Aunty Carolyn

Posted 29 Jul 16

By Kate ten Buuren

Aunty Carolyn Briggs is a Boon Wurrung Elder, a Traditional Custodian of the Melbourne Region. Cultural protocols are the foundation of all Kalinya work and we have had the pleasure of working with, and seeking guidance from, Aunty Carolyn on a number of projects. Together we created a custom Cultural Tour for NATSIEC called Caring For Sea Country. Delegates joined Aunty Carolyn on a river cruise to hear Creation Stories and learn more about Boon Wurrung connection to the land and sea.  

“Do you like Japanese food?” Aunty Carolyn asks as I jump into her Toyota Tarago. She laughs at me for getting lost in St. Kilda as we drive towards the Elwood café.

When our meals arrive, she jokes with the owner of the restaurant about the crunchiness of the tofu and mentions a trip to Japan she took with one of her eight grandchildren. “Every year I save up my pennies and take one of my grandchildren overseas.”

We talk about her life growing up on the Edwards River, being treated differently to her brothers and sisters because of her skin tone, her time fruit picking in Mildura and being an Elder.

She graciously reminds me that an Elder is not simply a person older than you, but someone who makes you feel like you belong. A person who listens as they teach.

Aunty Carolyn makes me feel like I belong.

Sharing lunch with her reinvigorates my sense of pride in my Taungurung heritage, and although she is an elder of Wiradjuri, Wemba Wemba and Boon Wurrung background, she treats me like one of her own.

The welcoming and caring presence that Aunty Carolyn emits with me is one that she wants to extend to all Indigenous women.

“Throughout colonial recordings, no one ever talks about the strength of our women.”

“Maybe we are the best kept secret.”

“It’s not a new emergence, Aboriginal women being strong. We’ve always been strong. Whether it was on the missions speaking up against what was happening or just sharing our stories.”

“We have to invest in our personal and collective energies, so that we all become a part of the same story.”

Aunty Carolyn attributes her great-great grandmother Louisa Briggs as one of the many women who have influenced her in becoming the driven person she is today.

She has dedicated her life to creating spaces where Indigenous people can express their culture.

With a million ideas for new businesses, projects and activities for community sprouting in her mind each day, Aunty Carolyn is an entrepreneur with no plan on slowing down.

So what’s next on the agenda?

“It has to be about women.”

“Running activities for women to become closer, stronger, more confident in their culture and just have to opportunity to sit down and have a yarn with one another.”

“Having a council of women who have equal say in what happens. We need to create strong voices, for a stronger community.”

Photo: Kate ten Buuren