"Sister, if you only knew..."
- Gladys Elphick
Gladys Elphick was born in Adelaide on the 27th August 1904, and lived out her childhood on Narungga country at Point Pearce Aboriginal Reserve South Australia. ‘Aunty Glad’ as she was affectionately known, attended the mission school and completed very little formal education reaching the completion of Grade 3 only.
Aunty Glad married Walter Hughes on 13th June 1922, they had two sons, Tim and Alf. In 1937 Aunty Glad’s husband died and she was left a widow responsible for raising two small children on her own at a time when services to support women were scarce and particularly so for Aboriginal woman and children.
In 1939 Aunty Glad moved to Adelaide and attained work first as 'domestic help' and later at the Islington Munitions Factory making ammunition, a contribution to WWII. Aunty Glad eventually re married an ex-serviceman, Fred Elphick and lived in Thebarton Adelaide South Australia where she continued to raise her children.
Aunty Glad became involved in Aboriginal affairs and was a member of the Aborigines Advancement League, later becoming the Vice-President and additionally the Vice-President of the National Advancement League. In the early 1960’s, Aunty Glad helped to organise community dances to raise money for an annual Christmas function for Aboriginal children.
In 1965 a group of South Australian Aboriginal women came together to form a united organisation, The Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia, the first all-Aboriginal women’s committee in Australia.
Aunty Glad became the council’s first President and worked alongside many of the States iconic Aboriginal women of the day such as, Faith Thomas, Maud Tongerie, Ruby Hammond, Veronica Brodie, Lowitja O’Donoghue Shirley Peisley and many others. In 1973 the Aboriginal Women’s Council changed its name to the Aboriginal Council of South Australia to allow men to join the organisation.
In 1966 Aunty Glad became a member of the State Aboriginal Affairs Board. A spokesperson for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs described her as, ‘a mother to her people, a person who has always worked for their welfare’.
In the early 1970's Aunty Glad together with John Morley set up art classes for Aboriginal people at the Challa Gardens Primary School. Aunty Glady recognised the value of education and as a result this programme became a precursor to establishing the Tauondi Aboriginal Community College located at Port Adelaide.
In 1971 in recognition of her dedication to the Aboriginal community, Aunty Glad received an M.B.E.
In 1973 the Aboriginal Community Centre was established in Wakefield Street Adelaide, Aunty Glad being the treasurer. The centre provided legal aid, housing, medical help and child care, basic services that were not readily available to Aboriginal people.
In 1976 she was made a life member of the centre now known as Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia, for her contribution towards improving the lives of Aboriginal people. In 1977 together with Maud Tongerie and Bert Clarke, Aunty Glad started the Aboriginal Medical Service with the help of her local doctor. She used an $800 fee that she had earned from speaking on radio to personally fund an electro-cardiograph machine.
In 1984, at the age of eighty, Aunty Glad was named the South Australian Aboriginal of the Year for her selfless dedication and contribution towards the development of vital services for Aboriginal people in South Australia.
Aunty Gladys died on 19th January 1988, and was buried at Centennial Park Cemetery leaving behind such legacies as Nunkuwarrin Yunti of South Australia, Tauondi Aboriginal Community College, Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement and the Aboriginal Council of South Australia.
In 1995 the Adelaide University’s Aboriginal Programs Unit paid tribute to Aunty Glad by naming the unit Wirltu Yarlu (Sea Eagle) after Aunty Glad’s totem.