Community engagement

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Reg Blow

Reg Blow1939-2012

A caring and pragmatic leader

Uncle Reg Blow was an Elder whose years of dedicated service to the Indigenous community included roles across government, community-run organisations and peak bodies. With patience and compassion, he taught people about Aboriginal spirituality in an effort to heal emotional wounds, and cultivate dignity and pride where it has been lost.

Reg was born in 1939 and raised in Rockhampton, Queensland. His father was a Kumbumerri man named Amos Blow, and his mother, Edith, was from the Gureng Gureng nation. They had seven children. Although Reg completed no formal education, his father, a boat skipper, instilled in him a strong work ethic.

At the age of 14 years, Reg got his first job, at a meatworks. Seasonal work in factories and on sugar plantations followed throughout his teenage years. He grew tobacco for a time, as part of a share farm arrangement with his brother-in-law, and used the earnings to support his family.

In 1966, Reg moved to Victoria, having met and married his wife Walda, a Yorta Yorta woman from Cummeragunja, while she was visiting Queensland. They went on to have four children.

After a period spent living in Echuca, the couple moved to Melbourne and ultimately settled in Dandenong. Reg drove trucks for the Gas and Fuel Corporation, where he was elected as a union delegate.

The Aboriginal community in and around Dandenong suffered from a lack of support in areas such as health, welfare and unemployment. Reg and his wife worked closely with local families to find solutions to the problems they identified.

Reg helped secure government funding for a hostel in the area. The committee established to oversee its operations evolved into the Dandenong and District Aborigines Co-operative. Reg drew on his union experience to build a strong membership base and, after its incorporation in 1975, was appointed to a full-time position.

During his five years with the Co-operative, Reg set up successful training programs to teach life skills and improve employability. Ever the innovative thinker, Reg helped establish a childcare service, thereby giving many women the opportunity to enter the workforce or attend university. Reg also built up a network of local employers, who provided work for the boys living in the hostel. Reg shifted his attention from Dandenong long enough to assist with the establishment of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.

Following a period as a research assistant in Aboriginal studies at Monash University - during which time he involved students in a campaign against the destruction of sacred Aboriginal sites in south west Victoria - Reg served as an advisor to the then Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

He was subsequently asked to head a new Aboriginal Affairs Unit within the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which would manage and implement policy. In addition to getting the fledgling unit off the ground, Reg focused on increasing Aboriginal representation within the public sector. He worked to financially empower communities around the state, and collaborated with them on projects as diverse as the Gunditjmara Elders Council, Lake Condah Mission restoration and the Brambuk National Park and Cultural Centre in Halls Gap.

Reg was appointed to Corrections Victoria, taking on roles as Community Corrections Officer and Aboriginal Program Development Officer over a six year period. He oversaw the introduction of Aboriginal Community Justice Panels in 1988, which continue to provide state-wide support to Indigenous people in custody. He also conducted cultural awareness training, and worked in prisons to help rehabilitate Aboriginal inmates and prepare them for life on the outside.

Over many years, Reg has held positions with a number of key Victorian Aboriginal-run organisations, including the Aborigines Advancement League, of which he was CEO, and the Aboriginal Community Elders Service, where he ran day programs and established the Aboriginal Elders Choir. He was a regional councillor for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) for many years.

In later years Reg worked with Aboriginal men who have to grapple with problems such as addiction or incarceration, by helping them reconnect with, and understand, their Aboriginal identity, as part of a healing program run by the Gathering Place Health Service in Melbourne's west. The healing circles he convened provided a forum in which participants could express their emotions and frustrations, often for the first time, where they find solace in shared experiences and the mutual exchange of wisdom.

As chairperson of the Centre of Melbourne's Multi-faith and Other Networks, or COMMON, Reg was the first Aboriginal person to preside over an inter-faith group in Australia. He was a member of the Whittlesea Reconciliation Group and his work in Aboriginal affairs has been recognised with the NAIDOC Aboriginal of the Year award in 1995.

Uncle Reg passed away in late 2012, a few weeks after he was inducted onto the Honour Roll.

Over many years, Uncle Reg worked hard to achieve practical improvements across different areas of Aboriginal affairs. Recognising the need to care for the soul, as well as the mind and body, he has in many cases helped restore health to all three.