A fireside yarn with Aunty Kellie Hunter

5th November 2021

Recently Aunty Kellie Hunter was appointed as Senior Cultural Operations Lead at AV. In this role, she will lead the integration of Culture into the way we work and provide care. Today she shares her personal story of connecting to Culture and how she has been supporting the integration of Culture at AV and with our young people.

“I want to see a Cultural strength at AV that young people can come to be proud of. To embed Culture and see the young people we’re working with become our future generation of leaders, of  knowledgeable Elders; standing strong and powerfully in who they are.” – Aunty Kellie Hunter

Tell us about your journey with Culture?

I was born in the Royal Women’s Hospital in Carlton in 1970. I am the middle child of six kids, five girls and one boy.  My father was a very proud Aboriginal man with Scottish heritage; he was a direct descendent of the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people. In 2005 my father passed on to his Dreamtime. My mother is of Australian Irish heritage. Our family travelled around Australia a lot; we were never in one place for more than six months. But we would always come back to Naarm (Melbourne) and spend a lot of time with my Aboriginal Nan and my Pop mainly living on Country. This was where my siblings and I learnt a lot about our Culture.

My Nan was the last female Aboriginal baby born on Coranderrk Mission in the 1920s. Nan—also known as Tiny or Aunty Jessie—moved with her parents and three siblings to live in North Melbourne, where she grew up being told not to identify as Aboriginal for fear of being taken.  She would often go back to Coranderrk to visit her grandmother Jemima Nevin and learn the ways of Culture—which back then required seeking permission and a permit from the government.

I remember we’d often go rabbiting, fishing, or hunting for eels or yabbies with Nan, and she would show us how to prepare the food and cook it. We’d listen as she would tell us stories about family and Culture. I was too young to understand the importance of it all, but I remember her stories.

My Dad was one of five boys. As he got older, he began to recognise the importance of his Culture and wanted to learn more. He immersed himself in researching and began working at the State Library in the city while studying Culture, history and ceremonies. It was through my Nan and my Dad that I learned the most about my Cultural connection.

Dad formed a group of young Aboriginal kids and taught us dance and other cultural learnings when I was young. This began my own journey of discovery of who I was and where I was from, empowering me to be strong and proud in Culture. Growing up, I was constantly bullied in school: called racial names, bashed up and picked on, but I stood my ground every time because I had my Culture, and my family behind me. I knew who I was. Those bullies only empowered me to become resilient.

These childhood memories and lived experiences are what I bring to my role at BY when working with our vulnerable kids in care. Every day I learn more and more about our Culture. I’m blessed to have my cousin Mandy Nicholson teach and share language with me (Woiwurrung) and grateful to work alongside Uncle Ian and other community members and Elders. Our Culture is still here. It isn’t lost. We still practice ceremony, and we still practice the old ways when we can. It’s my role, not only in AV but also in the community, to share what I know to pass that knowledge on, especially to our children. I can see things are changing in Aboriginal peoples’ fight for being recognised. There is more support by the wider community. It’s time for change, reconciliation and acknowledgement of First Nations people in this Country.

 “I want to focus on empowering our children, and a huge part of that is healing. Our kids have much trauma in their life, and they need to be on Country to heal. The BY Program is where our children get to do this. “Country needs healing, and our children need healing from Country. Its about connecting to mother earth and our Culture”

What drives you in your work to support young people in connecting to Culture?

My Dad always said to anyone who didn’t know their mob or didn’t feel they belonged anywhere, “Take my hand, come walk through Country. Together we will learn and support each other along the way.”  Now I use these words with the children we work with.

Children in care can be pretty weary of social supports; the average child meets dozens of workers. Uncle Ian and I focus on building meaningful connections. When we meet a young person for the first time, there is a little apprehension at first, but as soon as we start talking about Culture the nerves give way to smiles, and their faces light up. That’s the moment we start walking the path together. I know each connection we make is a lifetime friendship and connection. It might just be a slight change for someone at first, but those small changes make my role so meaningful.

Many of the kids we work with identify as Aboriginal, but they don’t have the personal connection to Culture and community that I had. So it’s powerful to me to be able to help them on their journey. In our (Buldau Yioohgen) program, these kids come along, and it’s like an introduction to Culture for them. They leave with more of a sense of who they are. It’s self-empowerment with Culture as a foundation.

“We try to be that one happy space they can come to, just to put all that other stuff aside as they regain their strength; to wake up the next day and go, OK yeah, I’ve got this, I can do this.”

What is your vision for strengthening Culture at AV?

I want to see a Cultural centre at AV that young people can come to be proud of. To embed Culture and see the young people we’re working with become our future leaders, our elders, standing strong and powerfully in who they are.

Coming to AV has been amazing. Working with the generous support and vision of Program Manager David and having an open door and full support of CEO Paul MacDonald is unique. There is a lot of integrity here. AV is walking the talk: the Staff, teams and all the Directors have done nothing but support Uncle Ian and me.

“I love working for AV. They’ve given us the flexibility to do what we need to do and to have input into policy and procedures all the way down to the programs.”

Back to news