Mum Shirl (Shirley Smith) (1921-1998)
“Every day is part of a miracle and I have found that to be the truth, all my life.”
Shirley Smith, a Wiradjuri woman also known as Mum Shirl, was born on the Erambie Mission near Cowra and grew up with her grandparents.
When her brother was imprisoned, her life’s work began. As she visited him in prison, she realised that many of the other inmates had no visitors, so she began to visit others too. Soon after, she began to extend her visits to other prisons around New South Wales.
Ultimately, she was given access by the Department of Corrective Services to visit all prisoners around NSW. This is how she earned the nickname ‘Mum Shirl’, suggesting the respect she received from the inmates she visited.
In addition to this, Mum Shirl began offering assistance to Aboriginal people around Sydney, providing shelter, food and friendship for those new to the city. She worked with children, single mothers, and the homeless. She was also influential in land rights advocacy and later worked in the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern.
Through her life, Mum Shirl made enormous contributions to the Indigenous community in Sydney and New South Wales. She drew her greatest strength from God.
She was awarded as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1977 and the Order of Australia (MA) in 1985.
You can read more about Mum Shirl at the National Museum of Australia