When the first major Aboriginal organisation was launched in Victoria in 1957, Aunty Daphne Milward was its youngest employee. Decades on, she continues to play an important role in improving the status of Aboriginal people.
Aunty Daphne, who was awarded the COTA Victoria Senior Achiever Award 2022, is the niece of Sir Pastor Doug Nicholls, who founded the Aborigines Advancement League.
‘That was extraordinary, really. I was 17 at the time and I was working for an engineering company in Shepparton and my uncle came down and talked to my mum and dad and the next minute I was packed up and sent off to Melbourne as the office worker for the Aborigines Advancement League,’ Aunty Daphne says.
The League was a trailblazer for establishing Aboriginal health, education and legal services for Aboriginal people, spawning organisations such as Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS), and the Victorian Aboriginal Childcare Association (VAACA).
‘I'm proud of being involved at the ground level for that,’ Aunty Daphne says.
A Yorta Yorta woman, Aunty Daphne continues to contribute to improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal people through her involvement in multiple organisations, including the Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place, Boorndawan Willam Aboriginal Healing Service (BWAHS) and VAACA, as well as being the resident Elder on the Eastern Metropolitan Region NAIDOC Ball and Awards committee.
‘It's important for me to be able to give back to my community, especially with the young people. We have a youth group with varying ages and I encourage them to look to the future and to work out what they want to do, because some of them are still drifting.’
Now in her 80s, Aunty Daphne recently learned Auslan and uses it when performing and teaching the Acknowledgement of Country.
‘Some of the schools where they have deaf students are asking us to come in and teach them the Acknowledgement, so it’s a bit difficult, but I'm getting good with finger spelling,’ she laughs.
‘What I'm most proud of is family who've stepped up and continued what our elders worked to gain – equal status for our people within mainstream society and to be able to access all of the things that others can, like health services and education.’
(One of Aunty Daphne’s daughters, Karen Millward, was this year inducted as a Trailblazer into the Victorian Honour Role of Women 2022.)
In addition to her community commitments, Aunty Daphne created two ‘very long’ bucket lists with friends during COVID and has started ticking things off.
‘My friend Irene and I have done all sorts of things. We went up in a helicopter for a ride over the city. It was a beautiful day; we were just so lucky and we were able to take some great photos. We flew around the bay and over the CBD and we went into the city to Young and Jackson’s for lunch especially to see Chloe, the painting.’
Whilst not taking up the sky diving idea suggested by some younger friends, they did go to Luna Park.
‘We both had our walkers, but everybody was so supportive of us because we tried to go on every ride. We went on the scenic rail. That was great and everybody enjoyed us enjoying ourselves – they were clapping us at one stage,’ she laughs.
Reviewed 29 June 2023