Pam Duncan was a proud, independent black woman respected by all

Karlene Duncan gave a powerful speech at NAIDOC celebrations in Boggabilla last week.

Karlene Duncan gave a powerful speech at NAIDOC celebrations in Boggabilla last week.

Pam Duncan was a “strong independent proud black woman” from Toomelah who raged against being told she couldn’t and gained the respect and friendship of most people she met, black or white.

Pam’s story and those of other “trailbalzers” have come to the fore during NAIDOC celebrations over the past fortnight throughout the border region.

Pam’s daughter Karlene was the main speaker at the Boggabilla Central School’s NAIDOC Day last week. It was a moving tribute to a woman who proved a life well-lived has community changing ramifications for all of us.

This is an edited version of Karelen’s speech.

Over the past years we have had some amazing NAIDOC DAY themes, but I think this year’s theme has to be my favourite. “BECAUSE OF HER, WE CAN!” This year’s theme recognizes all the incredible women in our communities that have continued to work tirelessly throughout their existence to enable us to be who and where we are today.

They are our carers, our voices, they are passionate, they give us strength to carry on when the road gets rough and they have empowered us from past generations and paved the way for our future generations.

We all have that special woman in our lives that we need to say thank you to and be grateful for.

My Mum Pamela Dawn Duncan was born on March 5, 1943. Indigenous people weren’t allowed to have their babies in Goondiwindi during that time, so all the pregnant women had to go to Moree.

 Mum grew up on Toomelah mission and was the eldest daughter of Mavis Dennison and Fred McGrady. 

Later in life Mum lost her father and Jack Dennison became her step-father who she loved very much.

  My father is Charlie Duncan and I have never to this day seen such a wonderful union as my parent’s marriage.  I had never heard them argue, fuss or fight, they just seem to have that connection we all look and hope for in a marriage.

Dad pretended to be the boss BUT we all knew it was her.

Mum was the backbone of our family. We didn’t have much but she provided us with an education, love, morals and taught us respect and showed us that behind every strong man there is an even stronger woman. I had the best childhood because I have great parents that provided my siblings and I with a strong foundation and that’s where it all begins.  The saying goes that charity begins at home and Mum certainly gave us the best things in life.  She gave us things that money just couldn’t buy, she was kind and caring. 

She dealt out discipline when and where it was needed, she was strict and taught us right from wrong, and most of all, she kept us safe. I will always be eternally grateful to her for that. 

And she always taught me never to forget where you come from and stay humble, because that was the kind of person she was. 

She has a large family and made many friendships far and wide. Mum loved everyone and Mum was loved by everyone!

She was a strong independent proud black woman. 

Mum was the backbone of our family. We didn’t have much but she provided us with an education, love, morals and taught us respect and showed us that behind every strong man there is an even stronger woman.

Karlene Duncan

Mum’s calling was helping and caring for people, not only for her immediate family but for her whole community. Her love for people drove led her to health work.  In the 70s she took a petition around Toomelah to get a health worker for the mish. 

The petition was taken up by two doctors that serviced Toomelah, Doctor Whish from Inverell and Doctor Gall from Moree.

 Mum volunteered whilst the health workers position was being established and treated everyone with dignity and respect. After much deliberation Mum was offered the position.

Mum was the first indigenous health worker for Toomelah.

Discrimination is not a word that doesn’t escape most of our people at any time, and Mum experienced it time and time again.  BUT when she got knocked down she would just get back up again. 

She was a determined, strong advocate for indigenous rights and fought hard for what she believed in...Mum was a real fighter.

After becoming employed as the Indigenous Health Worker Mum decided to get a formal qualification. 

She approached the Goondiwindi hospital to do her nursing certificate there and was refused. She was told, “what will the people think having a black woman on our staff”? 

Mum being the strong person that she was never gave up so she approached the Moree hospital and that’s where she completed her nursing/training.

During her time as the Indigenous Health Worker Mum worked on many isues: the water supply to our houses on the mission would go off for days, Mum lobbied the Moree Plains Shire Council to “FIX IT”. 

She had a way with words my Mum, she was straight out!  She also played a major role in the design of the new houses when they first came to the mish, septic toilets, electricity to the houses and much more.

Mum has since passed away but her legacy will live on. I’m sure that she has touched the lives of so many in our communities in one way or another….. Mum was one of the most powerful women that I know and love. 

She believed in God almighty, her indigenous culture and in modern medicine. 

She believed in God almighty, her indigenous culture and in modern medicine.

Karlene Duncan.

SO IN FINISHING: to all the women in our communities you are our past, present and our future!

And always remember that “BECAUSE OF HER, WE CAN”!