Every year in July, NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year’s NAIDOC theme is Because of her, we can! This theme shines a light on the significant contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have made, and continue to make, within our society. There are numerous incredible Indigenous women within the Churches of Christ history of ministry among their peoples — leaders, activists, pastoral workers, social change advocates, community workers—and there are many more continuing to minister and lead within their communities, and speak into the wider church and nation.
One of these inspirational leaders was Lady Gladys Nicholls, wife of Pastor Sir Doug Nicholls. Lady Gladys was a leading Aboriginal activist whose dedicated community service and commitment to advancing Aboriginal rights was an inspiration to many, particularly young women. Lady Gladys taught Sunday School alongside Sir Doug at the Gore Street Church of Christ, Fitzroy. Lady Gladys also campaigned with her husband in the lead up to the 1967 referendum. This referendum delivered constitutional amendments that saw Indigenous Australians counted in the national census for the first time, and the Commonwealth Parliament freed to legislate on Indigenous issues.
The Victorian Government’s Aboriginal Honour Roll states that Lady Gladys is remembered for her intelligence and her firm but gentle demeanor. She worked hard to ensure that those around her were given every opportunity to reach their full potential. Lady Gladys established a hostel for young Indigenous women in 1956 in Melbourne and co-founded the Aboriginal Advancement League Women’s Auxiliary. Lady Gladys also ran numerous op shops and other fundraising projects. Ongoing advocacy for Indigenous rights included roles with the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) and the National Aboriginal and Islander Women’s Council, of which she was Secretary and Victorian State President.
To her family and the wider community Lady Gladys was, above all, a source of great strength whenever it was needed most. And like Lady Gladys, numerous Indigenous women have found their vocational calling and faith embodied in the work of biblical reconciliation in our land, our communities and our churches. This has empowered past generations and paved the way for generations to come. Because of her, we can!
Colin Battersby and Nick Wight,
Pictured above: Be inspired this NAIDOC week by watching Charmaine Councillor, a friend of IMA, give a TEDx talk ‘How Language can empower a Nation again’.