Indigenous trailblazer celebrated for lifesaving legacy

A trailblazer, revolutionary and fierce but nurturing advocate for Indigenous people, elder Aunty Fay Carter has been eulogised as the "quintessential black matriarch" at a state funeral in regional Victoria.

Hundreds of mourners came together at the Ulumbarra Theatre in Bendigo on Wednesday to celebrate the life of the proud Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman who died at 89.

Born on the verandah of Echuca Hospital in 1935 at a time when Aboriginal women were not allowed in the maternity ward, Aunty Fay's life was marked with marginalisation and inequality.

But that didn't stop her from making a difference.

"Your grandmother taught you that when you were picked upon, not to worry, because one day they would understand who you are and treat you better," her son Rodney Carter recounted on Wednesday.

Her family moved to the Cummeragunja Mission in NSW before leaving in protest over mismanagement before settling in flats on the Goulburn River near Shepparton along with other families who had left the mission. 

Mr Carter reminisced about her warming presence and how he and his siblings were always fed and well clothed as she prepared them for the world.

"It cast a shadow we cannot see that shades us all from the harshness of a world that has challenged you most of all your life," he said.

"Mother, if the community is your children, you've done so much to nurture them."

The grandchildren of Aunty Fay Carter at her state funeral.
Aunty Fay was described as the 'quintessential black matriarch' in her family and community.

Aunty Fay's nephew Trent Nelson described her as someone who brought people together and sparked connection between families.

It is through stories she passed down that made her a force of nature and a quintessential black matriarch, Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung performer Tiriki Onus said.

"That's the gift that she gave so many people," he said.

"Those stories that make you straighten your spine, that make you lift up your head, and puff out your chest, because every story of Aunty Fay is one of those stories."

Her service extended across the Aborigines Advancement League, NAIDOC, the Victoria Aboriginal Child Care Agency and the Aboriginal Community Elders Service (ACES) which she started in 1992.

Mr Onus told of the time when funding for ACES ran out and she couldn't be paid for her work.

Instead of deciding to call it a day and move on, she instead drew down her own super to pay herself. 

Aunty Fay was also a founding member of Australia's first Aboriginal women's refuge in the 1970s and helped introduce landmark reforms across aged care, childcare and health services, including founding several major welfare programs.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan at the funeral for Aunty Fay Carter
Aunty Fay gave countless young Aboriginal kids the chance to live their lives, the premier said.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan praised Aunty Fay's decades-long fight and struggle to better the lives of others.

"Children like Aunty Fay were taught that they weren't enough, that they would never be enough, that their story would be written for them, but as we now know, that could not have been further from the truth," Ms Allan said.

She fought alongside many others for what she believed in, including the 2013 recognition of the Dja Dja Wurrung as the traditional owners of the lands in Central Victoria which preserved language and culture.

"Aunty Fay changed lives, she saved lives, and she gave countless young Aboriginal kids the chance to live their lives," the premier said.

She was inducted into the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll in 2013 and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2019.

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