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Aboriginal families experience difficulties receiving payments

As an Elder, Ruth Hegarty fought for justice on behalf of Aboriginal people in Queensland who had been denied access to government payments and fair wages. Her activism was spurred on by her own experiences.

Like the rations, the earlier you arrived the better. One by one we were served with our choices of Store goods and much of our [Child] Endowment allowance was spent in this way.

Dr (Aunty) Ruth Hegarty, 2003, p 69
About the artefact

Aboriginal people’s activism was key to changing their access to government payments. Aunty Ruth Hegarty, a Gunggari woman, fought for better outcomes for Aboriginal people. She was spurred on by her experiences growing up in a Queensland Government-run settlement where residents had little control over their own lives, including over their finances.

These excerpts from Bittersweet journey, Aunty Ruth Hegarty’s autobiography, highlight some of her interactions with social services over her life.

Payments at government settlement controlled during the 1950s and 1960s

When Ruth Hegarty started a family, she received Child Endowment and Maternity Allowance. Ruth Hegarty remembers the property managers where she lived at Cherbourg settlement controlling how she spent most of her payment.

For instance, Child Endowment was provided as a tab for store goods rather than as cash. On payment day, mothers would line up before the store opened with order forms in hand, hoping to secure what they needed.

At the end of the month, mothers would fill out a form and apply to receive their remaining payment.

The Queensland Department of Native Affairs, which ran settlements and reserves, controlled federal government payments to Aboriginal people for decades.

Hegarty family receive better payments in the 1970s

Ruth Hegarty remembers that payments were critical to being able to raise her family. In the 1970s, she was able to get the new ABSTUDY payment to support her daughters to go to high school in Brisbane.

Aunty Ruth Hegarty fights against stolen wages in the 2000s

Unpaid and stolen wages of Aboriginal people in Queensland concerned Aunty Ruth Hegarty. She wrote about these wages including money withheld from trust funds, Child Endowment payments and workers compensation payouts.

To fight this, she joined the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak advisory board to the Queensland Government in 2001. There she gave evidence and advice about wages and savings matters, but was disappointed in the government’s payout (Hegarty 2003:235–241).

This source is a first-hand account of the life-long battle many Aboriginal people fought to get payments for themselves and their communities.

Source details

In the late 1980s, Aunty Ruth Hegarty began to research her past and discovered her Department of Native Affairs file. The file covered the department’s attempt to exempt the Hegarty family and move them away from Cherbourg settlement. While this did not eventuate, Aunty Ruth Hegarty used this information and her reflections about the control of the Queensland Government had over her family’s life to write her autobiographies.

Hegarty published Is that you Ruthie? in 1999, and followed it up with Bittersweet journey in 2003, which the excerpts included here are from.  


Permission to include these excerpts was granted by Dr (Aunty) Ruth Hegarty with the support of her daughter Moira Bligh.

Copyright © University of Queensland Press, 2003. This excerpt is made available for viewing for personal use. All other rights are reserved by UQP. 


Hegarty R (2003) Bittersweet journey, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane.