Eulogy given at the funeral service of Aunty Leila Gayle Rankine
By Damian Griffis
On behalf of the First Peoples Disability Network Family we offer our deepest condolences to Karruck, Karen and Becky and to Jade and John and Keir and all the family.
This is another devastating blow for all of us in the FPDN family. Aunt was our matriarch and we grieve her deeply. Aunt, a proud Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna women, was present in Alice Springs back in 1999 at the first national gathering of Aboriginal people with disability. She was our Chairperson since we formally constituted the First Peoples Disability Network in 2014. Her advocacy for her people with disability goes back to the very beginning of our social movement. She is a true hero of the social movement of Aboriginal people with disability. She was also widely known and respected as a leading voice for all Australians with disability.
Messages of condolences have come from many places. Some for particular mention include from the Commissioners of the Disability Royal Commission and also from our friends from Kapo Maori. They have sent a beautiful message of solidarity acknowledging Aunt as an elder of the Indigenous disability rights movement. Amongst Aunt’s many achievements was here powerful advocacy at the United Nations in both New York and Geneva where she spoke proudly and passionately about the rights of her people with disability, the first time the voice of an Indigenous person with disability had ever been heard so directly and powerfully. When Aunt spoke she held the room. She spoke with pride and deep conviction. The image of her microphone in hand at the front of a vast room at the United Nations in New York is a powerful one. An image of great power and grace, it was humbling to be there.
Aunt, as we have heard at FPDN over the years, enjoyed her younger life. Some of the stories she would tell always had me convinced that she was the coolest woman I’ve ever met. And I was left in no doubt when I think back to being in Geneva back in 2012 with Aunt to open Belinda Mason’s photographic exhibition at the main building of the United Nations in Geneva. The exhibition included that stunning photo of Aunt that has been circulating widely in recent days. It was a really big deal, being in Geneva at the United Nations. The exhibition opening was being compared by high ranking UN officials. I vividly recall being out the front of the main building with Aunt in Geneva whilst she had her last cigarette before we were to proceed inside where she was due to give one of her usual strong powerful speeches. I was starting to get anxious because we were starting to cut it real fine for time. She was just very coolly and calmly puffing on her cigarette whilst UN officials in their suits were filing in. I remember thinking how cool is this woman, that she can leave them waiting. I also vividly remember the last thing she said to me before we headed in the building. She said her Mum would have been very proud. And then she puffed one more time and coolly butted out her cigarette. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Before this big moment in front of lots of self-important people and yet her perspective was always there. In that moment I know that she was not only thinking of her Mum but she was readying herself to be the strong voice for the mob with disabilities back home on the other side of the world. It was always a privilege to be in her presence.
Aunt achieved many extraordinary things in her role as a leading voice for Aboriginal people with disability. She was elected the inaugural Chairperson of the Global Network of Indigenous People with disability. She promptly asserted herself in this forum also, not compromising her values when it came to the Global Network being truly representative of Indigenous people with disability around the world.
Back at home Aunt always spoke truth to power, like the time as Chairperson she accepted a disability rights award in the Great Hall in Parliament House and she promptly used the opportunity to remind all those in attendance of the need for significantly greater funding and resourcing of the social movement of First Peoples with disability. She never missed an opportunity to remind all of us what still remains to be done.
Despite very significant disability which I know caused her great pain often, she was always one to ask how you were, to shift the focus from herself onto your welfare and the welfare of others. The mark surely of a truly remarkable, caring and generous human being.
She was direct, she was a generous leader of our movement, proud and unflinching. She was warm and compassionate with the heartiest laugh.
I personally as well as all of us at FPDN benefitted often from her strategic thinking. She was deeply concerned for the welfare of our people with disability and I know she would be anxious to ensure that we continue her legacy.Thank you Aunt for all that you have given the FPDN family and the wider disability rights movement. We commit to continuing your work no matter how hard the struggle may be, we will stay strong knowing that your legacy lives on in the FPDN family.
So here lies a great Australian, a great South Australian and a proud and strong and beautiful and wise Ngarrindjeri and Kaurna woman.