Aunty Florence Grant passed away last week, aged 83, on Wiradjuri land in Wagga Wagga, NSW, surrounded by her family and friends.
Her sister, Elaine Lomas, said Aunty Flo had guided countless young Wiradjuri people through life.
“Right across Wiradjuri country, the name Flo Grant is synonymous with justice, helping people in need, fighting for the rights of Wiradjuri people,” she said.
“She didn’t do things for awards or accolades, she did them because she loved the people she worked for and worked with, she loved Wiradjuri people, she loved the language.”
Born on a mission in the central-west NSW town of Condoblin, Aunty Flo went on to work in nursing before going on to join the Office of the Department of Social Security as an Aboriginal information officer.
She would later go on to become Chair of the Wiradjuri Council of Elders, which she helped establish, and create the very first Wiradjuri dictionary alongside her brother Uncle Stan Grant and linguist Dr John Rudder.
“She was involved with getting the Wiradjuri language revival happening and working with Charles Sturt University here in Wagga to ensure that we had the Wiradjuri language taught in an institution that will actually keep the language in perpetuity,” Ms Lomas said.
“So we can no longer have it taken from us, we can no longer have it suppressed, it will be right there for people to learn, for people to read.”
Ms Lomas said her sister’s lifelong commitment to Wiradjuri language revival was in many ways inspired by their grandfather, who was arrested and then jailed for speaking the language in public when they were children.
Aunty Flo was a powerful force in Aboriginal education in Wagga, where she worked closely with Charles Sturt University and contributed heavily to the university’s graduate certificate in Wiradjuri language.
Flags at the university were flown at half-mast in her honour, with vice-chancellor Professor Andrew Vann remembering Aunty Flo as a relentless nation-builder for the Wiradjuri community.
“Aunty Flo would disapprove if I were to describe her as anything other than a Wiradjuri woman but working from her strong and proud cultural base she was also an inspirational leader at the national level in Indigenous matters,” he said.
“The University and the Riverina is by far the better for the grace, wisdom, thought leadership and nation building that Aunty Flo championed through to her very last day.”
In recognition of those contributions, the university awarded Aunty Flo an Order of the Companion this June for her leadership and contributions.
It is the university’s highest honour.
Aunty Flo was passionate about working with young people, and helped many develop an interest in fashion design, ultimately staging fashion parades where they could show off their own designs.
In more recent years, she fought relentlessly to try and get the Mid Western Highway renamed to the Wiradjuri Highway, as it runs through the heart of Wiradjuri Country.
Reflecting on what she meant to young Wiradjuri people, former NRL player and boxer Joe Williams said Aunty Flo was a symbol of strength in the community.
“To not be classed as a citizen for a massive proportion of your life and then actually lead the next generation is incredible, so I can’t pay enough respect to the older people that did that for us young people, and Aunty Flo was a brilliant woman who did that,” he said.
“To be able to navigate her way through that, all the oppressing times, to then lead in a western education system is profound, so it speaks to the resilience of our people and she’s a fantastic example of that.”
Ms Lomas said both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people travelled from Wiradjuri Country and beyond to attend Aunty Flo’s funeral service.