Agius, Auntie Josie




The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:57):

 I move:

                That this council—

  1. Expresses its deep regret at the passing of Aboriginal Elder, Aunty Josie Agius; and

  2. Places on record its appreciation and respect for her distinguished service to our state.


    Ngadlu, tampinthi ngadlu Kaurna yartangka inparrinthi. Kaurna miyurna yaitya mathanya Wama Tarntanyaku.

     Although my acknowledgment of country may lack in comparison to Auntie Josie's warm welcomes to Kaurna land, I acknowledge today that we gather on Kaurna land, and I rise to speak about the life and significant contributions that Ms Josie Agius, a proud Narungga, Kaurna, Ngarrindjeri and Ngadjuri woman, made to our state.

     All of us in this chamber today, and indeed many of those in our communities, would know Auntie Josie from her warm welcomes, those warm welcomes to Kaurna country, where she officiated at countless functions over many years. Auntie Josie, or Josie Agius, was born in Wallaroo on 2 April 1934 to Katie Edwards and Fred Warrior. She was one of five children. I extend my condolences to her children Kate, Raymond and Fred, to the wider Agius and Warrior families and to her many grandchildren and others who loved her.

     Although people remember her as a joyful presence, she was no stranger to sorrow, losing her father at the age of three, her brother when she was only 12 and her mother at the still tender age of 16. Nevertheless, Josie had many fond memories of her childhood. While she was growing up, her family moved around a lot and, after living in Point Pearce, Mile End and Leigh Creek, she left school at the very young age of 14, moving with her family to Alice Springs. There she immediately started her working life, taking on three jobs, including as a farm hand in Pine Point. She also worked at the Franklin Hotel in Adelaide and then in aged care.

     During the 1970s, Auntie Josie became one of our state's first Aboriginal health workers, becoming part of a team that developed a cultural framework for how hospitals and community health services deliver services to Aboriginal people in our state. From 1984 until 1991, Auntie Josie worked as an Aboriginal education worker at the Taperoo Primary School. There, she helped launch the Port Adelaide-based Kurruru Indigenous Youth Art Centre, and I know she is particularly loved by all at Kurruru and sorely missed there. Along with Kurruru, Josie contributed to many of the Aboriginal arts and cultural organisations in Adelaide, including Tandanya.

     In 1995, at the age of 61, when many contemplate retirement, Auntie Josie returned to school to study at Tauondi College. She studied tourism and the Kaurna language. In recognition of her obvious life-long commitment to learning, in 1998 she was appointed the South Australian Ambassador for Adult Learning. It was not her only recognition, achievement or award. Indeed, her community work saw her rightly recognised through the receipt of many awards and honours.

     She was appointed the NAIDOC Aboriginal of the Year in 1990. She was awarded the Centenary Medal, under the Australian honours system, for her service to the community, particularly youth, in 2001. She was inducted into the South Australian Women's Honour Roll in 2009 and in 2014 she was awarded the David Unaipon Award. She was appointed the Port Adelaide council's Aboriginal Person of the Year, the Ambassador for the Port Adelaide Power Cup and the patron of the 2014 and 2015 NAIDOC SA Awards. In 2014, Auntie Josie was also awarded the Premier's NAIDOC award as an extraordinary South Australian whose outstanding achievements and activities have made a significant difference to the lives and welfare of Aboriginal people in South Australia.

     A resident of Taperoo for 55 years, Auntie Josie was a proud and active member of the Port Adelaide community and, of course, a Port supporter (be that Adelaide or the Power). It was a fitting tribute that her funeral was held at the Alberton Oval. It was no surprise that in the mourners not only did we see the Governor and our Premier, but federal and state shadow ministers and ministers in attendance among the 1,000-plus strong who attended that day to respect Auntie Josie and her enormous contributions. They were there to farewell the woman who had so warmly welcomed us so many times.

     I first came across Auntie Josie when I was working in a collective, the International Women's Day collective, with many from the union movement and the feminist movement. I was asked to organise the Kaurna welcome. I had not done this before. I was given instructions that I was to contact Kurruru and I was to send a fax, and I duly sent that fax. I did not receive much of a response, but there she was on the day at the appointed time: Auntie Josie, and that was the first time that I met her, at that particular International Women's Day march back in the early 2000s.

     She was a real treasure to our state and I think she kicked off events in a way that was inimitable and belied her very short—'diminutive' is the word I am looking for—stature. Those very small shoes will be very hard to fill. She was a tireless advocate for reconciliation, a tireless advocate for the progress of not only her people but of all people of South Australia.

     She would speak to a crowd of sometimes thousands, sometimes hundreds, but she would also take the time to address smaller, more intimate gatherings, and she would do it with that same warm, cheeky humour and quick wit and she would do it with a compassion that I think is a very rare quality. She would come to the event to wish us a warm welcome to Kaurna land, and we would all feel welcomed by Auntie Josie, so it is fitting today that we farewell Auntie Josie as a council of the Parliament of South Australia and pay our respect and show our admiration for the amazing contribution she made in her life.

     Vale and rest in peace, Auntie Josie. Our state is richer and stronger as a result of all your service, goodwill and the love and welcome you gave us all.


Stay Connected

Sign Up to news and updates from Tammy.