EXTRAordinary Woman: Helen Bnads
07 March 2016
To celebrate International Women’s Day 2016, the City of Greater Dandenong presents EXTRAordinary Women, which celebrates the achievements of five women in the Greater Dandenong community.
International Women's Day is celebrated globally each year on 8 March. It is an opportunity to reflect on the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Read more about International Women’s Day.
HELEN BNADS has faith that helping others is the right path for her.
The 64 year old exudes warmth to everyone she meets in her many community roles. Helen is referred to as an Aboriginal Community Elder here in Victoria.
Perhaps it is Helen’s comfortable relationship with death that allows her to be so full of life.
The 64 year old exudes warmth to everyone she meets in her many community roles, whether that be patients in a weakened health state or the young Aboriginal offenders who have lost their way.
The Aboriginal elder and Catholic embraces each role with a gusto that only comes with a true sense of purpose.
Helen’s clarity comes from her own life experiences, both good and bad. Drowning when she was just 13 years old cemented that willingness to share her spirit so freely.
She can still vividly recall the divine force that told her it was not her time to die as she was revived by lifesavers.
“I was going through a tunnel to be met by my perception of my God and this overwhelming whiteness of pure love,” Helen said. “It was a feeling all over my body, a visual and all my senses. I didn’t want to come back but was told my job wasn’t finished.
“That experience made a significant stamp on my soul. Okay, I’m meant to stay here, but death doesn’t scare me. You can never take your own life because that’s not how it works. But I won’t be sad to go when my time is up. I’ll know that I have lived my life 100 per cent and I have honoured myself and my God.”
Helen finds purpose in guiding others, including as a Koori elder at Dandenong’s Children’s Court. She directs young offenders to reflect on their own cultural identity when considering their future path.
“I don’t have any blinkers on, but I do understand where they’ve come from,” Helen said. “Aboriginal health is about looking at people totally.”
Helen was the target of racism from both students and teachers at her local state school in Brisbane. Her family of 10 children did not have the money for school materials, but her parent’s love and sense of identity gave Helen, a proud Birri Gubba woman from the Bindal region, the foundations for coping.
The nuns that schooled Helen from grade 3 exemplified the principles of Catholicism that continue to provide her moral compass and, eventually, led her to become a foundation member of Melbourne’s Interfaith Centre.
It was also the nuns that supported Helen’s decision to become a nurse after she was inspired by the compassion of hospital staff treating her for the severe eczema that had left her bloodied and bandaged for most of her childhood.
While nursing, Helen met her now former husband. The couple’s two daughters were still toddlers when Helen returned to studies. She finished year 12 part-time before attending Monash University as a mature age student, completing an arts degree majoring in Asian and Australian history, anthropology and archaeology. This was followed by post-graduate studies in public policy, ethnic relations and religious studies.
Helen worked at the Australian Trade Commission before returning to Monash as director of the Aboriginal Education & Research Unit. She was prompted to complete a diploma of education in narrative therapy and counselling after returning to Queensland to care for her dying mother.
While there, Helen became manager of the Social Emotion and Well Being Counselling Unit, Link Up Queensland, assisting with reunions for the Stolen Generations after the national apology by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Today, Helen continues to assist with the social and emotional wellbeing, healing and goodbyes in her role as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hospital liaison officer at Peninsula Health Frankston.
“You see people at their most vulnerable and bravest and I am lucky to be working here using all my skills.”
Interview by Natalie Filmer for The Hive Greater Dandenong Blog.