Woman Morrison, Della Rae
Written by Jeannie Morrison, Curtin University
Della Rae Morrison was born in Narrogin in the south west of Western Australia. She is a Bibbulmun woman yorga from the Noongar clan who lived her early days in Albany, went to school in Albany at the age of six and moved up to Perth when she was seven. 'We moved around a lot in my young days', she recalled. 'Came to Perth when I was 7-8, then the mining boom happened when I was about 8-9 years old in the early seventies. That's when my mum and her partner and my brother and I moved up to South Hedland. We lived in South Hedland for ten years. I come from two very big families. My grandfather was one of 22 children from the Morrison side and my grandmother is Maisie Weston-Loo-Coyne and my grandfather is Arthur Morrison. That's my mum's parents. My mum is Patricia Morrison. My father is Eddie Parfitt and his mother is Rose Hart and his father is Roy Parfitt, my father's side of the family live in Collie. I've got big mob of family in Collie and all around the south west of Western Australia. I went to school in Port Hedland throughout primary school, at South Hedland Primary School and then when I was 13 was moved to Penrhos Ladies College for one year and when I was 14 went to Applecross Senior High School then I went back up to Port Hedland High School when I was 15. I was not interested in School in the least. I didn't want to be there ... I just thought it was a waste of my time what am I doing here? I don't want it, I don't want it I'm not interested in any of this, I wasn't interested in learning' (Interview).
Morrison's main interest was in the arts. 'I just wanted to sing and play my guitar and I just found school really boring and unstimulating and I ended up leaving school halfway through third year. I needed to help support my mum and my brother and pay the rent and so I went and worked at South Hedland Coles Shopping Centre where I was a check out chick for a bit and worked in the clothing section. So I started working at a very young age being 14 and I guess I've worked ever since. Then I went into Hedland Business College and did a six months Business Course which kick start me into clerical and into office work. Then after ten years, I think I was 17 when I left Port Hedland and I became a bit homesick and missed my country in the south west and I missed my family and I decided to leave the North altogether and at the age of 17 I travelled a bit. I went over to Melbourne and Sydney and caught up with family over there and then I came back to Perth and I've lived here ever since so I've been here 25 years I think or thereabouts' (Interview).
As a seventeen year old in Melbourne Morrison 'felt a bit lost. I felt like I didn't have much of a direction I didn't know where I was going ... I was there for about three weeks and I saw one Aboriginal person on the street the whole time I was there ... I asked somebody where's all the black fellas around here. And someone said they all live in one suburb, it was St Kilda somewhere around there. So it was a bit of an eye opener coming from the Pilbara and Port Hedland, and you know Rivervale and Perth where there's blackfellas everywhere and then going to Melbourne and hardly seeing any fellas on the street, yeah it was a real eye opener' (Interview). Returning to Perth Morrison 'got some work with Telstra, and the Post Office the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority, the Department of Indigenous Affairs, the Aboriginal Legal Service and so I worked in a few of those departments and I put my name down in a temping agency and ended up getting a lot of different work around the city. One place I worked a lot was the Building Management Authority. Yeah so I had lots of different jobs and I was bored in nine-to-five reception work and I didn't see myself having a purpose there' (Interview).
Despite her wide ranging work experiences Morrison identifies the women in her immediate family as her most important inspiration. 'I've seen them basically come from poverty really, put themselves through university and get themselves top jobs so I think my mother, my grandmother and my aunties, my mum's sisters have to be the most inspiring women in my life' (Interview). The role models and mentors she admires are people who 'when they put their minds to something ... get the job done. Their positive attitude is one thing that's really important and just putting your mind to the job and getting it done I think is something that stands out' (Interview). 'Working in places like the Aboriginal Legal Service and Aboriginal Planning Authority and Department of Indigenous Affairs I learnt a lot ... about a variety of things and then being with your family your aunties and your uncles we'd sit around and talk about all these issues so I think it's a part of your life and that's the proper education that I got was sitting around the kitchen table and talking and yarning with my family and my aunties and uncles and being educated that way is the best way for me to learn and I think that's how I've become the person that I am' (Interview).
