twentieth century.
The Cherry Picker’s Daughter is a window into the day-to-day lived experience, a profound insight into the extraordinary strength, resilience and ingenuity of Aboriginal families, of women in particular, to survive and overcome seemingly insurmountable adversity: extreme poverty, persecution, racism and cultural genocide.
Told in the child’s voice and in the vernacular of her Mob, activist, artist, poet and author, Aunty Kerry, tells her story of love and loss, of dispossession and repeated dislocation, and the impact of life as an Aboriginal state ward living under the terror of Protection Laws.
The strength of family ties in Aboriginal communities is clearly evident when three-month-old Kerry and her brother lost both parents. Her father, Kevin Gilbert––later to become a famous activist, writer, painter and actor––killed their mother and was jailed for many years. Her father’s sister, whom she always called ‘Mummy’, raised Kerry, her brother––also called Kevin––along with her own children and others within the extended family.
The book is a tribute to this truly remarkable woman: their tower of strength, love and selflessness; who worked tirelessly to support all the children; who during fruit- picking season, made sure they attended school wherever it took them; who managed to keep them from being taken/‘stolen’ by the ‘Welfare’.
For so many Aboriginal people surviving during the 50s, 60s and 70s, fruit-picking meant the difference between going hungry or having a roof over your head. In those days, Aboriginal people were paid just ten cents a pound for cherries, while non-Aboriginal people were paid twenty. Aunty Kerry grew up in corrugated tin huts, tents and run- down train carriages, working from a very young age to help her family to earn ‘an honest living’.
Their life was one of hard but determined work, and family unity gave them the strength and dignity to continue. Their greatest strength in surviving the Protectors, the White Australia Policy and the everyday racism that they faced, was Mummy and their identity as Aboriginal people.
Praise for The Cherry Picker’s Daughter
A wonderful yarn by an Aboriginal Elder about a bygone way of life.
–– Melissa Lukashenko, 2019 Miles Franklin Award Winner
Australia has waited too long to read this book of courage and truth. It heralds a timely change in our thinking on Aboriginal activism.
––Jeanine Leane, Wiradjuri writer and academic
The Cherry Picker’s Daughter: a childhood memoir brings alive a true story of a blended Koori family in New South Wales in the 1950s through the eyes of a young daughter, the author. A hard- working Koori family, ‘river people’, building bridges across rivers, love, towns,racism, truths and inter-generational trauma. The family's survival shaped by seasonal fruit picking and a constant fear of the ‘the welfare’s’ power to remove the children.
––Charmaine Papertalk Green, poet, writer and artist
Thank you, Kerry, for sharing your story––so much pain and hurt, but such life-affirming strength and love too.
––Kate Grenville, award-winning author
Kids bounce into this world with such capacity for hope and love and attachment; how painful it was to read the ways this was betrayed by an Australia that I wish had known better. This memoir felt important in my hands, historical, vital––and joyful. It described a childhood I needed to know, and filled me with deepest admiration and respect. I cried many tears for Kerry Reed-Gilbert and was so grateful for her wonderful Mummy.
–– Sophie Laguna, award-winning author
An unflinching memoir of courage and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds by a remarkable Wiradjuri woman, that speaks to her spirit and strength, and to the love and courage of the woman who raised her. An important book for all Australians.
–– Joy Rhoades, author
Spilling the beans is the domain of the writer, and few people have more beans to spill than Kerry Reed-Gilbert.
–– Jared Thomas, writer
Linda Burney demands government sort out Aboriginal flag secret agreement
[Lorena Allam, The Guardian]
Labor’s Linda Burney is demanding the federal government take steps to sort [it] out, because it is now unclear whether her own tattoo of the flag is a breach of copyright.
Fred Hollows Foundation makes largest contributions to Indigenous eye health
[Myles Hume, Insight]
Expansion of the Indigenous eye health workforce and greater provision of eyecare in Aboriginal-controlled health services will be possible under a new $40 million plan announced by The Fred Hollows Foundation.
New program to improve outcomes for babies
Supplied by DDHHS
The Bridging Antenatal Care, Indigenous Babies and Smoking Cessation (BAIBS) program encourages pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, or those women pregnant with an Indigenous baby, to attend antenatal appointments and quit smoking.
A Wiradjuri woman from Central New South Wales, Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert performed and conducted writing workshops nationally and internationally. She was the inaugural Chairperson of the First Nations Australia Writers Network (FNAWN) 2012–2015 & 2017-2018. She was a member of the ACT Us Mob Writing (UMW) group and was FNAWN co-editor for the Ora Nui Journal collaboration between First Nations Australia writers and Maori writers. In 2016 and 2017 she compiled and edited editions of A Pocketful of Leadership in the ACT 2016 and A Pocketful of Leadership in First Nations Australia Communities, a collection of First Nations voices from across Australia. Kerry was a former member of the Aboriginal Studies Press Advisory Committee and her poetry and prose have been published in many journals and anthologies nationally and internationally, including in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. Her works have been translated in French, Korean, Bengali, Dutch and other non- English speaking languages. She passed away in July 2019.
Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert has passed away. Approval has been granted to display her picture. Image: supplied