Veteran Aboriginal campaigner Aunty Matilda House to be honoured by ANU

Matilda House, Ngambri Elder was conferred an honourary doctorate by the ANU. Photo David Ellery
Matilda House, Ngambri Elder was conferred an honourary doctorate by the ANU. Photo David Ellery

Aunty Matilda House, one of the region’s pioneering Indigenous campaigners and the first person to perform a Welcome to Country ceremony at the opening of Federal Parliament, has received a new title.

The Australian National University conferred an honorary doctorate on the 72-year-old Ngambri​ elder on Wednesday afternoon.

Professor Richard Baker, the ANU's pro-vice-chancellor university experience, broke the news on Tuesday at the launch of the university's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Trail, saying she had "a long standing connection with ANU".

"Matilda was involved in the establishment of this [Tjabal​ Indigenous Higher Education Centre] back in 1989. She is [also] the patron of the indigenous network for ANU students that we launched here last year," he said.

Ms House, who was involved in the research and planning underpinning the heritage trail, said the news had come as a surprise. She told Fairfax the distinction was as much a recognition of her ancestors and descendants as of her.

"This doctorate is a recognition of all of my ancestry, and of course, my children. Family is precious and acknowledges the past with all of us."

The creation of the self-guided walking trail, which has 15 stops and winds close to Sullivans Creek and Black Mountain, was made possible by input from all four of the ACT's indigenous groups; the Ngunnawal, the Ngambri​, the Ngunawal​ and the Ngarigu​.

James Mundy, an elder of the Ngarigu Currawong Clan, said he hoped those who walked the trail would reach a new understanding of "the diversity and richness of the Aboriginal history and families of the Canberra region".

Ms House said the creation of the trail, which has been documented in a back-pack friendly guidebook available at the ANU's Tjabal Centre, the Menzies and Chifley Libraries and Student Central, would keep the memories of the ancestors alive.

"How wonderful it is for them [my descendants] to know that their great great great grandfather, Black Harry, is now going to be known forever in the generations of the children coming through," she said.

"I truly believe the stories will always be told; that is being done alongside the Canberra Creek. I do appreciate the care the university has taken in taking the ancestors into their hearts."

Read the full citation here.