For Joan

“The Indigenous Australians showed me a depth of loyalty and love that was unique to me – the greatest gift in my life is to be aware and respectful of the past spirit that lives here” – Joan

I am both honoured and heart-broken to be speaking here today – one of the most important acknowledgments of an individual I will ever do in my life time

Throughout my life, my relationship with Joan was ever changing and growing

I begin with my child hood, being one of the many children loved by Joan and Russell. Myself, my sister Alkira and brother Will grew up within the tight-knit clan we had within this community. It was special, safe, challenging but so so fun. Joan was one of our matriarchs, our guidance, our fiery advocate and our teacher. 

Joan was never too restrictive of our imaginations, allowing our wild spirits to roam freely at the old Kooroocheang house and later at the Yandoit House. Kooroocheang was so special and withholds so many memories with Joan. 

The only thing we weren’t allowed to do was climb the rocks in the distance. One night Me Juno and Alkira planned to get up at sunrise and sneak out to the rocks, we had food packed to eat breakfast there, we would have been about 10 yrs. old. We woke up as soon as the sun rose and trekked it to the rocks. We thought we were so smart and deadly, sitting up high on what I now realise were really dangerous. Our nice little plan came crashing down when we saw Joan screaming, yelling, waving her hands from the distance ripping us to get off the rocks. 

Joan always had our back as kids, whether it be writing us endless notes with made up reasons as to why we weren’t wearing school uniform or why we hadn’t done our homework. Joan always made us aware of what it meant to be a good person, a person that walked the land with respect and awareness’s and always uplifted mine and my siblings’ spirits in drilling into us how proud we need to be of our Indigenous culture and family lines.

I have so many special memories with Joan as a child but what became even more powerful in my journey was the connection Joan and I developed as I became older. Joan and I became this unstopple force in this town advocating for change, respect and truth telling and god we did it well. One of the best fights we had was taking on the sale of that church in Glenlyon, successfully stopping an Auction from occurring and successfully forcing the Anglican Church of Australia to donate part of the sale of the property to the Traditional Custodians. This was of course at the time being backed by our third partner in crime, Uncle Les Mcdonald. 

Joan also mentored me through the journey I was on in being a kinship carer, I would always arrive at Joans with different kids, most consistently with Tinjani and Joey. Joan became a soft motherly figure to Tinjani and Joey, they would both often hassle me to bring them out to Joan’s. Joan would always have something sweet for the kids, not too sweet though. I would always say to them to say thank you, Joan would quickly butt in “oh we don’t say thank you around here”. 

Joan taught me the importance of doing my research before letting lose on any issue I was angry about. While most of my friends in their 20s were out partying or hungover on their Sundays, I was sitting at Joan’s house drinking endless cups of tea made by Russell, ruffling through old books, newspapers, finding any precedents already set or backing ourselves up with reasoning for a new, never attempted change. 

Over these cups of tea, Joan was one of the very few people that witness the doubt I had in myself at times and the impact the racism in this town was having on me. Joan would comfort me on one hand and on the other hand show me what tough love and mentoring was.

I once said to Joan in a message that I was exhausted and broken. She replied:

“Oh darling, resting never broken… love you and here for you always, you are a unique leader, we need you sissy, the unjust world needs you sissy…  here for you to walk in the door and our eyes will look up with respect and adoration” 

Joan was fearless and instilled in us as kids to live outside of the “norm” and never be quiet about any injustice, especially the injustices facing Indigenous peoples’ in this country.

Joan was persistent, whether it be never giving up on advocating tirelessly for change or persistent in hassling me. I had a laugh last night when I was looking at old messages between Joan and I. 

Joan always felt so deeply for the ones she loved so much, often when I would arrive at Joan’s I would have something shit happening, as I would speak Joan’s eyes would fill up with tears, It always made me sad but it also showed me how much she loved me and how much I loved her.

The gap in age between Joan and I never felt so, Joan was most times more motivated and fired up than me. Joan was excellent at mobilising the masses and strategically getting all the right people involved and also knowing exactly who and what to target. There was never any mucking around that’s for sure.

The year before last I was struggling deeply with my mental health, Joan would comment on absolutely everything on my social media without missing anything. There was a moment within sadness of a tree on Djab Wurrung Country being destroyed and someone graffitied my portrait onto a bridge in Melbourne in support of me and my people, I was shocked and so honoured. Joan commented on this post something I have re-read a million times over. She said:

“When the little stream runs dry the magic skies open and replenish her so that she can continue to activate new life and energise that thirsty land from within. You are so special”

Before COVID hit, Joan reminded me every weekend that she was waiting for me to take her for the lunch at the Chocolate Mill, I am so sad we never made it there Joan. 

As Joan became sick, her purpose on this earth became stronger and her determination to get all of her knowledge into physical form was unmatched. My last two visits with Joan were spent doing what felt like that last-minute rush to get an assignment done or rushing as though we were about to miss a train, much to my broken heart it will be my last treasured memories with Joan, what a legacy. Joan has of course left me with so much to do and I know I am not the only one, she made sure I knew exactly who else was to continue the fight. 

Russell, thank you so much for the cups of tea and coffee, and for being the peaceful calm presence that balanced out the often fired up environment in the house. 

To Woody, Mia and Juno, thank you for sharing your mum with all of us, especially myself, Will and Alkira. I am so glad we grew up together and thank Bunjil for bringing our two worlds into one. 

And lastly, thank you to Dja Dja Wurrung Land. This land was Joan’s safety, Joan’s purpose in life. Joan has left with so many truths to be told about the spirit of this land and I have already pre-warned the locals of this town that although Joan’s physical form has left us, her fight will continue through me and others, I will keep the fire burning. 

Joan, thank you for everything. I hope that our bond inspires others. May you fly safely on the wings of Bunjil to the dreaming, where your spirit will rest. 

Joan I’ve got this, we’ve got this. May you rest, as we rise.

I will love you forever and miss you until we hug again

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