The future looked bleak and predictable for little Keelen Mailman. Keelen had a loving yet alcoholic mother, an absent father, was forced to single-handedly raise four young siblings at the tender age of 14, faced the horrors of regular sexual and physical assault, and encountered the casual racism of a small Australian outback town in the seventies.
But somehow, despite the pain and deprivation, the lost education, Keelen managed to absorb and hold onto her mother's life lessons: her Bidjara language and culture, her obligations to country.
So it was no surprise to some that a girl who could hide for a year in her own home to keep her family together, run as fast as Rayelene Boyle and hunt porcupine to survive would one day make history. At just 30, and a single mother, Keelen Mailman became the first Indigenous woman to run a commercial cattle station when she took over Mt Tabor, two hours from Augathella on the black soil plains of western Queensland.
Mt Tabor is the heartland of Bidjara country, after all, and the place her mother and grandparents and great-grandparents had camped on and cared for. A place where her great ancestors left their marks on caves and rock walls more than 10,000 years ago.
In her unflinching, heartfelt memoir, Keelen Mailman pulls no punches as she recalls the startling racism her family endured and the shocking violence of their lives. But this is a story of redemption, shot through with the grandeur of love and endurance and an irresistible humour that has helped her survive, and to achieve a life-long goal: to bring the remains of her people back to their country, and see Mt Tabor returned to its original owners once more.
Keelen Mailman was born in Clermont to a poor Aboriginal family with a history of alcoholism. Now she is the first Indigenous female station manager for Mt Tabor, home to her tribal Bidjara people.
Allen and Unwin
The Power Of Bones
Author: Keelen Mailman
Question: What inspired you to write your memoir, The Power Of Bones?
Keelen Mailman: I have been though so much in my life from sexual child abuse, domestic violence and racism. With so many people out there that have or could have been through worse and in so many instances behind closed doors it's still happening, I wanted to show courage and strength and speak out in the hope it might help others heal. All I've ever wanted is to help people so I'm hoping that I have done that with telling my story.
Question: Was it difficult to relive certain aspects of your life when writing The Power Of Bones?
Keelen Mailman: Yes it was very difficult at times to relive the hurt of the treatment that I went though in my life along with the loss of loved ones, my mother and sister Dom more so. It was also hard to relive what my family went through in a small rural town we called home, and to also be sensitive to my siblings with reliving their past too. But I believe in the strength in me and I've taken back my power along the way, rising above it all to get my story out there with courage.
Question: What did you learn about yourself when writing The Power Of Bones?
Keelen Mailman: What I learnt about my self is that I really could do it. I really could write my own book. I used all the courage, strength and guts I always new I had to put it all in black and white for the whole world to see what I went through and rise above to succeed, all the while without hurting anyone along the way.
Question: Can you tell us about life running a commercial cattle station?
Keelen Mailman: Life out here in such a rural area is hard work. You need courage and dedication in what you believe in, a love for nature, you need to love your own company and know that it will never be a clock on and off job, being prepared to work at any hour. I think where a lot of people go wrong is you have to love what you do, love your job, simply going to work just for the money with never make you truly happy, but to put your heart and soul into that job you love makes every day pretty easy to breeze through it, for that's the job you want.
Question: What do you hope readers take from The Power Of Bones?
Keelen Mailman: Courage, strength, determination, dedication, and guts to just do it. The Power that we all have deep down, bring it out. Most importantly the greatest gift in life is love and kindness it doesn't cost anything to give that. And I hope I have inspired them in some way.
Interview by Brooke Hunter