Fay Nelson AM


I was determined not to be a person who could be trampled on and ground into dust, which is what happened to many Aboriginal people in my youth. Being part of the Aboriginal Struggle for freedom and equality brings enormous pleasure to me, knowing leaders like Mum Shirl (Shirley Smith), Charles Perkins, Chicka Dixon and many others, following their lead to help people less fortunate. Who knows - without their leadership I may be still living in a dirt floor humpy on a riverbank. There is much work to be done still, including establishing an Aboriginal History Museum to honour the heroes who fought against oppression, acknowledging those who helped give me the freedom I have today.

Fay Nelson AM

Fay, an elder of the Banjin people, has always been passionate about bringing dignity and respect to the Aboriginal people, to their traditions and way of life. Armed with only a 6th grade education, Fay withstood the jokes and jeers as she pioneered her way into the art world, ultimately bringing Aboriginal Art to its now recognised place in Western society. Marketing Aboriginal Art to Westerners was a challenge as their traditional descriptions of art did not apply to Aboriginal Art – which is based on ancestry, ceremonies, songs, dance and land. Fay has lectured on art here and abroad, and managed exhibitions in America, the South Pacific and in Australia. She is a founding member of the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) and chaired this organisation for the first thirteen years of its life. It is from NAISDA that the internationally renowned Bangarra Dance Theatre was created – as Aboriginal dancers were not accepted into mainstream Australian dance companies at that time. Fay was also the Director of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board, headed the Aboriginal Women’s Unit in the NSW Department for Women, and currently is the Business Development Manager and Community Relations Manager in her daughter’s company, Yarn’n Aboriginal Employment Services, which helps find jobs for Aboriginal people and advises companies and governmental agencies on best practices for Aboriginal employees. Fay is also in the process of developing a children’s picture book based on spiritual links to this land.


Photographer: Diane Macddonald
Location: Redfern, Sydney

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