WELL WON: Tessie and Victor Brill, OAM, Australian awards.
WELL WON: Tessie and Victor Brill, OAM, Australian awards.

OAMs for Lismore’s community activists

Two former Lismore residents were awarded with Order of Australia Medals (OAMs) in the Australia Day honours awards. Tess and Victor Brill (who are aged 89 and 91 respectively) were honoured for "services to the community of the Northern Rivers".

Both have been actively involved in community organisations since the 1950s and their list of achievements has helped to shape the kind of community we now take for granted in the region.

Tess was involved in establishing Aboriginal welfare groups in the 1950s and 60s and was a founding member of the Big Scrub Environment Centre. She also got a breast screen service started in the Northern Rivers, a women's refuge established in Lismore and was a founding member of the Lismore Neighbourhood Centre.

Vic was a founding member of the Lismore Workers Club and involved in establishing Southern Cross University. He was a school teacher and principal at numerous local schools including the Cubawee Aboriginal Mission at Tuncester from 1963-66. A founding member of the Big Scrub Environment Centre, he was also heavily involved in the local Labor Council.

Vic told The Echo they had known the award was coming for a couple of months, but had to keep it confidential.

"We feel very proud, but humbled," he said.

"I think we've been rewarded for participating in community affairs by the number of friends we have made. Wonderful people; teachers and environmentalists like Jack Mundy and our many friends at (Hastings Point) Dune Care where we're working now."

The couple, who celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary on Monday, will be formally recognised at a service in Canberra later in the year.

Tess was nominated by her friend Pamela Ashton who said the award was "long overdue".

Ms Ashton said she was spurred on by reading an Honours thesis written by Julie-ann Paredes on Tess and her "exemplary life of activism".

The thesis started out as a history of Cubawee, where Tess had been active in helping the Aboriginal community and encouraged her husband to take on the job as teacher at the school. Ms Paredes said she was inspired by all the things that Tess had done throughout her life.

"Nobody had written about Cubawee and this woman. The story needed to be told, so I did it," she said.

"She looked at white society from an Indigenous perspective. Everyone really looked up to her. She is a really quiet achiever and it's wonderful she has finally been officially recognised," Ms Paredes said.

Vic was nominated by Beth Hansen who was one of the participants on the original Freedom Ride in 1964.

"When we came to Lismore, Vic and Tess were about the only people who would open their doors to us students. So I slept on their floor - that's how I first met them," she said.

The friendship continued when Beth moved to the area in the 1980s.

"I think he is one of the unsung heroes; very quiet, he never beats his own drum. But he has contributed in a major way to Aboriginal education as the principal at Cubawee. He has given so much through his service in schools generally, but particularly his service to Aboriginal education at Cubawee."

Vic agreed that among all the things he has done in a full life, that stands as one of his proudest achievements.

"The teacher before said we wouldn't get them (the students) past the third grade. But we did. Many continued their education at Albert Park School, and several became prefects there. I'm very proud of that," he said.

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