Respected Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder, mentor, poet and author Phyllis Pitchford passed away this week.
Known to those close to her as Aunty Phyllis, she was born a twin at Queen Victoria Hospital in Launceston in 1937 to parents Jane Beeton and George Brown.
Aunty Phyllis spent much of her childhood between Cape Barren Island and the mainland and attended Launceston's Charles Street Primary School and Brooks High School.
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In an interview with The Examiner last year, Aunty Phyllis said she had not experienced racism while being taught on Cape Barren and first experienced discrimination when she took a trip with her father to Flinders Island.
"Growing up and going to school [on Cape Barren] there was no conflict between the kids," she said.
"We were all different skin colour, some were darker and some were fairer, but we never thought about anything like that. We were all just a bunch of kids and we were happy kids."
Her parents often went muttonbirding on Mount Chappell Island and Aunty Phyllis often shared memories of that time with the generations below her.
"Not only did she have a lot of knowledge on the generations before, but she was passing that on to a lot of people who would listen," Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania chairman Michael Mansell said.
"She was a bearer of cultural history, and someone who passed it on. That's why she was such a prominent figure in the community."
As a poet and author, Aunty Phyllis' work has been widely recognised and her poem We're Here has been exhibited by the National Museum of Australia.
As a member of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Elders Council and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, she spoke out against injustice in the community.
TAC secretary Trudy Maluga made particular note of Aunty Phyllis' work as an Elder and mentor for the meenah mienne project, which encourages artistic expression for Aboriginal youth in the justice system.
"She gave them a place that incorporated their artistic talents as a therapeutic way to deal with their past demons and the racism that children Aboriginal children still endure today," Ms Maluga said.
"She believed that art, culture and the connection to country was the key to making our community strong."
As a respected representative of her communities, Aunty Phyllis also served as a member of the Tasmanian government State Strategic Planning Committee, the ya pulingina kani Indigenous Family Violence Working Group and the Tasmanian Women's Consultative Council.
Aunty Phyllis continued to be an advocate for Aboriginal and women's rights in recent years, often attending candlelight vigils to protest domestic violence.
Despite her battle with ill health, she attended the Change the Date rally at this year's Invasion Day protest in January.
Aunty Phyllis has received numerous honours including a NAIDOC award in 1992 and a place on the Tasmanian Honour Roll of Women in 2008 for her services to Aboriginal Affairs and the Arts.
She is survived by three children and 23 grandchildren, many great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandson.
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