Wayne Weaver has many stories to tell, many experiences to share and a lifetime of compassion and understanding of the need for First Nations people to live and die in accordance with their cultural beliefs.
Wayne grew up with Aboriginal playmates and their families. But for the colour of his skin and genetics, he is, and always has been, one of them. While he was in Brisbane’s notorious Boggo Road Gaol Wayne gained an even deeper understanding of the importance of culture particularly when there was a death in the family.
“From the confines of prison, I was coming to an understanding that a funeral for Aboriginal people was more than just a farewell. It was an important ceremony. “Not only was it a ceremony, but it was a vitally important cultural part of the cycle of life where the spirit of the deceased was returned to country by family and the wider community.”
Within the gaol, Wayne was teaching art as a therapy for many of the inmates. He found many First Nations prisoners became distraught if a family member passed away and they were unable to attend the funeral. The art helped prisoner’s ineligible for day release to a funeral, but it was not the same as being there.
In the early 1990’s an eligible prisoner could be released under a leave of absence without cost to the family, but that was soon to change. “Before long Corrections off-loaded prisoner transportation and the new service started charging exorbitant fees, burdening grieving families and already struggling communities with costs ranging from $1500 to $5000 to escort just one prisoner to a funeral.” “With a high number of family funerals every week the financial burden to the families was astronomical. Finding any money became virtually impossible.
“I visited Cherbourg often as part of my duties with the Brisbane Youth Service. There were three or four funerals every week. The cemetery is a sea of white picket crosses. These handmade and handwritten headstones were all they could afford.”
The search was on to find a way to fund the many funerals, to transport eligible First Nations prisoners’ home to a cultural farewell and to let the deceased return to country. In the early 2000’s Wayne contacted charities for help, but within these organisations, there was no funding allocation for funeral assistance. A pauper’s grave was another option, but culturally inappropriate. Raising money for Sorry Business was difficult. “My colleagues Robert Henderson, Suzanne Goodchild and I met with the Elders at Cherbourg to discover the cost of funerals were one of the community’s biggest problems. A second cemetery has now been opened to accommodate the high number of deaths.
“With this information, we resolved to form The Wayne Weaver Foundation. We welcome your support.”