Because Of Her We Can - The power of First Nations Matriarchs


The power of First Nations Matriarch's

First Nations Matriarchs are more than ‘the head of a family
group’. They are the healers in our Communities. They speak their truth and the
truth of our people. They hold wisdom and unapologetically share this with us
through their life stories. They guide us in making important decisions.
They’re the ones who support us in raising our kids – either directly or
indirectly. And most importantly, they naturally create and hold spaces for Mob
to thrive. 

Mob know this about our matriarchs. We know who these
powerhouses are in our Communities. Without having to be related or even close
knit, something about these women inspires us. They unknowingly give a piece of
themselves to us. We hold this piece close to us and commit to continuing their
legacy. Whether it be in truth telling, raising a Community or healing country
- our matriarchs give us the fire to want to do that.

 As a proud Yorta Yorta/ Gunnai Kurnai woman, I sit here and
reflect on the resilience of my people. And my biggest reflection has been how
our First Nation’s matriarchs are at the core of our existence. Without them,
our Communities wouldn’t be what they are. I want to use this platform and my
superpower of reflection to deep dive into the power of matriarchs. My
reflections will share the Aboriginal women who have touched my life, warmed my
heart and contributed to who I am as a proud Yorta Yorta/ Gunnai Kurnai woman.
Hopefully this will spark your own reflections and give you space to honour the
incredible women in your life.

 One of the greatest things about spending time with our
matriarchs is that they share stories with us, stories with so many life
lessons. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of getting to sit with some incredible First
Nations matriarchs and learn from them.

The Matriarch of
our family - My Nan


I couldn’t begin talking about the power of First Nations
matriarchs without first honouring my own Grandmother, and proudly my namesake
Gloria (known as Betty) Lena Charles (nee Thomas).

My Nan was a proud Gunnai Kurnai woman who was born on Gunnai
Kurnai Country in Bairnsdale in 1935. She was the daughter of Alice Ethel
Pepper and Samuel George Thomas. My Nan had a hard life picking beans around Gippsland.
She discovered more opportunity in Shepparton to pick fruit so made the move to
Yorta Yorta Country where she met my Pop and had six children – the rest is

I honour the sacrifice my Nan made to move off her own Country.
A sacrifice so many Mob have had to make. Her sacrifice continues in the legacy
of me growing up strong in my ties and connection to Yorta Yorta country. My
visits to Gunnai Kurnai Country are special and important because it makes me
feel close to my Nan and is my way of me honouring who she was a proud Gunnai
Kurnai woman.

 My Nan passed when I was only twelve years old. I often
grieve to know and experience what our relationship would be like now that I am
a woman in my thirties. I often wonder all the yarns and wisdom she would of shared
with me. However, I’m so glad that I have such a great memory, because it means
I’ve held my Nan so close to me all this time. She was an incredibly hard
working woman with a great sense of humour. I still take wisdom and guidance
from her everyday. She’s with me in the legacy and wisdom of remembering to
balance life and enjoy it because ‘what’s money if you can’t take it with
you?’. She’s with me when I am cherishing time with family. As a woman who made
massive efforts to travel across the Country to see her siblings, cousins, kids
and grandkids – and would do anything for them, she reminds me how important it
is to stay connected and look after one another. And she’s with me in the
values I cherish and adore in other incredible First Nations matriarchs who
have touched my life.

Aunty Pam Pederson

If you can believe
it, you can achieve it- Aunty Pam Pederson

Many of you may of heard of Yorta Yorta Elder Aunty Pam
Pederson. Afterall, she’s done so many incredible things and is very active in
continuing the legacy of her parents Sir Doug and Lady Gladys Nicholls, who were
pivotal in champaigning social justice for our people. For me, it’s the
inspiration Aunty Pam commits to her health and wellbeing through running. I’m
in absolute awe to know this woman was still running half marathons in her
seventies. She’s continuously setting new goals and sharing with me her
persistence to see them through.

They often include very early morning wake up times to do
her run, planned healthy meals and making time for stretching and recovery
(something I’m notoriously good at neglecting).

I’ve completed four marathons now, and during every single
one, I have drawn strength and inspiration from Aunty Pam. This is especially
true when I am running up a hill because Aunty Pam actually loves the challenge
of running on an incline! It’s in these moments I remember her wise words of
“if you can beleive it, you can achieve it.” Aunty Pam makes me want to be the
best and healthiest version of myself. She reminds me in the power of backing
yourself when you are faced with a challenge. Her achievements are so important
because I hope they spark inspiration and motivation for other Mob so that when
I turn seventy, there will be many of us that I can continue running with.
Imagine a whole Community of Aunty Pams.

Aunty June Murray

Leading with
kindness – Aunty June Murray

There are some Elders who just warm your heart in a very
special way. For me, that’s Wiradjuri Elder Aunty June Murray. I share a very
close childhood friendship with her granddaughter Tarli, which has meant I have
early memories of Aunty June. Like so many of our Elders who have come before
us, Aunty June has been an incredible advocate for our people. This included working
at the Aborigines Advancement League hostel in Northcote and offering young Mob
safe and affordable housing options. She is also known for her commitment to
Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative in Shepparton where she worked hard to create
culturally safe mental health and counselling services for mob in response to
the increase of our Aboriginal men dying from suicide. In 2017 she was rightfully
inducted into the Aboriginal Women’s Honour Roll.

I am so drawn to Aunty June’s warmth and kindness in how she
carries herself as a proud ninety-five year old Wiradjuri woman. I often ponder
the thoughts of what kind of Aboriginal Elder I’d love to be. And there is no
denying it – I’d love to be Aunty June. I hope that one day when I am an Elder,
I am viewed by Community the way I honour Aunty June.

Rather than having an obvious staunchness about her, Aunty
June has a gentle nature and when she talks, you listen. She reminds me that
there is power in leading with kindness and how this can go a long way.

Maybe it is also Aunty June’s incredible memory that makes
me see myself in following her legacy. Anyone will tell you that even in her
nineties, Aunty June remembers everything and everyone. I had the privilege of
spending time with Aunty June last year on Yorta Yorta Country creating our
2023 NAIDOC campaign. Getting to capture her story was an absolute pleasure.
She had not seen me for years, but remembered exactly who I was. It was very
special. We asked all the Elders who were part of our campaign to show us
something they are proud of. When we asked Aunty June, she immediately grabbed
a family photo sitting on her side table. She took her time and pointed out all
her relatives featuring her kids, grand kids and great grand kids. She not only
shared their names, but who they were and why she was proud of them. The true
act of an incredible matriarch right there.

All of these amazing Aboriginal women have inspired me in
different ways. Each have come into my life at different times and offered me
perspectives and guidance for different moments. But all have given me
something special to carry with me into the next chapters of my life. They are
all so integral to who I intend to be as a strong Aboriginal woman.

 We know there are so many Nan’s, Aunty Betty’s, Pam’s and
Aunty June’s in our Communities. This Matriarchs Day (and every day!) let’s
celebrate and honour the huge role they play in our lives.

 Mob – We’d love for you to comment bellow and share memories
and inspiration of the incredible matriarchs in your life.