amy lesterAmy and her sisters met the Beatles in Brisbane in 1964. She also travelled to Nashville in 2006 and stood on stage at the Grand Ole Opry, her life long wish. Amy’s nickname is Peanut – she was given this name by a fellow classmate because of her size and colour, and the name stuck throughout her time at school. Something else you may or may not know is that Amy is generally always the first to know when something is going on, but for the first time in her life, she has been taken by complete surprise – she knew absolutely nothing about this awards evening. She thought she was coming to Brisbane to attend a Native Title meeting. Instead we are joined here tonight to honour Amy Lester.

Amy was born on the 3rd December at a property called ‘Girrah’ which is situated on her traditional country. Amy and her family came from Barada and Kabalbara country in Central Queensland and were raised in Bluff. There were 16 children in Amy’s family, 12 girls and four boys.  All children except the last 4 were born on country and were educated in the bush.  Over time this family has grown in size to consist of members, and extended family members, living locally, nationally and internationally.

Amy, like a lot of other Aboriginal girls, worked as a domestic and housemaid on properties in rural Queensland before later moving on to work in motels and hotels. She soon met Paul Lester who would go on to become her life partner, and began touring the country and western circuit. She travelled with the Rick and Thel Carey Show all across Australia and met many of Australia’s greatest country music stars including Slim Dusty and Joy McKean, Buddy Williams, Tex Morton, Gordon Parsons, Chad Morgan and others.  In later years she came to be friends with Troy Cassar Daley and the Chambers family including a young Casey Chambers.

Upon Amy’s return to Rockhampton she was elected to sit on the Board of Bidgerdii. When the service advertised for a new Chief Executive Officer she applied for the role and secured herself the position, a seat she filled for 10 years.

As CEO, Amy built Bidgerdii from a small organisation to one that grew to deliver services in Rockhampton, Gracemere and Blackwater.  The Blackwater clinic was established in response to the Primary Health Care Access Program (PHCAP) initiatives and at the request of the local Indigenous community. The organisation facilitated the addition of a mobile clinic as well as a range of allied health programs such as Mums and Bubs, drug & alcohol programs and Chronic Health Care Plans. In total, both in a voluntary and in a paid capacity, Amy has been working in the Community Controlled Health Sector for close to 20 years.

For Amy her true love in the job was the challenge of working towards improving the health and well being of Murri people.  During her time, she recognised that mainstream health services have been unable to come to grips with the health problems experienced by Indigenous people in Australia. That instead of the health outcomes getting better, at a point in time, they were actually getting worse.  To this end, Amy became a passionate advocate for community controlled health care. She speaks of a power generated in people who play a role in determining their own health future, not bureaucrats.

She has fought the good fight and in doing so has given years, and her health, to this cause.  Under Amy’s watch, Bidgerdii has grown from a small service to one that had holds a predominant and proud position in the Central Queensland region. Through her guidance Bidgerdii has come to be regarded as a trailblazing service for Murri health. Scores of Indigenous people have obtained accreditation and valuable skills in health care work while employed at Bidgerdii and the community has been able to rely on service they could call their own.  She led Bidgerdii in the community around youth issues, sport and recreation, eye health, sexual health, self determination and community control. Amy’s strong belief in community engagement meant making sure her staff were actively involved in community functions such as NAIDOC, Healing Days, Sorry Day and other events. She played a huge role in ensuring the highly publicised ‘Vibe 3 on 3 Basketball’ initiative continued to return to Rockhampton over a number of years.

Amy has a passion for governance in community control and believes that a Board should work with members of staff and the community to lead an organisation in a way that the community desires.  The new models of governance have caused her to question the validity of separating the role of the Board from that of custodians of organisations.  She firmly believes Boards are representatives of the members or the owners of the organisation and, particularly with the Carver model of governance, sees their role as being pushed back, away from the original concepts which champion for Indigenous people taking control of their own destiny.

Amy’s greatest achievement in the Community Controlled Health Sector can be seen through Bidgerdii’s success. It has always been a strong voice and an advocate for the health of Indigenous people. It is a truly active and proud partner in driving the Indigenous health agenda and one that she can proud very proud.