I guess it all started with the prison and getting people to their family funerals. I didn’t understand then that a funeral for Aboriginal people was a ceremony.
In those days (the early 1990’s), Corrective Services would make the decision as to who would be allowed out of prison to attend a family funeral. A prisoner would be released to attend a funeral under a leave of absence scheme and could leave prison to attend a family funeral with family or a corrective services escort. At that time it was free. Corrective services would foot the bill or the prisoner’s family would cover the cost of travel.
Corrective Services decided it would make a change for transport and escort, and the transport and escort services division separated from Corrective Services. The result has been that families have to pay for any transport of incarcerated family members as well as for the security personnel and transport vehicles involved. This is an added stress to an already extraordinarily stressful time for families and communities alike.
When I moved to Brisbane Youth Services, I found myself dealing with many Aboriginal children. I had to go to communities like Cherbourg and other First Nations communities, dealing with young people and their families and the many funerals.
What struck me the first time I went to Cherbourg and saw the cemetery was the sea of white picket crosses. When I asked about it I was told that was all they could afford.
There was a mixture of children attending the funerals. At times it was the funeral of a child. Nobody could afford to bury them. I started contacting all the charities to see who could contribute to the funerals but it became impossible after a while because of the number of funerals and the closure of many charities. But within these organisations, there was no funding allocation for funerals and that remains the case today.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that a First Nations funeral is a ceremony. The basic principle of the ceremony within the funeral is to take the person back to their birthplace so they will be ready for their rebirth.
About six months ago my colleagues Robert Henderson, Suzanne Goodchild and I were trying to raise money for an inmate at one of Queensland’s prisons to attend a funeral. It was difficult.
To assess the size of the problem, we met with the Elders at Cherbourg, a First Nations community in Queensland with a population of less than 2000.
The Elders told us that funerals were one of their biggest problems because of costs, and there were three or four funerals in the town every week.
The town has had to open a second cemetery to accommodate the high number of deaths.
With this information, the Wayne Weaver Foundation was created. We welcome your support.