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HE 2018 NAIDOC Week theme
‘Because of her, we can’ was the perfect
opportunity for Lee Smallwood to reflect
on all the strong and influential women
who have helped shape and inspire her
throughout her life.
Lee’s mother endured a tough childhood and
the harsh lessons she learnt inspired her daughter to
strive to make a difference.
“My mum was part of the Stolen Generation,”
“She had rules and regulations forced on her as
a child and so, like many Indigenous children back
then, she was housed in separate facilities in the
same community as the rest of her family.
“She was not permitted to live with her parents
in their home and was only allowed to visit them
on weekends and holidays. Those lessons as an
Indigenous female built her character to ensure that
when she had children of her own the laws of gov-
ernment would not determine her children’s future.
“She was strong willed, ensured her children got
a good and fair education, and made sure her chil-
dren learnt about their heritage and were proud of
“I believe I have those characteristics and I am
passing them on to my daughter.”
When Lee was 14 her mother died. Another
woman, her high school Indigenous Support Officer,
took the teenager under her wing.
“She took on that role of showing me love and
support, but in an educational and constructive way,”
“Mrs Stanley had the same strong traits as mum.
She encouraged me to stay at school, she did not
believe in excuses, she helped me see the benefits of
an education and also supported me through the tuto-
rial program. This led to me graduating and passing
all my subjects in Years 10, 11 and 12.”
After high school, Lee completed a Bachelor of
Arts in Communication and after working in a varie-
ty of roles, saw a job opening in Defence.
“It was with Defence Head Cadet Policy Branch
for an Indigenous Liaison Officer,” she said.
“I jumped at the opportunity to apply, got the
job and was then told the position was based in
Townsville where I come from, so it was a bonus.”
After three years with Cadet Policy Branch under
the direction of Major General Mick Fairweather,
Lee was approached to move across to the then
Directorate of Indigenous Affairs Branch being
headed by Dr Soozie Parker and Major General
“The rest is now history; 18 years later, I am still
here, loving every minute working in the Indigenous
Affairs space still, but now working with Army in the
Regional Indigenous Liaison Officer Network based
NAIDOC Week has always resonated strongly
with Lee, who reflected on the origin of the week.
“The true history of NAIDOC, which was origi-
nally a day of mourning in Sydney, is one of grate-
fulness, acknowledgement and respect,” she said.
“Those Indigenous elders that fought for
Indigenous rights, to be recognised by the govern-
ment, is the true meaning of NAIDOC for me.
“It is about reflecting and recognising those
elders, back in the 1960s, going to the streets
and writing to government to fight for equality in
Australia, access to education, employment and other
opportunities for Indigenous Australians of that era.
“Little did they know the opportunities that would
open to the next generation and future generations.”
Lee believes her life would be different if she did
not have strong, independent and remarkable women
in her life.
“I most likely would have gone down the wrong
“Being a mother to an eight-year-old daughter, I
know now the trauma and sacrifices my mum made
to ensure education helped my family out of poverty.
My other female role models, such as Mrs Stanley
and Soozie, came into my life when I needed them
the most without even realising it.
“We all go in different directions, meet different
people, but meeting these women, benefitted me in
ways no money can buy and this is reflecting now on
my daughter’s upbringing.
“I believe she is blessed because of my chance
meeting with these women in my life.”
By Valessa Basic
Regional Indigenous Liaison Officer Lee Smallwood says the female role models in her life have made her
who she is today.
Photo: Sergeant Mick Davis
22 Defence Issue 2 2018
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