Ipswich Citizen of the Year triumphs after sad tragedy
IN A small cemetery near the former Purga Mission, headstones and fresh flowers mark the graves of Aunty Faye Carr's beloved family members.
Her parents are there. Her brothers are there. Her son, stabbed in 2007, is buried there. Opera legend Harold Blair, her mother's cousin, is there.
The people in that cemetery, especially her mother and father, are the ones who taught the Yuggera elder what work is.
They are the ones who inspired a life philosophy that culminated in her being named Ipswich's 2016 Citizen of the Year on Saturday.
Her daughter Samantha Carr said it was a well-deserved win after a lifetime spent helping Indigenous people in the legal system, at schools and through programs held at the Purga Mission.
Aunty Faye spent 14 years working in the Ipswich Legal Service with Indigenous offenders and victims.
Even now, more than two years after ill health forced her to retire, she continues to offer a listening ear to prisoners through regular visits to Southern Queensland Correctional Centre at Gatton.
"I didn't want to retire but I got sick... now I'm working harder than ever," Aunty Faye said.
Samantha, one of Faye's eight children, said her mother often filled the role of parent for Indigenous young people in the system who didn't have their own.
Her work at the legal centre ranged from keeping families in touch with one another to arranging food vouchers and help after release.
She did it all while working at a breakfast program for Indigenous school children in Bundamba and running regular activities from the Purga Mission property.
And she continued to work within the legal system even after it made her own family suffer in the wake of her son's death.
Dean Carr was stabbed in the heart in an attack at Flint St, North Ipswich on September 17, 2007.
The man who committed the crime was found guilty of murder in an initial trial in 2009 but later appealed the sentence and was found guilty of the new charge of manslaughter in a second trial in 2010.
Both trials were an ordeal for Aunty Faye and Dean's siblings, aunts, uncles and other family members. Aunty Faye said the family had to listen as Dean was portrayed as a homeless Indigenous man.
On the fifth anniversary of Dean's death in 2012, the man who killed him was released from prison in a decision that broke the hearts of the Carr family.
Even in the midst of such personal tragedy within the legal system, Aunty Faye continued to offer help to prisoners who asked for her.
"It was a hard thing to do," she said. "I didn't want to be there after that. I just kept going."
Samantha said Dean would be "absolutely proud" of his mother for the work she has done and being named Citizen of the Year.
Dean's death is only one of many personal tragedies Aunty Faye has survived in her life.
Her ninth child, a twin daughter, died when she was two-years-old due to a hole in her heart. She would have been 48 now if she had survived.
As she tended the graves of her loved ones yesterday, the softly-spoken elder was still in shock at receiving the award.
"There were a lot of other people there... I thought they should have got it," Aunty Faye said.
Samantha and six other family members were there on Saturday night to see Aunty Faye accept the award. None of them knew what award it was before the night.
As an Indigenous elder, attending the Australia Day awards was a hard decision to make. The day commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in 1788 and is often considered a day of tragedy for Indigenous heritage and culture.
Aunty Faye, who also has non-indigenous heritage on her father's side, decided to attend the award ceremony on the urging of her children.
"Being indigenous... I was thinking about that," she said.
"And my son, he said 'mother, you know you have to go. Be proud'."
"I'm so proud, and I'll treasure it."
Both Aunty Faye and Samantha hoped awarding Citizen of the Year to an Indigenous person would help foster co-operation in the city, especially given Aunty Faye's respected role.
"A lot of the Indigenous community know mum. She is a well-respected elder," Samantha said.
Aunty Faye, one of 14 siblings, said she hoped her work would help other Indigenous families keep together as hers does.
The weekend's trip to the cemetery is a regular activity that often calls on multiple generations to play their part.
"I'm the grandmother of 47 and I've got 14 great grandchildren," she said.
More than 200 family members also gathered together the weekend before the Australia Day awards to surprise Aunty Faye for her 70th birthday.
People travelled from as far as Cairns and Melbourne to help her celebrate the milestone.
Despite retirement, Aunty Faye has no plans to stop her work to help Indigenous people across Ipswich.
She and Samantha said Work for the Dole and horticultural training programs were now running at Purga and they were looking to arrange visits to Indigenous people in the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre.