HONOURED: Professor Karen Nelson and Professor Gary Thomas congratulate Lillian Burke.
HONOURED: Professor Karen Nelson and Professor Gary Thomas congratulate Lillian Burke.

Respected Elder gets twice the recognition with accolade

AUNTY Lillian Burke, a highly respected Elder and community leader from Gympie thought she had reached her peak when she was named an Honorary Senior Fellow of University of the Sunshine Coast last month.

Not that she was looking for acknowledgement. Over the past decade she has worked with Aboriginal youth and volunteered with up to 100 advisory boards, committees and consultancy groups on a range of Indigenous issues including Fraser Island's indigenous Advisory Committee.

"I don't look at what I do, I just do it, for my people and the work and everything else," she said. "I don't expect things like that. It was a very emotional day, it brought out emotions I didn't know I had. I never take, I always just get out, do what I can. I don't expect anything back. But that day was fantastic, one I'll never forget."

Then came more good news for the Elder who now lives in Gympie. She learnt she had been nominated for Australian of the Year.

"I can't believe somebody nominated me for the Australian of the Year," she said. "I don't big-note myself. I was so nervous, this is out of my comfort zone. Just to be nominated and to know that people are thinking of me this way is hard to believe."

Not hard to believe for those who know Aunty Lillian and have seen her work tirelessly over the years, always to help others.

Her inspiring work as a community leader has earned her several accolades, including a Volunteering Queensland Lifetime Contribution to Volunteering Award.

The Honorary Senior Fellow of University of the Sunshine Coast recognises the efforts of Aunty Lillian, President of Cooloola Aboriginal Service, to actively promote the benefits of further education to Gympie's Indigenous community.

A descendant of the Butchulla people with links to Kabi Kabi people, Aunty Lillian experienced a childhood of extreme disadvantage as part of the Stolen Generation.

She was born in Cherbourg, a small town 250km north-west of Brisbane, and has lived in Gympie since 1999.

USC Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Hill said Aunty Lillian was a valued and greatly respected friend and supporter of USC's Gympie campus.

"Aunty Lillian is a worthy recipient of the honorary award of Senior Fellow in recognition of her significant contribution to encouraging Indigenous participation in higher education within the Gympie region," he said.

"I want education for all" Aunty Lillian said. "Everybody should acknowledge the past, what happened to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. Even now, I wonder if I am making progress or just making a noise.

"But I can see there is a great big difference now with the community celebrating our signification days like Sorry Day, Reconciliation Day.

"Now this nomination for Australian of Year is more than anybody can ever ask for, but it is still the same me. I appreciate all the support I have had. Not bad for a Cherbourg girl."  

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