Aunty Melva Johnson OAM

Aunty Melva Johnson is a respected Yorta Yorta elder and pioneer in developing health and education services for the Aboriginal community in Echuca.

Honour Roll

Born in 1935 at Cummergunja Mission, Melva left school at 13. At 15 years of age she went to Melbourne where she worked as a domestic at the Salvation Army Hostel. She returned to Echuca, married at 21, had four children and worked at the Echuca Hospital as a domestic for 10 years.

She became more aware of the results of local prejudice against Aboriginal people. At that time the local kindergarten would accept only two Aboriginal children per year and Aboriginal women who gave birth in the Echuca hospital were placed on the verandah, not inside the wards.

In the climate of change of the 1970s, Aunty Melva worked with the newly formed Aboriginal Cooperative. Because local Aboriginal children lacked a sense of identity, the Co-op worked to set up a Multifunctional Centre that could be used as a childcare centre. Aboriginal children came to the Centre for some time each day as a way of encouraging their sense of belonging and community. In 1978, when the Centre started, no Aboriginal child in the area had completed VCE. Since 1992 eight young people have done so.

In 1986-87 through ATSIC funding, the community was able to purchase a house and set up a Women and Children's Safe House. Echuca at that time had no medical services that bulk billed. Using the Safe House as a base and with funding from the Pap Smear Program, the Co-op was able to employ Melva and obtain the services of a doctor on a sessional basis. The service continued to expand and in 1998 more funding was obtained and the Cooperative purchased the house next door.

The Campaspe Council supported the extension in spite of a petition by nearby residents. The service currently employs a full time nurse, two Aboriginal health workers, a domestic violence worker, a supported accommodation worker and a podiatrist on a sessional basis.

Currently, Melva works as a family support worker, is the regional ATSIC Councillor, sits on the Echuca Hospital Board, the Women's Health Advisory, the Aboriginal Housing Board and the Aboriginal Education Committee. The Victoria University Melva Johnson Campus is named in her honour and in 2000 Melva received the VACCHO Aboriginal Health Worker Achievement Award. Melva says of her work, "What I wanted was a fair go for my people."