Asked how she had been shaped by her culture Morrison responded: 'identity is a funny subject because we're brought up with a bit of the shame aspect of things I think because it was quite difficult being in school and being exposed to racism and especially when I was in Port Hedland because the black fellas in Port Hedland were racist against me as a Noongar person and then you got the white kids who are racist against Aboriginals. So in the end being a 9 year old Aboriginal girl already aware of this issue, I found it easier to identify as being a Maori and so people used to ask me where are you from whose your mob I'd say "a Maori, my dad's from New Zealand" and it was easy, it was much easier to say that, to do that than having to cope with being called names. So I did that for a while until I was 11 and 12 when the other kids started to catch on that I wasn't Maori started to catch on that I was actually Aboriginal but by that time it didn't matter cos I had a lot of friends so, it's a funny thing. And growing up there I was taken away from growing up in my own country with my own people for a long time so I think there is a big gap, I missed out on ten years of something which I discovered along the way from being around my Noongar friends here, they used to say did you do go out here and do that and I'd so well no I didn't cos I was camping along the river in the Pilbara so I missed out on a certain part of something ... really people started to get to know me in my 20s when I moved back to Perth' (Interview).
Morrison's involvement in music began when she started singing at the age of 3 or 4. 'My dad was singing to me one day and I started singing along to him and he said "oh my baby you're harmonising with your dad" and he made me feel really special and I thought "wow I harmonised with my dad" whatever that was so he sort of encouraged me to sing and sing and sing cos my mum and dad weren't together at that age and she'd be at work and so after school when I'd come home after school my dad would come and visit me knowing my mum wasn't home and he'd throw a little stone at the window to get my attention I'd go to the window and he'd be at the fence with a little cool drink can and packet of peanuts and he'd go "Mum home" and I'd say "no mum's not home" so he'll come in and about quarter to five he'd leave knowing she'd be home soon ... she never knew that that was our little secret and so for the two hours that my dad would be there we'd sing together the whole time. Then I went to Jandakot Primary School when I was 6-7 when Mum started moving, and I was there in time for a concert and this girl, she was about 12 she got up and sang Red River Valley and I was at the front row ... looking up at her going "oh I just want to be like her", that was really inspiring, she could sing and play guitar. Then we moved to South Hedland and that's where my little career started off when I was 9 years old. It wasn't professional it wasn't being paid or anything, I was continuously making up skits and little pantomimes and putting my little groups together and singing songs and I'd go to my teacher and say "can we sing this song at assembly on Friday?" so I was always performing I was in the school choir since the age of 9. I've been singing pretty much full on since the age of 9 years old and started professionally singing when I was about 20 when I started actually being paid to perform so my singing and acting started when I was about 9' (Interview). Although Morrison hoped to become a rock star an audition for Jimmy Chi's Bran Nue Dae led to her undertaking 'three years on the job training ... travelling ... all over Australia with the show and theatre and acting got into my blood. I loved it and been doing it ever since' (Interview). Her current goal is to 'get a lead role in a movie, that's what I want to do that's what I'm aiming for is getting that lead role in a movie and I will audition until I'm 100 years old to get that role' (Interview).
In pursuing her career Morrison has received support from her community. 'Irma Woods at Yirra Yarkin she's fantastic she's always emailing me new information about workshops and things that are coming up. There's lots of opportunity in the community for anybody to kick start their career in the music industry, you can go to Abmusic and study music there if you want to be a famous singer you know there's lots of places and opportunities' (Interview). She has also been involved in other community activities. 'I founded the West Australian Nuclear Free Alliance which is WANFA in 2009 when I was in Quorn, South Australia when I went to my first ANFA meeting and there were 10 West Australians there and so I'm one of the founders of WANFA. I started that when I realised that Western Australia was under the threat of uranium mining when Colin Barnett lifted the 30 year ban on the uranium mining industry and is now giving it the go ahead and that became a bit of concern to me ... I hadn't planned to be an activist I hadn't planned to fight against uranium and be an anti-nukes activist, it just happened because I'm passionate about country and passionate about caretaking the land and looking after the beautiful country we have' (Interview).
