Uncle Graeme ‘Wilk’ Austin, a proud Gunditjmara man, was born on 16 December 1949 at Warrnambool Base Hospital. His parents were Ella Austin and George Rose. He is one of 11 siblings, growing up surrounded by a large extended family.
His family lived on Framlingham Mission up until the mid-1960s, then they moved to Melbourne to join other family members and to access greater opportunities.
Passionate about sport, Graeme and his late wife Zea opened their family home to many young people. They encouraged and arranged for them to participate in Koori sporting carnivals across Victoria and weekly netball and basketball competitions, representing Aboriginal clubs including Fitzroy Stars Netball Club and Melbourne Blacks Basketball Club.
A hardworking man throughout his life, in his early years, Graeme worked as a bricklayer and in various labouring roles.
Graeme has had a lifelong dedication to Aboriginal health and wellbeing, holding significant executive and board positions in community and sporting organisations.
Above all, he has made lasting impact on the social and emotional wellbeing of Victoria’s Aboriginal community.
Graeme spent some 20 years, including 10 years as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), working for the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS). VAHS was established in 1973 to address the specific medical needs of Victorian Aboriginal communities. He is one of the Elders who worked to see VAHS evolve from its early days in Fitzroy to the four sites delivering services today. VAHS is founded upon the value that Aboriginal health means not just physical wellbeing, but also the holistic health of a person, incorporating social, emotional and cultural wellbeing. Graeme was CEO at the time of VAHS’ relocation from Gertrude Street, Fitzroy to the purpose-built facility at 186 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy.
During the 1970s, a period of financial uncertainty for VAHS, including times when employees worked without pay to keep the service functioning, it did not close its doors. Led by Graeme, VAHS would not let government dictate the terms of its funding. Reflecting that Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations like VAHS were never appropriately acknowledged for their work, Graeme stated: ‘Our funds were never enough, or they would be cut and government would hope that we would just close our doors. But we would never let that happen. We just volunteered, worked without pay. We wouldn’t allow the government to do it... We wouldn’t go away. We just got stronger’.
Graeme also worked as a VAHS Bringing Them Home Worker, providing support, counselling and advocacy to members of the Stolen Generations.
Graeme has been an unforgettable leader and advocate for housing, justice services, and his Country.
Graeme served as a Director of Aboriginal Housing Victoria (AHV), and from 2006 as the Deputy Chairperson of the Board until his resignation in early 2015. He also served as a Director on the Board’s Finance, Audit and Risk Committee.
Not long after Victoria’s first Koori Court was established in 2002 under the Magistrates’ Court, Broadmeadows Koori Court commenced as the first metropolitan Koori Court. Graeme was appointed as a Koori Court Elder. In 2008, the County Court of Victoria also established a Koori Court, and he was appointed as an ‘Elder or Respected Person’. He has supported many community members at risk or in prison. Graeme was also a community representative on the Northern Metropolitan Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee.
Graeme was an active member of his Native Title Group, and he and his family continue to have strong connections to their Gunditjmara Country with family still living at Framlingham Aboriginal Trust (formerly known as Framlingham Mission).
With his strong leadership voice, Graeme advocated within national structures, as Chairperson of the former Tumbukka Regional Council, under the Commonwealth Government’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). Tumbukka advocated for services to improve the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of Aboriginal people in Victoria.
Graeme is a Life Member of the Fitzroy Stars Football and Netball Club (Fitzroy Stars). He was an original member of the Fitzroy Stars, which was established in 1973. Over time, Graeme held a variety of roles at the Fitzroy Stars, including captaincy and coaching. He was particularly interested in developing junior players, including at risk children. He was dedicated to helping young people who were at the former Baltara Reception Centre and Turana Youth Training Centre, including encouraging them to participate in Australian rules football.
In 2006, Graeme joined the Fitzroy Stars Revival Committee that later became the Fitzroy Stars Working Group and Negotiation Team, a decade long commitment that culminated in the successful revival of the Fitzroy Stars.
He has served as Deputy Chairperson of the Melbourne Aboriginal Youth, Sport and Recreation Co-operative Ltd (MAYSAR), established in 1982 as the Fitzroy Stars Aboriginal Community Youth Club Gymnasium Inc. by a group of founders that included several Austin family members.
His legacy at the Fitzroy Stars continued with his granddaughter becoming captain of the first ever woman's football team at the club.
Graeme’s four daughters, grandchildren and extended Austin family members hold him in great affection and esteem for his dedication to community self-determination, health and wellbeing, housing and justice.
Graeme’s inspiring and committed work over more than four decades to improve conditions, services and opportunities for his community is recognised and honoured to this day.
Reviewed 28 October 2022