Aunty Iris Lovett-Gardiner AM

Aunty Iris Lovett-Gardiner was a beloved Gunditjmara elder and leader in Aboriginal education.

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Born in 1926 at Lake Condah Mission, Aunty Iris was the eldest of six children of Ernma Lovett (nee Foster) and Herb Lovett. In 1934, the family moved from the mission site to a hut at Green Vale. Aunty Iris's clan is the Kerrup-J-Mara from Lake Condah.

At seventeen years of age Aunty Iris started working on the showgrounds and married Tiger Williams. For seven years they travelled with the showgrounds while Tiger was boxing and Aunty Iris undertook a range of showground jobs. Aunty Iris also worked as a domestic, in the canneries in Mooroopna and as a community worker. In particular, she taught the history program at Koori Kollij at which time she researched her own family history; and established the Aboriginal Community Elders Services (ACES), a hostel for Aboriginal Elders in Brunswick East in Melbourne.

In 1996, at the age of 70, Aunty Iris graduated from Deakin University with a Graduate Certificate in Natural and Cultural Heritage Interpretation.

Aunty Iris' view of life is perhaps best told in her own words: "To acquire learning is a great feat. There is all sorts of learning as we don't know everything. Our people, the Australian Aboriginal was a great teacher as they knew what to do with the land they had and how to control it as they lived with the earth and animals on it. They learned their children what to do. From the days at school we learned how to read and write and count numbers.

In the days when I went to school there was no easy way of learning. There were no electronics that help nowadays, these were not invented when I was learning. We learn many things, but unless you are smart, there were a lot of things to he learned. Nature can teach us a lot, especially birds and animals - that is another way of learning. I think as we go along we learn something new, from childhood on through life. I don't think we can learn enough.

In 1995, I decided to go to university. I thought I'd get myself into this school to stop me being home-bound. ACES was doing alright so I didn't have to be rushing backwards and forwards so I thought I'd go and get into this school. I studied a Graduate Certificate in Natural and Cultural Heritage interpretation at Deakin University After I finished my exams I graduated with four high distinctions. Being 70 years old, I think that's an achievement.

The graduation ceremony was very impressive. It was at Dallas Brooks Hall. There was all these deans and they had a mace and the organ was playing the university song. Then they started calling out the students' names. What made it more impressive was us Aborigines wore our Koori colours around our gowns. It was great being at the university and it feels great when you do something that you strive for.

In the old days, for us, you were lucky if you got any sort of education. I think you never stop learning. I thirst for knowledge. You could learn a new thing every day if you wanted to."