Helen's journey of resilience and connection to country


 For Elder Helen, NAIDOC week is about sharing stories with younger people and an opportunity to learn more about her own heritage.

And at 88-years-old, she’s a true testament that one never stops learning.

NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate and honour the rich cultural history and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year’s theme, ‘For our Elders’ gives all Australians an opportunity to learn more the role that Elders play in First Nations’ culture.

Helen, who lives at our Ballarat aged care home, is among those Elders that the  NAIDOC week committee describes as “the cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and loved ones”.

We are fortunate enough to be able to celebrate NAIDOC week with several Elders who call our aged care residences, home.

Helen generously shares her story with us and explains how  Elders play a vital role in First Nations culture.

“They bring the stories out to the younger people and I think they help them that way,” she says.

They bring the stories out to the younger people and I think they help them that way,

Helen Cook, Bupa aged care resident

 Helen says that she is still learning about her heritage and takes the time each NAIDOC week to spend time with her uncle, who has been able to tell her more about her beloved mother.

Helen says her mother, Carolyn Sandford, was from Arrente lands, near Alice Springs. Carolyn later became a member of the Maralinga Community and lived on the Dalhousie Cattle Station where she and other Aboriginal children were adopted by the owner. Helen says that although they worked around the station, they were treated well and not forced to work.

Carolyn married a travelling carpenter and they settled together in Ballarat, a city in regional Victoria. Together, they raised a family of nine children, including five boys and four girls. Helen says her mum had a remarkable ability to pass on knowledge and teach all her children, but it’s not known if she went to school herself.

In hearing about her ancestors, Helen says the Arrente people’s lands span the area of Alice Springs and the East MacDonnell Ranges. They are also known as Aranda, Arrarnta, Arunta, and various similar spellings. The Arrernte people coexist with neighbouring indigenous groups and they work hard to within Arrernte country protect diverse species and preserve the land.

Helen likes to support her community where she can and knits hats and booties to donate to premature babies at the local hospital.