Yvonne Weldon is rightly proud of what she’s achieved in her life.
She was proud when she became the first Indigenous person on the City of Sydney council in 2021, she’s proud to sit on various boards for Indigenous organisations, and she’s proud she was asked to welcome 80,000 fans to Country at the start of State of Origin One in Sydney last week.
But above all, she’s proud of her culture. Ms Weldon grew up in Sydney but has a strong connection to Wiradjuri Country in Cowra, central west NSW, where her ancestors are from.
“I honour them by continuing the work they have set out for me and so many others,” she says.
“It’s an important part of making a difference. I’ve always been raised on the fact that there’s someone else worse [off] than you. We’ve always cared for others.”
Now, she’s been recognised for her significant service to the Indigenous communities of NSW by being made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
“I’m so humbled by being recognised for what I have done my entire life,” she said.
“But the people that need to be recognised are the ones that have set the pathway for me. I wouldn’t be in the position I am if they didn’t have faith and believe in creating so much change.”
Past driving the present
Ms Weldon remembers hearing the harrowing stories of survival from her family and Elders when she was growing up.
“My great-grandfather was removed before he was four and taken out to Bomaderry and put out to be a slave on a farm as a young child,” she says.
“He went home and married my great-grandmother and had a family. He held records at the Easter Show in Brisbane and Sydney for the highest jump on a horse. But he had to wait for 30-odd years until he was recognised as a citizen in this country.
“My mum grew up on a mission and she had to hide from welfare so they didn’t take her as well – there are so many memories from my family that lived to tell their stories.
“The fact that my mum recalls being sat down to counted to be included (in the national population) after the 1967 referendum, after being born in a segregated part of the Cowra hospital, is so telling in today’s age how far we have come, but we have much further we need to go.”
It’s those stories and tribulations that have driven her to work tirelessly advocating for Indigenous issues, to ensure the next generation has a positive future.
“For me, it’s about showing it is possible to achieve and I’m certainly achieving the best way I possibly can,” she says.
“I’ve had great supporters from so many walks of life and I hope that continues with these kids for their future."
Although she sits on Sydney’s council, Ms Weldon says her work isn’t political.
“I don’t believe that I’m in politics because I was just wanting to continue to make a difference.”
“I believe I’ve made positive inroads for my people so running for council wasn’t about politics but ensuring voices of people locally and all communities are represented. I certainly don’t have any other political aspirations.”
But she has seen firsthand how powerful it is for young Indigenous people to see people like her in powerful positions.
“I knew it was important, but I didn’t realise the significance.” Australia’s governor-general David Hurley announced Monday's Queen’s Birthday honours had been awarded to 992 Australians.
“On behalf of all Australians, I congratulate the Australians recognised in today’s Honours List,” Mr Hurley said.
“Recipients share some common traits – including selflessness, excellence and a commitment to service. They’re from different backgrounds, their stories are each unique, and each has served in different ways. This diversity is a strength and each has impacted their community and made it better.
“For that, we thank them and, today, we celebrate them.
For Ms Weldon, it all comes back to family.
“One of the most poignant moments for me was looking at my grandson, who is now three.
He didn’t know at the time what that meant for me to run for local council, but he can now say to his non-Aboriginal peers that was his grandmother standing for local elections.
“Imagine what’s going to be possible for him when he is 20 years of age. I am hopeful all kids in this country can start to really walk with my people, and not just for my people.”