Aunty Gwen was a cheeky character who loved to share her connection to Country

Aunty Gwen. Photo: Arts Northern Rivers

Susanna Freymark

Bundjalung woman Gwenda Williams was known for her love of Country and for how much she shared her culture and knowledge.

Her daughter Megan Caldwell said her mother had a passion for doing Welcome to Country.

Aunty Gwen died aged 74 from diabetes.

She was born in 1949 in the race-segregated Aboriginal ward at the Casino Memorial Hospital.

It would take a further 18 years before Aboriginal people were counted in the Census.

Aunty Gwen is featured in a video made for the Sydney Biennale. In it, she says:

I grew up down the river, on the riverbank, living in tin shelters.

Our people were moved on from Dyraaba because the government said Aboriginal people cannot live out there because of Whiteman farming.

So, we made our way here (Casino).

Aunty Gwen.

Aunty Gwen’s mother came from Box Ridge and Gwen’s early childhood was spent in Coraki.

Aunty Gwen’s father, Clive Williams was a strict and protective parent and a respected political leader.

The family moved to Sydney when she was a teenager. She moved back to the North Coast in her 20s.

Aunty Gwen’s family taught her to have a voice. She was on many of the boards and organisations across the region including the Bundjalung Elders Group, Namatjira Haven, the Koori Mail and on local land council boards.

“She was everywhere,” Megan said.

Aunty Gwen worked in schools for 20 years as an Aboriginal Education Officer. Then she spent 20 years working with the Aboriginal Health Department.

“Mum was outgoing, happy-go-lucky and always happy to help.

“Her favourite saying was where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Megan said the family would get cranky at Aunty Gwen because she’d be out picking up someone who couldn’t get home.

Or if someone needed to get to a doctor’s appointment it was Aunty Gwen who would drive them there.

She was a cheeky character too, Megan said.

Narelle Cole and Robert Mustow with Aunty Gwen.

Aunty Gwen loved weaving and was part of the art group Casino Wake Up Time.

She features in the book Bulaan Buruugaa Ngali, We Weave Together funded by Arts Northern Rivers.

She was dedicated to preserving and passing on traditional techniques and knowledge.

“Weaving is cultural integrity, and an ecology that connects us to birthrights,” Aunty Gwen had said.

Aunty Gwen will be missed enormously by her family, all those who knew her and by the wider community.

She not only supported Aboriginal people she made herself available to anyone who crossed her path no matter what background or walk of life they were from.

Aunty Gwen’s funeral is on Friday, November 3 at 11am at St Andrews Anglican Church in Lismore.

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