Aunty Mae Robinson remembered as a 'remarkable woman'

 Vale: Aunty Mae Robinson was Fairfield's Citizen of the Year in 2013.
Vale: Aunty Mae Robinson was Fairfield's Citizen of the Year in 2013.

Aunty Mae (Mavis) Robinson - who was involved in the development of the first Aboriginal studies syllabus in Australia - died peacefully on Tuesday morning.

The long-time Mount Pritchard resident was a descendant of the Yuin and Gamilaraay people and a long-time activist with the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council.

After becoming the first Aboriginal person to graduate from the School of Education (what's known now as Western Sydney University) in 1980, Aunty Mae spent several years working with primary and secondary students to encourage teaching, reading and language development.

She was also appointed to Education Officer and consultancy roles with the NSW Department of Education and Training and is a life member of the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

Auntie Mae at a Remembrance Day service in 2016.

Auntie Mae at a Remembrance Day service in 2016.

Fowler MP Chris Hayes said the 2013 Fairfield Citizen of the Year was known for her "generosity and her passion" for teaching and culture.

"Aunty Mae Robinson made a difference for the better in our community and was a remarkable woman," he said.

"Aunty Mae made a significant contribution to the education system and worked tirelessly to provide Aboriginal young people with opportunities and access to education.

"I offer my deepest condolences to Aunty Mae's husband, John, who's been a very close friend of our family, and to their children, Chris, Stephen and Nigel."

Born in 1942, she spent her early life in Burnt Bridge near Kempsey. She was just 13-years-old when she was forcibly removed from her mother, under the Aborigines Protection Act 1909, and placed in Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

A story (see citation below) from her early life she liked to share was the power of Aboriginal women stopping Aborginal people being "roped off" at the front of the movies. In response, the CWA Aboriginal women at Burnt Bridge organised movie screenings in their own hall. It wasn't long before businesses began to realise the Aboriginal people had money to spend and within a month the rope was dropped.

Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone with Aunty Mae.

Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone with Aunty Mae.

In 2013, she told the Champion: "It's very important to teach my culture because a lot of people have misconceptions about Aboriginal people, so I want to show and teach people our traditions. I once had a student who asked me if I still hunted and gathered, and I said, 'yes, I do. I go to Woolworths, hunt for the best bargain and once I've gathered all my goods, I come home in my Nissan'."

Western Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover said Aunty Mae generously shared her "wisdom and knowledge" as part of the Western Sydney University Elders Advisory Committee for several decades.

"Her influence as an educator has extended well beyond the Aboriginal community," he said.

In recognition of her contribution to Aboriginal education, she received the Nanga Mai Schools Award for Outstanding Contribution in Education Achievement by a Community Member in 2007, the University of Western Sydney Woman of the West Award in 2010 and the first Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Western Sydney University in 2011.

A public memorial service at the 'Aunty Mae Foyer' inside Western Sydney University's Ngara Ngura Building at Liverpool is being planned.

*Melissa Williams, "Aunty Mae Robinson" pp. 38-41 in Melissa Williams (ed.), Generations of Knowledge: Commemorating the Lives and Contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, Leaders and Pathmakers at the University of Western Sydney [now Western Sydney University] (Penrith: University of Western Sydney, 2014).