Butchulla community mourns local leader taken too soon

* Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that this article contains images of deceased persons

A VALUED member of the Fraser Coast's Butchulla community is being mourned.

It is understood Michelle Howden, better known as Shelly, died of a brain aneurysm on October 16 aged just 44.

The senior project officer with the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, was remembered this week as someone who worked for the betterment of indigenous people.

Fellow community leader Robert Garland said Shelly was committed to delivering projects for the community.

"She will be deeply missed," he said.

"Wherever she went she made a mark, and a positive mark, not only for the indigenous community but for the community in general.

"She was a very giving and caring person and so professional to boot, always trying to make people's lives better.

Butchulla elder Glen Miller described Shelly as a "mover and a shaker" within the community and said she would be greatly missed.

Shelly was a mother of four and had two grandchildren.

Her profile on the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships website said culturally, Shelly was a mother and grandmother to many more.

"She comes from a long line of strong women who not only fought for gender equality but also had to fight for equality based on their race," the profile reads.

"Motivated by strong female role models that include her Aunty Rene, Shelly's eyes were opened up to a greater world, and the importance that education can play in one's life.

NAIDOC 2019 – flag raising ceremony at Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere – Shelly Howden delivers the NAIDOC speech.
NAIDOC 2019 – flag raising ceremony at Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere – Shelly Howden delivers the NAIDOC speech.

"Aunty Rene was the trailblazer in her family and became the first Aboriginal teacher on Palm Island, even going on to achieve a Master of Education.

"This inspired Shelly to be the first member of her own family to graduate Year 12.

"Wanting more, Shelly started her career in the Federal Government and later as a student to graduate with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Indigenous Community Management.

"Now with the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships as a Senior Project Officer, Shelly contributes to improving the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people every day," it read.

In her own words, Shelly said her career with the government had spanned over 22 years.

"I've had the opportunity to act in various management roles and I have the aspiration to become a Regional Director, but my accomplishments have not come easy."

Naidoc Week – Fraser Coast Naidoc Awards – Community Person of the Year to (L) Sharly Murdoch (Maryborough) and Shelly Howden (Hervey Bay).
Naidoc Week – Fraser Coast Naidoc Awards – Community Person of the Year to (L) Sharly Murdoch (Maryborough) and Shelly Howden (Hervey Bay).

Away from her career, Shelly had been the victim of domestic and family violence, which impacted on her self-esteem, confidence, wellbeing and at times, even her ability to function or attend work, which culminated in a life changing event late in 2017, the profile said.

Shelley shared her courageous story with Maryborough Correctional Centre staff on International Women's Day.

"With my partners I made some bad choices which resulted in lack of support and decades of domestic violence," she said.

"I always had to be mindful and consider any work business that took me away from the family home, even if it was just for a night."

But with the support of her family, colleagues and workplace, Shelly came out of the experience a wiser person and felt that she could still achieve so much more.

"Like many women in the same situation, I also say I am a full-time mother and full-time worker, but I do it all in part-time hours as there are never enough hours in the day … ordinary women do extraordinary things every day," she said.

Shelly's funeral will be held on Friday.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance is by family invitation only.



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