Glen Peters was a proud descendant of Coranderrk who identified as Yarra Yarra, Yorta Yorta and Nguraiilum Wurrung. He earned universal love and respect amongst the Victorian Aboriginal community and beyond not only for his devoted care and compassion, but for his dedication to ensuring that those who had passed were safely returned to their own country for their final journey.
The early years
Glen was born in Healesville, close to the former Coranderrk Aboriginal reserve where several generations of his family had lived since his Dja Dja Wurrung great-great grandmother had been taken there circa 1863. He was the youngest of Glen and Valda Peters’ 3 sons. Tragically, Glen senior was killed in a workplace accident at a timber mill when Glen was just 8 months old. Glen’s mother was forced to move her 3 young sons away from their beloved Healesville. Together with older brothers Vincent and Russell, Glen spent his early years in their grandmother’s home in North Melbourne, surrounded by doting aunts and an uncle.
The young Glen is remembered as being an adventurous lad. When his mother remarried, the family moved to Mentone, where he roamed the wide open spaces, learning to fish and hunt rabbits and snakes with a slug gun. However, life was not easy and connections with family and community were disrupted by Glen’s mother’s second marriage. Glen endured further tragedy when his first wife, mother of his daughters, Krista and Nimi, was tragically killed at an early age.
Aboriginal Funeral Service
In the late 1980s, Glen began to reconnect with the Aboriginal community, becoming involved with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) in a number of roles. He later took on the role of managing the Aboriginal funeral service, operated at that time by VAHS, before it was transferred back to the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League.
It was an essential, though not always easy job. The funeral service had originated in the 1960s as a funeral fund when Elder Aunty Edna Brown was concerned that many community members were being buried in paupers’ graves because they could not afford the cost of burial. Many community members were not able to afford to take deceased family members home to their own country to rest.
In the 1980s, Stewart Murray of the Aborigines Advancement League formalised the Aboriginal Funeral Service, buying an old hearse in which he carried those who had passed back to their own country. Later, Herb Patten carried on the funeral service as part of his duties at the League. In Glen’s hands it became more than a job and more than a service. For 25 years he carried the funeral service with dignity, compassion and care, using it to create connections with community members and families across Victoria and beyond.
A perfectionist, he carefully managed all aspects of the sorry business in order to relieve pressure from grieving families and allow them space to mourn. Guided by his own deep spirituality, Glen insisted that funeral arrangements were culturally appropriate and the deceased were respected and honoured in culturally suitable ways. Glen’s commitment led to long working hours. Distance did not matter. Concerned to carry people home to where they belonged, he drove to all corners of Victoria and beyond. It was nothing for him to travel interstate if needed. His knowledge of back roads and short cuts was legendary.
Glen’s respect and care for those who had passed was always evident. He also showed care for bereaved family members, taking time to sit with them and listen.
Glen’s commitment saw him develop connections across Victoria and beyond. He developed a vast knowledge of kinship and family connections across Victoria. He nurtured an ever deeper understanding of Victorian cultural groups.
Glen was hurt by premature and preventable deaths in the community and saw the links between cultural identity and health. This inspired him to dedicate time to helping to build healthy outcomes for the community. He served for over 30 years as a Board member and frequent chair of Yappera Children’s Services, a community-controlled child care and education service for Aboriginal pre-school children. He is remembered as a passionate advocate for Yappera’s culturally inclusive services as a means of developing a strong sense of identity in Aboriginal children. On behalf of Yappera he actively lobbied government agencies for adequate funding.
Glen’s interest in mentoring young people was evident in his long-standing role as coach of the Fitzroy All Stars Netball team. Though he was remembered as a tough coach, his team paid tribute to him by renaming themselves ‘Glen’s Stars’ after his death in 2015. Glen is remembered as a gentle quiet man who saw the best in people and had an ability to communicate with anyone. At the same time, he was known to be determined to the point of stubbornness in the face of any injustice.
A devoted family man, Glen was much-loved by his wife Jackie, his 4 children, Krista, Nimi, Peter and Lisa, and his grandchildren. Yet he was was also regarded as family by a community that stretched far wider. Even as he battled terminal illness, he was dedicated to ensuring that the final journey of every community member was achieved with respect, dignity and love.
Reviewed 26 September 2019