Aunty Walda Blow was a Yorta Yorta and Wemba Wemba Elder who had been working to deliver services supporting Aboriginal people for more than 4 decades. Through her leadership, she inspired many young people to become active participants in their communities.
Born in Echuca in 1941, Walda grew up on Cummeragunja Mission. Her mother Hilda (née Day) passed away when Walda was only a few months old. Walda and her 3 brothers were cared for by their father Fred Walker and paternal grandparents Herbert Walker and Florence (née Hamilton).
Walda had many positive role models as a child, none more so than her beloved grandmother Florence – a woman unafraid to stand up for what was right, who once turned a hose on government officials threatening to take her grandchildren away. Music was also a big part of Walda's childhood, her father played the piano and there was no shortage of singers in the family to accompany him. Walda attended schools at Cummeragunja and across the Murray River in Barmah.
An enduring team, which would go on to make a significant contribution to Aboriginal affairs in Victoria
As a teenager, Walda moved to Melbourne, taking jobs in factories and also worked as a nurse. She later spent time with friends in Brisbane where in 1962 she met Reg Blow, a Kombumerri and Gureng Gureng man from Rockhampton. The two married the following year, thus forming an enduring team, which would go on to make a significant contribution to Aboriginal affairs in Victoria. Reg Blow was inducted to Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll in 2012. After a period in Echuca, the couple eventually settled in Melbourne to raise their 4 children.
While living in Dandenong in 1970, Walda and Reg formed an association with others in the community to deliver housing, welfare and employment services to struggling Aboriginal families. It was incorporated as the Dandenong and District Aborigines Co-operative Society Ltd in 1975. When, in 1972, Reg secured government funding to set up a hostel for Aboriginal boys, the director of the Victorian Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, Reg Worthy, asked Walda to manage it. The request came by telegram and Walda remembered having to call from a payphone to accept. She managed Gunai Lodge, as it was named, for five successful years. One of Walda's colleagues there was Winnie Quagliotti, who is a fellow 2014 Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll inductee.
Walda followed her time at the hostel with an administrative role at Monash University's Aboriginal Research Centre. She went on to work as an Aboriginal liaison officer with the Uniting Church Synod for 9 years, facilitating the handover of church properties to Aboriginal communities around Victoria. 7 properties were donated in this time, including the site of Berrimba Childcare Centre in Echuca. Walda was also involved with the church's Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.
Walda dedicated much of her life to empowering other women
In 1991, Walda was appointed manager of the Margaret Tucker Hostel in Fairfield, a role she remained in for the next 21 years. The hostel cares for vulnerable Aboriginal girls, providing them with a safe, nurturing and culturally respectful environment in which to heal and develop. Walda was a mother figure and a mentor to the girls at the hostel, forging close relationships and teaching them about self-respect and resilience. To many in the community, she will always be synonymous with the Margaret Tucker Hostel.
Descended from a long line of women possessing great fortitude, Walda dedicated much of her life to empowering other women. In this spirit, she founded the Women's Interfaith Network Foundation. This organisation brings together women of different faiths and diverse backgrounds in an exchange of ideas, cultures and traditions. Walda was an accomplished public speaker and had delivered moving talks about the history of her people at forums in Australia and internationally, including America, Europe and Indonesia. It was a skill she also employed when lecturing on Aboriginal health issues at the University of Melbourne.
She did not shy away from fighting injustice, believing it to be the key to achieving equality
Walda had contributed to the work of many organisations and committees, including the Aboriginal Advancement League, Elizabeth Hoffman House, the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) and the Victorian and National Councils of Churches. She sat on the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation's Council of Elders, representing the rights of the Yorta Yorta people over the waterways that run through their land – a position she held in honour of her grandfather, who cared deeply for the environment.
Having twice served on the Aboriginal Housing Board of Victoria in the 1990s, Walda has also participated in state and national campaigns to end homelessness. She did not shy away from fighting injustice, believing it to be the key to achieving equality. Walda had seen the impact of a disadvantaged life lived without purpose, to which she attributed the loss of 2 brothers at a young age. However she was able to draw strength from pain, including the loss of her husband, who sadly passed away in 2012.
In 2007 Aunty Walda was highly commended at the Robin Clark Memorial Awards and in 2012 she was inducted to the Victorian Honour Roll of Women. She had never sought recognition for her work, only the best outcomes for her people. Her children and grandchildren were her real source of pride. Free of rancour, Aunty Walda promoted forgiveness and built partnerships in an effort to ensure that history never repeats itself.
Photo credit: Museum Victoria.
Reviewed 29 September 2019