Honouring Loris Williams

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this blog post contains images and names of people who have died.

Committed, strong and dignified – just a few words used to describe Loris Williams, a passionate advocate for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to use archives as a means of reconnecting with their family, country, and Indigenous identity.

Growing up in Brisbane, Loris was strongly connected to her Aboriginal heritage through both sides of her family. Her father Cyril was from the Mulinjali people from Beaudesert in South East Queensland. And her mother Agnes (nee Bell) was from the Birra Gubba people of North Queensland.

Loris Williams

Loris began her working life as a machinist and then joined Telstra as a telephone operator. However, at the age of 42, having been with Telstra for over 25 years, she was made redundant. Following her redundancy, Loris returned to study at the University of Technology Sydney where she graduated with a Bachelor of Education, with a major in Aboriginal studies. In 1999 she commenced part-time study for a graduate diploma in archives and records at Edith Cowan University, graduating in 2004.

In 1994 she began work assisting researchers at the Indigenous Resources Unit of State Library of Queensland (SLQ). In 1998 she moved to the Department of Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships’ (DSDATSIP) Community and Personal Histories (CPH) team that work in a dedicated office in the Queensland State Archives (QSA) Reading Room, which is now to be renamed ‘The Loris Williams Room’. Apart from a short secondment to SLQ in 2002, she remained with the Community and Personal Histories Section until she passed away.

Photographs courtesy of Ted Williams

I remember Loris as a very gracious, calm lady, willing to step in and help out when she could. She was friendly and kind and lovely to work with.

Elizabeth Hawkins – QSA staff member who worked with Loris at John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

Loris also became an active member within the Australian Society of Archivists both at a branch level, and nationally through her involvement in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Library, Information and Resource Network (ATSILIRN) and the Indigenous Issues Special Interest Group. She was particularly active in developing ways to get more Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders employed in archives, records management, and library services. 

Loris was considered a pioneer, becoming the first Aboriginal person from Queensland to gain professional archival qualifications, and only the second Aboriginal person to do so.

Loris took to her studies with enthusiasm… and on a personal level I learnt a lot from her… Loris was an ‘accidental activist’ – she did what she could, and she changed things for the better because she acted. 

Margaret Reid – Community and Personal Histories staff member who worked with Loris.

One of her notable achievements includes her significant role in the concurrent official celebrations of the 40th anniversary of suffrage for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – both women and men – and the celebration of the centenary of women’s suffrage.

Coinciding with NAIDOC Week, QSA have dedicated an office within our Reading Room to Loris, naming it the Loris Williams Room. This gives us a chance to commemorate her contribution to the archival profession and to the lives of the people she helped.

Loris’ strength, kindness and dignity is fondly remembered within the archival community, particularly amongst her colleagues who worked with her at Queensland State Archives and the Community and Personal Histories team.

Even though I did not know her for very long and not very well, she left a lasting impression on me with her calm and kind ways and her willingness to help and answer questions.

Katrin Hurlimann-Graham – QSA staff member

She spent the last 11 years of her life helping Indigenous people to reconnect with their Indigenous identity and encouraging her professional colleagues, non-Indigenous as well as Indigenous, to recognise the significance of this work.

If you asked her to do something, it got done. Loris always thought of others before herself.

Ted Williams, Loris’ brother

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

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