An advocate for Aboriginal culture, identity and heritage
After returning to her home town of Walgett, one of Monash's first female Aboriginal arts/law graduates, Virginia Robinson, has worked tirelessly with the Aboriginal community on issues of social justice and empowerment.
An aptitude for complex learning and a strength born out of Gamilaraay country have made Virginia Robinson a unique and invaluable part of the Walgett community. It’s the community of her early life, located on the plains of northwest New South Wales, before she moved to Sydney, then Melbourne, to further her education and build her career.
It’s also the community to which she’s returned, where she uses her wisdom and experience to do what she can for its people, and to pass on her precious knowledge of the Gamilaraay culture and language.
“I find not a minute goes by that I am not in touch with my culture through language or cultural learning from my grandmother,” she says.
“A lot of people weren’t allowed to speak the language when white settlement happened on Gamilaraay country, but my grandmother never stopped speaking in language."
“That’s why I’m fluent today. That was the language she spoke to me in, and I’m very fortunate to be able to speak it and have a solid identity.”
Formal education started early for Robinson, at Walgett Primary School, and via correspondence when living with her parents on a farm out of town. “Every school day was a thrill for me,” she says. “I think my love of learning enabled me to excel at school, and I was always the first or second-best-performing student.”
After a few post-school years working as a housemaid, cook, cleaner, companion and governess, Robinson left the farm to train as a registered nurse and midwife at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
And after 12 years of nursing, she decided it was time to read law.
“I wanted to challenge myself in the area of complex learning and thinking, and to round off my education,” she says. “I felt studying law would equip me for life, which it has, and it was my admiration for Sir John Monash that encouraged me to attend Monash University.”
In the 1980s, Robinson became one of the first Aboriginal people to concurrently study in Monash’s arts and law faculties.
After Monash she spent five years working in her chosen fields of criminal and constitutional law, and returned to the health sector after studying Aboriginal health management.
“As nursing equipped me for life in regard to health and the human body, I find that working with the law and being a lawyer has equipped me to work with communities and society at a level where I understand the intricacies of the rule of law.”
While her choice to study law was something she wanted for herself, in later years, on leaving the legal profession, Robinson found herself drawn back to her community.
“One of the things I’m passionate about in my community is the fact I can encourage young people to look at the value of education to better equip them to understand life and deal with adversity.”
“I found there was a place there to use my skills – something Sir John Monash would admire in me,” she says.
A regional health management role with the NSW Outback Division of General Practice took Robinson home to Walgett, where she worked closely with the Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG). She then joined DEG to work in culture and language.
“That’s where I became very close to members of my Aboriginal community, and worked with and for them on social justice and legal issues, and advocated and lobbied for them in lots of areas of life,” she says.
Robinson has worked tirelessly on projects that support Aboriginal Elders as they resume leadership roles in their community, and encourages them to keep active and healthy. She’s now DEG’s secretary. “I assist the organisation in Aboriginal cultural landscapes, and language and heritage matters.”
Promoting local Aboriginal cultural knowledge and identity, and improving access to justice for Walgett’s Aboriginal community, are also key parts of Robinson’s work. “One of the things I’m passionate about in my community is the fact I can encourage young people to look at the value of education to better equip them to understand life and deal with adversity.”
Main image: Teresa Baker, Clarise Tunkin, Minyma Malilunya 2016. Synthetic polymer paint on linen, 181 x 300 cm
Monash University Collection
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