Aboriginal elders connecting Western Sydney community

By Cassandra Hill, 26 May 2020
(L-R) Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation founders Margaret Farrell, Jenny Ebsworth, Elaine Gordon and Daisy Barker. Image: Caritas Australia/Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation.


In 2012, four Aboriginal elders in Western Sydney founded the Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation. Originally from other areas of NSW, their aim was to connect with families in the local community and to provide them with support and links to services they might need. Grandmothers themselves, they wanted to help community members to heal from the past and connect with culture, whilst nurturing confidence and a sense of pride.

The work of Baabayn (which means ‘ancestral woman’) involves initiatives such as a Family Group gathering, Healing circles, Homework Club, Youth Group and a Mums and Bubs group. It also provides advocacy, counselling services and links to government departments, nurturing knowledge of spirituality and culture and bringing families together for special events, such as the ‘Say No to Ice Day.’

Caritas Australia has been working in partnership with the Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation since 2019.

Eight years on, Baabayn’s directors, Margaret Farrell, Jenny Ebsworth, Elaine Gordon and Daisy Barker reflect on their achievements, as Australia marks National Sorry Day on May 26.

“We’ve got Sydney’s largest Aboriginal population here, so I think people need to know that there’s a place that they can come to and they’re welcome. I just love this place, I just love the whole concept of what we do here,” director, Jenny Ebsworth says.

“With the Homework Club, it’s really important because our kids really need that support because some of them don’t have computers. We also want to bring our elders out of isolation and give them a bit of hope. We really created something here and a lot of people from the community come to Baabayn for advice, they have respect for us,” Jenny says.

Baabayn’s directors say that dealing with COVID-19 has been challenging.

“We’re not used to being apart, away from each other for a start and because we’re all older generation people, technology got us a bit bluffed but thank goodness we’ve all got children who are a bit techno. I think the main challenge is we can’t be in at the office to help our mob but we’ll get through it,” says director, Elaine Gordon.

Caritas Australia has been working with Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation to adapt its programs, in light of COVID-19, so that it can continue to help the community, by providing phone counselling and reaching out to community members through various forms of multimedia.

In addition to National Sorry Day on May 26, this year also marks the twentieth anniversary of the Reconciliation walks of 2000, when people came together across Australia to walk on bridges and roads to show their support for a more reconciled Australia.

The theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week, which runs from May 27 till June 3, is #InThisTogether – a hashtag conceived long before the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reconciliation is a journey for all Australians – it’s about building relationships between the broader Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Although there has been some progress in this time, including greater acknowledgement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land and sea rights, better understanding of the impact of government policies and acknowledgement of Aboriginal achievements, Baabayn’s directors believe there is still a long way to go.

We were in Canberra the day before the apology, for me being Stolen Generation, I don’t think it was enough for myself,” says director, Margaret Farrell. “I was a bit disheartened…because I don’t think anything came out of the Apology myself, I mean it’s still going on.

“My family was split up. Everyone started coming back in the ‘80s but we never really had that connection as siblings growing up together. So that had a deep impact on my life. And it’s a cycle that keeps repeating itself. Now we’re bringing up our grandchildren and so it’s an ongoing cycle, so we try and break that cycle but it’s just continuing with our younger ones,” Margaret says.

Daisy Barker agrees.

“Well my father was taken in 1924 and nothing’s changed and it’s still going on now,” she says. I was brought up on the river bank in poor housing and often hungry and with no shoes. This made schooling difficult for me. Taking children away caused families to be broken up and the trauma and suffering of broken families continues to this day. I think that a lot of people do not understand what we went through.”

“I don’t think we’ve had enough acknowledgment and I think it needs to be talked about more in this country,” says Elaine. “You know, as Aboriginal people, we’re still not getting a fair go and we’re there to offer support for those families.”

Baabayn’s directors say that working with Caritas Australia is helping to create a sense of hope amongst families and the community.

“We really appreciate that Caritas is willing to work with Baabayn and it’s really opened doors for us,” says director, Jenny Ebsworth. “It’s very important work and we really appreciate that you to be able to walk alongside us.”

By Cassandra Hill. With thanks to Caritas Australia.


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