Friday, May 22, 2009

Faith Bandler

Today I'm writing about Faith Bandler.

I have absolutely no idea who she is.

I have a feeling she's not going to be in the entertainment industry. I'm picturing someone political. Maybe?

Okay. Lord Wiki says she's a civil rights activist. She was the leader of the campaign for the 1967 Referendum on Aboriginal Australians.

You know I think I have a photo of her. Before I got to Lord Wiki's stuff, I saw her image when I plugged her name into Google. I have a screensaver slideshow made up of pictures I save from online. There's one picture of both black and white people smiling about the Referendum. I think she's one of the people in the photo.

Well, this is cool. It will be nice knowing more about the woman in this photo I often see.

Bandler was born on 27 September 1920. That would make her a Libra.

Birthday Website Time!

She's a Libra and a 3.

The 3 is the social and expressive one.

I picture that person being passionate and idealistic; the type who can speak out against injustice, and actually convince other people to join their side.

The birthday calculator says Bandler is 88 years old. Wow. That's impressive.

She's 1064 months old. That's a lot of months.

Bandler's birthplace is Tumbulgum New South Wales. That kind of rhymes with bubblegum.

Tumbulgum is near the border to Queensland. It's about ninety minutes south of Brisbane.

Bandler's name wasn't always Bandler. Her birth name was Ida Lessing Mussing. I like that. If you say it outloud, it kind of sounds like a song.

Although she was born in Tumbulgum, Bandler has South Sea Islander roots. I guess that's different from Torres Strait Islander roots.

I'm about to learn a new term. It's called blackbirding. It's what happened to some South Sea Islander people.

I'm going to see what Lord Wiki has to say about that.

He says it was kidnapping or tricking people into coming to work on plantations. The plantations were often in Queensland. And I guess the people were kidnapped from the South Sea Islands. Oh wait. Lord Wiki says that Aboriginal people from Australia were also victims.

Is Blackbirding just another term for slavery? Isn't it the same thing America did with Africans?

Lord Wiki says 62,000 South Sea Islanders were forced to come to Australia. Wow. I never knew that.

Some of the people came willingly, wanting to work. I'm sure this makes some people deny the whole blackbirding thing, just like other people deny the idea of the Stolen Generation. They hear some stories of Aboriginal children living in abusive families, and truly being rescued by being sent away from their families. Then they conclude, because of this, that there were no stolen children.

Lord Wiki talks about ways other people were tricked into coming. He gives some awful examples. There's one in which people are told there's going to be a religious service on a boat. They hop onboard and the boat sets sail.

Bandler's father was one of those blackbirding victims. He came from Vanuatu in 1883.

I'm looking at Google Maps now, although I have vague memories of Vanuatu from when I did the Traveler IQ challenge. I think it was one of those places I'd often mess up on.

Anyway, Vanuatu is between New Caledonia and Fiji.

Bandler's father was twelve when the blackbirding happened to him. He was sent to work on a sugar plantation. He later escaped and married a Scottish-Indian woman in New South Wales.

I guess they had babies and little Ida Lessing was one of them.

Lord Wiki says she grew up on a farm in Murwillumbah New South Wales. Is that near her birthplace? Yeah, I guess it pretty much is the same place. There's a fifteen minute car ride difference. I'm guessing her birthplace and growing-up place is pretty much the same thing.

Bandler's dad died when she was only five.

When she was around fourteen Bandler left school and moved to Sydney. She became a dressmaker's apprentice. I wonder why she did this. Was it for financial reasons? She needed a job? Did she want to get away from home? I'm tempted to say this is the reason because she went so far away. But maybe there just wasn't any jobs in her town.

Bandler worked on fruit farms during World War II. They were part of what's called Women's Land Army. It was pretty much replacing the male farm workers who had gone off fighting. The black workers involved with this received less pay than their white counterparts. Bandler protested against that.

When the war was over, Bandler moved to Kings Cross. In 1952 she ended up marrying a Jewish refugee from Austria. Lord Wiki says he had been in a labor camp. Is that the same as a concentration camp, or different? I guess from what I'm reading it's a type of concentration camp. There were labor concentration camps and then there were death concentration camps.

Bandler and her husband moved up to a place in north Sydney called Frenchs Forest. I don't think I've ever heard of that.

Google Maps puts it at about twenty minutes north of Manly. Lord Wiki says it's part of the Northern Beaches region.

Two years after their marriage, Bandler gave birth to a daughter. They also adopted an Aboriginal son.

