This article was published online in 2017
Olga Dagmar Fudge (1897–1993), Aboriginal community worker, was born on 25 April 1897 at Point McLeay, South Australia, daughter of Bertha Wilson and an unknown European. Mentored by her uncle Mark Wilson, a respected Ngarrindjeri elder, Olga was a good student, but had only three to four years’ schooling at Point Pearce mission school. At thirteen she was sent, just in the clothes she was wearing, into domestic service, ‘pot walloping—at five bob a week’ (Mattingley 1988, 120). She ran away from one place and was found hiding in a fowl shed by a farmer’s wife, who took her in and taught her to cook.
Studying music with Miss E. Treloar at Port Pirie, Olga gained a grade V in music theory (1926). Blessed with a fine voice, she enrolled in singing at the University of Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium (1926–27). She was not awarded a scholarship and, feeling she suffered discrimination, continued private training. The anthropologist Diane Bell later recorded that she would sing songs such as the ‘Pelican Love Song’ in Ngarrindjeri (2014, 185). In the 1950s she aspired to write an opera based on Aboriginal legends and produce it with Aboriginal singers, a hope not realised.
Later, working and travelling widely as a shearers’ cook, Olga met Leo Thomas Fudge (d. 1983), a farm labourer. After marrying at the office of the registrar general, Adelaide, on 2 January 1930, they lived at Bungaree station in South Australia’s mid-north. On January 1943, having moved to Adelaide for her daughter’s schooling, the fair-skinned Olga was granted a certificate of unconditional exemption from the provisions of the Aborigines Act 1934. This meant that, legally, she and her children were no longer considered to be Aboriginal, and so were not subject to the regulatory measures of the Act.
Nevertheless, Fudge became an advocate for Aboriginal people and, in her beautiful clear hand, during the 1950s was indefatigable in writing to newspapers, and to the chief protector of Aborigines (after 1940 the secretary of the Aborigines Protection Board), W. R. Penhall, and his successor, C. E. Bartlett. A strong believer in the importance of education, in 1956 she unsuccessfully sought help in establishing a hostel for Aboriginal students coming to Adelaide for secondary schooling, offering to run it herself. People were being sent off missions with no experience of the outside world, arriving in the city not knowing how to cope. Many came to her house and she provided beds and food, and fostered neglected girls.
In 1956 Fudge applied unsuccessfully for a Housing Trust house, but she and her husband finally were able to buy the house they rented in the city from their landlord. She said, ‘The kindness of strangers made the difference to our lives’ (McNamara, pers. comm.). When glaucoma became a handicap she acquired a telephone, using it effectively to campaign on behalf of Aboriginal people. She kept in touch with Gladys Elphick and the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia, established in 1964, continuing to speak out on social issues, and advocating a ‘Good Neighbour Council’ to promote better cross-cultural relations. Later, she would be visited by politicians, including Premier Don Dunstan, and journalists at her home, where she was always ready to dispense refreshments from her ‘generous teapot’ and provide ‘wise advice about Aboriginal matters’ (Forte 1995, 9).
For more than twenty years, Fudge attended St Bartholomew’s Anglican Church, Norwood. Known to many Aboriginal people as Mootha (grand old relation), she spent her latter years in Flora McDonald Lodge, Cowandilla, Adelaide. Survived by a son and a daughter, she died on 19 May 1993 at Cowandilla, and was buried beside her husband in Centennial Park Cemetery; another son had predeceased her. A hostel, established in Adelaide to serve the needs of young, homeless Aboriginal women, was named to honour her memory.
Christobel Mattingley, 'Fudge, Olga Dagmar (1896–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fudge-olga-dagmar-17846/text29434, published online 2017, accessed online 30 April 2017.