Carol Pettersen’s new autobiography, Following the Spirit of the Yirdah Bird, chronicles a life of change, strength, culture and achievement. Born in 1941, Pettersen grew up at Gnowangerup mission during the war years at the tail-end of the Great Depression in the era of the White Australia Policy. “Times they were tough, but that was life,” she said. “That was reality.” Life for Aboriginals in WA was made even tougher by the Native Administration Act 1936, with regulations designed to “make provision for the better protection and care of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Western Australia”. “It was against the law to have sexual intercourse with an Aboriginal woman under section 46 of the Native Administration Act,” Pettersen recalls. “Even though dad was was married to his wife they still hounded him,” she said. “The minute I was away from my white father — I went on and married a white man — when we weren’t in their company we were immediately controlled by the police, it really was scary.” The Native Administration Act 1936, which granted the Commissioner for Native Affairs legal guardianship of all Aboriginal children under the age of 21, would not be repealed until 1963. As a young woman in the early 60s, the sanctuary Pettersen once found at home would be shattered as her first marriage fell apart. “It only lasted seven years,” she said. “Seven years of marriage, four children, broken body, broken bank account, broken self worth.” A rage would well up in Pettersen and a spiritual awakening would help her channel the turmoil and take control. “I’ve had conversations about how women can use rage to their advantage,” she said. “It’s an enormous energy but if you don’t steer it in the right direction it can be dangerous, it can be a negative thing, but it got me out of where I was.” Petterson would use that energy to free and challenge herself, to leave, learn and achieve. She would go on to became a pioneer for affirmative action and her work would gain international attention in countries like Canada and Indonesia where she has delivered papers. The pages of Following the Spirit of the Yirdah Bird contain photos of the many politicians Petterson has worked with and walked alongside, premiers and ministers, diplomats and dignitaries. Other photographs show Pettersen’s family, her parents and siblings, newspaper clippings that shed light on an incredible and ongoing journey. “I’ve had a pretty interesting life,” she said. “I’ve made it myself.” Pettersen will be at Paper Bark Merchants for a book signing on December 1 from 10am-11am and 2pm-3pm and at the Denmark Visitors Centre on December 2 from 10am-11am and 2pm-3pm. Copies of the book can be arranged via firstname.lastname@example.org.