Please note, this story contains the name of someone who has passed away. 

Wiradjuri elder Aunty Flo Grant’s dedication to creating a steadfast relationship between the Wiradjuri community and Charles Sturt University (CSU) has earned her the University’s Medal of Companion.

In a ceremony on the 27th of June Aunty Flo was recognised for her contributions toward CSU’sGraduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and her influence on the introduction of Indigenous cultural studies in every course at the institution.

Hardworking and humble, Aunty Flo was surprised by the award.

“I’m blown away about the award. I said, ‘I’ve done nothing!’ They said, ‘What you’ve done is put this program into reality. This award is a thanks for doing that.’”

CSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann said Aunty Flo is one of the most remarkable people he has ever met.

“Aunty Flo has challenged our assumptions and helped us to understand and act in a way that models Yindyamarra in our attitudes and ways of working together.”

“Her vision and embodiment of Wiradjuri leadership, and the spirit of Yindyamarra in action, has personally inspired hundreds of people to be the best they can be,” Professor Vann said.

In the Wiradjuri language, ‘Yindyamarra Winhanganha’ means ‘the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live well in a world worth living in’.

Aunty Flo was born on an Aboriginal mission in Condobolin in central-west NSW.

“I was born on Wiradjuri country, it goes up to Gilgandra, down across the Murrumbidgee, beyond Hay and down the Blue Mountains into Bathurst. We’re a large nation on the eastern side,” Aunty Flo said.

“My dad went to war, World War II, and we spent the first ten years of my life in Condobolin. When Dad came back, there was no work, so we moved to Griffith, where there was work, fruit picking. Even as kids we went and picked apricots off the ground—we went to work as well.”

Eventually Aunty Flo made the move to Sydney to pursue nursing.

“I did assistant nursing. I loved it, I wanted to do my nursing training, but I left school when I was 15 and didn’t have the qualifications.”

“I did aged care and general. Nursing gave me a job, a home. I trotted around to different places in NSW and WA.”

However, returning home brought up an old itch she was eager to scratch.

“When I was about 15, I decided I was going to travel the world. This was after reading a book called, He Went with Marco Polo in class. I told my dad and mum and they said, ‘If that’s what you want to do you’re capable of doing it.’ I got all that incredible encouragement, I was never put down.”

In her twenties, Aunty Flo packed up and travelled around Australia and New Zealand before returning home to earn up the money to journey across the equator.

In her late thirties, she toured through the United States of America and Canada, before exploring Europe with a close friend.

“There was no favourite country, all countries had everything in their own right … I enjoyed everywhere I went, and they all gave me so much.”

“Language wasn’t a problem. Everyone said I should learn Spanish, but I gave it up. I do not have an ability to learn language. I can’t even learn our own language let alone others! But I found everyone spoke English or wanted me to help them learn.”

After nine months away, she returned home and started work in Aboriginal media in 1990.

“I worked with the Office for the Department of Social Security as an Aboriginal information officer. That opened the door to the wider media world. I got involved in media, I set up programs with the Aboriginal Broadcasting Association. It was a wonderful organisation—we wrote a magazine!”

Aunty Flo looks fondly at the opportunities that came her way.

“I’ve been a dabbler. When the opportunity is there you do it and if the opportunity is not there you create it. We created our own opportunities in the Aboriginal media world and people like Lester Bostock paved the way for me and so many people. So many of our young people have gone into media because we opened that doorway back in the 1970s.”

“Being born on a mission and growing up on the riverbank in a dirt floor humpy didn’t stop me from doing everything I wanted to do. They were good times that gave me grounding because I grew up in a wonderful community, with great parents that taught me to be what I am.”

Aunty Flo is an advocate for Wiradjuri culture, being one of the key people behind the revival of Wiradjuri language. Working with Uncle Stan Grant and Dr. John Rudder, the first dictionary was created in 2005.

“Back in the late ’80s I said it’s time we have languages in our own right, and we should be utilising them. I don’t speak the language, but I set up the programs that Stan and Dr John Rudder teach.”

“When the dictionary was finalised, it was absolutely wonderful. Stan and John worked with small documents, that’s where it all started. We are really going to take this into the future, and now we have our kids going through school, coming through universities and they can learn and work with the language.”

Although unable to speak Wiradjuri, Aunty Flo often writes in language and one phrase is particularly close to her heart.

“Respect, giving honour and going slow. At first, I looked at it and thought what does it mean? Then I realised, our old people were never in a hurry, they assessed everything before they jumped in. They never acted in impulse, they worked out where they were going first— and that’s going slow. Taking time to work out where you are going and then going, it’s a wonderful notion.”

“I think learning language is good for people. Travelling around Europe, I saw people lived in their country, in their world with their language. We almost lost our languages. I remember the Chancellor saying when Stan was getting his doctorate, that to recover an almost lost language is a gift to all mankind. I thought that is absolutely true.”

“We recovered an almost lost language and it’s been an incredible gift not only to us and our young people but for everybody around. It’s a beautiful language. It’s full of respect and honour. I don’t think you can beat that.”

“Someone said to me when we first started this, what do you want to do? I said, I want to build a nation. And with the incredible team around us, everything fell into place.”

“I always say to our young people, now, do what your heart tells you to do, be comfortable in your own skin, like who you are and you can achieve anything that you set a goal to achieve.”

“The world out there today is wide open to Aboriginal people, as it is to everybody else. We live in a country that gives us the freedom to do what we want to do. We are so fortunate for that.”

“I love my country and I love my people. Whatever I can do to make it better, I will. Traveling through other people’s countries, I came back saying there is no better country than our home.”

By Rachael Knowles