Aunty Elaine Taylor (Wemba-Wemba/Bunurong), was born on 28 July 1949 in Swan Hill. ‘Aunty E’ has two sons, two daughters, two granddaughters, six grandsons, and has fostered more than 40 children and more than eight foster grandchildren.
Elaine’s parents, Nancy and Jack Charles, were born on Moonahcullah Mission near Deniliquin (NSW), where she too spent her early years. “My grandparents and parents weren’t allowed to speak language on the mission. Dad left to work outside the mission but was not allowed back. When Dad got a job in the sawmills, we moved into Deniliquin. He couldn’t get a house, so we lived in a hut until we got a house.” Elaine’s cousins were part of the Stolen Generations. “They were taken while mum was looking after them. My aunty had six kids then. They were locked up in Deniliquin jail, including a baby in nappies, until the welfare came down from Sydney.”
In 1960, Elaine with her parents and siblings, left Deniliquin for Doveton in Victoria. She attended Doveton West Primary School. When they were called derogatory names, the Headmaster dealt with it at assembly, saying he wouldn’t tolerate any racist comments. Elaine left school at 14 to work in a factory, putting her age up to earn more money.
In the Sixties, Elaine’s parents were founding members of an association which became the Dandenong & District Aborigines Cooperative Ltd (DDACL). It supported young people, particularly young men, coming up from Gippsland to go to school and do apprenticeships. With her parents, Elaine attended the first meeting of DDACL. She became a Family Support Worker and supported victims of family violence. Elaine has been a DDACL Board member for many years.
Elaine also worked as a domestic attendant at Auntie Gladys Nichols Hostel for Aboriginal young people during the Sixties, which led her to the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) and employment there as an Adoption Worker. If a family came to the attention of the Victorian Government, VACCA was informed. Elaine would work with government case workers to establish a cultural plan with family decision making.
Through VACCA, Elaine has supported families in many more roles with regard to children in foster or kinship care. She has also advocated strongly to government to enhance VACCA's support and interventions for Aboriginal children, to enable them to have culturally safe foster care where they are supported, connected to culture and part of a caring community. Working closely with Marj Thorpe and Molly Dyer, Elaine successfully achieved the strengthening of the sections and clauses relating to Aboriginal children in Victoria’s Adoption Act (1984). Today, Elaine serves as a Consultant Elder.
Elaine’s own foster children came through VACCA or Foster Care Westernport. However, one child was left on her house doorstep, a one-month-old baby boy in a bassinet. Elaine had her own three-month-old child, Jackie, at the time, with the support of her family and a cousin she coped with both babies. When the baby’s mother returned a few months later Elaine asked her why she had left him at the doorstep, and her response was: “I knew you would look after him”.
Elaine is the Aboriginal Elder Chairperson of the Bubup Ngay Aboriginal Children’s Panel (Panel) that was established in 2016 in response to the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People’s recommendations from Taskforce 1000, a landmark review of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with involvement in child protection. Caseworkers bring difficult cases to the Panel for confidential advice.
Aunty Elaine is an Elder in Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making family meetings, working alongside Aboriginal VACCA convenors to support placement and supports for children known to child protection and justice services. She is also a Weekly Group Facilitator for Aboriginal women and children, supporting women experiencing intergenerational trauma and family violence to build strong cultural connections and parenting skills.
Elaine was a recipient of the Community Regional Award for VACCA’s inaugural Mollie Dyer Awards (2018). She still works at VACCA in the Southern Office at Dandenong, working with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal staff to support Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, family services, family violence programs and cultural programs across the Southern Metropolitan Region.
Elaine has also worked across the housing, justice, and education sectors advocating for community. She worked for Aboriginal Hostels Ltd, in the Shepparton, Mildura and W.T. Onus Melbourne Hostels. She was a Housing Officer for the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, travelling around Victoria supporting and advocating for Aboriginal clients who had to attend the Tenancy Tribunal to come to an agreement, and to ensure they were not left unable to meet their obligations.
Elaine was one of the first Criminal Justice Program workers in Dandenong, and she has been active within the Victorian Koori Court program since its commencement. She is a Cultural Member and representative of the Koori Court at Dandenong Magistrates’ Court, for both adults and children. She is also on the Melbourne Koori Court and Melbourne Children’s Court.
Elaine is an Elder in her Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and has worked as a Koorie Educator, supporting students at five schools in Dandenong and the City of Casey. At Worawa Aboriginal College, Elaine worked as Senior Coordinator overseeing four houses, and was House Parent for 10 girls. She has also been a Board member for the Melbourne Aboriginal Youth, Sport & Recreation Co-operative and a cultural adviser to OzChild’s Cultural Panel. Through her participation, Elaine supported many Aboriginal children by training non-Aboriginal carers and staff on the importance of keeping Aboriginal kids connected to culture and family.
Elaine still provides cultural wisdom and guidance to VACCA’s Aboriginal staff to support their work with children and families. She is a powerful mentor and Elder for young Aboriginal staff, emerging community leaders, and next generations. Her legacy is also advanced through her children and grandchildren who work for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.
Elaine’s outstanding commitment and generosity is well-known. People coming to Melbourne know that if they go to Elaine’s home they would be taken in for a night or two. Her home is known as Peppermint Lodge.
In 2022, Elaine launched her business, Deadly Aboriginal Advocacy Service, to consolidate her advocacy services for her community. She was also honoured this year by a public art mural of her and her granddaughter on a wall near the First Peoples’ Health and Wellbeing medical centre in Frankston.
Reviewed 28 October 2022