The Otway Aboriginal Matriarch – Aunty Edna Arnold

“Let us walk softly across this land together as brothers and sisters. Remembering that whatever we do to the land we give to our children.”


March is Women’s History Month and in acknowledgement of International Women’s Day we would like to introduce you to Violet Edna Arnold, nee Baulch, is known locally as Aunty Edna.

Now in her eighties and facing the daily challenges of an ageing body, “you just have to learn to live with it”, Aunty Edna’s mind and spirit are still sharp. Her earliest memories are of growing up at Busty, or Krambruk North, on top of the Wild Dog Road ridge near Apollo Bay. Krambruk (Aboriginal for ‘sandy place’) was the original name for Apollo Bay.

The property was settled by Aunty Edna’s step grandfather, an Afghan hawker and settler, Ghool Khan, who died in 1953 aged 96 years.


Aunty Edna has vague memories of the creek running at the back of the farm where they used to catch fish as children. Sliding on and off a horse and riding horseback down the steep, windy hill to school at Tigers Lane, Skenes Creek. The pine needles were so thick, the students would spend their break time sliding down on old sacks. Getting lost going home in the fog and being left behind….



When Aunty Edna was growing up, nobody talked about the Aboriginal side of the family. But when she had her own son, Ronnie, her curiosity was stirred by his persistent questioning of the past. Investigations into the family tree revealed a link to the Gadabanud (Cape Otway) and Gulidjan (Colac) clans through their ancestors Richard Sharpe, Queen Kitty and John Co Co Coine.

The reclaiming of her Aboriginal heritage has opened and enriched Aunty Edna’s world. But being introduced as the ‘Otway Aboriginal Matriarch’ is a bittersweet experience as Aunty Edna says, “ It hurts to get up there and speak as I feel the weight of all the past atrocities that were committed on our people.”

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So it was with some ambivalence that Aunty Edna gave the welcome to country address at the Colac Otway Shire’s 2014 Australia Day celebrations in Forrest. But the hundreds of people present and listening over the air on OCRFM, warmly received her brief and elegant speech. Here is an excerpt:

On Australia Day we remember the arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney in 1788. This day also marks the dispossession of the Aboriginal people from their country. I would like to acknowledge that for many Aboriginal people, this is an emotional day, as we reflect upon the changes this brought to our people. The first peoples of this land. Let us walk softly across this land together as brothers and sisters. Remembering that whatever we do to the land we give to our children.

During your time in Gadubanud country, treat the land, the animals, and each other with respect.

Aunty Edna is proud, both of her Aboriginal heritage and of the way her people are standing up for their rights and having their voices heard. We have a lot to learn from the original caretakers of the land.




Thank you to Aunt Edna and Apollo Bay Historical Society for photos.

5 thoughts on “The Otway Aboriginal Matriarch – Aunty Edna Arnold

  1. The indigenous stories on this site are moving and reveal a heritage we need to know more about. Thank you for writing it back into history.

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