Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Josephine Violet Bulger (1900–1993)

by Niki Francis

This article was published:

Violet Josephine Bulger (1900–1993), domestic, midwife, and elder, was born on 25 August 1900 at the Aboriginal Station, Brungle, New South Wales, third of eight children of locally born parents Frederick Freeman, tracker and general labourer, and his wife Sarah Jane, née Broughton. Violet grew up as a member of the Wiradjuri and Ngun(n)awal community, and was forcibly removed from her family under the provisions of the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 and placed in the Cootamundra Training Home. Apart from a period when she worked with her father as a stockwoman rounding up brumbies in the high country, she spent much of her life working in domestic service.

At a time when Aboriginal women experienced limited access to maternity hospitals, in her early twenties Aunty Violet, as she was widely known, learned midwifery from her mother, who had been trained by a Tumut doctor. She used these skills throughout her adult life to assist pregnant women on Aboriginal reserves. On 13 October 1925 at the Aboriginal Station, Brungle, she married Edward Walter Vincent Bulger (d. 1939) in a Presbyterian ceremony. The couple moved to Oak Hill, near Yass, where they lived in a one-room earth-floor gunje (hut), with no electricity or running water.

Around 1938 the Bulgers were relocated to the Hollywood Aboriginal Reserve (known as Hollywood Mission), Yass. After her husband died, leaving Aunty Violet with nine children, she was later forced to leave the mission because, as a single mother, the authorities considered her ‘a bad influence on the rest of the community’ (Brown 2007, 86). The family built a rudimentary house back at Oak Hill and she took up domestic work in town. She would raise many of her grandchildren after their parents died or became unable to care for their children. In the 1970s she returned to live in the Tumut-Brungle area, moving to Canberra in the 1980s when her health deteriorated.

Aunty Violet died on 31 July 1993 at Red Hill, Canberra, survived by five of her 10 children, 56 grandchildren, 196 great-grandchildren, and 50 great-great-grandchildren. The Catholic Voice reported that ‘the large numbers of people at her funeral, at St Augustine’s Catholic Church, Yass, on Friday 6 August was testimony to the love and respect Violet Bulger inspired’ (1993, 9). In addition, the attendance reflected the eminence she had attained as an elder in a Ngun(n)uwal community gaining an increasing strength of identity. Two of her children, Agnes Shea and Vincent Bulger (d. 2007), became respected elders and activists. In 1993 Violet’s Park in the Canberra suburb of Ngunnawal was named in recognition of her contribution to the community.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Brown, Carl, Dorothy Dickson, Loretta Halloran, Bertha Thorpe, Fred Monaghan, Agnes Shea, Sandra Phillips, and Tracey Phillips. Stories of the Ngunnawal. Florey, ACT: Journey of Healing (ACT) Inc., 2007
  • Catholic Voice (Canberra). ‘A Life Lived for Love of Family.’ September 1993, 9
  • Francis, Niki. ‘Violet Josephine Bulger (1900–1993).’ Australian Women’s Register. Last modified 22 July 2014. Accessed 16 June 2016. Copy held on ADB file
  • Jackson-Nakano, Ann.Respected Ngunnawal Elder.’ Canberra Times, 6 August 1993, 12
  • Read, Peter. ‘Freedom and Control on the Southern Institutions, New South Wales, 1879–1909.’ In Settlement: A History of Australian Indigenous Housing, edited by Peter Read, 55–63. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2000
  • Shea, Agnes. Personal communication

Citation details

Niki Francis, 'Bulger, Josephine Violet (1900–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2017, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 August, 1900
Brungle, New South Wales, Australia


31 July, 1993 (aged 92)
Red Hill, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cause of Death


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