Margaret 'Dharrul' Wirrpanda

Margaret Wirrpanda worked hard for the advancement of Aboriginal people, particularly women and children, and a strong voice for Aboriginal land rights.

Honour Roll

Born in Cummeragunja in NSW in 1936, Margaret 'Dharrul' Wirrpanda was a Yorta Yorta woman who spoke fluent Gumatji as well as Yorta Yorta. Her family has always been involved with supporting their community. Her mother was in the first Aboriginal delegation to Canberra.

Aunty Margaret learned at a young age how important it was to help those around her. With her mother, Geraldine Briggs and aunt Margaret Tucker, Margaret as a young girl and teenager helped to fundraise for the Aborigines Advancement League. Together in the 1940s, the three women visited and had discussions with many Aboriginal community members and families to identify how to improve their lives and worked to provide a platform for Aboriginal women and children.

From the mid-1960s, Margaret worked as a volunteer on the National Council of Aboriginal and Islander Women, including serving as its secretary. She was a co-founder of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service. In the mid-1970s Margaret became the first female director of the Aborigines Advancement League (Vic) and was a representative on the National Women's Consultative Council to the Prime Minister and Commonwealth Government Cabinet during the Hawke Government. She later became the secretary and served as President.

In addition, she was also a member of the Victorian Aboriginal Advisory Committee to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria in the 1970s. In 1996, Margaret was elected to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission for the East Melbourne ward.

Much of Margaret's energy in her later years focussed on Aboriginal land rights as one of the plaintiffs in the Yorta Yorta land claim, which in 2002 was rejected by the High Court of Australia. For many years she was associated with the Worawa Aboriginal College, the only independent residential school for young Aboriginals in Healesville, founded by her sister Hyllus Maris. She served on the school's council as president and vice-president.

Margaret felt that working to improve the rights of Aboriginal Australians was just something she had to do. "It is part of our culture to help each other. We have to put out a hand to others who can't stand up for themselves."