Aunty Barbara Simms Keeley
Aged care coordinator and a respected elder in her community.
Aunty Barb is passionate about raising community awareness around cancer. By 2015, she had hosted seven annual Breast Cancer Morning Teas at Yarra Bay Sailing Club, to which she welcomes women and men from Aboriginal communities across the state.
Barb’s event is a successful community-led program and a great example of how we can start an internal discussion about cancer and smash the myth that it is a death sentence.
So we as people and women in indigenous women, cultural women, we need to have ourselves checked. And it’s not just a women’s issue anymore. As we found out, men do get breast cancer. It doesn’t discriminate and cancers don’t discriminate. But first and foremost, get checked.
My name is, I’m Barbara Simms Keeley. I’m from La Perouse, originally from La Perouse Mission.
I work here at Guriwal Aged Care Service Coordinator, and I work with a fantastic team of people.
There’s lots of harmony, there’s laughter, there’s joy. We have sadness.
But most of all, we are a collective group of people that work for the betterment of our community and give them the opportunities that everybody else gets and they are entitled to. Equality and equity in a holistic, harmonious way.
My country, where I’m from, I’m from La Perouse here. Originally, I come from the Mission, La Perouse mission.
I lived with my siblings on the mission, my mum, my dad, my brothers and sisters.
We did it tough, but the unity was there, the family structure was there. My father was the one who worked and there was times when my mother did work. But raising a family, that was her job. But who I am today, I owe to my mother.
La Perouse is a very old community. We are the oldest, continuing continuous race of people out here.
When you look at the Aboriginal people on a whole, we are older than the pyramids. That’s saying something.
The oldest people on God’s planet, our people are affected by every cancer that you can imagine.
And I often saw the breast cancer van at Maroubra or if not Maroubra it would be Redfern. And I thought, why not La Perouse?
And it took me 3 1/2 years to get someone to address my needs for the van to come to La Perouse. We got the van here, we got women using it. And what made me even feel more prouder and better, non-Aboriginal women using it.
So that’s why I did it.
And I thought, I have a big morning tea. So one morning tea was held here, Yarra Bay House. It was so big.
There were people outside and they came in, they shared, they yarned, they talked about it. People that I knew had breast cancer. It was about them.
It was about them also opening up and saying, This is me, I have it. I need someone to listen to me. And their voice was heard.
One of the particular speakers that captured my old self was a gentleman talking about his breast cancer journey and he talked about his journey. He overcome it, he conquered it, and he lives with it. It’s something he lives with.
But even from a man, because we say breast cancer is about women, it’s not a man’s issue. It’s not a man’s sickness or a disease. It’s ours. But he addressed it in a positive, holistic way.
Karen’s journey while working with Karen for all these years here and seeing what she went through when she really found out that she had breast cancer, the initial impact with it all and the support she had from her family as well, her mother, her two brothers, her sister that supported her, her family members.
So when we get sick in our community, it’s a community thing. We all stick together. We grieve. Excuse me, We grieve, We mourn together. And she talked about it.
I asked, I said, Why don’t you talk about your breast cancer journey?
She was hesitant, but she did it and then she talked about it.
But when people talk about their sicknesses and you see the reality, the look on their face, it’s like a whole veil is lifted off your head. I did it. I feel good. I’m strong. I’ve done that.
So we as people and women in indigenous women, cultural women, we need to have ourselves checked. And it’s not just a women’s issue anymore. As we found out, men do get breast cancer. It doesn’t discriminate and cancers don’t discriminate.
But first and foremost, get checked.