(This post contains images of a deceased person.)
Robert “Jumbo” Pearce, with his wife Marion and his daughters Linda, Margaret, Michelle and May.
By Troy Brown
Robert ‘Jumbo’ Pearce, a proud Muthi Muthi man, was born May 10, 1947, and passed away April 23, 2013.
(This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of his passing, and he is being remembered by everyone in the GEGAC community.)
The son of Thomas Pearce and Violet Pearce nee Kirby, born in Balranald, NSW, and a sibling of 10.
At the age of nine, Uncle Jumbo was forcibly removed from his parents and his five younger siblings, from the old Manatunga Mission in Robinvale.
In 1965 he met and married the love of his life, Marion Solomon, in Robinvale and moved back to Bairnsdale where they raised their four daughters.
As well as raising these four, May, Margaret, Linda and Michelle, Uncle Jumbo and Aunty Marion provided foster care to more than 200 Aboriginal children.
He had experienced and seen the adverse effects of what the system of removal and foster placement during the Stolen Generations did to Aboriginal children’s self-identity and mental health.
This inspired Marion and Jumbo to advocate tirelessly for Aboriginal parents whose children were being removed, with the vision of helping these kids develop a strong sense of their Aboriginal Identity.
In the late 1960s, Uncle Jumbo and Aunty Marion joined other local Aboriginal community members in setting up a dedicated Aboriginal medical service that in 1975 would be incorporated as the Gippsland & East Gippsland Aboriginal Cooperative (GEGAC), for Aboriginal community who were unable to access basic services.
Uncle jumbo started out as a volunteer medical driver, and in the absence of any alternative often transported the bodies of those who had passed.
Other than being a GEGAC Board Director for more than 25 years, Uncle Jumbo was a long-serving board member of many prominent Victorian Aboriginal Organisations, including the Koorie Heritage trust, which he chaired, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc (VAEAI), Board of Director for the National Aboriginal Community Control Health Organisation (NACCHO) and in later years cofounded the Centre of Excellence for Aboriginal Health in East Gippsland (CEAHEG).
Known as a voice of reasoning and a go-to person, when sections of the Bairnsdale community objected to the location chosen for GEGAC’s new premises in the 1980s, Uncle Jumbo led a successful four-year campaign with other Elders to dispel misinformation and win public support.
It was in this spirit that Jumbo later helped establish the Krowathunkooloong Keeping Place, believing in the need not only to preserve Aboriginal cultural heritage on country, but also to share it with future generations of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.