Celebrating the life of a powerful woman

AUNTI ELSIE: A friend to everyone she met. Elsie Jackson will be remembered in life, not death, for her tireless dedication to bridging the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
AUNTI ELSIE: A friend to everyone she met. Elsie Jackson will be remembered in life, not death, for her tireless dedication to bridging the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

When Elsie Jackson’s father passed away when she was just four years old, she took her two-year-old brother Charles by the hand and assured him everything would be okay.

Since then, the number of hands that she held is too many to count.

She touched countless lives and in her passing, she will be remembered for her unwavering patience, understanding and kindness.

Affectionately known as Auntie Elsie, she was a proud woman who grew up on the Neppabunna Mission in the northern Flinders Ranges. 

Elsie was the second youngest in a family of 14, she and her youngest brother Charles were inseparable. 

She always reminisced fondly of her childhood growing up on the Mission and unlike many others at the time, her experience was a positive one. 

Elsie went to the Neppabunna School for only a short time, but it was here that she found her passion. 

She worked on a voluntary basis as a teacher’s aide, educating students about Aboriginal culture and engagement.

David Amery, head teacher at the time, recognised the value of Elsie’s work and attempted to get her employed in an official capacity with the Department of Education.

At the time there were no Aboriginal people employed within the South Australian education sector and Mr Amery’s request was denied.

Mr Amery valued Elsie’s wealth of skills so highly that he paid out of his own salary to employ her for the remainder of the 1966 school year. 

The following year Elsie was placed on the Education Department’s payroll, making her the first Aboriginal Teacher Aide to be employed in a state school in South Australia. 

Elsie’s brother Charles said she had the power to be able to draw people to her and never had to go out of her way to connect with people.

“If you ever look at my sister’s journey, it’s no coincidence what she done here in Port Augusta, it started from way back then,” Charles said.

“She had very little educational background … she never really went to school, but she was who she was.”

After moving to Port Augusta, Elsie worked tirelessly as a mediator between Aboriginal families and teachers.

She dedicated her time to bridging the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, teachers and community members. 

Elsie believed in practicing what she preached and returned to school in 1992 to complete an Aboriginal Studies course with a perfect score. 

Charles said his sister was a quiet achiever and even he didn’t realise she had so many accomplishments to her name. 

“A lot of people will do what they can to get recognition but my sister, she was born into this world for a purpose,” he said.

Most of us, wherever we go, we are in a hurry all the time but my sister never did that, she had time to think and as a result she was able to exercise a gift to touch other people.

Charles Jackson

“Most of us, wherever we go, we are in a hurry all the time, but my sister never did that, she had time to think and as a result she was able to exercise a gift to touch other people.”

Her infectious smile and laugh transcended generations — from the people that she made contact with 30 years ago to their children — Charles said everybody knew and loved Auntie Elsie.

He said his sister had the ability to mingle with royalty, premiers, mayors and senior government officials and yet she would bow and communicate with a child attending their first day of pre-school. 

Elsie was generous to all, she would often run into people who would tell her of their struggles and a day later she would be knocking on their door with a bag full of goodies. 

“I used to sit and say to her, ‘Hey Wooly, did you know you’re like the meals on wheels, feeding the 5000?’, and she would laugh about it,” he said.

Charles said the big thing his sister taught him was respect and how to show respect to other people no matter who they are.

“When we would sit back home and we would be talking some way she would address anybody as Auntie or Uncle and I would say, ‘Hang on they’re not related to you’,” he said.

“But I’ve come to accept that it’s a sign of respect, if someone acknowledges you then you return that respect and that’s the sort of person she was.

“Everyone, even the Premier, addressed her as Auntie Elsie because she was just so respected in the community.”

Elsie never married or had children of her own, but was often heard saying that she considered everyone as her children. She had a strong sense of independence and her focus in life was to make herself available to everybody. 

Her presence was so heavily felt in the community that over 600 people attended her memorial ceremony.

“This community has been fantastic,” Charles said. 

“But as a society we don’t need special events to bring us all together, why cant we do it all the time? Because that is Elsie’e legacy.”

Charles said he knew how special Elsie was in his family, but he didn’t realise her true scope and how special she was to all the people in that service of 600. 

He said he continues to learn new things about his sister even in her passing as he meets people whose lives she touched. Elsie Jackson was instrumental in Aboriginal culture for many people and her memory will live on as her work in bridging the gap is continued by others.