In the late 1950's, Bandler became very active in social activism. She became general secretary of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. It was in this role that she led the campaign for the Referendum. The point of that was to remove discrimination in the Australian constitution.

I'm reading about Referendums now. What it is basically is a poll in which people vote whether to approve changes to the constitution. Lord Wiki says 44 of these have been held in Australia. He says eight have been carried. I'm guessing that means they were approved.

The last Referendum was in 1999. That was about Australia becoming a Republic. Needless to say, but I'll say it didn't pass.

The 1967 one, regarding Aboriginals, did pass. I think though that it took a lot of hard work. First Bandler and her helpers had to convince Prime Minister Holt to present it as a Referendum. Then they had to campaign for the people to vote yes.

The good news is not only did it pass, but it STRONGLY passed. It was accepted in all six states, and accepted by 91% of voters. That's pretty good, I think. Lord Wiki says it was the highest ever acceptance of a Referendum.

I wish Proposition 8 in America had such a response. Although I still think people voted yes out of confusion. I don't know how it is in Australia, but in America these things are worded so confusingly. We had one in Texas that was about dry states. I really didn't understand the question and what I was voting for. I asked people around me and they were just as confused. I guess if it was an important issue, I felt strongly about, I would have insisted on finding out what the hell I was doing. But I don't really care whether a certain city in Texas allows alcohol or not.

Anyway. See in the 1967 Referendum voting yes meant you were voting AGAINST discrimination. In Proposition 8, voting yes meant you were voting FOR discrimination. I have a feeling some people felt they were supporting gay marriage by voting yes. I really don't think California has that many closed-minded people. Texas on the other hand obviously does.

The interesting thing is after Proposition 8 was passed, four other states became gay-marriage friendly....Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and Maine.

Back to Bandler.

In the 1970's she began writing books....not one book, but four of them. I wonder whether she wrote one at a time or wrote them simultaneously. Two of the books were about the Referendum. One was about her brother and one was about her dad's history. I guess writing about her dad opened up more passionate activism in her. She began campaigning for the rights of South Sea Islanders. I was right about what I said above. She did have opposition from historians who denied the atrocities inflicted on the South Sea Islanders. Many wanted to believe they were all voluntary servants.

All right. I am done with Lord Wiki.

What next? I'm doubting there's an official Faith Bandler website. Who knows though.....

Okay well we do have stuff about her on the Australian biography website. This is both good and bad news. The good news is there's tons of information. The bad news is there's tons of information.

I think I overwhelmed myself the last time my research subject had an entry here. I felt obligated to watch and read everything. It was way too overwhelming. I'm not going to do that this time. I'll watch and read a little bit. Then if any of you are more interested in Bandler, you can follow the link.

I shall read the brief biography first. It doesn't say anything really different from Lord Wiki, except that this says her dad was thirteen when he was blackbirded rather than twelve. I don't think that's a huge discrepency though.

Lord Wiki said this but I didn't mention it. In 1975, she traveled to the island in which her father came from. She would have been about fifty-five then. The website says it was an emotional journey. I can imagine. Have any of you traveled back to your parents or ancestor's homeland? What was that like?

All my parents and all my grandparents grew up in Chicago. I go there fairly often. It's kind of emotional, but not much so since the visits are fairly frequent. And parents and grandparents weren't victims of atrocity. That makes a difference.

All right. Now I'm going to start reading the interview transcript. I'm not going to read everything--just what looks interesting to me.

It starts out like a psychoanalysis session. Tell me about your mother.....

Mother stuff interests me. I'll read this.

Her mother had long black hair.

It seems she was strict about laundry. Maybe strict is the wrong word. Anal might be a better one.

She sewed; made the kids their clothes.

My mom sewed at some point. She got really into it. She made us clothes. I also remember her making doll clothes for my sister. Melissa had a doll named Jenny. Jenny was dating my Koala stuffed animal. Oh! Koala. Ah, I DID have an Australian connection when I was a child. You know I always say I didn't....that's it's all new. But that Koala was one of my favorite stuffed animals. And one of my favorite book series was the Betsy books. In the books, Betsy (or maybe her little sister) had a koala stuffed animal. Maybe all this means something.

Bandler's mother would cut up old sheets to make napkins and towels. That's so Sound of Music.

Bandler says she's good at housework, but hates it.

I like some of it. I like doing laundry. I like washing dishes, but not when there's an overwhelming amount in the sink. I like picking up stuff and putting them away. Again though not if it's an overwhelming job. I don't like vacuuming and all that. I'm spoiled though. We have someone come in every two weeks to do the vacuuming and mopping. I've tried doing it myself and am just so awful at it. I can never give the room that clean vacuumed look. I don't know. Maybe I need to take vacuuming lessons or something.

