b. 1938

Aunty Bess Yarram has dedicated more than 40 years to working within the Gippsland Aboriginal community in the fields of justice and community development.

A Noongar Elder and one of seven children, Aunty Bess was born at the Aboriginal mission in Gnowangerup in Western Australia, where she was one of the first Aboriginal children to start at the local school. She later went to boarding school and then on to study nursing.

In 1957 she married Noel Yarram and the following year accompanied him to Malaysia, where he was serving with the Australian Army. While there Aunty Bess also volunteered her nursing skills with the Red Cross. Back in Australia, Aunty Bess and Noel were based in Puckapunyal with their six children. They later moved to Sale in the 1970s and quickly became involved in the local Aboriginal community.

Aunty Bess joined the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee for Gippsland, including in the role of Respected Elder at the Koori Courts in Morwell and Bairnsdale. While supporting and mentoring defendants, she was also able to provided magistrates with cultural awareness relevant to the local community.

Aunty Bess was one of the founding members of the Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Corporation. She was also instrumental in founding and running the Mixed Blessing annual camps for Indigenous seniors at various locations around Victoria.

Having recently turned 80, Aunty Bess continues to advocate for justice through her volunteer work at a Gippsland correctional centre. She puts her lifetime achievements down to a simple motto she has followed throughout her life: ‘If you want something, you work for it.’

Aunty Bess was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001. She was inducted onto the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2008 and the Victorian Aboriginal Honour Roll in 2014.