Huggins, Jackie 1956-

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HUGGINS, Jackie 1956-

PERSONAL: Born August 19, 1956, in Ayr, North Queensland, Australia; daughter of Rita and John Huggins; children: one. Education: University of Queensland, B.A. (history, anthropology); Flinders University, B.A. (with honors; history, women's studies), Dip.Ed., 1988.

ADDRESSES: Office—Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies Unit, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer, historian, and activist. University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia, deputy director of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies Unit, and editor of Australian Journal of Indigenous Education; Australian National University, director of Australian Centre for Indigenous History. Worked for Australian Center, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, 1992–93. Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, executive member, 1994–2000; National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, commissioner for Queensland, 1997; Queensland Domestic Violence Council, chair, 2001; member of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit Review Panel, 2003; Independent Inquiry into Release Policy and Practice in the Queensland Prison System, cochair, 2004; Reconciliation Australia, cochair; Telstra Foundation, director. Member of indigenous advisory board, Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research, Central Queensland University, and State Library of Queensland.

AWARDS, HONORS: Stewart Murray Memorial fellowship, 1992; David Unaipon Award for Indigenous Writers, 1995; Millennium Award for Excellence in Indigenous Affairs, Premier of Queensland, 2000; named to Order of Australia, 2001, for work with indigenous peoples.


(With mother, Rita Huggins) Auntie Rita (biography), Aboriginal Studies Press, 1994.

If the Truth Be Known, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.

Sister Girl: The Writings of Aboriginal Activist and Historian Jackie Huggins, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.

(With Louise Johnson and Jane Jacobs) Placebound: Australian Feminist Geographies, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2000.

Author of foreword, Only Gammon: Three Plays from Kooemba Jdarra, Playlab Press (Fortitude Valley, Queensland, Australia), 2002. Contributor to journals and conference publications, including report Bringing Them Home. Member of editorial board, Life Writing.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Seven Years On: Interviews with Emerged/Emerging Aboriginal Leaders, with Peter Read.

SIDELIGHTS: An Australian Aboriginal with ties to the native Bidjara and Birri-Gubba Juru peoples, Jackie Huggins is a well-known activist in her country, fighting to preserve the culture of her people whose identity has been in crisis since Europeans settled the continent. As deputy director of the University of Queensland's Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Studies Unit, she has taken a prominent role in raising awareness of the problems Aborigines still face after generations of oppression. She has also taken a leadership role in a variety of other organizations that work to build ties between the Aborigines of the mainland, the natives of the Torres Straight Islands, and white Australians. Her books, including Auntie Rita and Sister Girl: The Writings of Aboriginal Activist and Historian Jackie Huggins, have also helped readers to understand the history of native peoples.

Written with her mother, Rita Huggins, Auntie Rita is a personal testament of how Aborigines were denied their culture, language, and dignity by European settlers. Before the European invasion of Australia, Aboriginal culture had been passed down orally, with nothing written down. When white people came to the country and attempted to isolate the natives from each other and make them follow Western ways, the Aborigines were in danger of losing their past. This continued well into the twentieth century. As Huggins explained in an article she wrote for Hecate, "In the 1920s, the Queensland government pushed tribes out of their traditional areas and placed them onto mission stations and government reserves, allegedly to protect them from whites, but, in reality, to place them under the control of missionaries and government officials. This became the isolation and control period where Aboriginals were deliberately and systematically cut off from their traditional way of life and forced to conform to a dependent European lifestyle. It was during this period in Aboriginal history that written work was first introduced." Aboriginals were not granted equal citizenship in Australia until 1967, when a referendum was passed recognizing them and Torres Strait Islanders.

Auntie Rita—"Auntie" is a term of respect for an older Aboriginal woman—tells the story of Rita Huggins's life. At the age of five, she and her family, who were "half castes" from the Bidjara-Pitjara area, were taken by cattle truck from their homeland in Carnarvon Gorge and to Barambah (now Cherbourg). At age thirteen, Rita was separated from her family and forced to live in the mission dormitory because she was suspected of dating boys. As Huggins explained in Hecate, "Life in the dormitories was one of control, regimentation and discipline…. The dormitory routine did its damage in its attempts to sever ties between the children and their traditional life, and the considerable time it absorbed succeeded in limiting the depth and richness of their traditional knowledge. Dormitory life also attempted to take away the disciplinary powers of the children's natural parents. Aboriginals now were being managed, protected, taught and chastised like children and in this way lost much of the autonomy they formerly enjoyed. The main strategy was to segregate the children from their parents in dormitories as a form of social control." Through it all, Rita did not grow bitter, her daughter noted, but only longed for what she had lost.

As a young woman in her twenties, Rita met her husband, John Huggins, after World War II. He had been a prisoner of war on the Burma-Thai railway and never fully recovered from the trauma of his war experience. The couple had three children before he died at the age of thirty-eight. The aim of writing all of this down in Auntie Rita was, as Huggins related in Hecate, to simply express this true story in a way that would be as "accessible to family and Aboriginal Community members as possible."

Sister Girl is a collection of Huggins's essays. She describes the Aboriginal women who served as domestics in white Australian households in the early twentieth century. As part of her research, Huggins interviewed a number of these women, including members of her own family, "an acknowledgment of the 'connectedness' of Aboriginal life," according to Crusader Hillis writing in the Australian Book Review. "In prose that is always clear and unambiguous," related Hillis, "Huggins offers a broad sweep with such issues as feminism, education, history, law, family, bureaucracy and Anglo/Australian relations all receiving sustained attention. Very early on we learn that Huggins was frustrated by so often being the only Indigenous representative at countless conferences." Huggins also vents her frustration against the way white feminists are often connected to Aboriginal women, not realizing just how much in conflict some of the history between the two groups is. As the author states in Sister Girl, "white women do not appreciate the group cohesiveness and communal nature of relationships inherent in Aboriginal society." Hillis called Sister Girl a "wake-up call for white/Anglo Australians who are concerned about racism in their country."



Huggins, Jackie, Sister Girl: The Writings of Aboriginal Activist and Historian Jackie Huggins, University of Queensland Press (St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia), 1998.


Antipodes, December, 1999, Marilyn Strelau, "On Being an Aboriginal Woman," p. 142.

Australian Book Review, April, 1999, Crusader Hillis, "Solidarity," review of Sister Girl, pp. 11-12.

Australian Humanities Review, December, 1998, Anita Heiss, review of Sister Girl.

Hecate, May 31, 1991, Jackie Huggins, "Writing My Mother's Life," p. 88.

Journal of Australian Studies, December, 1998, John Harms, "Jackie Huggins," p. 53; September, 2002, Ceridwen Spark, "Rethinking Emplacement, Displacement and Indigeneity: Radiance, Auntie Rita and Don't Take Your Love to Town," p. 95.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit Web site, (May 10, 2005), "Jackie Huggins."

National Library of Australia Web site, (August 20, 2001), "Women Writing: Views & Prospects 1975–1995."