14 Apr, 2023

Aunty Shirley Peisley AM makes history

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For the first time in the City of Adelaide’s 182-year history, a portrait of an Aboriginal person will be displayed on the walls of the Council Chamber with pioneering reconciliation advocate Aunty Shirley Peisley AM to be celebrated as part of the Women in the Chamber initiative.

Aunty Shirley Peisley AM is a Ngarrindjeri / Boandik Elder who has dedicated her life to working towards reconciliation. Since the 1960s she has actively campaigned for Aboriginal rights, playing an important role in 1967 referendum.

Born in 1941, Aunty Shirley was the inaugural Co-Chair of the City of Adelaide Reconciliation Committee from 2002 to 2005 and was honoured with the Order of Australia Medal in 2000 for services to the Aboriginal Community in the areas of Culture, Heritage, Legal, Health, Welfare, Library Services, the Church, and Reconciliation.

Aunty Shirley and her family will unveil her portrait at today’s ceremony, which will be hosted by the Reconciliation Committee Co-Chairs Aunty Yvonne Agius and Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith.

“Aunty Shirley is a fearless role model not just for South Australian women, but women across Australia, who demonstrates the power of faith, integrity, generosity and optimism,” said the Lord Mayor.

“Much more than just a symbol of change, Shirley has formed alliances, instigated interventions, served on state and federal committees, and had been appointed by leaders on both sides of the political spectrum on a mission to untangle bureaucracy wherever she encountered it.

“It seems fitting to have Aunty Shirley’s portrait hung in the Chamber as a reminder to us of how diplomacy and persuasion can be the means to great reforms.”

Speaking on behalf of his mother, Damien Peisley said, “her family are over the moon with this public recognition.”

“We are honoured to have this amazing and beautiful portrait of mum displayed in the Adelaide Town Hall for everyone to see.”

Aunty Shirley and the Peisley family helped select the final photographic portrait, which was captured by esteemed Aboriginal artist Dr. Ali Gumilllya Baker.

"This photographic portrait honours the long tradition of feather flower making for Aboriginal communities in what is now called the South East of South Australia, which is where Aunty Shirley is from, and she can be seen with examples of these feather flowers in her hair,” said Dr Baker.

“Aunty Shirley also holds Red Kangaroo Paw flowers which honour the place of the Red Kangaroo, Tarndanyangga.

“There are also many significant ceremonial, medicinal, and food related plants that make up the background of the portrait, locating us on Kaurna Yarta."

The portrait of Aunty Shirley is the third in a series of ‘Women in the Chamber’ artworks honouring the leadership and achievements of inspiring South Australian women that have shaped our city and state.

Prior to this, of over 40 portraits represented in the Council Chamber, there was only one other woman, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The City of Adelaide public art collection is made up of commemorative monuments, sculptures, and installations, with a growing collection of contemporary artworks that help to tell the story of the city both past and present.

Please visit the City of Adelaide's public art page to find out more.

For more information

Jack Berketa