Told in the child’s voice and in the vernacular of her Mob, activist, artist, poet and author, Aunty Kerry, tells her story of love and loss, of dispossession and repeated dislocation, and the impact of life as an Aboriginal state ward living under the terror of Protection Laws.
The strength of family ties in Aboriginal communities is clearly evident when three-month-old Kerry and her brother lost both parents. Her father, Kevin Gilbert––later to become a famous activist, writer, painter and actor––killed their mother and was jailed for many years. Her father’s sister, whom she always called ‘Mummy’, raised Kerry, her brother––also called Kevin––along with her own children and others within the extended family. The book is a tribute to this truly remarkable woman: their tower of strength, love and selflessness; who worked tirelessly to support all the children; who during fruit-picking season, made sure they attended school wherever it took them; who managed to keep them from being taken/‘stolen’ by the ‘Welfare’.
For so many Aboriginal people surviving during the 50s, 60s and 70s, fruit-picking meant the difference between going hungry or having a roof over your head. In those days, Aboriginal people were paid just ten cents a pound for cherries, while non-Aboriginal people were paid twenty. Aunty Kerry grew up in corrugated tin huts, tents and run-down train carriages, working from a very young age to help her family to earn ‘an honest living’. Their life was one of hard but determined work, and family unity gave them the strength and dignity to continue. Their greatest strength in surviving the Protectors, the White Australia Policy and the everyday racism that they faced, was Mummy and their identity as Aboriginal people.
Praise for Kerry Reed-Gilbert and The Cherry Picker’s Daughter:
Australia has waited too long to read this book of courage and truth. It heralds a timely change in our thinking on Aboriginal activism.
– Jeanine Leane, Wiradjuri writer and academic
Thank you, Kerry, for sharing your story — so much pain and hurt, but such life-affirming strength and love too.
– Kate Grenville, award-winning author
Kids bounce into this world with such capacity for hope and love and attachment; how painful it was to read the ways this was betrayed by an Australia that I wish had known better. This memoir felt important in my hands, historical, vital — and joyful. It described a childhood I needed to know, and filled me with deepest admiration and respect. I cried many tears for Kerry Reed-Gilbert and was so grateful for her wonderful Mummy.
– Sophie Laguna, award-winning author
An unflinching memoir of courage and resilience in the face of overwhelming odds by a remarkable Wiradjuri woman, that speaks to her spirit and strength, and to the love and courage of the woman who raised her. An important book for all Australians.
– Joy Rhoades, author
Spilling the beans is the domain of the writer, and few people have more beans to spill than Kerry Reed-Gilbert.
– Jared Thomas, writer
If you were touched by Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, you’ll treasure this book. The exquisite prose is simple, matter-of-fact yet intimate, like a child whispering secrets to a friend.
– Robert O’Hearn, Booktopia