May 2012

A keen interest in all things Aboriginal

For as long as she can remember, Good Samaritan Sister Val Deakin has had a keen interest in Aboriginal people and culture.

BY Jessica Rock

For as long as she can remember, Sister Val Deakin has had a keen interest in Aboriginal people and culture.

Residing in Geraldton, [Western Australia] for the past six and a half years, she continues her passion by working with Aboriginal people in the Mid West region.

During this time she has been instrumental in establishing the Yanayi Aboriginal Catholic Centre at the Centre of Parish Life and Mission.

A Sister of the Good Samaritan she maintains a busy and varied schedule. This includes Greenough Regional Prison visits, organising National Reconciliation Week events, special services to commemorate the dead and group baptisms.

With a career spanning more than 40 years, Sister Val said she was always learning about Aboriginal culture.

“I’ve learnt more about what not to do and learnt to be comfortable to just sit and wait for things to happen,” she said.

“I definitely don’t have the answers to the unique problems Aboriginal people face, but I remain positive and believe we should keep striving.

“We have to ask the Aboriginal people, because for things to change for the better, the Aboriginals have got to be a part of it.

“The problems were created by humans, so there must be human solutions.”

Sister Val said the problems could be traced back to the deep spiritual connection Aboriginal people have with “the land”.

“For Aboriginals, the land provides physical and spiritual nourishment and holds stories, rituals and ceremonies,” she said.

“Take them away from the land where they were born, from one land to another and they are a lost people.”

Sister Val was born in Melbourne at Mia Mia Hospital and said her interest in Aboriginal culture began from the moment she was born, with Mia Mia translating from Aboriginal language as ‘place of dwelling’ or shelter.

Her older brother, who attended a seminary and later became a priest and anthropologist, had a huge influence during her childhood.

“My brother worked with Aboriginal communities and I remember him bringing home books, full of colour and stories about Aboriginal culture,” she said. “I cherished those books, and the stories my brother returned with after his travels to remote outback communities.

“Everything about Aboriginal people was new to me, I had never even seen an Aboriginal before.”

At the age of 18, Sister Val entered a convent and trained as a teacher while maintaining her desire to be “involved and connected with the first people of the land”.

She then moved to Crystal Brook, SA, and worked as a teacher at an orphanage [editor’s note: where more than half the children were Aboriginal].

Wanting to combine teaching with welfare, she studied to complete a Bachelor of Social Science.

In the early 80s she was asked to come to WA, where she was part of the foundation Catholic community in Mt Magnet. She said she always dreamt of working with Aboriginal people in Aboriginal communities, but it was during this time she began to question the likelihood of her dream being realised.

“I started to think maybe it won’t happen and I should start opening up to the possibility of something else,” she said.

“Later that year, I was invited to take up a position to work with Aboriginal people and spent the first 12 months in my new position visiting different communities.

“I decided to isolate my work to WA, went to the Kimberley region and undertook relevant training before finally ending up at Wiluna.”

Living in a donga, she spent the next four and a half years spending time with Aboriginal people. A second donga was set up to be used by people in the community, where they could watch Aboriginal television shows, have a cup of tea and talk or meet to paint and create wood carvings.

After her time at Wiluna, Sister Val travelled to Daly River, Northern Territory, where she spent the next 12 years. During this time she worked as an adult educator, assistant principal and as part of a church community.

A call from Bishop Justin Bianchini saw her relocate to Geraldton more than six years ago. She said she spent her first few years here just getting to know people and would go to the mall, sit down on a bench and talk to people.

“It was important for me to first be a presence in the local community and let things take their own course,” she said.

“For Aboriginal people it’s all about relationships and it has taken time for people to know I’m fair dinkum.”

This article, written by Jessica Rock, was first published in the Midwest Times, April 12, 2012. This material is West Australian Newspapers Copyright © and must not be reproduced without permission. Credit: The West Australian ©

The Good Oil

‘The Good Oil’, the free, monthly e-journal of the Good Samaritan Sisters, publishes news, feature and opinion articles and reflective content which aims to nourish the spirit, stimulate thinking and encourage reflection and dialogue about contemporary issues from a Good Samaritan perspective.

If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.