‘I’ve been a jack of all trades. Things have been pretty hard, but it has made me stronger.’
Grinding poverty is still prevalent amongst Aboriginal communities. Helen has seen its effects first hand. ‘Even when I was small I was thinking, when I grow up, I’m going to help my people.’
Helen remembers working seasonally alongside her husband Keith in the early days of their marriage.
‘Sometimes we were lucky to get an old barn, or an old cow shed to live in whilst we were working. I had two small children by then.’ She has vivid memories of children around them dying from diarrhea or chest infections.
A proud Gunai woman, Helen and a group of visionary Aboriginal women founded the Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Co-operative in Bairnsdale in 1971 which provides childcare, cultural education, health, housing and welfare services. There was a great need for proper medical care within the Aboriginal community.
‘Things were so hard,’ Helen says quietly. ‘Can you imagine, our people just wandering around, with nowhere to live?’ Helen is the mother of six children and both Helen and Keith worked full time whilst raising their family. She now has over one hundred grandchildren and great grandchildren.
‘It’s amazing,’ Helen says smiling. Helen’s love for her community has seen her caring for Aboriginal patients in hospital and their homes. She helped to set up the East Gippsland Aboriginal Women’s Group and she also looked after children in state run homes.
‘I’ve been a jack of all trades,’ says Helen. ‘Things have been pretty hard, but it has made me stronger.’ Helen has spent her whole life quietly going about her business and doing extraordinary things.
Naturally shy, she has seen many things that have caused her deep pain. Her resilient spirit and active participation in finding solutions for her people continue to shape her life.
‘My biggest issue now is how our people are getting buried. Why do we have to pay big money for our burials? And we should have the opportunity to be buried with our families. On common ground.’