Woman Stanton, Mimbinggal Violet McGinness

Aboriginal Welfare Worker
Alternative Names
  • Stanton, Vai McGinness

Written by Ruth Lee, Australian Catholic University

Mimbinggal Violet (Vai) McGinness Stanton, Aboriginal welfare worker and elder of Kungarakany and Gurindji descent, was born in 1929 at Mataranka, Northern Territory, Australia. She was the second oldest of nine children and attended primary schools in Darwin and Katherine. Her father was a railways maintenance worker and became the first Indigenous trade union leader in Australia as the President of the North Australian Workers' Union. Stanton was very proud of him: 'a man of great strength and endurance,' and drew inspiration from his examples throughout her adult life (Australian Film Institute, 1993).

As a child, her mother had been forcibly removed from her family and sent to Darwin's Khalin Compound until she was put into 'service' for white people at the age of 16; she was never taught to read or write (Australian Film Institute, 1993). Stanton saw her as a strong role model: 'Mum fought tooth and nail to ensure we weren't taken away' (Sykes, 1993, p. 158).

With the bombing of Darwin in 1942, the family were evacuated to South Australia. Stanton returned to the Northern Territory and became a wardsmaid at the Katherine Hospital and completed a correspondence certificate course in English. Marrying Jim Santon in 1947, she had three children. Despite being married she was still classified as a ward of the Northern Territory Government and after applying for an exemption, she discovered that she was required to carry a pass at all times throughout the 1950s in order to avoid her children being taken away by the Aboriginal Affairs Branch. 'I was a nobody again. This distressed me greatly' (Australian Film Insititute, 1993).

In 1964 Stanton was appointed as an instructor in home management at the Bagot Reserve by the Aboriginal Welfare Branch of the Northern Territory administration. She described her career in the public service 1962 -1974 as learning how to get around oppression (Australian Film Insititute, 1993). 'We always took a role in anything that…would make life better for our people.' (Sykes, 1993, p. 158). Her leadership sprang from her life long commitment to gaining equal rights for Aboriginal people.

In 1969 she was awarded a year's scholarship to the South Pacific Commission's community education training centre in Fiji. Being in a country that was controlled by Indigenous people for the first time in her life, she was inspired (Australian Film Institute 1993). On her return she became involved with a women's group, Djuani, and the Aboriginal Development Foundation, and through these two organisations helped to improve housing, women's arts and crafts and occupational training for young people.

In 1972 she was invited by Minister Bill Hayden to be a member of the social assistance advisory committee for the Federal Government. A year later Stanton became a founding member of the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council. Realising the damage alcohol was doing to Indigenous communities, in 1976, with her sister, she began the Foundation of Rehabilitation With Aboriginal Alcohol Related Difficulties (FORWAARD) and became its coordinator (Sykes, 1993, p. 157). Mobilising women, they worked initially from a caravan to achieve a 16 bed residential facility in Darwin where they trained Aboriginal alcohol counsellors for over 23 years.

Stanton was also one of the central participants in the 1981 Maranunggu, Kungarakany Aboriginal Land Rights land claim, being a witness for the Kungarakany people. The Judge described her as 'a woman of authority and knowledge among the Kungarakany people...seeking to instill and perpetuate...knowledge of the traditions and beliefs of the Kungarakany.' She was instrumental in explaining her culture to white Australians, speaking her language and educating others about spirituality, customs and beliefs (Stanton, 1993).

As a leader she was focused and determined, inspiring others to join with her, saying that the past was always present: 'The fight for survival and justice goes on; we are here to do it' (Australian Film Institute, 1993). She died in 1995.

Published Resources


  • Paperbark woman monsoon dreaming: the story of Violet Frances McGinniss Stanton (Vai), Videorecording, Australian Film Institute, South Melbourne, Victoria, 1996. Details



  • Office of the Aboriginal Land Commissioner: Mr Justice Toohey, Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976: Finniss River Land Claim. Report by the Aboriginal Land Commissioner, Mr Justice Toohey, to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and to the Administrator of the Northern Territory, Australian Government Publishing Service (AGPS), Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, 1981. http://www.fahcsia.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/05_2012/09.pdf. Details

Online Resources