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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Faith Thomas (1933–2023)

by Bharat Sundaresan

from Sydney Morning Herald

Aunty Faith: “How long are you going to keep visiting me for?”

Tyson Baird: “Well we’re mates Faith. So, till the end.”

Aunty Faith: “The end? You mean when one of us carks it?”

Tyson Baird: “Yep”

Aunty Faith: “OK. Good then.”

Tyson Baird recalls this conversation from 2020 very vividly. It was during one of his routine fortnightly visits to Aunty Faith Thomas at the nursing home in Port Augusta, where she resided until her passing on Saturday (April 15) at the age of 90. Baird, an occupational therapist from Adelaide, had met Aunty Faith, the first Aboriginal woman to have represented Australia in any sport, through work in Port Augusta more than five years ago. He would then go on to become Aunty Faith’s biographer, friend and confidante through the final chapter her life.

And Baird did keep his word, visiting her until the “end”. Even once her health started to deteriorate last year and all he could do was peep into her room very briefly for a greeting. Right until he received information from the nursing home and Aunty Faith’s family about her having slipped into palliative care last week, followed by news about her subsequent death.

Baird believes that their chat from three years ago, though, summed up Aunty Faith’s easy-going attitude and disarming sense of humour perfectly. Just like his final chat with her a few months ago exemplified her giving nature.

“It was some time last year. I kept asking her about how she was doing, and she kept turning it around and asking me about how I was doing and how my two sons were doing,” Baird tells The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

That for Baird, was Aunty Faith in a nutshell. Someone who dedicated her life to caring for others while never ever taking herself too seriously. Despite all her achievements. Despite all her honours. A pioneering and extraordinary woman who is now being remembered not just for having won a Test cap for Australia in 1958 but for the years that she spent thereafter serving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities around Australia as a nurse.

From trailblazer to flag-bearer, there will be no dearth of complimentary terms used to describe and celebrate the legacy of Aunty Faith Thomas. And rightfully so. But for Baird, her impact on Australian society goes well beyond what she achieved both as a cricketer and as a nurse.

“She stands as the epitome of reconciliation, someone who brought two complex cultures together in the face of many challenges and worked hard to make this world a better and a fairer place,” says Baird, who also produced a documentary about the remarkable woman called “Before Her Time”, which was shown on NITV last year.

According to him, Aunty Faith was a ‘voice’ for Aboriginal Australians, and also had the ear of prominent politicians of her time, from Don Dunstan, one of the most progressive premiers of South Australia, and Sir Douglas Nicholls, the first Indigenous Australian to serve as governor of South Australia. Baird recalls how excited she was to return to Government House in 2019 to receive her Order of Australia medal.

“‘This isn’t my first time here’, she told me the moment I wheeled her in. She spoke about being a regular visitor to Government House when Sir Douglas was in charge and when she played a big role in the early years of Aboriginal welfare and perhaps offered a practical example of reconciliation back then,” he reveals.

Baird had previously brought her to Adelaide in 2018 during Reconciliation Week, where she was the guest of honour at an event co-hosted by SA Health and the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) to honour Aunty Faith’s contributions to cricket and the nursing industry. In addition to hosting her at his home in the city, Baird had also delivered the key-note speech at the event. It included a visit to the Adelaide Oval, where Aunty Faith has a deserving place in the Avenue of Honour and where the Adelaide Strikers play for the Faith Thomas Trophy in the WBBL every year.

The Order of Australia presentation would be Aunty Faith’s last visit to Adelaide, and Baird reminisces about how enthusiastic she was to receive the honour, even while characteristically underplaying its significance.

“She didn’t understand the need for the pomp and show but enjoyed the attention. It gave her a chance to regale everyone with her stories, which she loved doing more than anything else,” he says now.

It was while listening to her “captivating story-telling over copious amounts of coffee on her back porch in Port Augusta” that Baird admits he grew very close to Aunty Faith before she was shifted to the nursing home. While she always acknowledged the significance of being the first Indigenous Test cricketer and her contributions towards women’s cricket in Australia, Baird insists that she always underplayed her own cricket career as being a “flash in the pan”. Except when it came to the Baggy Green which she was awarded retrospectively in 2006.

As Baird reveals, “She carried it around everywhere, and it remained in her dresser next to the bed at the nursing home till the very end.”

Original publication

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Citation details

Bharat Sundaresan, 'Thomas, Faith (1933–2023)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/thomas-faith-33354/text41666, accessed 27 February 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Coulthard, Faith
  • Tinnipha
Birth

1933
Nepabunna, South Australia, Australia

Death

15 April, 2023 (aged ~ 90)
Port Augusta, South Australia, Australia

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