Health Industry Training were fortunate enough to hear the inspiring lessons of a 2018 NAIDOC week ‘Women of Inspiration’ award recipient. Aunty Barb Hubbert of the Yuwaalayaay Narran River People spoke with us about her childhood, family and the role that education has played in her life and career.
Aunty Barb has used her studies to work as a counsellor and contribute to countless projects and charities within her community, aimed at giving people the best possible opportunities in life.
“I always thought that I’d come and go from this world, and nobody would ever know what I’ve done or what I’ve put into it,” she said.
Aunty Barb left school at age 13, and returned to study 44 years later, after raising her 10 children, to study a Diploma of Indigenous Welfare (Families), a Bachelor of Health Science (Mental Health) and a Masters of Indigenous Studies.
Learning to make the most out of what you have
The lessons Aunty Barb passed on to her children and her community, came from those she learned in her own childhood that shaped her as a person, a mother and a student.
“Mum would say, ‘Barbara… you are who you are. You always will be who you are. Do the best you can with who you are, and be proud of who you are.’”
“That’s basically how I lived my life.”
Her mother was an Aboriginal woman which at the time, meant it was difficult to be approved for housing.
The family of 9 lived in a tent at the Scarborough camping ground, which was eventually destroyed by a cyclone.
After that, they lived in a string of small, dilapidated houses.
This is where Aunty Barb saw, first-hand, the meaning of the making the most out of what a person has.
Her parents worked hard to create homely environments.
“Dad would bust his gut doing up the yard. He’d paint the house and mum would keep it nice.”
“Everything looked alright,” Aunty Barb said.
From the age of 9, Aunty Barb was responsible for preparing meals for her family.
When the vegetable garden depleted, she learned to make the most of what she found in bushland around her neighbourhood.
“You’d go and find where the mushrooms were. We got taught which were the right mushrooms, and which weren’t.”
The resilience she developed to set-backs in her childhood was passed on to her own children and carried her through her adult-hood and working life.
Finding what motivates you
Aunty Barb returned to study, at age 57.
Not having studied for 44 years, she faced unique challenges in the beginning.
“I was completely computer illiterate before I started, so I had to learn all that.
“But I found it amazing, studying with [a computer], because it was so much easier.”
Despite the strong work ethic she retained from childhood, she also retained attitudes towards reading that she was forced to change.
“My dad didn’t think that reading was necessary. He wouldn’t let you sit around and read… Every time I picked up a book to study, I’d be thinking of dad… I know it sounds weird, but he was a very forceful man and forthright. What he said, went, and here I was disobeying him every day. I had to get over that before I could sort of really get into it. And every now and then it would pop its ugly head up again.”
The voice in her head eventually surrendered to her overwhelming determination to pass her units.
“What I had to do to pass, was to read. So, I just had to do what I was doing.”
Aunty Barb completed her Diploma, and begun working as a counsellor in Brisbane.
She begun studying her Bachelor after reading an advertisement for a Bachelor of Health Science (mental health), with Charles Stuart University.
The transition was difficult from studying full-time, on campus, to part time, through distance, while simultaneously working full time.
“That was hard. Doing your work, finding the time. But I was just so interested in it.”
After finishing her Bachelor, another advertisement convinced Aunty Barb, now age 63, to begin a Master of Indigenous Studies.
“It just seemed the thing to do. I felt like I needed more.”
While studying for her Masters degree, Aunty Barb was overcome with health struggles.
Although she was forced to leave her job as a counsellor while she recovered, her resilience did not allow for her illness to interfere with her studies.
“What kept me going was my grandchildren, and children.”
“I didn’t want them to think that nearly finishing was close enough. Even though I was feeling so sick. It was horrible.”
After having surgery and taking time to recover, Aunty Barb returned to work within her immediate community, as a qualified Master of Indigenous Studies.
Finding what you want to do for your community
Aunty Barb has witnessed individuals grow and take their course in life enough times to know that every person is different. She has 10 children, 37 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren, all carrying on her legacy of resilience, determination and persistence.
She was careful about the beliefs and habits she instilled in her children, who all grew to embark on vastly different education and career paths.
“It didn’t matter to me what they did, as long as they did it and did the best they could with it…. But this was the thing, they had to do their best,” Aunty Barb said.
A lesson she learnt as young girl, from her own mother.
The paths her children took to where they are now were not always straight forward.
One of her sons left high school to get a butchers trade at age 16. He eventually transitioned into the health field and went on to become a doctor, after beginning medical studies at age 35.
One of her daughters, a single mother of 4 working full time, studies each night, when her children go to bed, for a Bachelor of Primary Education.
“Everyone is looking for something different out of life, and everyone finds that something different in their own ways.”
“I’m so proud of all my kids. Everybody did what they set out to do.”
For Aunty Barb, her own study has meant the opportunity to give back to her community.
“That’s what a job is, it’s what you want to do for your community.”
She was always an active community member, volunteering at schools, family history centres and libraries.
Since finishing her studies, she has become a regular volunteer for Yourtown, helping the organisation understand the needs of their Aboriginal clients.
She has worked with tertiary health students, offering counselling and guidance.
“One NAIDOC day, I was at an event and a lady came up to me. She gave me a big hug and said “Aunty, without you, I wouldn’t have kept going. I’m a nurse now.”
Aunty Barb has also been running her Yinarr Yarning circle for 15 years.
It is an opportunity for Aboriginal women in her community to gather, talk and create.
She is a member of Murriajabree Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Association Incorporation, where she has worked to provide emergency relief for families in need. A well as being a member of Mindle Bygal Aboriginal Corporation.
This year, Aunty Barb’s contribution to her community was publically recognised as she became a recipient of a NAIDOC Week ‘Woman of Inspiration’ award.
“I never expected any accolades or anything like that. To be told that I’d been nominated… It was amazing. I was speechless for a few days because I couldn’t believe it.”
This year’s theme was ‘because of her, we can,’ and because of Aunty Barb, so many people can.
Aunty Barb’s story, and the way it intertwines with so many others is a perfect representation of how individuals working together create a community.
Education is an individual process which has become increasingly flexible.
Today, people of any age or background have the opportunity to learn the skills that will allow them to do whatever it is they want to do for their community.