Vale Aunty Lucy Lester
The Uniting Church in Australia and Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) are mourning the passing of founding member of Congress and Anangu artist and interpreter Aunty Lucy Waniwa Lester.
UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis and Interim National Chair for UAICC Rev Mark Kickett have paid tribute to Aunty Lucy who will be honoured in a memorial and funeral service this week.
“Aunty Lucy had a significant and longstanding role in the life of the Uniting Church and UAICC. She attended one of the first Congress meetings on Elcho Island in 1983,” said Rev Kickett.
Rev Hollis added, “We pay tribute to Aunty Lucy for her leadership as one of the founding members of Congress and her faithful service to the Church and First Nations peoples over many years.”
Aunty Lucy Waniwa Lester was born at Tieyon station on Anangu country. The station was the northernmost homestead in South Australia, 1100km from Adelaide and 100km from the Indulkana settlement. Between bouts of work, Aunty Lucy and her family lived on the land, following the different seasons for game and bush tucker.
When she was about eight, Lucy moved to Pukatja (Ernabella Mission) so she could attend school. Ernabella was a Presbyterian mission station where First Nations people were encouraged to speak and retain their own languages. Lucy, who spoke Yankunytjatjara, was introduced to the Pitjantjatjara language. For many years in her life, Lucy served as an interpreter for speakers of both languages and even in her 70s was still volunteering as an interpreter in the Port Augusta prison, providing comfort to the many Anangu there.
Lucy later became a teacher assistant at Ernabella and studied early childhood education at what is now the Bachelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education (then known as Bachelor TAFE).
When she was 17, Lucy moved to Adelaide at the invitation of Dr Charles Duguid and his wife Phyllis where she lived with the family for many years. Dr Charles Duguid was the founder of Ernabella and the first lay moderator of the Presbyterian Church in South Australia.
Here she held various jobs with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs working in arts and crafts, and then at the Aboriginal Advancement League's Wiltja Hostel at Millswood, which was established by the Duguids in 1956 to accommodate Aboriginal girls from country areas attending secondary schools in Adelaide. At the same time, Lucy volunteered at Adelaide hospitals, visiting and translating for patients from the APY Lands. It was through her hospital visits that Lucy met her husband Yankunytjatjara man Yami Lester who was being treated by eye surgeon in at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.
Yami born at Walyatjata (Wallatinna) in the north of South Australia. When he was 10, he was caught in a fallout cloud from the Maralinga nuclear tests, known by the local community as the Black Mist. Soon after he began losing his vision.
Yami and Lucy married in 1966 in the Grote Street Church of Christ. They had three children, Leroy, Rosemary and Karina. In 1970, Yami responded to a job to work with the Uniting Church in Alice Springs as an interpreter and this began a long ministry for Yami and Lucy in both the APY Lands and Alice Springs with the late Rev Jim Downing and the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD).
In 1981, Lucy and ex-President Dr Deidre Palmer were joint delegates at the World Federation of Methodist Women in Hawaii.
Lucy was also a great support to her daughters, Rose (now deceased) and Karina, in their fight against nuclear dump sites in South Australia.
Many others across the UCA and UAICC paid tribute to Aunty Lucy this week. Synod of South Australia Moderator Bronte Wilson celebrated Aunty Lucy’s work as an artist.
“Her artwork is an enduring reminder of her giftedness in expressing her faith and culture in meaningful ways,” he said.
UAICC SA Resource Officer and National Admin Assistant Ian Dempster paid tribute to Aunty Lucy as a role model, mentor and great encourager for emerging First Nation women leaders, particularly in developing their ministry and leadership skills.
“I first met Aunty Lucy in the mid 2000s when she was living at Port Augusta and was a member of both the Uniting Church and the Congress church. It was here she became a mentor for Aunty Denise, now Rev Dr Denise Champion,” recalled Ian.
“Some years later Aunty Lucy travelled with us to Putatja to an Anangu Women’s Camp at which Aunty Denise and Rev Helen Richmond were speaking. This was a precious time. It was great travelling with Aunty Lucy on the lands as she not only knew the languages, but everyone knew who she was.”
Ian also remembers the first time he saw Aunty Lucy’s artwork – a painting depicting the Last Supper in bush country. Lucy presented the work to Rev Ken Sumner at NCYC 2005 in Gawler. The artwork now hangs at Yarthu Apinthi, Uniting College, in Adelaide, and features in the Bible Society book of First People’s art, Our Mob, God’s Story.
“Lucy participated in the laying on of hands at Denise’s ordination and gave her a beautiful painting. More recently, Lucy gave a painting of a cross to Julia Lennon when she was commissioned as a Bush Chaplain, the first and only Aboriginal woman in this ministry with and through Frontier Services.”
Aunty Rev Dr Denise Champion also recalled Aunty Lucy’s deep love of her heart languages.
“Lucy had a real love and passion for language, and her Yunkunytjatjara language. She always taught with deep wisdom and knowledge and used her language to do that.”
Paul Eckert, formerly of the Bible Society, said, “Aunty Lucy was always a great support for Bible translation work.” Currently the Old Testament is being translated into Pitjantjatjara.
Aunty Lucy is survived by her children Leroy and Karina and 11 grandchildren. Her funeral will be held at Finke in the Northern Territory on Thursday 2 September, after a memorial on the previous evening.
We thank God for the blessing of Aunty Lucy and offer our deepest sympathies to Aunty Lucy’s family and community at this time.
Credit: Material drawn from a story on Aunty Lucy in the newsletter of the Anglican Parish of Plympton as told to Harold Bates-Brownsword
Images: Aunty Lucy with daughter Karina and (right) Aunty Lucy Waniwa Lester's artwork The Last Supper.
Supplied by Karina Lester and the Bible Society.