“Gladys Elphick: Champion of Indigenous Rights and Social Justice

Saurav Singh

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Gladys Elphick (27 August 1904 – 19 January 1988) was a significant Australian Aboriginal woman with Kaurna and Ngadjuri heritage. She is best remembered as the founding president of the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia, later known as the Aboriginal Council of South Australia from 1973 onwards. Within the community, she was affectionately referred to as Auntie Glad.

Life and Career

Gladys Elphick, originally Gladys Walters, was born in Adelaide, South Australia. However, she was raised at the Point Pearce Mission on the Yorke Peninsula. At the age of twelve, she left school and began working in the dairy at Point Pearce. She married Walter Hughes, a shearer, in 1922. Following her husband’s passing in 1937, Elphick relocated to Adelaide where she lived with her cousin Gladys O’Brien. She worked as a domestic worker and also contributed to the war effort during World War II by working at the Islington Railway Workshops, producing shells and munitions. In 1940, she married Frederick Elphick.

Elphick’s involvement with the Aborigines Advancement League of South Australia began in the 1940s, and she became increasingly active in committee work during the 1960s. In 1964, she assumed the role of the inaugural president of the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia. Under her leadership, the Council played a significant role in advocating for the 1967 Referendum. In 1973, the Council underwent a transformation and became the Aboriginal Council of South Australia, broadening its scope to include men in its activities and governance.

In addition to her work with the Council, Elphick played an instrumental role in various other initiatives. She was a driving force behind the establishment of the Aboriginal Community Centre in 1973, serving as its treasurer. She also contributed to the establishment of the College of Aboriginal Education in the same year and co-founded the Aboriginal Medical Service of South Australia in 1977.

Awards and Legacy

In recognition of her dedication to the Aboriginal community, Gladys Elphick was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1971. Her contributions did not go unnoticed, and she was honored as the South Australian Aborigine of the Year in 1984 during National Aborigines Week. Gladys Elphick’s legacy continues to resonate as a champion of Aboriginal rights, a leader in community activism, and a symbol of strength and resilience for Indigenous people in Australia.

On 27 August 2019, a Google Doodle was created to celebrate Gladys Elphick’s 115th Birthday.