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Aunty Lola James

Aunty Lola James - Victorian Honour Roll of Women 2021 - Local Champion
Local Champion

Aunty Lola James is a Yorta Yorta elder, who was born in Mooroopna, Victoria in 1941. She came from a strong line of powerful trailblazers, whose work included activism, education and access to services for Aboriginal people.  She is the granddaughter of teacher, unionist and activist, Shadrach Livingstone James, and the great granddaughter of Methodist lay preacher, linguist, herbalist and teacher, Thomas Shadrach James.

When she was 19, Aunty Lola moved to Melbourne, where she married and gave birth to six children – four boys and two girls.  Aunty Lola was later divorced and raised the children alone.

She wanted to make sure her children had a positive model in their lives and once her youngest child was in school, Aunty Lola set off into the work force, where she too would leave a legacy with the work she did in the education, health and the welfare of Aboriginal people within Victoria.

Aunty Lola worked in Aboriginal Health at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) and in Child Welfare at the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) until her retirement. She worked as an Aboriginal health worker within VAHS while studying to gain her qualification at Koori Kollij.

Aunty Lola was a passionate Aboriginal health worker, and often spoke about wanting to ensure the health and safety of the ‘Parkies’ within Fitzroy. She was also passionate about the health and wellbeing of our elders who lived alone with minimal assistance. She would often care and attend to some of them in her own time. It wasn’t unusual for Aunty Lola to care for her own elderly extended family members.

Aunty Lola’s work in Aboriginal health directly contributed to the survival rates of Aboriginal people within Victoria, by providing essential medical services.

While Aunty Lola was working at VAHS and studying at Koori Kollij, she moved her elderly father from Mooroopna to Melbourne to live with her and her children. Her father suffered brain damage while serving with the Australian Army on the Kokoda Trail during WWII.  It was very challenging, trying to juggle six children, a full-time job and study and an unwell parent.

After leaving VAHS, Aunty Lola worked for VACCA on and off for about 20 to 25 years, in both a paid and voluntary capacity, and in many different roles including family support worker, foster care worker, cottage parent, coordinator of what is now known as Lakidjeka, board of management member and foster care panellist.

During Aunty Lola’s time at VACCA, it is estimated that she personally cared for about 200 children within her own home when there were shortages of extended biological families and foster carers available.  For those children it meant they were in a home where they were understood and free to live and breathe their cultural practices without judgement – making their removal from their biological families less painful.

To date, Aunty Lola’s children and grandchildren are still contacted by children cared for by Aunty Lola, wanting to follow up on her, or ask questions about her and their time spent within her family. Aunty Lola won a state award for her foster caring.

It was during this time at VACCA, when Aunty Lola fell in love with one of the children within the cottage home.  Aunty Lola invited that child to become part of her family, and moved that child into her home with her and her children on a permanent basis.

Aunty Lola’s work within VACCA has had an enormous effect on staff who worked alongside her, either within VACCA or within the Department of Human Services. Aunty Lola was instrumental in educating all workers who worked with Aboriginal children about the impacts of child removal within Aboriginal families, and the trans-generational trauma that some Aboriginal families and communities carry, caused by government policies that resulted in the Stolen Generation.

In November 2016, Aunty Lola entered the Dreamtime with her family by her side at the Olivia Newton John Cancer, Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne.

Aunty Lola’s legacy continues through her family and community and the people whose lives were enriched by having known Aunty Lola.

Gone but never forgotten.