Aunty Dr Matilda House-Williams
Aunty Dr Matilda House-Williams is a proud Ngambri (Kamberri) Wallabalooa (Ngunnawal) and Wiradyuri Elder. She is, and always was, a powerhouse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advocacy. Aunty Dr Matilda was born in 1945 on Erambie Aboriginal Mission at Cowra in country New South Wales and is 1 of 10 children. She was raised in her grandparents’ house at Hollywood Aboriginal Reserve in Yass, NSW, and was taken to Parramatta Girls Home when she was 12. Aunty Dr Matilda returned to her Ancestral Country in Canberra in 1963 and has been actively involved in Indigenous Affairs in the Canberra region since.
After returning to Canberra, in the early 1960s, Aunty Dr Matilda married and began raising her family of four children on Ngambri Country. In the mid to late 1960’s up until 1967, Aunty Dr Matilda worked behind the scenes in the community and Canberra region to help educate Australians on the Yes vote for the 1967 Referendum. In the early 1970’s she began working as an Aboriginal liaison/social officer at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra, assisting Aboriginal people with health, education, welfare and employment.
In 1972, Aunty Dr Matilda was also one of the original protestors who established the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972. Aunty Dr Matilda and the Williams family provided leadership and family support during the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the Lawns of Old Parliament House. Aunty Dr Matilda was also part of establishing the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) in the 1980s, and has continued this work more recently through her membership of the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee.
Dr Aunty Matilda played a key role in establishing Winnunga-Nimmityjah Aboriginal and Community Services in 1982. The Aboriginal Health Service (AMS) is still serving the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community today. Aunty Dr Matilda also founded the Ngambri Land Council in Queanbeyan NSW in 1984, alongside her two brothers. To this day, the Land Council continues to support the local community.
Aunty Dr Matilda also has deep care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth and young people, and plays a key role in working with schools, families and the education system to ensure that all young First Nations people have the right and access to education, which our people were once denied. Notably, Aunty Dr Matilda established the Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre at the Australian National University (ANU) in 1989, which still provides support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students today.
Aunty Dr Matilda has also served on the first ACT Heritage Council, the Queanbeyan Regional Council of the former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), the Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, the Tent Embassy Advisory Committee and the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Consultative Council. She has also acted as an ACT honorary ambassador.
As is her door, the gate to Aunty Matilda’s country has always been open to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is reflected in her support of the 1992 Mabo decision and the 1996 Wik decision where Aunty Matilda supported the families and celebrated with them, the iconic victories. Aunty Matilda is vocal supporter for the inclusion of Torres Islander peoples and culture.
In 1997, Aunty Dr Matilda’s involvement in Indigenous Affairs led to her delivering the Welcome to Country at Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation's ‘Sea of Hands’ installation, and contributing to the Bringing Them Home report into the Stolen Generations.
Aunty Dr Matilda has conducted the Welcome to Country Ceremony protocol for many significant events such as the opening of the Tjabal Centre at the ANU, opening of the Ngunnawal Student Centre at the University of Canberra in 1990, Nelson Mandela’s visit to Australia in 1990, and the Dalai Lama’s visit in 1992.
In 2006, Aunty Dr Matilda was named Canberra Citizen of the Year by ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope MLA. She accepted the award wearing traditional possum skins, gaining a standing ovation from over 400 people.
In February 2008, On the Eve of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, Aunty Matilda became the first person to perform the Welcome to Country protocol at the opening of the 42nd Parliament of Australia. Since then, Aunty Matilda has opened the 43rd, 44th and 47th Parliament of Australia. During her opening of the 47th Parliament of Australia, robed in her iconic possum skin cloak, and supported by her family, she passed down the responsibility to her son, Paul Girrawah House – to carry on this cultural tradition into the future.
In 2017, Aunty Dr Matilda’s lifelong commitment to her community was recognised by the ANU, with the conferral of the Degree of Doctor. In the little spare time she has in her ‘retirement’, Aunty Dr Matilda also illustrates children’s books. This has included the Tales of Ngambri History series, that are now circulated in ACT schools and painted works that have been in exhibitions. Dr House-Williams shares and promotes an understanding and respect for Ngambri, Wallabalooa and Wiradyuri cultures through education. She has also been enjoying spending her ‘down time’ time making traditional possum skin cloaks.
Aunty Dr Matilda continues to work tirelessly in her community, providing advice, mentorship and support to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who ask. Those who know her personally vouch that she does not rest and continues to work for First Nations Peoples without any days off. Aunty Dr Matilda opens her heart, her home and Country to all community who need her.
Despite the adversity and challenges that she endured for being born into a generation that didn’t accept her, Dr Matilda House-Williams faced these head on, blazing new trails in the process. Aunty Matilda is a proud, strong, kind, yet fierce Blak Matriarch, who has created a legacy by forging new pathways for First Nations Women and our Mobs more broadly.