A gentle warrior for reconciliation

A warrior for reconciliation, Mutthi Mutthi Wemba Wamba woman Vicki Clark was one of nine people inducted into the 2017 Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll on November 21.

Ms Clark, from Nyah, thanked traditional owners for allowing her to speak and live on country.

She sat on the honour roll's selection panel for six years before she was appointed by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Natalie Hutchins, to the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group, whose task is to provide advice and consultation on the next steps in a treaty making process in Victoria.

Ms Clark's mother, Joan Robinson, was one of the inaugural inductees in 2011.

"What an incredible honour it was to be on the panel, every year we got these big folders sent off with incredible stories of amazing Aboriginal people in Victoria," she said.

"When I found out my friends had nominated me, I told them not to waste their time because we have a backlog of people who should be on the roll.

"I was walking in the supermarket in Swan Hill when Aboriginal Affairs called me to say I was selected, I cried all the way through the store.

"I feel very honoured at this particular time."

Asked why it was an emotional occasion, Ms Clark said because it was the fact she had been recognised.

"You do things you do and just do it because it's in our DNA," she said.

"This award is a very high level, it's not everyday award to be inducted into the honour roll that sits in Parliament and travels around the state.

"People's footsteps are carved into this land and now to be seen as one of those people following those footsteps in the country is lovely recognition."

Ms Clark said she never aspired to be an Aboriginal leader, rather it was her community that wanted her to increase understanding of Aboriginal spirituality.

"The community actually makes you step up, they ask you to do things that can often be outside your boundaries and what capabilities you can perform," she said.

Ms Clark has worked to embody Aboriginal culture within the Catholic church and education system and to improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal children and youth. Ms Clark was born in Melbourne in 1961, the only child of parents Joan and Les Robinson.

Growing up, she was inspired by the actions of both her mother and her grandmother Alice Kelly.

Alice, who remained in the Balranald district for her whole life, was an activist for the recognition of Aboriginal culture heritage sites.

It was on Alice's country that the remains of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man were uncovered, respectively, in 1968 and 1974.

Alice recognised that the remains emphasised the long and enduring culture of Aboriginal people in her country and actively campaigned for the remains to be returned to country from the Australian National University.

Ms Clark learned at an early age that Aboriginal people's ceremonial culture extends back for many thousands of years.

She grew up in Melbourne and was educated in Catholic schools.

As a young woman and mother in the 1980s, she, with her mother Joan, were members of a small group of Aboriginal people who shared a Catholic upbringing and met regularly in private homes to discuss their faith and their Aboriginal spirituality.

When the group successfully received funding from the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne for a headquarters of their own, Ms Clark was asked to become the co-ordinator of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (ACM) in Victoria.

She would remain in this role for 25 years until 2015. Much of the focus of the ACM was on the Catholic school.

For Ms Clark, there were two reasons for this.

She developed curriculum materials about Aboriginal perspectives, spirituality and history for schools so that Aboriginal children could feel culturally safe and therefore begin to thrive within classrooms. 

To read more about this story, grab a copy of Wednesday's Guardian (November 29).