Participation in the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the tent embassy in Canberra inspired her to 'take this back home and share it with our own community and so I've been involved with the sovereign movement since January this year 2012. It's just really important for me to pass on to our people the truth about the Constitution and the lies that have been told over 200 years and our people have the right to know the truth and I believe that once we have our sovereignty my people will have a bit more freedom and less police harassment and no more move on notices and just knowing your own rights, less incarceration in prisons and having some self-determination and empowerment and getting to know their own rights' (Interview).
Although she is motivated and passionate about the cause, Morrison recognised that activism brought problems 'just realising how much division there is in the community between our families and family feuding and people not having trust or faith that this sovereign movement is going to work cos some people have already tried to do it before and just trying to get the information out there and just hoping that people can try and understand what it's all about and also feel the truth in it I guess ... There were some people that didn't like what I was doing and didn't like the idea of me passing on this information about the Constitution and the sovereignty business but I just wasn't afraid of anything. I just thought that it was more important that I get this information out. And that's the only thing that kept me going. ... You've got the threat of the other people, you've got the threat of the police, ASIO hacks your phone, hacks your computer, deletes the stuff from your computer, you get threats from the racist, so many threats but I don't allow myself to sit there and dwell on all those negatives from all those people, all I know I've got this piece of paper I've got truth and I want to get it out there that's the motivation and the passion and that's what keeps me going' (Interview).
During the interview Morrison was asked to identify other important community leaders. 'There's lots. Aunty Helen Corbett she's just full of so much information and just sitting and listening to her talk is just really fantastic it's really inspiring she's got a lot to share and a lot of information to pass on. Who else? Marianne McKay she's pretty cool. She's a little bulldozer, bulldog, something. There's no stopping that york, I like to support her as well' (Interview). Indigenous leaders, she believes, 'need to always keep a positive outlook on things, keep a positive attitude, believing in yourself, if you believe in something, uphold that and believe in yourself, that you're saying the right things, you're doing the right things, and if you feel it's the truth then really believe in that truth with a positive attitude and I suppose in having that sort of self- respect helps you to have respect for others and it's important to respect our elders and respect other people whether they believe in your views or not' (Interview). Aboriginal women's leadership, she argues, is changing. 'There's more support from other women, there are more workshops and seminars and all these sort of things happening now where there'd be a room full of 100 moordidj women empowered and they're empowering each other as well I think there's more of that happening and I just think that's really fantastic' (Interview).
In exercising leadership Aboriginal women do not have much in common with non-Aboriginal women. 'We're all in one place with it on a common ground we've got connection with each other we've got connection to country we've got our culture and spirituality we've got a history we're all aware of, we're all survivors it's certainly a very different atmosphere to be in and wadjella women who come into this environment just "I didn't know this" and it's an eye opener for non-Aboriginal women to see a group of Aboriginal women together its very different and it's because we've got our culture' (Interview). Perhaps, she mused, leadership is not the right term. It 'just doesn't really sit right with me. I don't know why. To me it's a bit like a bit of an ego thing and I prefer to see myself as an equal to all women. [But] I don't' know what else you can call it' (Interview).
National Film and Sound Archive
- Della Rae Morrison interviewed by Jeannie Morrison for the Australian Women Leaders Archive Project, 23 August 2012; Private Collection. Details
- Morrison, Della Rae, 'Della Rae Morrison', in Star Now: Where talent gets discovered, 2013, http://www.starnow.com.au/dellarae. Details