Rosemary Wanganeen
Kaurna of the Adelaide Plains and Wirungu from the West Coast
Australian Army Reserve

Elder of the Year – City of Port Adelaide Enfield Council (2022)
Mental Health Excellence Awards, South Australia (2016 Finalist)
Aboriginal Health Council (SA) NAIDOC Health Awards: Outstanding Health Project/Program – (Winner 2016)
The Gladys Elphick Centenary Medal (2011)
South Australian of the Year Winner – Community (2009)
State Finalist and Zonta Club of Adelaide – Women of Achievement Award (SA). (2000)
Australian Defence Force – Best Female Recruit SA (1979)

I’m a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother and have been a business owner for 31 years. But long ago, I was a Stolen Generation child and at 16 years old, an apprentice hairdresser.  One day, I went into a shop, and an elderly white lady pulled out a pair of scissors from under the counter and threatened me with them.  According to this old lady, I took too long to decide what to purchase. Her fears of me, being a dark-skinned Aboriginal, stayed with me for decades. Once I grieved and healed my ‘16-year-old’ from that experience, I stopped asking ‘what she did to me’ and asked ‘why she would be so afraid of me that she would pull a pair of scissors on a defenceless teenager who was on her way to work.  I didn’t do anything to provoke her. I left the experience in fear of non-Aboriginal people in a public setting and hyper-vigilant for incoming threats!

So, when I enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1979, these fears came with me!  Even though I wanted to be in the Army Reserves, I took the risk that I would be culturally safe; even though I knew I lived in a country where raw racism existed, I took the risk. I explored different Units and began at ASQN 3/9 SAMR.  Then, 60 recruits from all over SA arrived for basic training at Hamstead Barracks, and if my memory serves me correctly, I was the only Aboriginal recruit. I was so eager that I greeted the morning before the birds; my uniform was starched, spotless and ironed to a crisp– they almost stood to attention by themselves, and I could practically see my face in my boots!  As an Aboriginal woman and a minority, I was proud to be awarded Top Female Recruit.  I am particularly proud knowing I experienced a schoolteacher who told me that I was a ‘dummy’ at seven years old. At twelve years old, another teacher told me and my class that ‘Aboriginal people were savages’ both to shame and humiliate me!

Post-recruit training, my final ‘post’ was at Transport, Hamstead Barracks. Four years as a ‘weekend warrior’ equipped me with three skills: organisation and discipline, which guided me to build and maintain my business, the Healing Centre for Griefology, in 1993. Third, I’m proud to acknowledge I didn’t experience any racially motivated comments or behaviours from my fellow recruits, soldiers, and superiors, which lent itself to me learning how to trust white people who were in my presence until an incident ‘showed up’.  Because I’m a human being, I’m not perfect at it, but I carry that philosophy daily to the best of my abilities!

Photograph provided by Aunty Rosemary of her during her service.