My most frequent housework job is cleaning up cat excrement. Our cat pees all over the kitchen. It's disgusting. Then often along with the urine we have piles of cat vomit to clean up.

Okay. Now Bandler is going to talk about her father. She doesn't remember him much...well, obviously. She was only five years old when he died.

She had seven siblings. From them, Bandler learned more about her father.

Bandler says she doesn't care what historians and anthropologists say. She believes what her father told them.

Bandler says many of the islanders came on board the ship out of curiosity. They had never seen white people before. They came on the ship and were captured.

Bandler says the practice was stopped mainly because of public outcry. I guess that shows that sometimes people can make a difference.

She talks about why she came to Sydney. She said it was for the bright lights. I guess she means she was attracted to the big city life.

Bandler says she didn't experience racial discrimination when she was younger. She credits that to her mother who was a very proud woman, she would walk down the streets of Murwillumbah .... but if the businessmen didn't doff their hats she wouldn't respond to their greeting.

Her father demanded respect too. I admire that. I don't think I have that in me; at least not all of the time. I guess it depends on my mood. I guess to demand respect you have to respect yourself. And if you have self-esteem issues.....

Tim and I were talking about this recently. Why would someone let someone else treat them horribly? I said it's because they feel they deserve it.

Then there's some people who demand too much respect. I think it's because their self-esteem is too high.

Bandler says working in the fruit farms during World War II was very hard. I can imagine. Whenever I think of fruit farms, I think of The Cider House Rules.

Bandler says she loves music. When she was younger, she'd only listen to classical because that's the only thing her mother would allow. That's like the director of the preschool I worked at in Fort Worth. She didn't want us playing any music for the kids that wasn't classical. I found that to be annoying.

Bandler's  married life in Northern Sydney was idyllic. She said everyone knew each other. Life was beautiful. People were friendly.

Bandler and the Interviewer talk about how the Referendum isn't always appreciated by people today. Bandler says I feel today that it isn't understood by contemporary black people. Because we now have a generation who has never known what it is to be locked away on a reservation, we have a generation who has not known what it is to be controlled by white administrators.

It's interesting. Bandler worked for Indigenous Australians even though she wasn't Indigenous herself. It wasn't until later that she fought for the rights of her own people. She says, I became interested in my own people when, after the Referendum, I discovered that some of them were fronting up as Torres Strait Islanders or as Aborigines in order to receive those benefits which flowed on as a result of the Referendum. And I was very saddened by that and I feared that they would lose their identity.

It's sad.

I mean I feel guilty that I've never even heard of this problem....this history. Well, maybe it's not guilt. Maybe I feel disturbed. I've heard of what happened to the Aboriginals. But why did I never hear about this? Maybe I just missed it somehow. Well, the good thing is....I'm no longer ignorant.

The organization Bandler formed helps only the South Sea Islanders who were forced to come over. It doesn't help contemporary people who have recently chosen to come over. That sounds fair to me. We met some of these people when we stayed in the South Coast. The family in the cabin next to us were from the South Sea Islands...Cook Islands specifically. I don't think they were forced to come over.

Bandler is asked what she wants for the South Sea Islanders. She says, I want my people, the descendants of the South Sea Islanders to have access to those areas for help, to those areas of great need, for housing, for health, for education. They are so basic. I don't want to see them having to front up as a Torres Strait Islander in order to get those benefits, because I truly believe that the country owes the people those benefits.

Bandler says she adopted a child because she had hated being pregnant. And since she figured there were kids out there who needed a home....

Sadly the adoption didn't have the happiest ending. When the child was ten he decided he wanted to find his biological parents. I guess that didn't work out for everyone. I don't know. But Bandler says she's no longer in touch with him. That's sad. She says, I often feel that in that area, perhaps of the family, I might have failed. It doesn't upset me, I mean we all do what we believe is right at the time, and that's what parents should remember. I wonder what she did, and whether she did anything wrong. Did she perhaps give her son grief about wanting to find his parents?

Bandler talks about her husband and how he supported her. It seems the biggest type of support he gave was helping to take care of their daughter. I get the impression that he was the primary parent. I think that's really the only way it can work well if one parent is very politically busy. I really don't think you can be such an important activist AND a good mother. I think you can be an okay activist and a good mother. And I think you can be a good activist and okay mother. But you can't be excellent at both. Well, I guess someone could....but I think it would be rare.

I think if a woman is going to have both a successful career and children, she needs a husband who will strongly participate in childcare.

