The VAEAI Representative Council has appointed seven people as Life Members for their sustained efforts in Koorie education.

The VAEAI Representative Council includes the 10 members of the Executive Committee, 8 Specialist Representatives and the representatives from our 32 LAECGs.

The VAEAI Life Members are community leaders who have all made a significant contribution to improvements in education and training for Koorie people.

Dr. (Aunty) Mary Atkinson, a Bangerang/Wiradjuri woman, became involved in Koorie education in the 1970s. In 1978, Aunty Mary was one of the first members from country Victoria to become a member of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Consultative Group. Aunty Mary became a member of the National Aboriginal Education Committee, and then Chairperson of the National Federation of Aboriginal Education Consultative Groups. 

Over several decades, Aunty Mary played a key role the development of partnerships between the Koorie community and education institutions. Aunty Mary devoted her working life to opening up opportunities for Koorie people through education.

Aunty Mary became the President of VAEAI in 1990 and continued on in that capacity until 1999 when she retired. As President of VAEAI, Aunty Mary negotiated with the Victorian State Government to formalise a partnership between the Koorie community and the Department of Education. The negotiations led to the development of the Partnership in Education (1990), a policy document which outlines how the State will work with Koorie communities in the education decision making process.

In 2000, the Ballarat University conferred an Honorary Doctorate on Mary Atkinson because of her longstanding involvement in Koorie education in Victoria since 1978. Aunty Mary served on many other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal committees during her years working in Aboriginal education.

Every year VAEAI recognises the contribution of Aunty Mary Atkinson when we confer the Aunty Mary Atkinson Award for excellence in a Koorie Organisation at our Wurreker Awards Ceremony. 

Aunty Melva Johnson is a Yorta Yorta and Wemba Wemba Elder, and a champion of Aboriginal education and health. She has taken a leading role in setting up community services around Echuca, and been a source of valuable encouragement and guidance to young and old alike. 

In 1974, Aunty Melva joined with other community members to found the Echuca Aboriginal Co-operative. The Co-op began to address the neglect inherent in local health and education, restoring people’s self confidence at the same time. Aunty Melva served as administrator for eight years and remains a member of the Board. Today the Co-op is known as the Njernda Aboriginal Corporation and its programs range from housing and employment to cultural activities, child care and justice.

Acting in the Co-op’s name, Aunty Melva pushed for recognition and support from local council, health professionals and the education department. She influenced policy change and campaigned tirelessly for funding whenever it was needed. In the 1980s, Aunty Melva helped secure funds to purchase a property for a Women and Children’s Safe House. Aunty Melva was employed as coordinator and from the building a range of specialist heath services were offered in the region for the first time.

In 1976, Aunty Melva started an Echuca Education Group. A few years later she involved herself with the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association (VAEAI).Aunty Melva advocated for the funding to establish a Multifunctional Aboriginal Child Care Centre in Echuca — a VAEAI initiative that promotes early childhood learning, while fostering cultural identity and a sense of community belonging. Support is continued right through a student’s school life. Since the centre opened, over 70 local Aboriginal children have gone on to complete their VCE. Before, that number had been zero.

Aunty Melva’s standing in the community has been reflected in her involvement with a wide variety of organisations, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) and the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), where she served as chairperson. She has sat on the Echuca Hospital Board and Aboriginal Housing Board, among others. Today she is the chairperson of the Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

There have been awards in recognition of her work. In 2002 she was inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women. She has received a Centenary Medal, Rotary Award, Community Justice Award and, in 2011, became the first Aboriginal person to receive the Bishop Noel Daly Award for leadership in Catholic education. The Victoria University’s Echuca campus and a student residence at Deakin University in Geelong are named after Aunty Melva Johnson. 

In 2012, Aunty Melva was inducted into the inaugural Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll.

A Yorta Yorta/ Wiradjuri man, Dr Alf Bamblett has been involved in Koorie Education in Victoria since 1978 when he first became involved with the VAECG. Alf was elected Chairman of the VAECG in 1981 because of his extensive interest in Aboriginal Education. Alf served as a member of the National Aboriginal Education Committee for two terms while he worked in the area of Aboriginal employment. He was member of the Aboriginal Education Policy Taskforce in 1988 that informed the development of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy. 

Alf has worked to establish Aboriginal education units at TAFEs and universities across Victoria, including the Institute of Koorie Education at Deakin University, on the board of which he still serves. His efforts in this area were acknowledged with an Honorary Doctorate from Deakin University in 2004.

