Linda Burney has opened up about how she did not know she was Aboriginal as a child and how she came to decide to embrace her Indigenous culture.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians revealed a complicated and often difficult backstory to journalist Annabel Crabb on the ABC program Kitchen Cabinet on Tuesday night.
The Wiradjuri woman spoke about being raised by her great-aunt and uncle through the 1950s and 1960s after her non-Indigenous mother fell pregnant while unmarried.
“So scandalous,” she joked.
“They took me and raised me and I am really sure that it was incredibly brave at the time and probably they would have suffered for it.”
She also revealed how she was unaware of her Indigenous heritage until she was older, a discovery she made while looking at photos of her and her cousins.
“I guess the real reckoning came for me about the age of 12,” she said.
“Just thinking, I’ve got a big decision to make and I could either walk along the path of not identifying, not knowing anything about my story or I could take a much more difficult road, which is the road of truth.
“And of course, I chose truth.”
While she was called names such as “darkie” and “smelly” in school, Ms Burney revealed that one incident involving an adult when she was already a successful politician “struck” her more than any other.
“In 2015, I was a state cabinet minister and I went back to that town for the 150th anniversary of the school and there was a guy there who probably was one of the big boys when I was at school,” she said.
“And all that time later he said, ‘You know, Linda, the day you were born was the darkest day this town’s ever seen’.
“I’m not always lost for words, but I was. And I just stood up and I just walked away and I’ll never forget it.”
During her time on the program, Ms Burney also disclosed that she had suffered a number of health issues including a ministroke, a hole in her heart and vocal changes.
The change to her voice sparked rumours about her health as she campaigns for the Voice to Parliament.
“What’s happened is I’ve had surgery that’s affected my voice. I get too much oxygen in my lungs, so I need to expel that oxygen before I give a speech or go to Question Time,” she said.
Her treatment involves playing a kazoo (a small musical instrument) or blowing on a straw before speaking events. She also attends speech therapy.
“The hilarious thing, well, not so hilarious, is one of the letters that I had trouble with was the L, which is pretty bad when your name’s Linda.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will announce the date for the Voice referendum alongside Ms Burney in Adelaide on Wednesday.
Originally published as Linda Burney opens up on her childhood ‘reckoning’ on Indigenous identity