Yvette Harris of Morawa  |  100x70cm Giclée Fine Photographic Print by Martine Perret (2022)

Yvette Harris

"My name is Yvette Harris. I was born Yvette Mullaley. My mother's husband at the time was Frank and he was of Irish descent. Mum had five children. I'm the youngest girl. I was born in Lake Grace and my family lived in Wongan Hills in my very early childhood. Mum moved around for work. My strongest memories as a child are from Doodlakine. I can remember being very 'fair' and being allowed to sit at the front of the class and my sister having olive skin, mostly had to sit at the back of the class in the same classroom. That was really something that I reflect on now and find extremely interesting. But it meant nothing at the time.

My mum was Widi Yamatji. She's a traditional owner from the Morawa area. My grandfather was a very strong Noongar man from the southwest. He married my grandmother, Eva Phillips. He had strong work ethics. He was a highly educated man, went to school in the Swan Valley. He was made to go there with his friends. When he became a man, he was allowed to move a little bit but not too much without the government knowing where and what he was doing. 

No matter where my grandmother and my grandfather camped, Mum had to go to school, and she always had to work. It was something that her and her sister and brother grew up with. 

My grandfather owned a farm, and he was very resourceful. He avoided his children being taken away or sent to the mission. When my grandmother’s sister was taken to Mogumber Mission, my grandfather wrote lots of letters to the government to have his sister-in-law released to his care. My Nanna really wanted her sister back with her. Eventually that happened and they were granted permission to have Nanna Janie released from Mogumber.

We didn't realise how much Aboriginal culture we were exposed to. We thought we were just like everyone else. When I went to the city, that was when I woke up to being different. I teach my children some language, it's mostly home conversational or situational language. It's called Wadjarri. I was quite surprised to find out we didn't know what it was called as we didn't put a name to our language. It's very important for me to teach my grandchildren that language. When we go 'bush' we don't refer to common things in their English term, we just naturally use our language so the kids learn too.

We weren't treated differently until we went to Perth. In Morawa we were just part of the community. My grandparents were highly regarded in the community. My grandmother worked at the hospital.

I grew up in Doubleview. My uncle had a job with the government in housing. He worked diligently to get mum a house – as she was a single mother with four children. We were very fortunate to get a house. We lived in that home, almost all through our life. Some of my strongest memories in Doubleview was listening in the early hours of the morning to the footsteps of the milky, the horse and cart delivering milk. I don't feel that old, but it was a horse and cart that delivered our milk!

The other thing that surprised us was we had a TV. We had to listen carefully if the door knocked so we’d quickly turn the TV or the radio off. In those days you needed a license to have a TV, a light and a radio; and we couldn’t afford a licence.

I left school at 14. but was not allowed home unless I had a job. I worked as a nursing aide in a hospital. I married at 16, as we did in the 60s and early 70s. I went back to university after I had a few children. I got the opportunity to be part of a big national program which aimed to get 1,000 Aboriginal teachers in schools by the year 1990. The policy didn't achieve that but at least I was one of those who graduated.

I taught for a little while and after 12 months I decided I wasn't really a teacher. I worked with the government for the next 25 years, predominately in Aboriginal Affairs. I was lucky enough to be the first Aboriginal Arts Officer in Western Australia. Then I won a position in the federal Department of Employment, Education and Training and went off to Canberra. I then my last 10 years there working in the federal Attorney-General's Department, in the area of Aboriginal Community Safety.

When it was time to retire after I lost my Mum, I thought 'Where's home? It must be Morawa. That's where all our roots are'. I came back to Morawa and decided I was going to buy a little cafe in the main street and just sit back and do nothing for a while, but I bought Everlastings Guest House and it's been full-on ever since. I’ve been running it for ten years, with different staff, and help from family. 

When people look around the room, I start by talking about my grandfather, and the '28th deputation', the fact he was nearly tried for treason. I talk to people about these men’s frustrations by the restrictions of the 1905 Act. My Grandfather was only a young man in those days and while his children were allowed to go to school, many of the children of his friends were not. He was frustrated and said, let's go and talk to the Premier. That was when they were still not allowed to come to town after dark and do all of the things that Aboriginal people were restricted by, like not allowed to grow grapes, carry a gun, etc. They went to meet Premier Collier in 1928. The newspaper, recorded them as 'savages of the North don the white man's clothes to visit big fella Collier'. This is my Granddad I grew up with and who looked after me as a child. This is what he had to do as a young man.

The Morawa community has really been receptive. There is a strong Aboriginal presence, and ultimately, our family are the Traditional Owners for the area. We are called upon to do the Welcome to Country and we are always consulted on Indigenous issues. As a strong Widi woman, to be asked for my input into a whole myriad of projects around the place has been good. NAIDOC Week has been able to flourish since I came back. It has become something that Morawa has championed in the region. We're very lucky.

I'm really pleased and honoured to be a Shire Councillor. It's a good opportunity for me to input different perspectives to Council. We're motivated around tourism, wildflowers and have farming priorities. 

I'm looking forward to retirement. It will be an opportunity to fully share my lifetime experiences with other people. I've been asked to do more than I've been able to take on such as teaching language at school, talk about culture, do storytelling. When I retire, I will be able to give more. Things I didn't think were important. I'm learning more and more about my Mum, my Uncle and my Grandfather. It will be an opportunity to share my culture and my family's history."


Click below to view the full portrait and read each story from the Act Belong Commit exhibition Women of the Hinterlands