Eva Jo Edwards is a proud Boon Wurrung/Bunurong, Mutti Mutti and Yorta Yorta woman. Eva Jo was born on 8 August 1963, in Hillston, New South Wales. Eva Jo has lived in Victoria since she was an infant, and in Melbourne for fifty-four years. Eva Jo has six children and has generously helped with the upbringing of other children.
Aged only five, Eva Jo and her five siblings were removed from her family in Swan Hill. They were taken to Allambie Reception Centre, a former reception, treatment, classification and transit centre for children admitted into Victorian Government care. Then they were split up.
Her two older brothers were taken to Burwood Boys Home. Eva Jo, her sisters, and their baby brother were taken to Lutheran Children’s Home, in Kew. Eva Jo was institutionalised for the next 13 years, and she cannot remember life before this time. Today, Eva Jo has reconnected with her living siblings.
After leaving ‘the homes’ Eva Jo, worked in many roles and for over 35 years she has worked within Aboriginal communities. She has worked to empower the lives of Aboriginal people affected by previous interventionist government policies, racism, violence, and ignorance. She has worked often under difficult circumstances to create a better life for her family and others. She has worked to promote better understanding and appreciation of Aboriginal cultures in the broader community.
Eva Jo has worked in various roles at the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) initially as a case worker, then as Senior Advisor for Cultural Support Planning. She was a mentor at VACCA's Cultural Camps for young people in out of home care. Eva Jo was a client support worker at VACCA’s Ngarra Jarra Noun Redress Support Service for those who have experienced sexual abuse whilst institutionalised as children.
In 2016, she was appointed as an ‘Elder or Respected Person’ to the Koori Courts providing cultural advice to the Magistrates’ and Children’s Court.
Between 2014 and 2016 she worked with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) as Program Co-ordinator for Family Violence Assistance.
Eva Jo was the Events and Community Engagement Officer with Connecting Home from 2010 to 2014. Connecting Home focusses on supporting Stolen Generations survivors and their children and grandchildren through their journey of healing. There she also worked with new police recruits, introducing them to social diversity in community engagement. She is still an active volunteer with Connecting Home.
Eva Jo is also an active supporter of Link-Up Victoria (part of VACCA) which assists Stolen Generations survivors to find and be reunited with their family, culture and traditional country. After a 10-year journey with Koorie Heritage Trust through the Koorie Family History Service, Eva Jo uncovered her family history in 2017. She says: ‘I finally felt complete knowing who my family is and where I am connected’.
In 2018, Eva Jo was honoured with the Westfield Doncaster Local Hero Award. The accompanying $10,000 Westfield grant was shared by Connecting Home and Link-Up.
Since 1998, Eva Jo has also worked through Birri-on, her own business. Her work has led to many speaking engagements on the impacts and effects on the Stolen Generations to the government, corporate and education sectors. An accomplished public speaker, educator, and advocate, she has been a keynote speaker and Master of Ceremonies at many events.
She formed the dance troupe Birri-on Lakidjeka, meaning ‘turning the children around’, in which she and her young children performed a combination of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal dances. One of the more contemporary dances is called ‘Where’s My Culture’. Through a traditional style of dance, the troupe told their story of looking for their lost culture, and joyously finding it again in the finale. As a Stolen Generations survivor, Eva Jo has been recapturing the culture that was denied to her and, in the process, making that a part of her children’s lives as well as enlightening the many audiences she performed for.
In 1999, Eva Jo began working with Uncle Kutcha Edwards and Aunty Cathy Dean to conduct workshops on the Stolen Generations in schools titled Banyip Kidjeka, meaning ‘brother sister’. She presents ‘Aboriginal Storytime’ and cultural talks to kindergartens, festivals and primary schools, incorporating traditional and contemporary stories and dance, and Aboriginal history. Since then, they have educated primary, secondary and tertiary students, and corporate and community organisations about the impacts of assimilationist policies that denied Aboriginal children their cultural heritage and created intergenerational trauma.
Eva Jo uses her Aboriginal storytime workshops to influence and engage kindergarten and primary school children. Her sessions bring traditional and contemporary stories to life with face painting and dance. She explores history, including Dreaming creation stories, and introduces children to the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Australian flags, whilst teaching social values.
In 2008, Eva Jo and Deb Salvagno worked together with Darebin Council to create the Koorie Night Market. It has since expanded to other local government areas in Melbourne and regional Victoria, and community festivals. Koorie Night Markets set a vibrant atmosphere showcasing and celebrating Aboriginal culture through arts, crafts, food, music and dance. They promote bridging and reconciliation between Aboriginal communities and the broader local communities and enhance cultural identity and the profile of local Aboriginal people. In 2022, a Koorie Night Market is operating through Dardi Munwurro men’s healing centre in Preston.
Eva Jo’s commitment, humanitarian nature and natural joy is a beacon for others as she continues her work as a courageous, tenacious and compassionate leader for her six children, grandchildren, family and community. She has inspired and assisted many Aboriginal adults and children to lead more fulfilling, healthier lives, and helped break down barriers of misunderstanding to nurture a more cohesive community.
Eva Jo has served as a member of the the Victorian Government’s Stolen Generations Reparations Steering Committee since 2020, was appointed a member of the Victorian Government’s Stolen Generations Advisory Committee in 2022, and recently was also appointed to the Independent Assessment Panel for Stolen Generations Reparations.
Eva Jo sees working towards equality within Aboriginal communities as a priority for the rest of her life. She works towards ensuring Stolen Generations survivors throughout Victoria are welcomed home and acknowledged, no matter where they now live and call home. She also sees a growing need for more campaigns on anti-Elder abuse and how to call it out and end it, to restore dignity and respect.
Eva Jo’s legacy is of an emotional healer and an inspirational storyteller, for both the Aboriginal community and the wider community.
Reviewed 28 October 2022