Activism At Any Age: Marlene Wilson

Activism at any age: Three older Australians standing up for what they believe…


Marlene Wilson


“All you have to do is get out there and smile at someone. No matter what your age, anyone can help make the world a bit better simply by sharing a smile.”


At 67 years, Marlene Wilson’s life is brimming with the excitement of new projects, passion for community, the joys and struggles of an extensive extended family, deep faith, abundant resilience in the face of physical challenges…. and stories of survival.


Born premature and not expected to live, Marlene has faced adversity from without and within. Having lived through removal from her family, institutional abuse, sexual and family violence, suicide attempts, and seemingly unbearable heartbreak and trauma, Marlene says her life is better now than ever. She’s preparing to record her song “Never Meant to Die”, her art is selling, and she’s just been on her first-ever Invasion Day march.


Having been brought up white, Marlene is now a recognized Elder in the Aboriginal community and is doing what she can to make sure other children and families don’t experience the disruption, trauma and violence that she experienced.


Though always outspoken, and naturally community-minded, Marlene didn’t recognize her own trauma until later in life.


Marlene and her nine siblings were repeatedly removed from and reunited with each other and their parents, facing the complexity of sometimes loving, yet abusive relationships, and neglect. They were shuffled around, sent to relatives, and foster care, sometimes only to face worse situations. Pivotal moments mark her journey to rediscovering her roots and her hidden artistic talent.


At four, Marlene had a “God-moment.” Her faith has given her the strength to overcome and learn from adversity.  In the 1990s her faith led her to work with Brisbane’s disadvantaged as a street minister. On the streets she was repeatedly asked, who her people were and from where had she come. Though she had been adopted by an Aboriginal tribe as a child in Cooktown, she had not realised she was Aboriginal herself until this work and her study of Indigenous history helped her put together the pieces of her family’s broken past.


In the early 2000s, she got invited to a performance featuring people who had been abused in institutional care sharing their stories. There, she realised she was also a “Forgotten Australian.”


On September 6, 2011, Marlene re-discovered art and its power of healing. As a child, she had enjoyed art. Assaulted in foster care by the carer who had given her art supplies, Marlene shut down. On September 6, 2011, Marlene started art therapy. Her first work was dark, from her childhood.  The second, looked at Christ entering her life and her adulthood. The third week, she painted 11 paintings and sold one. And she was off. Her paintings, which she sells for charity, have been selling ever since.


Marlene is involved in numerous community organisations advocating for the rights of First Nations people, Forgotten Australians and victims of crime; she’s active in supporting the socially isolated, is part of the Alternatives to Violence program and is on the Board of the National Alliance for Forgotten Australians. Last year, she received two commendations for her child protection work as a volunteer and educator on historical abuse and was a keynote speaker at the National Victims of Crime Conference “Advocacy in to Fruition.” She also sings with the WhoopeeDo Crew, her church and the With One Voice Choir.


On top of it all, Marlene has 5 kids of her own, 10 grandkids, a great-granddaughter, two legal foster children and hundreds of adults that call her mum with kids that call her nan.  Marlene is a busy woman!  But she always finds time for community, giving hugs and sharing tears… In public, Marlene speaks, sings and shares her stories, expressing herself politically and spiritually through her art.  Her survival and her blossoming today embody her message: “There’s always hope!”





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