Aunty Marion Hansen was born 16 November 1950 on the New Mission in Moree (NSW) in the middle of a flood and was delivered by her aunt. A Kamilaroi woman, Marion is particularly proud her birth certificate states she was born on the mission, and on her Country.
Shortly after Marion was born, the family moved back to Glen Innes, where Marion’s father worked as a tracker. There, her two younger brothers were born. After the tracker work ceased, the family returned to the mission for a short time to live with her aunt. Marion went to school on the mission, a one-room building with approximately 40 children. Her parents always wanted a better life, so Marion’s father soon secured railway employment as a fettler at Bellata, south of Moree. The family lived in railway tents for nearly 10 years, and during that time her two sisters were born.
Marion’s family was the only Aboriginal family in Bellata. She considers living in Bellata as some of the best times in her life. Her fondest memories include joining the local children swimming, playing cricket and rounders; and raising angora rabbits and motherless lambs. She went to high school at Narrabri, 42 kilometres further south, because her parents wanted her to complete her education without the constant influence of racism, which was rife in Moree at the time.
When Marion was about fifteen her father’s railway job finished and the family moved to Moree. Marion secured a job as a telephonist at the Moree Post Office, where she worked until her early twenties. She and her cousin were the only two Aboriginal employees. The high Aboriginal population in Moree was subjected to harsh restrictions, with apartheid-like segregation at hotels, the pool, and movie theatres. In 1965, she witnessed Charlie Perkins come through the town on the Freedom Ride.
Having been encouraged by her mother to enter the competition, Marion won the 1969 NSW Miss NADOC (now NAIDOC) Award. Prizes included a trip to Sydney where the Lord Mayor gave her the keys to the city. In Sydney, Marion met a man and married. They moved to Brisbane where their two sons were born, and then relocated to Melbourne in 1973. Marion then became a single parent and had one more son in 1981.
In 1975, Marion commenced work as an Aboriginal Health Aide (a role soon changed to Aboriginal Health Liaison Officer) at Dandenong Hospital and St Vincent’s Hospital, supporting families to safely navigate the hospital system. She stayed in this line of work until the mid-Eighties and was diligent in ensuring clients understood the importance of following patient care plans and medication usage.
Along with Richard Ambrose, Marion recognised a need for residential rehabilitation services for Aboriginal people. She is a founding member of Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation (Ngwala Willumbong). She established the Winja Ulupna Women’s Recovery Centre and has managed the Galiamble Men’s Recovery Centre.
Marion also served four three-year terms at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) as Regional Councillor, Chairperson, and Victorian Commissioner (two terms). As ATSIC Victorian Commissioner, Marion worked across the state, nationally and internationally. She has represented Aboriginal people at the United Nations (UN) in New York on numerous occasions, and in Geneva, sitting across the table from government. The papers Marion presented at the UN addressed health, substance abuse, and women’s and human rights.
This role also included being a signatory to the first Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA) in 2000, the landmark justice partnership between Aboriginal communities and the Victorian Government. The Agreement established a network of Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committees (RAJACs), which formed an Aboriginal Justice Caucus to advise the Government.
Between ATSIC terms, Marion was instrumental in establishing recurrent funding for Radio 3KND Kool 'N' Deadly. (As a musical aside, Marion was once part of the all-female country band, Ebon Koorines (Black Daughters), and she later joined Archie Roach’s band.) She then secured funding to establish Djirra (initially known as the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service). Launched in 2002, Djirra offers services for Aboriginal women and young people and is now a network of seven regional offices, delivering programs across Victoria. Marion has served as Djirra’s Chairperson for almost twenty years.
Marion has provided influential leadership advocating for a better justice system for Victoria’s Aboriginal community. She chaired the Caucus Working Group on Family Violence, established following the 2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, to promote self-determination and cultural safety in the Victorian justice system’s response to family violence. In 2020, as Co-Chair of the Caucus together with Tony Lovett, Marion presented Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja (Senior Leaders Talking Strong), the fourth AJA. She is also Chairperson of the Southern Metropolitan RAJAC, which covers 10 Local Government Areas. In 2019, she was appointed to the Youth Parole Board of Victoria.
Following her second term as an ATSIC Commissioner, Marion returned to Ngwala Willumbong as Manager of Residential Programs, and then from 2010-2013, she worked as a Project Officer for the Closing the Gap initiative at the Department of Health. There, she advocated for Aboriginal Gathering Places to gain Neighbourhood House status to attract government funding.
Marion retired from full-time work in 2016 to care for her son. She continues to be active for community through her roles on committees and boards. For her local community, she has been a member of the Dandenong & Districts Aborigines Co-operative Ltd for more than 30 years and she was elected to its board in 2021. Marion is also currently the Chairperson of Ngwala Willumbong.
Marion is a highly regarded Elder and champion of change who enables and promotes self-determination for the Aboriginal community. A Victorian Justice Award recipient and a winner of a 3CR Community Award, she was awarded the Frankston/Mornington Peninsula NAIDOC Elders Award in 2020 for her leadership and advocacy work.
Marion also acts as a powerful conduit between community and the Victorian Government, non-government organisations, and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. A passionate solutions seeker, Marion is clearing a path forward for all of us.