Woman Bush, Constance (Connie) Doreen

MBE

Occupation
Aboriginal health worker

Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

Connie Bush was an inaugural member of the National Women's Advisory Council (NWAC) established in 1978 by the Fraser Coalition Government. She was recognised with an MBE in 1981 for her services to Aboriginal women's health. Described by the Australian Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, who knew her through their council dealings, as 'a friend ... And an outstanding Indigenous leader', she was well known across the Northern Territory and especially on Groote Eylandt where she grew up ('Exclusive Interview').

Daughter of Norah, a Garawa woman and mounted police constable, Tom Turner, Connie was born at Borroloola in 1919 and taken with her mother to the Roper River Mission as a baby. In September 1924, she and her mother were separated, never to see each other again, as she and fifteen other girls of mixed descent were forcibly removed to a satellite mission station on Groote Eylandt. She spent her childhood and youth at the mission, receiving little in the way of formal education, as she and the other mission children had to work hard in order to maintain the mission's self-sufficiency. 'We were always tired and always hungry,' she remembered. 'We would all go to sleep leaning up against each other during prayers in the church' (Forrest).

At the age of twelve, Connie began work in the mission kitchen and in time became a teacher's assistant. She also worked with the doctor who regularly called to the island, Dr Clyde Fenton, in a health liaison role, convincing the local women to come and see him when he visited. He, in turn, taught her first aid skills so that she could assist the Royal Flying Doctor Service to help communities to improve their health and lifestyle.

In 1941 Connie married Fred Bush, another Roper River and Groote Eylandt child. Not long after she was evacuated south for the duration of the Second World War. The couple reunited soon after the war ended and went on to raise ten children in Darwin. As well as caring for her family, she worked as a cook in institutions in Darwin before returning to live on Groote Eylandt in the 1970s. When the local artist and leader Nandjiwarra Amagula left his position in the Northern Territory Government Welfare Branch, Connie was appointed to replace him. For more than twenty years, she represented the islanders through a time of great change and social upheaval.

These representations included liaising with the various mining companies interested in Groote Eylandt resources. An officer who worked for GEMCO, a BHP Billiton subsidiary operating on the island since the 1960s admired her enormously. 'She was wonderful,' he said. 'She was strong and a great fighter for her people who were getting a bad deal, but she was always fair and could always see the other side of an argument. She was known everywhere as Auntie Connie' (Forrest). Bush died in Darwin in 1997.

Additional sources: NWAC [National Women's Advisory Council] - Appointments, honours and awards, 6 July 1979 - 15 June 1984, 1979/750 7902651; National Archives of Australia.

Archival Resources

National Archives of Australia

  • NWAC [National Women's Advisory Council] - Appointments, honours and awards, 6 July 1979 - 15 June 1984, 1979/750 7902651; National Archives of Australia. Details

Northern Territory Library, Northern Territory Collection

  • Investiture by Sir Zelman Cowen at Government House, 10 September 1981, PH0107/0371; Northern Territory Library, Northern Territory Collection. Details

Published Resources

Edited Books

  • Cole, Keith (ed.), Groote Eylandt stories: changing patterns of life among the Aborigines on Groote Eylandt, Church Missionary Historical Publications Trust, Parkville, Victoria, 1972. Details

Newspaper Articles

  • Forrest, Peter, 'Connie was an Auntie to all', Northern Territory News, 30 September 1997, p. 23. Details

Online Resources

See also

Digital Resources

Title
NWAC [National Women's Advisory Council] - Appointments, honours and awards
Type
Digitised Paper Resource
Date
6 July 1979 - 15 June 1984
Place
National Archives of Australia
Control
7902651
Repository
National Archives of Australia

Details

Title
Investiture by Sir Zelman Cowen at Government House
Type
Picture
Date
10 September 1981
Place
Northern Territory Library
Control
PH0107/0371
Repository
Northern Territory Library, Northern Territory Collection

Details