ACU names lecture theatre after Aunty Joan Hendriks

One of Queensland’s most respected advocates for the rights of Indigenous Australians, the late Aunty Joan Hendriks, has had a lecture theatre named in her honour two years after her death in 2020.

Located in the St Therese of Lisieux Building at Australian Catholic University’s Banyo Campus, the Aunty Joan Hendriks Lecture Theatre recognises the respected Quandamooka Elder’s lifelong advocacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ education, reconciliation, and justice.

An official plaque was unveiled on September 21, 2022 by Aunty Joan’s daughter, Prof Cindy Shannon AM, and Aunty Joan’s youngest grandchild, Zane Hendriks.

Aunty Joan had a long association with the Sisters of the Good Samaritan and was Elder in Residence at Lourdes Hill College, a Good Samaritan Education school in Hawthorne, Queensland, and is one of its most treasured alumnae.

Good Samaritan Sister Mary Randle has childhood memories of Aunty Joan, who was a friend and neighbour growing up in Bulimba. “She was one of the ‘big girls’ who was kind to everyone,” Mary said.

“As neighbours we all played together and looked out for each other. We travelled to school together in a neighbour’s car. Life was simple. We shared happy times, and sad times.”

This image of Aunty Joan Hendriks is used with the permission of Aunty Joan’s family.

Mary remembers Aunty Joan as a courageous, insightful, caring, passionate and beautiful woman. “She raised and educated her family, undertook studies, lectured and told the stories of First Nations people – their struggles and history to be recognised and valued as the first people of Australia.

“Three of my siblings and I visited Aunty Joan on the day she died. It was humbling to be in her presence and to attend her funeral. It is fitting that a lecture theatre at ACU Banyo should be named in her honour.”

Prof Shannon said it was a great honour to witness the recognition of her mum’s contribution to Australian Catholic University. She said ACU was one of two places where Aunty Joan’s commitment was unfailing.

“Her passion ran extremely deep. She studied here, she taught here, she had a lifelong affiliation with ACU and it was a very, very special place to her,” Prof Shannon said.

“I can’t even begin to think how honoured she would be, if she were here today, to know that this lecture theatre was named after her.”

The Principal of Lourdes Hill College, Robyn Anderson, said Aunty Joan was renowned for her tirelessness in promoting and supporting the education and well-being of young people.

“Aunty Joan’s deep connection with the College began as a student in 1947; as a Past Pupil; as a mother of three daughters in the 1970s; and then as our Elder in Residence for 10 years.”

Robyn said Aunty Joan made an extraordinary contribution in roles in the local, national and international fields of education, social justice, spirituality and church.

“We remember and pray for Aunty Joan and celebrate her work and life at Lourdes Hill College at our annual Reconciliation Assembly,” Robyn said.

“Aunty Joan’s great passion in her time as Elder in Residence can be summed up by her words to staff, ‘true understanding, compassion and kindness come when we know another’s story. When we make time to listen to another we can begin to do as Jesus asks us as he concludes the Parable of the Good Samaritan, that is, to go and do likewise.’”

A Ngugi Elder, Aunty Joan was a Catholic theologian, ACU alumna and educator who wrote extensively on intercultural and interfaith dialogue of Aboriginal Spirituality and Christianity.

In 2012, she was awarded ACU’s highest honour, a Doctor of the University, as an acknowledgement of her internationally respected advocacy work.

Following her death on Australia Day in 2020, ACU established the Aunty Joan Hendriks Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leaders Scholarship, to support current and emerging Indigenous leaders throughout their academic and professional careers.

The Director of ACU’s First Peoples Directorate, Jane Ceolin, said the event honouring Aunty Joan was “heartfelt” for those who knew her. “We remember that her spirit walks with us wherever we go because all of us here have been touched in a very special way by her presence,” she said.

ACU’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Zlatko Skrbis, said the naming of the lecture theatre in honour of Aunty Joan memorialised one of the university’s most respected Aboriginal leaders.

“Aunty Joan was a leader, a giver, and a visionary, a woman whose life was dedicated to service,” he said. “How well deserving that we are naming this lecture theatre after her. In this way we permanently honour an amazing person. We honour her memory, her contribution, and the communities to which she belonged.”