Aunty Beverley Peter – known as Aunty Bev – was a woman of selfless dedication, whose contribution to the fields of justice and community services made a difference in many lives, particularly around Mildura and Robinvale. A proud Wiradjuri Elder, she was always compassionate and forthright in standing up for society's most vulnerable.
Bev grew up in a loving home
Born in Sydney in 1940, Bev was the eldest child of William Henry Packer and Madeline Isobel (née Mitchell). The family lived at Wattle Hill, a settlement near Leeton, New South Wales, that accommodated many of the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers at the nearby canneries. Bev grew up in a loving home with her parents and 8 siblings, enjoying simple childhood pleasures such as hot damper with butter and jam, and evening sing-alongs around the campfire.
As a young girl, Bev collected bottles to earn money, before entering the workforce with jobs at the Yanco Agricultural College and Research Station and a local cannery. A popular employee, she made friends no matter where she worked. At 16 years of age, Bev married Jimmy Ingram. The couple had 4 children and raised their young family on Wattle Hill until the settlement, located on Crown land, was disbanded. Although they stayed on in Leeton, Bev and Jimmy later separated.
While undertaking seasonal work in Cowra, central west New South Wales, Bev met Frank Peter. They later moved to Mildura and had 2 children. After the relationship ended, Bev returned to Leeton. In the 1970s, Aboriginal people were offered incentives to move to rural centres under the New South Wales Government's Aboriginal Voluntary Resettlement Scheme. Bev took advantage of the scheme to relocate to Wagga Wagga. There she met Joe Sokol, with whom she formed a lifelong bond. The couple eventually settled in Mildura.
Bev was increasingly called on to represent the local Aboriginal community
In the 1980s, Bev began working for the newly established Sunraysia District Aboriginal Corporation – known today as Mallee District Aboriginal Services – and was appointed Koori Group Manager of its Family Group Home, Biralee Paringa. Bev was responsible for the welfare of Aboriginal children ranging from new-born babies to young adults. She opened her own home to many of them, providing foster care over a period of more than 20 years. Bev and Joe also adopted a baby boy. Many of the children Bev cared for remained close to her as adults. She loved her home to be full of people and it always was.
Hardworking and outspoken, Bev was increasingly called on to represent the local Aboriginal community at various government and community forums. Over the years, she served on the council of the Mildura Koorie Open Door Education school (which later became a campus of the Victorian College of Koori Education), the Mildura Rural City Council's Aboriginal Advisory Council and the Victorian Government's Local Aboriginal Justice Action Committee. She was also an avid supporter of the United Soccer Club, a team made up of young Aboriginal players.
A tireless campaigner against family violence, one of Aunty Bev's most hard-fought battles was to establish a safe place for victims in the region. Her efforts helped secure state and federal funding for the establishment of Meminar Ngangg Gimba, of which she was made patron. The name means 'women who dwell here' and Aunty Bev turned the first sod on the $2.5 million refuge in 2011. Today, it provides a range of support services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children affected by family violence.
Committed to ensuring that her people were given a voice
Between 2005 and 2013, Aunty Bev sat as an Elder on the Mildura Koori Court and the Mildura Children's Koori Court, where her contribution was highly valued. She was also a member of the former Murray-Darling Basin Commission's Indigenous Support Group and as an Elder, supported the Aboriginal Family Decision-Making (AFDM) program run by the Victorian Government's Department of Human Services. Aunty Bev never turned down an opportunity to participate in the planning and development of local projects and was committed to ensuring that her people were given a voice.
Many of the initiatives Aunty Bev advocated for had a state-wide or national focus. To that end, she held positions on the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee and the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Senior Victorians, as well as serving two terms as councillor for the Tumbukka region on the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. Aunty Bev sat on the board of Koori Women Mean Business and was a member of the Victorian Interdepartmental Committee for Justice. She was also an Elder in residence at Deakin University's Institute of Koorie Education and chaired the Indigenous Family Violence Regional Action Group.
Never one to do things by halves
Although tough when she needed to be, Aunty Bev loved to laugh. She was known for her somewhat flamboyant fashion sense, including her fondness for wearing animal print. Never one to do things by halves, Aunty Bev brought great energy to all she did, but was not one to seek recognition or reward for her efforts. Instead she celebrated the achievements of others, no matter how big or small. Adored by her 7 children, 22 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, many more were proud to call Aunty Bev a friend and mentor.
Aunty Bev passed away in 2014. She is remembered as someone who embedded herself in her community, ensuring she was always there to lend a hand when needed or to speak out on behalf of those who could not.
Reviewed 29 September 2019