Special interest matter - Tribute to Aunty Phyllis Pitchford
Tuesday 24 November 2021
Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, today I pay tribute to a stalwart of the Tasmanian community, and the deep loss that has resulted from the passing of Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Phyllis Pitchford.
Aunty Phyllis was born at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Launceston on 30 October 1937, one of identical twins. After spending some of her early childhood with her family on Cape Barren Island, Aunty Phyllis then split time between her parents - her mother, who moved to Launceston, and her father, who remained on Cape Barren Island.
Aunty Phyllis's childhood involved deep connection to the land, her family and her culture. She spent much of her time partaking in practices like muttonbirding. Aunty Phyllis attended Charles Street Primary School and later Brooks High School, marrying and moving to Flinders Island not long after finishing her schooling.
On Flinders Island, Aunty Phyllis raised five children, was a founding member of the Flinders Island Aboriginal Association, along with the Babel Island Aboriginal Corporation, and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Childcare Association.
Her time on Flinders Island was not without its challenges, however. Aunty Phyllis recalled and was candid about the strong atmosphere of racism on Flinders Island, especially during the 1980s. This was completely different to the life she had known growing up on Cape Barren Island.
In an article in The Examiner in 2020, Aunty Phyllis said that she had not experienced racism while being taught on Cape Barren Island, and her first exposure to racism was when she took a trip with her father to Flinders Island.
All the children on Cape Barren Island, according to Aunty Phyllis, were of different skin colours, some darker, some fairer, and not a thought of racism had crossed their minds. They were just a bunch of happy kids during that time.
Aunty Phyllis's deep connection to her land, culture and people manifested itself in her desire to mentor younger Aboriginal generations, and inspire them to express themselves, and their culture, through poetry, art and creativity. Through the meenah mienne project, a program that encourages the artistic expression of Aboriginal youth in the justice system, Aunty Phyllis helped give Aboriginal people a way to experience the therapeutic effects of creative expression, something which has had a profoundly positive effect for Aboriginal youth in precarious situations.
The care which Aunty Phyllis had for the vibrant Aboriginal communities which call Tasmania home, meant that she was a strong voice and advocate for them. Aunty Phyllis served as a member of the Tasmanian Government's State Strategic Planning Committee, the ya pulingina kani Indigenous Family Violence Working Group, the Tasmanian Women’s Consultative Council and was the Elder in Residence, a speaker and board member for Riawunna at the University of Tasmania's Centre for Aboriginal Education. In 1992, Aunty Phyllis received a NAIDOC Award for her contribution to the communities of Tasmania, Flinders Island and Cape Barren Island.
The loss of Aunty Phyllis is a deep and significant one for all Tasmanians, but particularly for our Tasmanian Aboriginal community who have lost a wonderful mentor, advocate and friend. Tasmania is a better, more positive place for having had Aunty Phyllis's contributions. I express my deepest condolences to our Tasmanian Aboriginal community, Aunty Phyllis's family, her friends, her three children, 23 grandchildren and her many, many great and great‑great grandchildren. Vale Aunty Phyllis Pitchford.
Members - Hear, hear.