First published on 20 May 2008. Updated on 13 Apr 2010.
At the age of 81, Auntie Sylvia Scott is a dignified silver haired lady with a gentle aura and sparkling eyes. She has met the Queen, welcomed dozens of foreign dignitaries, and the Dalai Llama has specially requested a welcome from her when he visits in 11th June. Her favourites include Princess Anne, and Gough Whitlam. "I love him and Margaret, She's really lovely person. No side on her. Very down to earth."
"I just say, welcome to the traditional land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation," she explains humbly, "welcome to our beautiful country, Australia."
Although she has lived in Redfern these past thirty years, Aunty Sylvia is a Wiradjeri woman, who grew up on the Erambie Aboriginal reserve in Cowra. She doesn't speak the language of her ancestors.
"We lost a lot of that growing up on the mission," she says, without bitterness. "The old people weren't allowed to speak the language. If they did, they stopped the rations, so the language just died. We used to know a little bit, but it's gone now."
In 1944, at seventeen, Silvia left the Cowra mission, to find work.
"I am the oldest of eleven children," she says simply. "The only work you could get in Cowra in the thirties and forties was domestic and that never paid very much so you'd come to Sydney to get a decent job so that you could send money back home to feed the rest of the kids."
For a country girl alone, the big city was a frightening place.
"I'd come down in the train in the nighttime and catch the train back in the morning. I used to get very homesick," she recalls, speaking very softly. "Trams were running then and you were always afraid to get on the wrong one and end up somewhere you didn't know."
Having secured a decent job in a paper factory in Waterloo, Scott moved in with her Aunt.
"I used to work five days a week eight hours a day for 3 dollars, that was 30 bob, and after board and so forth I had ten bob to spend," she says, laughing as the memories flood back. "You'd go to the pictures. You could buy yourself a pair of shoes. You could buy a nice dress. You could buy fruit. "
Although Scott says, "I never had the patience for kids or babies," she has spent her life looking after young ones. From the age of sixteen, when her mother fell ill, she assumed responsibility for her little brothers and sisters. In the early seventies, she worked with other Aboriginal women, boldly founding Murrawina pre-school for aboriginal children, one of the first Aboriginally run community organizations in Sydney. She served as the president for seventeen years. In the eighties Sylvia set up a general skills programs at Petersham TAFE, and worked at the Children's hospital in Camperdown as the Aboriginal health worker.
She says working at the hospital was "a very sad time. I'd meet up with parents and go with them to see the doctor, to tell them what was wrong with their children. I remember about three or four little ones who died."
After a lifetime's work, devoted to children and education, Aunty Sylvia retired in '87.
"I don't do anything now," she says, with typical understatement. In fact, Aunty Sylvia never stops. In honour of her decades of work for Sydney's Aboriginal communities, Scott she became a representative of the Gadigal people of Sydney Cove. But Aunty Sylvia is pretty low key when it comes to Aboriginal Rights movements.
"I'm not very political, actually." she says. "What I don't like is when they lump us all in together. If somebody does bad things in white society nobody blames the whole white race. I honestly think our people should be given more respect. We still don't have social justice and equality in this country."
This is why, when Aunty Sylivia welcomes people to Gadigal Country, she sometimes says, "neither of us are going to go away and we need to learn to live with one another. With respect."
1927 Born into the Wiradjeri tribe in Cowra, eldest of 11 kids, raised on Erambie Aboriginal reserve
1944 Moved to Sydney to find work to support her 10 brothers and sisters
1973 Works with Aboriginal women and founds Murrawina Pre-school
1978 Moves to Redfern after living in Waterloo
1987 Retires as Aboriginal health officer at Camperdown Children's Hospital
2006 Welcomes Princess Anne to Australia as a Gadigal elder
2008 Will welcome the Dalai Lama in June
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