A Beacon of Light: The 78-Year-Old Who’s Inspiring Generations of First Nations People

Triumph over tragedy

Persevering with resilience and belief. If you’re looking for the definition of this value, then look no further than Aunty Janice. Our beloved Catholic Care team member and Elder lives and breathes it every day, and has done so ever since her world changed forever when she was a young girl.

“I was taken from my family when I was 13 years old, during the Stolen Generation,” Aunty Janice says. “I was put into service at Double Bay with a white family. I left a couple of times, but the Aboriginal Protection Board always brought me back. I’ve come a long way since then. It’s my own determination that’s got me to where I am today. Nothing gets me down.”

At 78, Aunty Janice certainly stands tall in her community. A Gumbainggirr Elder, she is Catholic Care’s trusted support person for our First Nations people. For 24 years, she has worked tirelessly to improve the social wellbeing of our Indigenous community, offering a beacon of hope to anyone struggling with their own challenges.

Aunty Janice was born in Bellingen, on the north coast of New South Wales. After her mother passed away when she was just four months old, she and her sister were raised by their aunty. Tragically, both Aunty Janice’s sister and aunty died after she’d been taken to live with a non-Indigenous family.

Since then, life has dealt Aunty Janice many challenges, including the passing of her husband and two of her six children. But with each heartache, her resilience has grown even stronger.

“It has been very hard. But life goes on, and I’m alive today because of me,” says Aunty Janice, who has 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. “I guess I’m just a strong Aboriginal woman!”

A new, meaningful direction

Aunty Janice is proof that you’re never too old to choose a different path in life. Having worked in a frozen pizza factory for 12 years, she enjoyed her job, but didn’t want to work in a factory forever. So, in 1991, Aunty Janice enrolled in TAFE, achieving her Year 10 certificate in her 50s – a remarkable feat for someone who had barely received an education as a child. She then completed a Certificate in Hospitality. It was during this time she met a Sister from Catholic Care. Having been raised a Catholic, our mission to help people make progress one step at a time, one day at a time, and one challenge at a time resonated with Aunty Janice, and she joined us in 1997.

“I haven’t looked back,” Aunty Janice says. “I’ve learned so much during my time at Catholic Care, and have loved giving back to my community.”

For more than 20 years, Aunty Janice has been a true advocate for First Nations peoples. She is devoted to connecting the community with critical health and counselling services. Her deep insight into the challenges faced by Aboriginal people has enabled her to make a real difference to the community’s social wellbeing, and she has even served on the Catholic Care executive board.

“After everything I’ve been through, I’ve learned that I’m strong and can stand up to anything. That’s what I hope for all Aboriginal people – to be independent.”

Compassion, contribution, care

The trust Aunty Janice has garnered in our community is profound. As a respected Aboriginal Elder, her door is always open to anyone who needs support or advice.

“On Mondays, I run a yarning circle, where everyone sits and talks about their day. We share stories, and people talk about what’s happening in their life – it’s a nice way for people to connect. On Wednesdays, we have our sisterhood group for young mums. Back in the day, I coordinated didgeridoo lessons for young Aboriginal boys, as well as guitar lessons for boys and girls. We also have a financial counselling service for people struggling to pay their bills, and a grief counselling service. There’s support for everyone.”

For someone who’s 78, Aunty Janice shows no signs of winding down. She continues to create her legacy by doing what she does best: offering a guiding light to anyone who needs it.

“I love being a part of Catholic Care. It’s in my blood; I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

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