Family and community farewells much-loved Butchulla elder

WITH sadness in her eyes, Frances Gala shared memories of her friend, fellow Butchulla elder Marie Wilkinson, who died after a long illness in Maryborough Hospital on March 26.

Yesterday the funeral of the 82-year-old was held at St Joseph's Catholic Church.

Hundreds of mourners, including her beloved daughters Donna and Roseanna, her siblings, State member Ted Sorensen and former Fraser Coast Mayor Gerard O'Connell gathered to pay their respects.

MUCH-LOVED: Daniel Saunders, Malcolm Burns and Conway Burns send Butchulla elder Marie Wilkinson off with a farewell dance at St Josephs Catholic Church in Pialba.
MUCH-LOVED: Daniel Saunders, Malcolm Burns and Conway Burns send Butchulla elder Marie Wilkinson off with a farewell dance at St Josephs Catholic Church in Pialba. Alistair Brightman

Marie was a determined advocate for a variety of causes, including housing for the Aboriginal community, the fight to be recognised as the traditional owners of Fraser Island and the conservation of the island's dingoes.

"She fought for what she believed in," Frances said.

"She was very proud of who she was."

With a dingo destroyed on Fraser Island after attacking a tourist this week, Frances said the pain was real for Marie, for herself and for the Butchulla community.

"She wouldn't have liked it," Frances said.

"They're our dogs, like anyone else's dogs."


With her coffin draped with the Aboriginal flag, several tributes were made to Marie and the significant life she had led.

Mr Sorensen said Marie had done an awful lot in the community over the years.

"She had a great respect for State, Federal and Local government, politics."

Mr Sorensen said he and Marie had a running joke every time they saw each other at a function.

"She used to turn around and say 'I'll meet you at the next one,'" Mr Sorensen said.

"It was always just something we did."

Mr Sorensen spoke of Marie's fighting spirit.

"She had a passion about things and she wouldn't give up on those things," he said.

"Like housing. I remember one issue, she came in to see me about housing once. She just had it there and she wouldn't give up until she got it."

Mr O'Connell shared his memories of Marie, saying all those gathered knew her in a very special way.

He said she was a truly welcoming person who allowed others to share in the stewardship and traditions of her country.

Mr O'Connell shared a story about Marie, saying that when he had been working at St Mary's College in Maryborough, he was given the task of picking Marie up from Hervey Bay and bringing her to Maryborough for the opening of a special building.

He said there was great deal of priority around school buildings for Marie because she saw the importance of education and training.

"She saw the value in young people and generations coming on," Mr O'Connell said.

As they drove back to Maryborough, Marie told him how she had been involved in an advisory committee to then Prime Minister John Howard.

"She said in that Aunty Marie voice, 'you know mate, I told him. I told him what he had to do and I told him what the Federal Government was doing wrong.'

"I had this image of this diminutive woman telling the then Prime Minister what to do," Mr O'Connell said.

"Such was her determination and her desire not just for her people but for all people."

As Marie's casket was placed into the back of the hearse ahead of her burial at Point Vernon's Polson Cemetery, three young men performed a fitting farewell dance for the beloved elder.

Topics:  funeral

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