Death of prominent Gippsland Elder

The death of Uncle Albert Mullett is being felt throughout Gippsland including at the School of Rural Health Bairnsdale where he played a significant role.

A Gunai Elder whose many years of service to the community earned him widespread admiration, Uncle Albert took a great interest in the welfare, education and health of his people. His devotion to his culture, his people and his country was expressed through significant contributions in areas such as land rights and cultural heritage.

Born in Melbourne in 1933, Uncle Albert, 81, was raised by his mother, Rita Maude Mullett, and her extended family, including his maternal grandparents, David Mullett, a Gunditjmara man, and Maude Stevens, a Gunai woman from the Tatungalung clan. Uncle Albert had six brothers, two of whom were taken by the authorities in 1934. Sadly, both passed away before Albert had the chance to meet them.

Uncle Albert’s family was removed from Lake Tyers Mission when Albert was an infant. His earliest years were spent on an island across the lake and included clandestine visits by night to relatives that remained on the mission.

After living in Melbourne, Drouin, South Gippsland and parts of New South Wales, Uncle Albert and childhood sweetheart Rachel Mongta married and eventually settled in Bairnsdale with their eight children.

In 1980, Uncle Albert’s life abruptly changed direction. Struck by the absence of Aboriginal history in his children’s curriculum, he volunteered to teach students at Bairnsdale Primary School about Aboriginal culture. Such was the success of his lessons, held in a renovated bike shed, that the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated made Albert a spokesperson for Aboriginal education.

Straight-talking Uncle Albert became a fixture on committees promoting Aboriginal interests at all levels of education, from primary to tertiary and TAFE. He was also employed as a community councillor at the Gippsland Institute of Advanced Education. Among his achievements, Uncle Albert helped establish the first Aboriginal Studies course in Victoria, at Monash University’s Gippsland campus and successfully lobbied for additional university places for Aboriginal students. His work in schools over the years, such as organising camps and dance groups, helped strengthen identity and cultural awareness among young Aboriginal people, and promoted reconciliation within the whole community.

For many years, Uncle Albert was committed to the preservation and celebration of Aboriginal culture. He was among a dedicated group who pushed for legislative changes that allowed local Aboriginal communities to have more involvement in the management of culturally significant sites around Victoria. As a result, hundreds of Aboriginal people have been trained and employed in cultural heritage roles.

Closer to home, Uncle Albert helped establish a ‘keeping place’ in Bairnsdale. He brought a wealth of experience to a number of significant cultural and heritage bodies, including the Australia Council’s Aboriginal Arts Board, the Australian Archaeological Association, and a federal taskforce on Australian cultural collections overseas.

As an elected councillor to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Uncle Albert served as chair of the Yangenook Regional Council for three years. A heart attack in 1992 only temporarily slowed him down. In the late 1990s he was a key negotiator between Aboriginal land councils, Traditional Owner groups, and the international company that constructed the Eastern Gas Pipeline.

He subsequently served as an advisor to several government, private sector and community-run organisations on matters of land use.
For more than 15 years, Uncle Albert led his people’s fight for native title recognition. On 22 October 2010, the Federal Court of Australia recognised the claim of the Gunaikurnai people over much of Gippsland. On the same day, the Victorian Government entered into an agreement with the Gunaikurnai people under the Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010. It was a momentous occasion for Uncle Albert, who went on to play a prominent role on the Gunaikurnai Elders’ Council.

In recent years, Uncle Albert renewed his previous focus on education for Aboriginal people with the establishment of the East Gippsland School for Aboriginal Health Professionals (EGSAHP). He and a small number of elders in East Gippsland led this initiative, which has been supported by Monash School of Rural Health Bairnsdale.

This has progressed to an incorporated body with deductible-gift recipient status, and EGSAHP has this year conducted a research project investigating barriers and support requirements for Aboriginal students to move to tertiary education in health disciplines.

In one of his last public appearances, Uncle Albert attended all three days of the EGSAHP conference “Building the Aboriginal Health Workforce in East Gippsland” held at Wattle Point from 22-24 May.   This was a highly-successful event, not least because of Uncle Albert’s presence and contribution.

Respected as a master-craftsman of traditional wooden artefacts, including shields and boomerangs, Uncle Albert taught these skills to new generations. He was a storyteller who educated and advised people of all ages about Aboriginal culture, including his 17 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren.

Uncle Albert passed away in July. Tributes flowed including one from Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Tim Bull, who hails from Bairnsdale and spent much time with Uncle Albert.

Although he is sadly missed, Uncle Albert will always be remembered as a leader who possessed wisdom, integrity and fortitude, and was a positive role model to many people.

  • Some information from the Department of Premier and Cabinet was used to help compile this article.

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>