Lessons from an Elder

Pauline Mackinnon and Aunty Pat Ockwell with the wonderfully-presented life-story. 240276_01 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Aunty Pat Ockwell’s life story is a message.

As a revered senior Wurundjeri elder, she now has a fervent urge to pass lessons learnt from her elders to younger minds.

This is as it has been done for tens of thousands of years.

In a 250-page, lusciously illustrated biography, ‘Aunty Pat Ockwell Tells Her Story’, she traces 84 years of life and her deep family connections.

There is also the story of a tireless community servant in justice, housing, and hostels in Dandenong and across Australia.

She is renowned for getting young lives back on track and out of jail, such as by sitting on the Koori Court as an Elder for 14 years.

“I wanted to help the younger ones coming up in the future,” Aunty Pat says.

“I thought if I did a book, I could put a lot of stuff in it for the younger ones to read. And to teach them about life and what it was like.”

The book took two-and-a-half years, including 12 months of Covid disruptions that limited her contact with collaborator Pauline Mackinnon to chats on the phone.

“This book means a lot to me. It tells the story of my family, and it goes right back to the start.”

She starts with her Mum and Dad.

When Aunty Pat was born in 1937, her mother Martha Terrick and husband Patrick Nicholson lived with her grandmother Jessie Jemima Wandin Terrick in Collingwood.

At the time, her father served with the Royal Australian Air Force.

Her childhood memories are of growing up in Healesville – an area with strong connection for the Terrick family.

Seeking seasonal farm and orchard work, they travelled the countryside as a family in an old truck that her Dad converted into a caravan.

Along the way, they camped. The kids woke early to hunt, kill and prepare their food for breakfast, such as rabbit.

“We knew how to do all that stuff. We were taught by our uncles and mum the way to do things, and how to live off the land.

“We grew up with a lot of experiences – that’s where we picked up a lot of knowledge while travelling around.”

As a kid, she remembers running and playing around the middle of the dried-up salty Lake Boga. Recently, she saw it full of water and pelicans.

“It’s so beautiful up there now.”

In 1958, she married Woori Yallock farmer Ted Ockwell, and mothered six children.

Inspired by elders before her, Aunty Pat’s service has been devoted to trying to help her people.

Her Auntie Winnie – a very important Wurundjeri leader – said that when she was gone, Aunty Pat would have to “step up”.

And she did.

She’s served on the board of Dandenong and District Aborigines Co-operative, as well as the Wurundjeri Tribe Council, Aboriginal Community Elders Services and Aboriginal Housing Victoria.

She started domestic work at the Roy Harrison (Gunai) Hostel in Dandenong, helping students, the homeless and interstate visitors.

She progressed to a national manager of Aboriginal Hostels Limited, talking the nitty-gritty of enterprise bargaining in hostels as far flung as the NT.

In her introduction to her book, she writes: “It is still very difficult times for all our people.

“So, we must create a way for our people, and especially our young ones, to hear the stories of their Elders.

“So they learn about who they are and learn to be proud.”

Aunty Pat Ockwell Tells Her Story is available for sale through Aunty Pat for $50.

Contact: Pauline Mackinnon at bonesy.mackinnon@gmail.com or 0418 429 025

It will be available at the Melbourne Museum, and some other book stores, at a higher price.