Women for Wik was a national grassroots movement which began in May 1997 when four women (Win Childs, Rosie Scott, Daphne McGeough and Olga Havnen) met around a table to discuss ways of expressing their support for Native Title at a time when the Howard government was introducing the 10 Point plan in an attempt to weaken the Mabo Agreement.
This meeting led to the first Women for Wik meeting in July when Lowitja O’Donoghue, Marlene Riley and Jean Carter spoke movingly about the pain of their stolen childhoods to a packed hall of women representing churches, business, the arts, indigenous organisations, all levels of government, legal and medical professions, universities and Australian women generally. They included Faith Bandler, Carolyn Jones, Rachel Ward, Jane Campion, Wendy Harmer, and many others.
The success of this meeting generated a wave of similar gatherings across Australia in every city and many regional centres, a movement which involved the active commitment of tens of thousands of Australian women including Hazel Hawke, Ruth Cracknell, Judy Davis, Jennie George and Margaret Whitlam.
This commitment to reconciliation was summarised in the following Six Steps formulated by the National Indigenous Working Group and Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation, which Women for Wik endorsed.
Women for Wik endorsed by a staggering 130 Australian women’s organisations.
1. Abide by the High Court’s Mabo and Wik decisions. Eject all discriminatory aspects of the Government’s native title amendments and start genuine negotiations with all the parties.
2. Confirm all valid property rights. Guarantee pastoralists’ existing rights and give full protection to native title rights.
3. Respect Indigenous cultural and spiritual attachment to the traditional lands. Provide Indigenous access to native title land by reasonable and proper arrangement.
4. Establish a system for negotiating binding agreements. Aboriginal people, pastoralists, miners, governments and other stakeholders need to be able to negotiate agreements about land use, a system which is expeditious, fully supported by governments and under which agreements are backed up by statute.
5. Address the genuine problems with the existing Native Title Act in a constructive and non-discriminatory way. Modest changes are required to improve the native title claims process.
6. Fully support the reconciliation process. Reconciliation is the matrix for co-existence in Australia.
We believe that Native Title as endorsed by the High Court Wik decision is a basic human right crucial to the well-being of Indigenous people and their culture as well as to a truly democratic society for all Australians.
We recognise that though we of this generation cannot bring the stolen children home, we can take some responsibility for ensuring justice is done at this crucial time in Australian history.
We can do this by urging the Howard government to apologise for these past wrongs as a necessary step towards reconciliation., and by opposing the effective extinguishment of Native Title by the Wik 10 point plan as unnecessary, divisive, unworkable and unjust.
Women for Wik attended hearings and gave submissions to them all over the country – in Canberra so many women turned up, an extra system had to be set for the numbers overflowing into other rooms.
Once the legislation passed Women for Wik went into recession. There was a sense that we had achieved our goals – which were to publicise little known facts and to take part in the public debate.
Ten years later, in August 2007, at Christine Olsen’s suggestion, Women for Wik was revived to monitor the Howard government Intervention and publicise the facts about it.