In 1984, Alf, along with others, started the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Ltd (VACSAL) which has a state-wide mandate to assist and advise the direction of government for Aboriginal programming and service delivery. In its early days, VACSAL played a key role in the establishment of many of the Aboriginal community-controlled organisations that exist today. Alf’s drive for developing new and emerging leaders led to the development of VACSAL’s community leadership program. It has produced over 40 graduates and won several state and national training awards.

Alf was the first ATSIC Commissioner elected for Victoria in 1992. While Commissioner, Alf helped prepare a response to the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. He played an integral role in negotiating the funding for programs to address the Commission’s 339 recommendations. In doing so he became the first Aboriginal man from Victoria to present to the Federal Cabinet.

Alf was named Victorian Aboriginal of the Year by NAIDOC in 1994 and received a Certificate of Appreciation during International Year of Volunteers in 2001. In 2007, he received the Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award from the Victorian Law Foundation for outstanding contributions to Indigenous Rights. In 2012, Dr Alf Bamblett was inducted into the inaugural Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll.

Following in the footsteps of many great Aboriginal leaders, Alf is the current elected President of the Aborigines Advancement League, a position he has held for over a decade. 

Lil Petit was one of the first Aboriginal Teacher Aides employed in 1976. She worked in this position for a couple of years. Lil has also been employed as a Koorie Cross Sectoral Co-ordinator and then she returned to a Koorie Educator position.

Lil has been a member of the Robinvale Local Aboriginal Committee since its inception and the Chairperson for the last 5 years.

She has represented her local community on the VAECG and then the VAEAI since the early 1980s. Lil is now working in the area of Juvenile Justice, trying to establish preventative programs for the Koorie youth in her area. 

A Gunditjmara woman, Aunty Laura Bell was born in Portland. Aunty Laura started to become involved in Koorie Education in 1976 in Heywood, where she attended the first Local Aboriginal Education Committee Group meeting in the area. Aunty Laura worked as a Koorie Educator for five years and has represented her community on the VAEAI Committee of Management for the past twenty-five years.

Aunty Laura’s contribution to VAEAI has included election to the roles of VAEAI Higher Education Specialist Rep, the Catholic Education Specialist Rep, and Vice President. For her dedication and longstanding commitment to the goals of VAEAI, Aunty Laura was awarded VAEAI life membership.

The many local, state and national committees that Aunty Laura has participated on include South West TAFE College, Glenormiston College, Ballarat University, Deakin University, Melbourne University, Monash University and the Victorian University of Technology.

Aunty Laura Bell is a founding and active member of Winda-Mara Aboriginal Co-operative and is listed on the “Women Shaping the Nation” Victorian honour roll. 

Rose Bamblett, a Yorta Yorta/Wiradjuri woman, is VAEAI’s Early Childhood Specialist Rep., and Chairperson of the VAEAI Early Childhood Advisory Committee.

Her expertise in Early Childhood spans a period of nearly 30 years, beginning with her active involvement in the establishment of Koorie playgroups in Victoria, and the Multifunctional Aboriginal Childcare Services (MACS). Rose was also heavily involved in Batdja Preschool and Lidje Child Care Centre prior to them merging to form Lulla’s Children and Family Centre in Shepparton.

Rose has strongly advocated for professional training and accreditation of Koorie Early Childhood workers and is passionate about Early Childhood education and support of Koorie Families.

In recognition of her dedication and commitment to Early Childhood Education and development, Rose Bamblett is now a life member of VAEAI.  

For over three decades Vera Briggs has worked tirelessly in Koorie education and training, because of a strong desire to help people in her community. Vera began working in Koorie Education in 1970 when employed as a Kindergarten Assistant. From 1976-1986 Vera held the position of Koorie Educator, was promoted to the position of Koorie Cross Sectoral Coordinator, and subsequently became the Koorie Education Development Officer.

Vera Briggs has been involved with VAEAI since 1981, not long after becoming a member, and later a chair, of the Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (LAECG). Currently a VAEAI Specialist Representative, a position held for the past 10 years, Vera was heavily involved in the consultative process between community and government that resulted in the establishment of a Koorie Open Door Education (KODE) School.

Vera Briggs was instrumental in the establishment of the Dala Lidj Kindergarten, the Wanjana Lidj Family Preservation Program, is a board member and advisory member for her local Aboriginal co-op, a member of the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Group, a convener for the VCE / VCAL Gippsland celebrations and a member of the Central Gippsland Wurreker Regional Committee.

Aboriginal Honour Roll 

Click here for information regarding the Aboriginal Honour roll.

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