White Woman Black Heart – Barbara Miller

Ben Farley | vision.org.au
Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

The journey home

“Their houses were burnt behind them so they wouldn’t return. That included the church which has never been rebuilt.”

One of the things the people would still like is to have a church built on their land.

“We can’t really know who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going, until we have an appreciation of the real history of our nation.”

This is Barbara Miller talking about the Mapoon Aborigines who were forcibly moved from their land on the Cape York peninsula in 1963. The reason. Mining.

Under house arrest

In her fourth book ‘White Woman Black Heart’, Barbara Miller reflects on her time helping the Mapoon community move back to their land in 1974.

There was significant opposition to the move and for Barbara that hostility included being placed under house arrest.

The book tells the unheard stories of what was going on behind the scenes that led to the move back and the subsequent events that took place.

The Moravians mission that was established at Mapoon in 1891 became the mother for other missions at Weipa, Aurukun and Mornington Island.


“That particular mission was reasonably self-sufficient on hunting and gathering,” Barbara recounted, “but it did need some funding from the Queensland government.”

She said the government sent police to remove the people from the community when Alcan and Comalco had their mining leases there.

Some of them were taken by force. They were virtually kidnapped and taken by boat up to a place called Hidden Valley near Bamaga.

Their houses were burnt behind them so they wouldn’t return. That included the church which has never been rebuilt.

Barbara said the people would love to have their church rebuilt.

Along with the houses the fire also destroyed the store, the school, and the health clinic.

“They were all burnt down to discourage the people from moving back.”

The Return

But that didn’t stop them returning in 1974 and that’s when Barbara became involved.

“I was involved with a group of Christians in Melbourne called International Development Action who wanted to assist an Aboriginal community.”

So various Aboriginal leaders were directed toward the situation at Weipa, Mapoon and Aurukun.

Barbara described what occurred as an injustice.

“I know as a Christian that justice and righteousness are the foundations of God.”

“It tells us that in Psalm 89:14 and for Norman and I, my husband who’s an Aboriginal pastor.”

Mapoon children taken

We believe the Lord has given us a ministry in promoting God’s justice and righteousness and reconciliation.

Barbara spoke about the stolen generation and the bad press revolving around that regarding missions.

Mapoon was one of the places where children were taken from their families by the state government.

They were dumped at Mapoon and looked after by the tribal people and the missionaries.

A wild frontier

“Despite the bad press, one of the reasons the missions were set up on Cape York was because Aboriginal people needed to be protected from pearlers.”

“They would kidnap them and make them work in the pearling industry which was quite dangerous and shortened their lifespan.”

It was a wild frontier at that particular time but the missions had their role protecting Aboriginal people during that frontier experience.

Barbara shared and admitted while some missionaries had discouraged Aboriginal culture others had respected it.

“Aurukun is a very good example of the respect for the Aboriginal culture during the mission days.”

This is Barbara Miller, the Christian pastor looking to record the history for future generations.

They want to hear the story

“I do believe it’s important to have the story recorded for future generations.”

“What I’ve been amazed at is the huge number of Mapoon descendants and relatives who’ve contacted me by Facebook.”

They really want to hear the story about their grandparents and their great uncles and aunties.

“And they’re very keen to get the book as a family history record,” said Barbara.

But the main objective for Barbara is for Australians to gain a better understanding of Aboriginal history.

“We can’t really know who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going, until we have an appreciation of the real history of our nation.”

A wonderful reconciliation story

For Barbara, the shameful aspects are close to the surface. But there have been the positives as well.

“We need to accept both and we need reconciliation to move forward,” Barbara said and declaring Mapoon to be a prime example.

Mapoon has been a wonderful reconciliation story in that both the church and the state government have apologised to the Mapoon people.

“That’s very positive!” Barbara exclaimed.

Barbara also expressed her appreciation for being a part of the Mapoon story and to get this very important message across:

“One of the things the people would still like is to have a church built on their land.”

Meantime they take the opportunity to worship when there’s visiting ministry. Sometimes the people in the community also stay there for a time.”

Burnum Burnum

Barbara’s been married to Norman for 30 years now and he’s from the Atherton Tableland area and is not related to the Mapoon people.

Then there’s Barbara’s relationship with well know Aboriginal elder Burnum Burnum whose compliment for her has become the book’s title.

You maybe white but you have a black heart.

Burnum Burnum’s description of Barbara Miller.

(Burnum Burnum was an Australian Aboriginal activist, actor, and author. He was a Woiworrung and Yorta Yorta man at Wallaga Lake in southern New South Wales.)

And Barbara Miller’s call on Burnum Burnum:

He was a very spiritual person and thought quite deeply so it’s really quite a big compliment to have from him.

But what really stirs Barbara up are the news reports related to Aboriginal children and adolescence.

“I’m also deeply affected by the high imprisonment rate.”

The story continues.

If you would like to listen to the full audio interview click play below


Barbara Miller is married to Norman, an Aboriginal Australian. She has a son, Michael. They live in Cairns, North Queensland, Australia. She is a pastor, mediator, psychologist and teacher and has had a keen interest in working for Aboriginal advancement since 1970 when she got involved as a university student.

Barbara was instrumental in the movement of the Mapoon Aboriginal people back to their land in 1974 after they had been moved off by police to make way for a mining company and she recorded their stand. Also she was very involved in the setting up of the North Queensland Land Council in 1975 to work for land rights and self-determination for Aboriginal people against the background of the discriminatory Queensland Aborigines Act. The Human Rights Commission asked her to write a report on this and she did a case study on Yarrabah.

In the early 1990’s, working as the CEO of the Aboriginal Co-ordinating Council which represented Aboriginal local government in remote communities, she lobbied state and federal governments and wrote a number of reports including reports on Aboriginal deaths in custody and crime prevention on Aboriginal communities. Barbara and Norman take groups of Australians to Israel each year for Christian conferences and prayer tours and minister regularly in other nations.



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