Sister Anne Gardiner to deliver International Women’s Day speech in Rome on 8 March 2018

2017 Senior Australian of the Year, Sister Anne Gardiner OLSH will travel from the remote Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory to the Holy See and Italy to deliver a speech on International Women’s Day, Thursday, 8 March 2018.


Invited as a guest of the Australian Embassies to the Holy See and Italy, Sister Anne joins a cast of high quality speakers who have previously presented matters of global interest and importance. She represents an exemplary model of Church-State-Indigenous collaboration. 


Sister Anne’s speech, Mentoring Indigenous women into positions of leadership: my experience in a cross cultural context, reflects on her life’s work with the Tiwi people. The Australian Government is delighted Sister Anne will have the opportunity to communicate their stories to Vatican interlocutors and Australian diaspora in Rome.


Sister Anne, who is 86 years old, said it was an extreme honour to speak at this event and to be able to visit the Vatican.


“I am very humbled, this invitation was quite unexpected. I know this opportunity would not have been extended to me had I not been working with the Tiwi people.


“The Senior Australian of 2017 Award does not belong to me alone. It belongs to my sisters who have worked in the Northern Territory for over one hundred years ministering to the remote Indigenous people.”


During her year as Senior Australian of the Year Sister Anne has shared her views on Indigenous education and her life spent amongst the Tiwi people.


“What I have learned over many years working with the Tiwi is that LISTENING to them is essential, communication is the key.


“It is time to stop talking about closing the GAP and start talking about ‘building bridges’ as it is not as simple as putting in a few stitches to close the gap. There are Indigenous ways of teaching and there are Western ways of teaching. There are indigenous ways of healing and there are Western ways of healing.


“What might the potential be if there is a two-way bridge across that river? One where people’s language and culture is safe while they have access and understanding of the Western English-speaking one as well? Our response could be to change our thinking; to realise that we are not communicating in the right way, and to work with the people to build that two-way bridge for those who don’t have the support to become swimmers.”


While in Rome, Sister Anne will have the opportunity to attend a Papal Audience, attend the philanthropic Götz Foundation’s Voices of Faith celebration of International Women’s Day, and meet members of her international congregation.


She will stay at Domus Australia, which was officially opened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 and has a suite of rooms named after her in recognition of the invaluable contribution she has made to her community.


On receiving the Senior Australian of the Year Award Sister Anne said that she “accepted it on behalf of the Tiwi people, who have allowed me to stay and work with them. I like to think this Award has alerted the wider community to religious women and has opened the gateway to the Tiwi Islands a little further.”


On her forthcoming journey, Sister Anne said “I go to Rome as a Daughter of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) who has had the privilege to be a Territorian for 64 years and I thank our country for this extraordinary honour. I hope I can keep a twinkle in my wrinkle as I see Rome at its best.”


Sister Anne and the Australia Day Council of the Northern Territory would like to thank the Australian Embassies to the Holy See and Italy for their kind invitation, the Australian Catholic University, the Catholic Church and a number of community organisations and private supporters who contributed towards this tour.




Media enquiries: Jeannette Button on 0407 727 080,




Born in Gundagai New South Wales, Sister Anne Gardiner was the fourth child of Mollie and William Gardiner.


As a child of the depression years, hard work was installed in her family from a very early age and at 18 she entered the congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart (OLSH) and has devoted her life to helping others.


In 1953, at the age of 22, Sister Anne made the journey north to Bathurst Island, 70 kilometres north of Darwin and has devoted her life to working to enrich community, enhance opportunity and support Tiwi Culture.


Sister Anne became principal of Murrupurtiyanuwu school and went on to teach hundreds of Tiwi children. She has established community clubs, from mothers’ groups to Little Athletics. She runs regular prayer meetings, founded an op-shop and established a café to raise funds to support her much-loved community.


Sister Anne began work on the Patakijiyali (Tiwi for Father Gsell) Museum in the 1980s, turning it into one of the most outstanding socio-ethnic institutions in Australia. Initially established in the old mission kitchen, the museum has grown to showcase Tiwi culture, highlighting Indigenous history, including clan structure, mythology and art. There is a section dedicated to the mission period with photographs and a long list of names of Catholic sisters, priests and brothers who served and worked on Bathurst Island. The popular Hall of Fame is reserved for Tiwi athletes, particularly those who have excelled at Australian Football League (AFL), including Tiwi-born stars David Kantilla, Maurice Rioli and Michael Long.


Sister Anne’s story is one of incredible generosity, trust and courage. She has been instrumental in preserving Tiwi history, culture and language for future generations and has worked tirelessly to give the community something to be proud of through their museum which has opened its doors for employment and volunteer opportunities.


Sr Anne is the third recipient from the Northern Territory to receive a National Australian of the Year Award.