Powerful message at conference

Stolen Generations survivor Florence Onus addresses the Community Legal Centres Queensland conference.

There was silence and tears when Stolen Generations survivor Florence Onus shared her life story at the annual Community Legal Centres Queensland Conference in Brisbane yesterday.

The Community Development Worker and Cultural Advisor to the First Nations Women’s Legal Services Queensland (FNWLSQ) spoke of the ongoing impact of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to a packed but hushed room at the Hotel Grand Chancellor.

With fellow FNWLSQ Community Development Worker Andrea Kyle-Sailor, Florence delivered the plenary session First Nations cultural intelligence, knowledge sharing and ways of being & doing on day two of the two-day conference.

Florence Onus and Andrea Kyle-Sailor

A descendant of the Birri-Gubba and Kairi/Bidjara clans of north-east Queensland, Florence is the fourth generation of her family to have been institutionalised.

She spoke of the factors contributing to a cultural crisis for First Nations people, which was leading to their over-representation in the criminal justice system.


These included the dispossession of indigenous people and the subsequent inability to practise culture; the forced removal of children; loss of family and identity; and the imposition of non-indigenous law over lore.

“When we speak about domestic and family violence, I would start by saying violence does not discriminate,” she said.

“Aboriginal people in this country, from the day the First Fleet arrived on our shores, have been on the end of violence… we have been dealing with all forms of violence.”

Florence spoke of intergenerational trauma, systemic oppression, disempowerment and racism.

“As we know with a lot of kids being removed today through Child Protection, as it was back then as well, there’s a lot of abuse,” she said.

“I’ve met people from the Stolen Generation in my lifetime that have suffered all forms of abuse on a regular basis. A lot of them are probably some of your clients. For them, healing, when we talk about healing, is just surviving, one day at a time.


“They’re the alcoholics, the drug addicts, the homeless, (those with) mental illness.”

She said her story was not an isolated one.

“Every Aboriginal person in this nation, every Aboriginal client that comes through the door, their families have this shared history,” she said.

“We’ve all lived through this history and we’re still dealing with the impacts today.”

Staff from community legal centres around the state gathered in the capital over Tuesday and Wednesday for the CPD and networking event. They heard from more than 25 speakers across plenaries, workshops, and lectures over three streams: running a community legal centre, frontline workers; and supporting people and communities.

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