For NAIDOC week this year we are celebrating Aboriginal women who’ve made a large impact in the lives of those around them. The theme ‘Because of Her We Can’ aims to celebrate women who’ve made a difference in their families and communities and there are so many examples of this amongst the people we are lucky enough to work with. Last week we contacted Julie Lewis, a Widi Traditional Owner, who wanted to tell her story about her Mum, Jean Lewis. This is one of the first times Jean has shared her history with her children.
Julie’s mother Jean Lewis is a strong, dedicated health care worker and Balladong Yeut woman. She was born in 1939 and grew up out at Three Springs near Morowa in Western Australia, she was the third eldest of 14 children. The older kids looked after the younger children so that her parents were able to work. Her parents were from a generation where her father was the postman riding a horse through the district to deliver the mail and when he got citizenship the Police had to vouch for him. The family home burnt down and because the family no longer ‘had a roof over their heads’ which was the legislation for Indigenous people at the time it meant that the Government could take the children away from the parents. The children were forcibly removed from their family and taken to Tardun Farm / Pallottine Mission and were living in three tents. The Pallottine Mission near Geraldton was a Catholic school for boys and girls which opened in 1948 and was operational until around 1968. At Christmas time the children left the mission and were reunited with their parents, they stayed at their grandparent’s house (Julie’s great grandparents). The family had an awareness of the law so Uncle Johnny built a house out of stuff that he found out in the bush; he white washed some bushes to look like walls and used hessian bags which gave the family a ‘roof over their heads’. The house was inspected by the authorities and they stated that there was a roof so the children could stay with their parents.
Jean spent over 20 years working in the education system and then with a little help making a CV she applied for a job working in health education where she has worked for the last 28 years. The health care system needed an Aboriginal person to encourage and educate the community. Thanks to Jean multiple generations of people have been vaccinated, got medical attention and she has helped many new mums with their babies. Jean is 79 and is still working, although her job role has changed a little in that she trains people now but she has no plans of retirement and ‘will stop working when they throw her out’. Jean has worked tirelessly educating people for over 48 years, just imagine how many people she has helped during this time! To this day the most valuable thing Jean has learnt and teaches all her grannies and great grannies is ‘always have a roof over your head’!