We first met Mavis Foster in June 2012 on a Health Outreach to Palm Island. Our volunteer team was invited to join some of the elders and their families or carers at a BBQ lunch by way of introduction. SOS Health Foundation staff and volunteers were provided an opportunity to meet many community members and explore possibilities of working with the community to bridge the gap in health and wellbeing through the provision of allied healthcare.
Mavis was a gentle and kind, yet strong woman and as we were leaving this gathering, Mavis expressed her desire to ensure her people had what they needed to thrive physically, mentally and spiritually. She highlighted that many groups come and enjoy the beauty of Palm Island and leave and forget about the people. With resolve Mavis pressed that we should never forget them, but asked that we return to work together with the community to address their many health concerns and to turn back the tide of chronic disease.
This NAIDOC Week, we honour Mavis Foster. Because of her – we can
23 May 1924 – 23 January 2016
Mavis Foster was a remarkable woman and her children shared some of her story. She was born at Lawn Hill on the 23 May 1924, and is a descendant of the Waanyi people who are the traditional owners of Lawn Hill (for NW Queensland) and surrounding areas.
As a very young child, Mavis and her family were sent to Mornington Island; then moved to Normanton, Mt Isa and Doomadgee, before being sent to Palm Island.
Mavis was around three or five years old when her family were sent to Palm Island. She remembers that she could not speak English at all, she only spoke her Waanyi language. It was here that the family were separated and were all forced to speak only English.
Mavis lived the majority of her life on Palm, she worked at numerous places and did a lot of voluntary work. She was a very caring, humble and gentle person who liked to help people in need – she fought for social justice and for the rights of her people – she was one of the seven people from Palm Island who were pivotal in the stolen wages campaign against the government – resulting in many people receiving payments they were rightly entitled to.
Together with the Catholic Church, Mavis was involved in establishing and supported an alcohol and drug rehabilitation centre on the island – Mavis cared for women, children, and young people who suffered from domestic and family violence, providing shelter, counselling and support.
In 2008, Mavis also threw her support in to mark Sorry Day as a public holiday. She stated that it was a symbolic day for all people to remember (aboriginal and non-aboriginal).
Mavis married, had children – is a grandmother, great grandmother, and great great grandmother.
Sadly Mavis passed away at the age of 92 on the 23 January 2016. She will never be forgotten.