There’s something about Lillian Fisher. She’s not a loud or dominant presence. But when she does speak, people stop and listen.
As an Identified Child and Family Practitioner at The Benevolent Society, Lillian plays a vital role working with families to keep them together and connected to their culture. In the work she does, the welfare of children is central. But for a child to be looked after, their parent or carer needs to be supported too. Lillian says that the ability to grow trust and connection is a non-negotiable attribute in her role.
“You need to build rapport before a family will open up and tell you their story. You can’t rush it. After a while, you get the parents’ trust, and then the kids see that and begin to open up too.”
Born for the job: a legacy of pride and advocacy
Every day, Lillian brings expertise, experience and empathy, shaped by her own journey. She’s always been heavily connected to her culture, country and community. Her father, in particular, was a strong influence on her.
“I identify as Wakka Wakka and grew up in a pretty political family. My father was a poet and an activist. And he did over 30 years of service with the Human Rights Commission for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander welfare. He was really inspiring and raised us to be proud, He always said, ‘Never forget who you are. Never forget who your mob are. Never forget where you come from.’ And we haven’t.”
Today, Lillian is fighting to pass that message on. And she’s not the only one.
“My brother, Allan, works alongside me here at The Benevolent Society. We’re a really good team. We work hard to support and guide our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients. We want children at home with their families, with their mobs. We are doing everything we can to keep children where they belong. Allan and I support each other so we can support our community better.”
A career driving change
After more than 13 years working in Child Protection, and with four years at The Benevolent Society, Lillian has gained extensive experience, and a strong understanding of the intricacies of the industry.
“I’ve done a lot over the years that helps me with my families at The Benevolent Society. It was important to me to get a feel for what it was like in the Government context, and I wanted to know the Child Protection Act. So I worked as a Child Safety Support Officer in the Department of Child Safety, and then as a Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect Support Officer. And I’ve spent time as a Recognised Entity Worker with First Contact, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.”
The experience and knowledge Lillian developed, combined with her passion and drive, makes a potent recipe for change.
“I wanted to give something back to my community, to my people. And to make sure I was looking after the children by giving the best advice - as an independent person, not as Child Safety.”
A standard week at Lillian’s office might include connecting families to services that can help them, providing essential cultural support, or taking a walk to the park and chatting to parents and children about their story. Lillian explains that she also strives to instil in her clients a sense of pride and connection to culture.
“We need to keep connection. We don’t want to create another Stolen Generation. We don’t want our kids losing their identity. We want them to stand up and say ‘Hey, I’m Aboriginal and I know where I come from, and I know all about my history.’”
Work to be done
Lillian says that within the Child Protection sector, a lot of change needs to take place in order to provide the best possible support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families. In the future, Lillian hopes to see even more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people engaged in roles like hers.
“The Benevolent Society is a mainstream service, but I want to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders employed here. Because then people won’t be afraid to come to us. They need to see we’re here to support them and that we understand their journey.”
Lillian acknowledges the work that has already been done, but also the importance of always pushing for equality.
“The Benevolent Society is still learning. So, if someone is working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients, they must always consult with one of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers here. Internally, The Benevolent Society is building cultural awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history. And there’s always so much to learn.”
Across the generations
Today, Lillian passes her values on to her four children and 15 grandchildren. Pride fills her voice as she shares stories of her grandchildren standing up to racism or the historically inaccurate narratives taught in their classrooms.
One thing’s for certain; Lillian deserves recognition. In 1997, she and two colleagues won the first-ever Award for Excellence in Customer Service at the QLD Department of Housing. In 2005 she was recognised for her contribution to her community and was the recipient of the First Contact NAIDOC Award: ‘Service to the Community’. And more recently, she was the inaugural recipient of the Reconciliation Award at The Benevolent Society.
“Taking my mum down to Sydney to receive my award was a highlight for me. We were both so proud.”
When asked what she would like to be known for, Lillian thinks for a moment.
“Just for people to know that I do care about our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, especially our children. Our Jarjums. To know I’m there to help, to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families are safe. That I was able to better their lives.”
Thank you, Lillian, for all that you bring to support and guide families and our organisation.