In remembrance of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains images, voices and names of deceased person.
Foundation Board Member from 1998
Jilpia’s life began in 1945 in the Walmadjari Nation, also known as the Great Sandy Desert, located in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. She was removed from her mother at the age of 5 and taken to another country called Queensland.
Jilpia not only learned English, a foreign language, but triumphed to graduate, as one of the first Aboriginal women in General Nursing, Midwifery and Ophthalmology. “Studying nursing gave me knowledge but also the skills to stand up and be counted” said Jilpia on her experience. In 1971, Jilpia worked at a local hospital in Cairns when she received the call to work with other Aboriginal activists to establish the first community controlled medical service in Sydney, Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service.
In 1975, Jilpia, spent two years travelling to remote areas of Australia, working with the late Professor Fred Hollows and his team as part of the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program. Jilpia went on to complete a Churchill Trust Scholarship in 1979, in which she completed her postgraduate studies at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital.
Through her work as part of the program, Jilpia had the opportunity to return to her home country of the Walmadjari Nation. There she was reunited with her mob and her mother. Jilpia was under the impression that her mother had passed away, as that was what she had been told when she was stolen from her home. Members of her mob affectionately referred to her as ‘lost little girl’ in their native tongue.
In 1995, Jilpia received the Member of the Order of Australia in recognition for her contributions to remote First Nations health resources, with particular acknowledgement for her work in ophthalmology and obstetrics. An Australian Centenary Medal followed in 2003. Adding to her accolades, in 2003, Jilpia graduated from the Australian National University with degrees in Political Science and History. Jilpia was also on the ACT Sentencing Board and saw her role as being a strong social activist advocating for the rights and social justice of Aboriginal people.
In 2007, Jilpia was recognised by her people as a Traditional Owner to her country by her birthright.
Jilpia has been on the journey of the Foundation since its beginnings, over 20 years ago. Jilpia was one of the ‘originals’. She shared Roberta’s vision to provide Indigenous women with the opportunity to study overseas at a top tier university and to bring back the knowledge and insight gained to contribute to the advancement of their communities.
Roberta, Jilpia and the small band of ‘originals’ built the Foundation by hand, from the ground up. No corporate funding. No government funding. They raised hundreds of thousands of dollars $10 and $20 at a time through cake drives, BBQs and button holing individual donors.
Through her many years on the Foundation, Jilpia was our guardian of Roberta’s key guiding principle in selecting students for the scholarship – the commitment to contribute to community on return from their overseas study. Hers was always the wrap up question in interviews: ‘love, how will this help us back here?’
Jilpia also would have a practical wisdom for the students. While they carried a responsibility to community, she also would tell them to make sure that they took the unique opportunity of living away from Australia to breathe, to have some fun. In difficult issues we sometimes confronted with candidates, she showed a humanity drawn from her own life experience.
Her legacy from her involvement with the Foundation will be the future contributions that the scholars and bursary recipients make to change for indigenous Australians and the Australian community as a whole.
Jilpia passed away on 28 October 2021.