The Life of Elizabeth Morgan and History of Elizabeth Morgan House Aboriginal Women’s Refuge
Elizabeth Morgan, known as Aunty Liz or Yarmauk to her family, was born at Cummeragunja Aboriginal Station New South Wales along the Murray River on 10 March, 1927. One of seven children to Michael Stafford Morgan and Maud Miriam Morgan (nee Ross) Aunty Liz spent her summers camping out near her beloved Moira Lakes with her Granny Lizzy and extended family. Family tragedy struck when her mother passed away from tuberculosis when Elizabeth was only 11 years old. Elizabeth was removed from her family home and sent to live at the station hospital. There she worked as a domestic for the nurses and the Cummeragunja station manager while under the threat that if she did not comply she would be removed to Cootamundra Girl's Home. As a child living in servitude, Elizabeth witnessed the historically significant ‘Cummeragunja Walk-Off’ in 1939, witnessing firsthand the racist practices and policies which held her people down. These experiences had a profound effect on shaping her passion, dedication and loyalty in the fight for Aboriginal people's self-determination and self-management. In her early adulthood she began her journey as a tireless campaigner who fought to protect the rights of Koori people especially the women and children. The survival message that we heard from our champion, was to know and be proud of your culture and heritage, and be proud of your people and your old people who went before you.
One of her proudest achievements in her long list of accomplishments was the establishment of the first Indigenous Women’s Refuge in Australia, named in her honour as ‘The Elizabeth Hoffman House’. Among other strong black women such as Aunty Joyce Johnson, who were passionate about the Women and Children of our Aboriginal community, Aunty Liz invited women and children experiencing family violence in to her home. Aunty Liz identified the need for a safe place and escape from family violence and envisioned a space where they could get their lives back together while accessing the help and support they needed.
After talking with community and visiting women’s refuges, Aunty Liz began to campaign for the establishment of the Aboriginal Women’s Refuge. Aunty Liz and other Aboriginal women fought for many years to influence governments to provide funding for rent and wages at the refuge. She made many trips to Canberra to lobby politicians and Government Agencies including the Auditor General regarding the needs of a specialist response.
Finally, in the early 1970’s Aunty Liz and a number of other Aboriginal women co-founded Elizabeth Hoffman House Aboriginal Women’s Service, Australia’s first Aboriginal women’s refuge. In 1984, Elizabeth Hoffman House Aboriginal Women’s Service became Incorporated and independent of the Aborigine’s Advancement League.
Today, Elizabeth Morgan House Aboriginal Women’s Service remains a strong Aboriginal community controlled organisation providing crisis accommodation for Aboriginal women and children through the refuge, as well as outreach services which empower, educate and support women to realise their rights and full potential.
Aunty Liz´s achievements have been many and varied
- 1972 One year apprenticeship with the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCATSIA)
- 1972-76 Member of the National Council of Aboriginal Women
- 1973-75 Board Member and actor in the Nindathanan Theatre
- 1973-1983 Chairperson and Director of the Aboriginal Advancement League Inc. Aunty Liz became the longest-serving Director of the Aboriginal Advancement League, overseeing the AAL building appeal, resulting in the new premises at Thornbury
- Late 1970´s until 1985 Aboriginal Development Commission
Aunty Liz continued to inspire and support self-determination, and her passion for the safety, protection and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children:
- 1978 Inaugural Chairperson of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA)
- 1982 Inaugural Chairperson of the Elizabeth Hoffman House the first Aboriginal Women’s refuge in Australia.
Aunty Liz was instrumental in the fight for land rights and for the protection and maintenance of her culture and environment:
- 1985 Founding member of the Yorta Yorta Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Housing Co-operative
- 1984-86 First elected representative to the NSW State Land Council for the Murray River Region
- 1985 becoming the second elected Yorta Yorta Representative on the NSW State Land Council working to improve the appalling living and health conditions of our people in the Riverina
- 1993-98 Inaugural Chairperson for the Yorta Yorta Murray Goulburn Rivers Clans Group
- 1994 Aunty Liz, along with other Yorta Yorta Elders, led the fight for land justice by launching their Native Title Application. Although this was not successful, her hope was that one day, her people would achieve justice and be recognised as the true owners of their traditional country.
- 2006 A Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Aunty Liz at the 2006 NAIDOC Ball held in Cairns. Awarded for dedicating her life to her people, constantly challenging governments and communicating openly about family violence, child protection practises, land rights, and protecting our cultural and environmental heritage.
Aunty Liz won this award recognising her lifelong commitment to the empowerment of her people, the Yorta Yorta Nation. Aunty Liz continues to be an inspiration to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to turn their vision into a reality, despite the racism and disadvantage she herself experienced.
Aunty Liz, then, has deservedly gained our respect for the hard work she has put into exposing the plight of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially at a time when their issues were not being heard. We must never forget the difficulties and hurdles that Aunty Liz went through and her leadership as a strong black woman.