Aunty Jacqueline Stewart is a respected Elder and proud Taungurung woman, who has dedicated her life to supporting Aboriginal community in contact with the justice, health and welfare systems.
Born in 1951 at the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne, she is the youngest of twelve children and a proud mother and grandmother. Jacqui had a wonderful childhood growing up in Flemington, Reservoir and Collingwood. Family means everything to her and she prides herself on how close-knit her family is.
After completing a welfare course with an Aboriginal Studies major, Jacqui went to work in the prisons system. The course gave Jacqui a better understanding of how hard it was for Aboriginal men and women who had been incarcerated.
Working for her community
Jacqui began working for her community as an Aboriginal Prison Officer in the late 1980s. While she often witnessed and encountered racism, it did not stop her passion for working in the justice system. From there, she went on to become an Aboriginal Liaison Officer during the time of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987 to 1991), and provided emotional, social and cultural support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. Jacqui described this time as incredibly challenging due to the extreme racial abuse that was directed at her and her family, for her relentless advocacy for the rights of Aboriginal people in the prison system and for simply standing up for what was right.
Sorry Business was one of the hardest parts of working in corrections for Jacqui as the system did not acknowledge the differences between state land boundaries and Aboriginal land boundaries. When a family member was buried in Cumeragunja, just over the Victorian boarder, she would fight for their incarcerated family member to attend because it was culturally important. In many cases she would go along and support the individuals and officers affected. This was important to Jacqui because it was an opportunity to bring families together and to raise the officers’ awareness of the importance of understanding Aboriginal cultural beliefs.
Helping community feel safe in hospital
During the late 1990s Jacqui took on the role of Aboriginal Liaison Officer at St Vincent Hospital where, for ten years, she provided support to patients and their families. Jacquie worked tirelessly to ensure that staff would ask presenting patients if they identified as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and to ensure community felt safe to identify when presenting at the hospital. Jacqui also made sure that Sorry Business was respectful. She would volunteer to escort community members who passed away at the hospital to the mortuary so their families could be at peace knowing that their family member was treated with respect and dignity.
Jacqui went on to work for the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) for twelve months as the Permanent Care Coordinator. During this time Jacqui provided culturally relevant support to children and families.
In the early 2000s, Jacqui’s passion led her back to working in the justice system, as an Aboriginal Liaison Officer at the Melbourne Youth Justice Centre where she provided support, counselling and case management services for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody. As an Aboriginal Liaison Officer she was also able to support and educate staff and management in issues of cultural safety when interacting with young people, their families and other service providers. Jacqui stayed in this position for eight years before retiring.
Since 2003 Jacqui has worked in the Koorie Court system and continues to work at the Koorie Court at Broadmeadows, where she was asked to take up an incredibly esteemed position as a Koori Court Elder at the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Jacqui has held this role for more than a decade and in 2013 expanded her role to the County Court where she now sits as a respected Elder. This role is important to Jacqui as it ensures greater participation of the Aboriginal community in the sentencing process.
Jacqui has always been a quiet achiever. She believes actions speak louder than words. This is a quality she has instilled with her sons. Jacqui has committed herself to creating change for Aboriginal people for more than three decades.
Jacqui's leadership is ever more evident in her role as a Taungurung Elder, where she is currently a part of the Taungurung Clans Aboriginal Corporation. Jacqui represents her mob as a respected Taungurung Elder at the Tanderrum Ceremony, which is enacted by the Kulin Nations to allow for safe passage and temporary access to the land. Jacqui also performs traditional Welcome to Country ceremonies for NAIDOC Week and is currently learning language.
Jacqui is committed to putting her community first and standing up for the rights of Aboriginal people, no matter the risks or repercussions. She has always been prepared to speak out and stand up for those who do not have a voice and those most impacted by government policies.
Jacqui demonstrates true passion and commitment to her community: “If I didn't speak out, it would only place our coming generation’s futures in jeopardy”.
Reviewed 26 September 2019