Skip to main content
Head shot photo of Kaurna and Narungga Elder, Aunty Yvonne Agius.

This NAIDOC Week, we celebrate the unyielding spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and stand in solidarity, amplifying the voices that long been silenced.

Kaurna and Narungga Elder, Aunty Yvonne Agius, who sits on Renewal SA’s Reconciliation Committee as a Cultural Advisor shares her story.

When Aunty Yvonne Agius was living in Adelaide in the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, she and her mother and nine siblings would sometimes head across to Port Pearce a couple of hours away on the Yorke Peninsula, to visit their relatives.

It should have been a straightforward affair but it was anything but.

“We had to get permission from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs,” she says. “We had to get permission to go and see mother’s sisters and brothers. They gave you a week visit or whatever, but they made sure you were off on that seventh day.”

The supervisors were all smartly attired she recalls.

“We called them white socks.”

There is a smile at the memory, but it masks the issue of ongoing degradation and dehumanisation.

“I just thought why? We are only going to see our family. But in those days too, Aboriginal peoples were not allowed to mix with white people and vice versa. You were fined for consorting.

“It was disgusting. Disgusting.”

Aunty Yvonne – the salutation denotes achievement and respect from within individual Aboriginal communities – is now 80-years-old and still in the vanguard of fighting for basic recognition and equality for Aboriginal peoples.

Forty years public service came to an end 15 years ago but Aunty Yvonne still sits on seven committees, the Renewal SA Reconciliation Committee to the fore. It is imperative to keep going, to keep on spreading the word she says.

“I respect my Elders for what they have done and that’s why I have taken over from where they have left off. I keep telling the younger ones I won’t be around forever, you need to start taking off from your Elders as we did.”

Retirement is simply not on the agenda.

“Even with one leg in the grave I will still be going.”

Unsurprisingly, she will be in full battle mode this NAIDOC week.

“I think NAIDOC is a good thing because it teaches and gives non-Aboriginal people the right to learn about Aboriginal culture and heritage and all that stuff.

“I find that when we have the march (Friday July 12 this year) and we end up near Parliament, there are more non-Aboriginal people than there was years ago. Everybody wants to come along and be involved and be a part of reconciliation I think.”

Wear and tear on her hips means she will meet the marchers at Parliament House this year.

“King William Street is filled all the way to the station with people. Black, white and brindle, they are all there and it’s good to see.

“Now I drive along and look up at the Aboriginal flags that are flying. Years ago, that never used to happen. I think we are getting there in relation to reconciliation.”

It is though only by hearing some of Aunty Yvonne’s story that the desire for betterment constantly coursing through her calcifies.

She has worked across Australia, in Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane, but lived in Adelaide all her life.

Her upbringing on Waymouth Street in the Adelaide CBD is compelling.

“There were mixed nationalities, Greeks and Italians, you name it, living there. Next to us were Greek people and (South Australia politician) Nick Bolkus’ mother and father lived on the corner, very nice people. Being kind to each other is important, people were always helping one another,” she says.

Sturt Street Community School was the place to be at the time.

“All nationalities went there. Mr Fife Smith was the headmaster and my first teacher was Miss Blayden.

“I loved it there. My brother played in the school band and I remember the old maypole we used to dance around.”

Intriguingly, Sturt Street was not short on achievers with many of the people attending the school growing into successful business people, including George Polites and former politician Nick Bolkus.

Australia’s future meanwhile, brings myriad emotions.

“I’m 80-years-old now. (Before) people were so nice to each other and cared for one another and now people don’t care for one another anymore.

“If someone smiles at you now, you think what do they want? I’ve seen a lot of changes and it’s not the same as it used to be, people don’t care. In the olden days the men would even tip their hat off to my mum.”

Her mother Laura, who died 50 years ago and who would visit former Premier Don Dunstan to talk about Aboriginal housing, remains a constant inspiration.

“I think every part of what I do, I do for my people,” Aunty Yvonne says.

“I have been out every day this week. People are ringing me up. I do enjoy it. I am very happy with it; it keeps my mind occupied.”

Her background is fascinating. A Kaurna-Narungga woman on her mother’s side, her father Charles was from Malta a country where many of its people have an Egyptian ancestry.

“Dad’s grandmother was French. I am a bit of a cocktail.”

Aunty Yvonne’s faith has been tested time and again, not least at an official function in Canberra once where she was approached by the wife of a high ranking overseas official.

“Where do you come from dear?” she was asked.

Answer imparted, the response was cutting.

“You don’t look Aboriginal,” she was told. “I thought they were all naked and painted up.”

The affront is remembered in great detail.

“Why didn’t you do your homework? How dare you say that,” Aunty Yvonne says.

“Gee, that’s insulting to say you don’t look Aboriginal.”

Education around Aboriginal history is a must she says. The wider lack of knowledge of the treatment of Aboriginal people after Captain Cook’s landing in 1788 is relatively new to her she says.

“They talk about Germans with the holocaust and Japanese, how they treated our soldiers and our people, yet never spoken about what they did to our people. That should happen and I think will get more people inside why we do what we do and why we feel the way we feel.”

The momentum is forward though and reconciliation is bringing people together and aiding better understanding she says.

“I think we are getting there.”

Was this page helpful? 
Would you like to be contacted about this feedback?