Local Aboriginal people inducted into Honour Roll
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Local Aboriginal people inducted into Honour Roll

Bessie Yarram and her family celebrate Bessie's induction into the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll.

Gippsland Aboriginal leaders Bess Yarram, Robert ‘Jumbo’ Pearce, Alice Thomas and Henry ‘Harry’ Thorpe were inducted into the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll at a ceremony in Melbourne on Wednesday night.

Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said of the 15 inductees it was a privilege to see four people from East Gippsland recognised for their service to both the Aboriginal and broader communities.

“They all served in different capacities, but all sought to better things for those around them,” Mr Bull said.

Bess Yarram was a founder of the Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Corporation, which today provides health and other community services in Sale and Morwell.

At the age of 76, Bessie is still active as an Elder in both the Koori Court and Children’s Koori Court.

She is Chairperson of the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee, member of the Aboriginal Justice Forum and also Deputy Chair of the Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.

Robert ‘Jumbo’ Pearce was a founder of the Gippsland and East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative.

His contribution to the Victorian Aboriginal community is also reflected by his membership in the Koorie Heritage Trust, the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc., the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and the Bairnsdale Local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group.  

‘Jumbo’, as he was known, passed away last year.

Alice Thomas was born at Lake Tyers in 1919 and made a lifelong contribution to the Victorian and Gippsland Aboriginal communities in the fields of arts and community services.

She moved to Fitzroy during the Second Wold War and raised a family in Gertrude Street with her first husband Nanson Young (from Bairnsdale).

Her home was open to all new arrivals to Melbourne and also acted as a church for Pastor Doug Nicholls before the church was built in Gore Street.

Alice eventually moved to Broadmeadows with her second husband Frank Thomas and their children after stints picking beans in Gippsland.

Alice always maintained her connection with Fitzroy with her musical performances an uplifting feature at many Aboriginal community funerals at St Mark’s church in Fitzroy.

Until her passing at the age of 95 in May 2014, Alice was the most senior Elder of the Gunai people and Victoria’s oldest Aboriginal person.

Henry ‘Harry’ Thorpe volunteered for military service at Sale on 12 February 1916 at the age of 28 years.

He joined the 7th Battalion on the French and Belgium border.

As a result of his skill and leadership in battle at Ypres, in October 1917 Harry was recommended for the Military Medal and was promoted to the rank of Corporal.

He was critically wounded and died soon after and is buried at a military cemetery in France.

This is the fourth year for the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll, which now has 64 inductees.

Mr Bull said the many achievements of the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll inductees should be celebrated by, and shared with everyone.

“The recognition of the achievements of these exceptional Aboriginal people is an important part of closing the gap and reconciliation,” Mr Bull said.

“There are many other people, both past and present, who deserve to be formally acknowledged in the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll, so I encourage everyone to start considering nominations for next year,” Mr Bull said.

For more information on the Victorian Indigenous Honour Roll go to www.dpc.vic.gov.au/vihr