Local elder Nellie Camfoo turns 85

BIRTHDAY TIME: If you visit the Katherine Museum you will learn of Nellie Camfoo’s extraordinary life.

BIRTHDAY TIME: If you visit the Katherine Museum you will learn of Nellie Camfoo’s extraordinary life.

Nellie Camfoo is 85 years young this week. 

The Aboriginal elder spent a good portion of her working life in the Katherine Hospital laundry and is known around the region for her integrity and commitment to the people of her community

If you visit the Katherine Museum you will learn of Mrs Camfoo’s extraordinary life as she donated personal memorabilia  to the museum in 2014. 

The items donated by Mrs Camfoo include her Centenary Medal, a certificate of thanks from former prime minister Paul Keating for her assistance in the Northern Territory war effort during World War II and her marriage certificate.

Mrs Camfoo is passionate about teaching the next generation about traditional customs. 

“You gotta teach them young girls about their culture, I will be dead and gone soon and then we will lose a lot of the culture,” Mrs Camfoo said. 

“I tell them they gotta work hard and stay away from alcohol, never touch it, it makes me sad seeing young ladies drinking alcohol. 

“Look after yourselves, respect your elders and get an education and don’t learn too much white fella way, you need to learn about both cultures,” she said. 

Katherine Stolen Generation Group president Christine Butler threw Mrs Camfoo a birthday party at Mimi Arts this week. 

“As the chair of the Stolen Generations group in Katherine, we like to look after our elders and we like to spend quality time with them to have a yarn and learn the stories,” Ms Butler said.

“Aunty Nellie is a very important woman in our community, everyone wants a bit of her and she does a lot of work behind the scenes.”

PARTY TIME: A birthday party was thrown for Mrs Camfoo at Mimi Arts this week.

PARTY TIME: A birthday party was thrown for Mrs Camfoo at Mimi Arts this week.

More about Nellie Camfoo’s life

Mrs Camfoo holds Djarada and Murrdu knowledge and grew up in Southern Arnhem Lamd on Mainoru Station. 

She has spent a lot of her life has been working on or around the Mainoru Station as a  goat herder, a cook on stock camps, and as a ringer – roping and tying bullocks, branding, earmarking, and drafting.

During World War II, Mrs Camfoo worked for the Army doing washing, cooking and ironing.

After the war she met her husband in Tennant Creek and they married. 

Against all odds, and the law she became the wife of Tex Camfoo during a period when, as an Aboriginal woman, she was not allowed to.

With the support of her husband, Mrs Camfoo secured government backing to set up a fully-equipped cattle station at Bulman, which became an official Aboriginal enterprise in 1972.

In 1976 the cattle enterprise gave way to buffalo-culling which became the community’s main income source.

Bulman operated as a vital resource centre for the four Aboriginal outstations in the region.

Mrs Camfoo also served on the Resource Centre Committee and was also vice-chairwoman of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.

While on the board she successfully advocated for a Women's Business Sub-Committee, which allowed women to speak about their sacred sites

In the 1980s she helped establish a women’s centre in Manirou where she and other women contributed money to help make meals. Recognising their successful community work, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs then funded the project.

On the International Woman's Day in 2006 Mrs Camfoo was placed on the NT Chief Minister’ tribute list, which honours the achievements of Territorian women and their community work.

Although she has her own children, the octogenarian has been a mother to many others in the extended kin network taking them to sporting events and bush excursions.

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