Celebrating Elders this NAIDOC Week

Em Maguire reflects on the leadership of First Nations matriarchs

It’s a typical Melbourne winter morning. A brisk breeze blows through the city streets as people gather in Federation Square on Wurundjeri land in the heart of Naarm.  

We are here for the official flag-raising ceremony for NAIDOC week. It’s a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and culture, and a time to reflect on this year’s theme: For Our Elders. In speeches, in song, and in silence together, the power of First Nations Elders shines through.  

A crowd attends the 2023 NAIDOC Week flag raising event in Federation Square

It was a privilege to hear from this year’s Victorian NAIDOC award winners (Alan Thorpe, Elvis Carter, Brodie Murray and Milla Morgan) about the strength and influence Elders have had in the lives of First Nations people. In particular, the matriarchs whose influence is a thread linking generation after generation. The women who have nurtured, fought for, loved and supported their communities throughout the history of the world’s oldest continuous living culture.    

They are the matriarchs who have led the way on preventing violence against women and family violence since the advent of colonisation. Their dedication to the safety and care of women and children, to justice and human rights, and to ensuring cultural knowledge is prevention and community care in action.  

Victoria would not be where it is today on prevention without the trailblazing leadership of First Nations matriarchs. Those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to ending this violence owe a debt to these women. We have much to learn from them. When the task is daunting, their ongoing legacy reminds us what strength, leadership and resilience looks like.  

Celebrating and acknowledging First Nations Elders is not confined to a week. But NAIDOC is an opportunity for Victorians - particularly non-Indigenous Victorians - to educate ourselves. It’s an opportunity to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, history, and teachings. To understand the immense contributions of First Nations matriarchs and Elders to this country.  

Here are a few suggestions to start you on your way: 

  • Take a trip to Drouin Civic Park in West Gippsland to see the recently revealed bronze sculpture, Three Kurnai Women on Country, depicting Matriarchs Dorothy Hood, Euphemia Mullet Tonkin and Regina Rose.  

And finally, join the NAIDOC March this Friday 7 July, starting from the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service in Fitzroy. Head to the NAIDOC March Facebook page for more information. Bring along your family, friends and colleagues, and say hello if you see the Respect Victoria banner.  

This NAIDOC Week and always, we’ll be celebrating and learning about the incredible impact that First Nations Elders continue to have on our community. Join us.  


Em Maguire is the CEO of Respect Victoria. She lives and works on Wurundjeri land.