As featured in The Country Web Number 59 Spring 2013 edition.
Walhallow‘s Mary Slater is the only daughter in a family of five and was bought up on an Aboriginal Mission. She later attended Quirindi High School before leaving in Year 10 to work at the local Walhallow Public School for five years.
Mary then gained employment at Tamworth’s Commonwealth Employment Service. Since then she has held various positions including Women’s Advisor with the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Commission, Senior Training Officer with the Aboriginal Housing Office and as an Aboriginal Coordinator for the Tamworth Aboriginal Community Justice Group. She is currently employed as a Community Program Officer with Aboriginal Affairs.
Mary’s words, ‘Respect your but most importantly, respect yourself’, echo her incredible journey to transform her community’s attitude towards domestic and family violence and child sexual abuse.
Never one to shy away from difficult or controversial issues, Mary has galvanised her community to tackle critical issues, common to all of Australia, head on. And having grown up in Walhallow she knows the only way to effect change in attitudes among these communities is by adopting an integrated approach.
Mary established a number of different groups providing avenues for everyone in these communities to have their voices heard. She played a key role in setting up the Guurrama Women’s Support Group, formed the Aboriginal Men’s Group engaging Elders to ensure their input into decision-making and she oversees the Malagan-Yinarr Girls Mentor program at Quirindi High School—a program which helps more than 30 Aboriginal students with issues including health and wellbeing and career development.
A graduate of the University of Technology Sydney, Mary has successfully brought together representatives from government and the nongovernment sector to ensure a community approach is taken to address community issues. It is Mary’s unwavering support and passion for the welfare of the people of Walhallow, Werris Creek and Quirindi that makes her a household name in these communities.
She promotes trust among everyone that she brings together. When asked to sum up Mary’s impact on these communities, her friends and colleagues describe her as “a quiet achiever, instrumental in driving change, in particular around Aboriginal child sexual abuse, family and domestic violence.”
When we asked Mary who the most influential person in her life has been she cites her Mother. ‘I was raised in a very disciplined way. Mum grew up with a very strict upbringing being raised in the Aboriginal Protection/Welfare Board days. This had an impact on my upbringing in terms of school attendance and having a clean place to live. ‘My two brothers and I often wonder how we have all come to have good jobs and work most of our lives. My answer is simple, because we were raised with standards, values and respect. Having this upbringing has given us a good education and a very strong work ethic.
Mary says one of the greatest pieces of advice she has received is to, ‘be positive and stay strong’. She says she has applied this advice to all areas of her life including the various career paths she has taken and the goals she sets for herself. Her favourite saying is a quote by Pamela Vaull Starr: ‘Reach high, for stars lie hidden in your soul. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal.’ Her best piece of advice for others … ‘You are put on this Earth for a reason, so dream big and reach out and find the strength in you to reach for that goal’.