Bandler says her mother was not for the Republic. She was all into the Monarchy; had pictures on the walls of the royal family.

Bandler is for the Republic. She says, I'm a republican because it was the British Empire and under the British Empire that the colonies were established and in the establishing of these colonies many of the indigenous people suffered very seriously, including my father. So, you know, why should I want to bow to people who represent a system that destroyed so many people, destroyed the culture of so many people, so destructive. I guess those are the main reasons.

I totally agree with this. I think I was trying to say this the other day, but I couldn't get the words out right.

It seems she's not religious. She doesn't come out and say she's atheist. But she does say that her faith lies in people. I guess that would make her a secular humanist.

She talks about war and how it creates a hatred that's so hard to get rid of. She says, I mean how can we ask the Jewish people to forget what happened in Europe? How can they forget the Nazis? How can they forget those brutal SS men who dominated their lives in the concentration camps? When I talk about this need for my involvement and other people's involvement in peace I mean it because it means, if we have peace, we can do away with an awful lot of hatred.

I think that's true. People need to think about these things before they start a war. Whether you win or lose, there's going to be hatred that will go on for generations. So many American children are going to grow up hating Arabs because of September 11. So many Iraqi children are going to grow up hating Americans because of the atrocities we caused. More and more Palestinian children are going to grow up hating Israeli's because of the recent attacks on Gaza.

Well, I'm going to stop reading the interview.

I didn't expect Bandler to be mentioned on Twitter, but she was. It seems she was honored recently.

She became a Companion in the Order of Australia.

Well, I think I'm going to end on that note. If you want to learn more, go to the interview. It has tons of information.


  1. Just a bit more info. The islanders forced into labour were called Kanakers and worked on banana and sugar plantations. Sugar plantation work was very very hard. I assumed Faith was Aboriginal, so there you go, I learnt something again. I don't think too many people know about black birding but I really doubt there would be many who would deny it. What happened was pretty clear cut and I have never heard of anyone trying to defend what happened. There was some legal case, perhaps compensation, over a decade ago. Ah, comment is getting too long.

  2. know I read this comment awhile back and then went to your blog and saw your post about kanakers. The word sounded familiar to me and I was thinking...hey, I'm not Australian and I've heard of it.

    Yeah, I heard of it because I read your comment a few hours back.

    I'm not working with a full brain today. My goodness.

    I'll probably disagree with you about the denial thing. If people can deny the Holocaust, the massacre of the Tasmanian Aboriginals, and The Stolen Generation, I can imagine there'd be people to deny this too...or at least minimize it.

    But even though I might disagree with you, I still absolutely adore you. You're my favorite friend named Hi that I've ever had.

  3. Hi Dina,
    I like Faith Bandler, i think she has a beautiful soul and a big heart.
    The Constitution originally stated

    S 127-In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.

    S51-The Parliament shall subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:
    (xxvi) The people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws.”

    So in fact all the 1967 referendum changed was Aboriginal people were to be counted in the census, and a shift in responsibility of Aboriginal people from state to federal government. This wasn't a bad thing but the problem with the referendum was what people thought it meant. They thought they were giving the aboriginal people the vote, and therefore giving them political equality but aboriginal people had been allowed to vote by 'law' before that.

  4. Matt,

    Thank you for the information!

    I think I've heard that some people were disappointed with the results of the Referendum.

    I think it's good the change was made, but there's still a LOT that needs to be done.

  5. Exactly I think people voted yes in the referendum and then thought 'well I've done my bit, so I/we don't need to do any more' and i think that was the negative impact of the referendum
    The Kanakers are actually mentioned in S51 of the Constitution also, as well as the Chinese and Indians who were also minority groups within Australia and could also have special laws consigned to them and them only.

  6. Matt,

    I feel unfortunately that we Americans have done that with Obama.

    We voted for him and then expected a miracle to simply happen.

  7. Well Dina, perhaps some may minimise the case. But as you can see from my post on Kanakas, many Australians don't know about Kanakas and I doubt young people would know at all. Btw all, the word is Kanaka and not the way I spelt it originally. Thanks for the nice words Dina.

  8. Faith Bandler did refuse an imperial honour (awarded by the UK). In 1976 she was offered an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire: and she refused it (
    The honours she accepted (later) were awarded by the Australian Government: an AO ( and an AC (
    Kind regards,
    Lilon Bandler

  9. Lilon Bandler,

    Thank you for the information. I apologize for the mistake.

    I'm not sure why I made the mistake. Maybe I misunderstood something in the interview?