Judy Jackson, a Gunggari woman and Elder, is regarded by many as the glue that binds the Aboriginal community in the City of Port Phillip. With wisdom gained from her own early struggles, she has helped make a difference to the health of many community members in Melbourne’s inner southern suburbs, earning universal respect and affection.
Better known as ‘Jacko’, Judy was born in Roma, Queensland to Edward an ex-serviceman who had served in Papua New Guinea during World War II, and May Jackson (nee Fernando). The oldest of the 5 Jackson children, Judy had 6 older siblings from her mother’s first marriage.
Family evenings around the campfire
Edward worked at ring barking, shearing and fencing, while May was a hotel cook who also took in washing. The family lived in a camp along with many other Aboriginal families until they were able to move into their own house. Judy remembers evenings around the campfire as her older brothers scared her with ghost stories.
There was not much time for childhood. As her younger sister suffered from rheumatic fever Judy was often kept home from school to care for her and carry out chores around the house, which was always overflowing with visitors. Judy left school in grade 6.
Judy was only 11 when a visitor to the house began to sexually abuse her. She attempted to run away twice, once getting as far as her uncle’s house almost 200 kilometres away. She was returned home to receive physical punishment from an older brother and little sympathy from her mother.
Sent to work as a domestic servant on a rural station at the age of 13, Judy ran away again, this time with Val, a girl working on a neighbouring property. They made for Brisbane, to the Convent of the Good Shepherd, where Val had grown up.
After 7 months at the convent, Judy was sent to work on a property near Rockhampton. At the time Queensland law allowed employers to retain the bulk of their Aboriginal employees’ wages in trust. Like many other workers, Judy never saw most of the money she earned at this job.
At 15 Judy set off for Brisbane again where two elderly women, Peggy and Betty, took her in. She worked at casual jobs, waitressing, cooking or in canning factories, with a social life based in inner city hotels. Judy met her first boyfriend, a merchant sailor, in a hotel, following him to Melbourne for a while. Pregnant with her first child, John, she returned to Brisbane to share a flat with Peggy, Betty and another friend, Pat. However Judy’s mother removed John from her when he was an infant. Judy later had a long-term relationship with a Swedish merchant sailor, Soren with whom she had 2 children, Lissa and Jason, in the early 1970s after she had settled back in the St Kilda area in Melbourne.
Though a drinker from the age of 15, Judy continued to work as a hotel cook and raise her children. However, when she was 50, ill-health made her swear off alcohol. Judy volunteers at Inner South Community Health As a client of Inner South Community Health (ISCH), a not for profit community health service based in the City of Port Phillip, Judy began to offer her services as a volunteer. At first she put her energies into attending family violence meetings.
Wominjeka community barbecues
Judy always remembered that the St Kilda ‘parkies’ befriended her when she first arrived in Melbourne in 1967. Many were homeless Aboriginal people who gathered daily in the public gardens near Fitzroy Street. Judy encouraged ISCH to adopt new approaches to reach out to the ‘parkies’, such as holding committee meetings down at the park. At their request, Judy asked the City of Port Phillip to support a weekly barbecue. With Council funding, ISCH auspiced what became known as the Wominjeka community barbecue for homeless people. Now in its eleventh year the barbecue enables health workers and other service providers to meet informally with community members to tackle issues such as housing or accessing social support. Judy is proud that the number of ‘parkies’ has come down from 30 or 40 to just a handful.
Share a meal and a yarn
Judy was also instrumental in initiating fortnightly lunches at ISCH’s Our Rainbow Place, where the local Aboriginal community get together to share a meal and a yarn. For 16 years Judy has shopped and prepared food for the lunches in her own home, promoting healthy food and encouraging community members to keep in touch with each other.
In 2009 she helped run a possum skin cloak workshop led by well-known artist Vicky Couzens for residents of the Winja Ulupna Drug and Alcohol Recovery Centre for women. The participants designed panels for the cloak while discussing ways of preventing cervical cancer. The cloak now hangs in ISCH’s foyer in St Kilda.
Judy has also participated in an ISCH documentary to help local Aboriginal people tackle smoking issues. The documentary, Smoke Freeand Deadly, has been shortlisted for a 2016 VicHealth award.
Judy performs Acknowledgements to Country
With permission from Boonwurrung Elder, Caroline Briggs, Judy performs acknowledgements to country at events within the City of Port Phillip when no Boonwurrung Elder is available. She is often asked to raise the Aboriginal flag at official council or agency functions. Judy is also a long-standing member of the Urban South Local Aboriginal Network. After years of community work, Judy has also put her practical experience into formal study. At the age of 60 she gained a Certificate IV in Community Development.
Judy has received a number of awards for her outstanding community work
These include several Frances Pennington Housing Week Awards for volunteering, Life Membership of Inner South Community Health Service and most recently, an Outstanding Achievement by a Volunteer Supporting Diversity Award from the Victorian Minister of Health.
Judy’s life has not been without tragedy. Her son, John, died at the age of 20 and her early years were filled with sadness. Although modest about her achievements, her innate capacity to give generously to so many others has made the rest of her life much happier.