I have known Toni through NT Arts circles for about 8 years. We’ve never socialised particularly but have worked together on various Arts projects and with our Regional Writers Group. Toni is a rock and an inspiration for many, I am sure. She has always been an advocate for any and every cause that needs a voice. Her following post sheds some light on why.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Toni Tapp Coutts. I am a 57 year old woman, married with three children and 2 grandchildren. I am the eldest of ten children and grew up on a remote cattle station 270kms south-west of Katherine in the days when the roads were dirt tracks, and we had no electricity or running water. I got married at Killarney when I was 20 and have now been married 37 years. I wonder how the years went so quickly because I still feel like that 20 year old.
My husband and I managed a large cattle station near Borroloola 650 kms south-east of Katherine, for 13 years, and our kids went to the little one teacher school with the Aboriginal children. We rode horses and swam in croc infested rivers.
I have been a small business owner, Arts and Cinema Manager and spent 10 year as an elected Councillor on the Katherine Town Council. I stood twice for Mayor and twice as an Independent for the NT Legislative Assembly. I was never successful I achieving either of these positions, but I have always loved politics and believe it is essential for women to get involved and have more say in policy’s and laws that adversely affect our lives. My passions are writing, photography, people, and I just love my wacky little community of Katherine NT.
In early 2013 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer and sit here today writing this after 8 months of operations, chemotherapy and now the final four days of radiation.
This has changed my life and I am not sure where I am going next, but I am thankful every day to live in a free democratic country with a health system that has allowed me to get the best treatments available in the western world at very little cost.
What are your feelings about being female?
I love being female. I think as an Australian women I have many privileges and personal power that more than half the women in the world don’t have. I have had a lot of strong women in my family as role models who give me support and strength when I need it. It is a special bond that women have, a natural nurturing instinct.
What does Sisterhood mean to you?
Sisterhood to me is about compassion, understanding and not being judgemental of others. It also means that we must stand together and be brave about speaking out about crimes committed against women, be it abuse, domestic violence, trafficking of child brides, genital mutilation, rape and war crimes against our world of sisters. The saying ‘Act local, thing global’ is more important now than it has ever been.
Sisterhood now has also been shown to me through cancer, where I have met my Australian born Indian Oncologist Meena Okera, as well as amazing chemotherapy and radiation nurses, and a global network of other women undergoing cancer treatment through social media. It is an amazing journey.
Do you feel you connect well with other women?
I like women and feel I connect well with them. I love dancing, singing, storytelling and performing and these activities provide fun and creative outlets, and a platform for women to come together.
Please tell us about an experience you’ve had with another woman, family, friend or stranger, which demonstrates connectedness and Sisterhood.
Without a doubt one of the biggest influences and connectedness has been with my mother, June Tapp. Not only did she raise 10 children to be strong positive people who contribute to their community, she is a feminist and an activist for women’s and children’s rights. At the age of 77 she still writes letters to Ministers and newspapers about alcohol abuse, child abuse and violence against women. After leaving my alcoholic father in the 1980’s she was at the forefront of fighting for funding for the Women’s Domestic Violence Shelter and Katherine Family Network. She is a lady of great social conscience and empathy for the sisterhood and I hope that I have been able to follow in just a few of her footsteps in trying to make this world a better place for the voiceless.
Please tell us about an experience you’ve had with another woman, family, friend or stranger, which demonstrates (dis)connectedness and Sisterhood.
There are two other women that had a great influence on my early life who taught me connectedness and belonging to the land and country. These were two old Aboriginal ladies, Daisy and Dora, who were our nannies on the cattle station. These were not conventional nannies in white dresses as we only lived under bough sheds. Our Nannies wore colourful half-slips with tribal scarred breasts hanging free and chewed tobacco.
There were always lots of babies and little kids on our cattle station, so to entertain us the old ladies took us hunting, down the dry creek bed about a kilometre from our house. We kids would trail along behind carrying dilly bags and tins to fill with wild berries, bush potatoes, wild honey. As we walked, they talked about the country, which bush-tucker to eat and which were poisonous. They taught us how to track kangaroo and goanna’s. As we lay in their laps with a billy can boiling on a fire with bush tucker for lunch, they sang songs and told us Dreamtime stories. Stories about the wild dingo that would take you to the caves in the hills and you would never see your family again. About ‘min min lights’ and ‘debils debils’ that would jump out from behind a tree to grab you if you wandered to away. They sang songs to bring the rain and songs to bring the dry season. They sang songs to put an evil spells on those that had wronged them or broken tribal law.
Though Daisy and Dora spoke little English, these old ladies were not only my grandmothers, they were also my mother’s friends. They laughed and shared an understanding of women’s business. They magically delivered babies in the middle of the night.
The old ladies are still, 50 years later, a part of my life and help define who I am. I hope that I have been able to keep just a little of their memory alive as part of the Sisterhood.
I feel like I have waffled on but I guess that is also another special part of Sisterhood!
Thanks so much for your time and for sharing your experiences.
You can read Toni’s blog at tonitappcoutts.wordpress.com.