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Passion for social justice the key to a long life

A bout of COVID and a broken leg has failed to slow down the recipient of the Healthy and Active Living Award at the 2022 Victorian Senior of the Year Awards

Diana Collier Healthy and Active Living

Diana Collier may be 98, but it would be hard to find many half her age with the same level of energy and vitality. Even a bout of COVID and a broken leg has failed to stop the recipient of the Healthy and Active Living Award from continuing with commitments that range from helping organise NAIDOC celebrations to leading University of the Third Age (U3A) classes.

Diana credits her passion for learning and social justice as the tonic that has kept her healthy and engaged throughout her life.

‘I just think life is extremely interesting. Every now and then you have a downward spiral and I'll think, “Oh it's not worth it”, and then I come up again and say, “Yes, it is. Let’s find out some more”.’

Social justice

Diana has been finding out ‘more’ since she was a girl, growing up in Tasmania where her father sparked her interest in other cultures and later commitment to social justice by telling her tales of the local Aboriginal people’s treatment by colonisers, which she later recognised as being brutal.

A youth leadership course at Melbourne University followed. ‘I reckon that was a very good move as it opened my eyes to many injustices.’

Diana was involved in the anti-Vietnam War protests and was on the frontline of the battle to stop the damming of the Gordon River in Tasmania for hydro-electricity in the late 1970 to 1990s.

‘We actually camped down there in the mud and the water and many went out on river in rubber duckies to form a blockade and protect the river.’

As preparation for the protests, Diana took part in role plays where you had to argue the case for the other side, an exercise that has held her in good stead ever since.

Joining the SWAP – Solidarity With Aboriginal People group

While studying Social Anthropology and English at Monash University, Diana joined an Oxfam Special Interest group called SWAP – Solidarity With Aboriginal People. So, when she moved to Bendigo 40 years ago to work at the local institute of technology (now LaTrobe University) she joined Bendigo Oxfam and established a Towards Reconciliation group, based on the SWAP model.

Her interest in Aboriginal culture was furthered by meeting Aboriginal leader N'arweet Carolyn Briggs AM, the then-head of the institute’s Aboriginal support section, and local Aboriginal people.

‘I wouldn't have missed it for anything; the practical experience of meeting Aboriginal people is quite different because at the university you learn the theory and it’s very, very academic. It's somewhere else, it's over there. But when I came to Bendigo it was not “over there”. The people affected by it are right here.’

The key to longevity

Diana, who is well respected by the local Aboriginal community, continues to be involved in the NAIDOC Committee and the Bendigo Reconciliation Committee, which followed on from the Towards Reconciliation group.

‘I think I would not have lived so long if I hadn’t had this experience with Aboriginal people being so terrifically interesting. There is a huge amount to learn...’

Diana is also a supporter of several aid groups and, as an Adult Migrant English Tutor, she has helped refugees and migrants settle in Bendigo, including the first Karen families from camps on the Thai-Burmese border. She is also a member of the Bendigo Australian Indonesian Klub (BAIK) and is a U3A tutor, running sessions on topics including Reconciliation and the Structure of English language.

Diana says ‘Somebody in the paper said you can do anything regardless of chronological age and with good health and I thoroughly agree with that!'

Reviewed 30 May 2023