Imagine NUAA’s first office, up a steep staircase in a disused strip-club-cum-brothel in Darlinghurst Road. Imagine the first receptionist, Meagan, a hard working and committed trans woman, sexy and throaty, and the first manager, gorgeous and articulate activist Julie Bates. Then imagine NUAA’s first customer, a little old lady who had dragged herself all the way up those stairs for that first request: “I saw somewhere you are giving out free knitting needles, may I have some please?” Cue Julie’s compassionate response: “For god’s sake don’t tell her what we really do here, she’ll have a heart attack and fall back down the steps!”
Julie is just one of the women featured in our Inspiring Women section of this edition, along with many other women who have been amazing leaders in the development of the user network we have today. We salute not just users, but our friends from medicine, research, politics, even the religious, who have pulled together to confirm harm reduction and drug use as a human rights issue, lady-style.
This is an interview with a wonderful Aboriginal woman in her 40s, named DJY. She is beautiful, stylish, intelligent, well-considered, totally savvy. She also wears many years as a long-term heroin and cocaine user, a “gangster” and a prison inmate. She talks about being Aboriginal, using and being a woman.
UN: Tell me a bit about yourself, your family, growing up.
DJY: I am part of the stolen generation, but my Mum knew how the system was played against her. After losing four kids – I was her fifth – she was determined not to lose me. So she arranged for me to go with a friend of hers. A good friend but straight, religious. In the 1960s there were good people in the public service who were working against the system – a bit like the French Underground – and they helped.
So I never lost track of my real Mum even though I didn’t live with her at first. I was really lucky, I always had that connection, that message stick. The telepathy, the rhythm was always between us. My teachers said because I was Aboriginal I was special but I grew up really mainstream and didn’t know any Aboriginal people except my own family. I was a bit of a wild child but I always felt the singing, I always connected with being Aboriginal.
It is a man’s world out there, all right. In the world of drugs, drug policy, treatment and even drug-related literature, women’s voices are seldom heard. When they are, it’s from the perspective of victim or other degrading position, never as the fully fleshed-out human beings we are.
This issue of User’s News is written by and for women to validate our experiences and to ensure women are given a voice in talking about their lives and experiences.
Migrant woman negotiating a new life in Australia with little or no English have an added burden of making themselves heard, expressing their needs and advocating for themselves on issues that many of us take for granted. Imagine what it would be like not to have the words to express yourself when negotiating to go on pharmacotherapy, a chemist take-away or the prison system and having to rely on others to read and speak for you.
Giving voice to Tina, via translation, highlights some of her experiences, frustrations and sorrow – and more importantly her hopes and aspirations for her family’s future and her advice to young women who may be starting to use drugs.
I want my story told.
I was born in town called Rach Gia in Vietnam, two years after the war ended. I am one of seven children – five brothers and a younger sister. It was a very hard life for us. I helped my mother cook and sell food. We lived in a kind of garage made of wood and straw behind somebody else’s house beside a lake. We all slept in the same bed and cooked our food outside on a wood fire. We washed ourselves and our clothes in the lake.