South-west Aboriginal women lead by example

SOME 39 years ago a group of women had a vision for an organisation that would provide much needed support to the south-west.

LEADING THE WAY: Sisters Patricia, Libby and Bernice Clarke with a photo of their parents Banjo and Audrey Clarke. Picture: Christine Ansorge

LEADING THE WAY: Sisters Patricia, Libby and Bernice Clarke with a photo of their parents Banjo and Audrey Clarke. Picture: Christine Ansorge

From humble beginnings sitting around the kitchen table, sisters Patricia, Libby and Bernice Clarke helped establish the Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative.

Bernice said the women, and other community members including their brother Lenny Clarke and sister Fiona Clarke, would meet in homes to discuss the project.

She said an office was eventually established at TAFE before it blossomed into what it is today.

She said at the time there was no other organisation that principally serviced Aboriginal people in the south-west.

Bernice said in her role as a healthcare liaison worker she would often wear the hat as counsellor and policewoman and the cooperative was established to help fill that and other gaps.

The women said their parents Banjo and Audrey Clarke were strong influences on their lives and led by example.

“We had a beautiful mother,” Patricia said.

“She was very strong.”

They said they had a lovely childhood at Framlingham and spent their youth learning how to fish and cut wood.

She said there was racism in the community but their parents told them to ignore it.

“Mum and dad used to say ‘keep your chin up’,” Bernice said.

“It’s their problem not yours. And he’d tell us we were beautiful.”

The women’s contribution has been acknowledged as part of NAIDOC week which will begin on Monday and finish on Sunday.

This year’s theme for NAIDOC week is ‘Because of Her, We Can,’ to recognise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have played and continue to play active and significant roles in the community.

All three women have made large contributions to the community with Patricia working for 20 years as a lecturer at Deakin University in education, Libby dedicating herself to building family trees and Bernice working as healthcare liaison worker.