Bandler, Faith (1918—)

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Bandler, Faith (1918—)

Australian author and Aboriginal activist. Born Ida Lessing Faith Mussing on September 27, 1918, in Tumbulgum, Murwillumbah, New South Wales; daughter of Ida and Wacvie Mussingkon (a Pacific Islander whose name was anglicized to Peter Mussing); educated at Murwillumbah public schools and Cleveland Street Night School; married Hans Bandler, in 1952; children: one daughter.

Selected works:

Wacvie (1977); (with Len Fox) Marani in Australia (1980); Welon, My Brother (1984); (with Fox) The Time Was Right (1984); Turning the Tide (1988).

Beginning with her father's emigration from the Hebrides Islands in a slave trade, the life of author and Aboriginal activist Faith Bandler highlights a number of parallels between the African-American and Australian Aboriginal civil-rights movements. Brought to New South Wales in 1882 to work the cane fields, Wacvie Mussingkon's tribal name was changed to the more Anglican Peter Mussing. When his daughter was born, she too was given an acceptably English name.

Faith Mussing attended public school in Tumbulgum, Murwillumbah, until she left day school, at age 15, to become a dressmaker's assistant. Her work as a cook helped supplement the family income further, and she also attended night school to complete her studies. During the Second World War, she served three years in the Women's Land Army, after which she joined a regional dance troupe. The Youth Festival of World Culture drew her to Berlin with the troupe in 1951. During her stay, she was invited to visit Bulgaria; when she returned to Australia, she was accused of having communist sympathies or involvement and her passport was seized. Heretofore uninvolved in politics, Faith's ire was sparked when she was not allowed to defend herself; unwittingly, the government had incited an activist for Aboriginal rights.

Heated debates over civil rights were already taking place, and during these days the civil-rights movement was born. Newly married to Hans Bandler, Faith helped found the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship (AAF) with Pearl Gibbs . The Federal Council for Advancement of Aborigines was also developed, and Bandler worked heavily in both groups. Concerned with general advancement, social and political rights, the groups forced a national referendum in 1967, in which Aborigines won equal treatment under the law. Its work done, the AAF was disbanded in 1969. For her activism, Bandler was offered the Medal of the Order of the British Empire in 1976. Denying English claim to her country, she refused the award. The Australian equivalent, the Medal of Order of Australia, was proffered in 1984, and she accepted.

Wacvie, the life story of Bandler's father, was her first literary endeavor. Published in 1977, it was followed with another family biography in 1984, Welon, My Brother. Partnering with Len Fox, Bandler also wrote several histories of Aboriginal culture and history. She is considered a primary force in the successful assertion of Aboriginal rights.

Crista Martin , freelance writer, Boston, Massachusetts