FORMER Fremantle citizen of the year and prominent Noongar elder Marie Thorne has died aged 85 in Narrogin.
Ms Thorne was a long-term member of Fremantle council’s Aboriginal Reference Group and Walyalup Reconciliation Group, and was credited with providing the Noongar name for Booyeembara Park (of the limestone hills) as part of its initial advisory committee. Passionate about turning the park into a meeting ground for reconciliation, she co-ordinated the opening ceremony in 2000 as well as providing the Welcome to Country.
“In the year 2000, Booyeembara Park was born again, and this time as a park for all cultures,” Ms Thorne said at a healing ceremony at the base of the park’s limestone ridge.
Preserving culture In 2012 Ms Thorne won the City of Fremantle heritage award for an individual. Over the years she participated in numerous initiatives aimed at exploring, preserving and promoting Indigenous culture; of particular note were Walyalup Dreaming which involved bringing together fragments of Noongar Dreaming stories for the first time, and the creation of a huge banner which the council used for years to graphically show the length of Aboriginal occupation in Australia compared to Europeans.
In 2014 Ms Thorne was named WA NAIDOC’s female elder of the year for her advocacy for homeless people.
Ironically, the award was sponsored by Homeswest, which evicted Ms Thorne from her own home a year later following a spate of complaints from neighbours about the elder’s unruly visitors.
Her eviction sparked outrage amongst a swag of local, state and federal politicians and community leaders who’d worked alongside her for decades, many of them provided letters of support criticising the department’s decision.
Their worst fears were realised when Ms Thorne was admitted to Fiona Stanley Hospital suffering pneumonia; her own stark warning about her impending homelessness ringing in their ears:
“They’re trying to kill me,” she said of the department.
She survived the illness, but never recovered her former vitality and was moved quietly to a unit near her birthplace in Narrogin.
Mayor Brad Pettitt described Ms Thorne as a “kind and generous” Noongar leader.
“She played a major role in reconciliation in Fremantle and as we enjoy places like Boo Park we will always be in debt to her thoughtful advice.
“What drove her was helping others and finding housing for others in the community, so it was tragic she was forced out of Fremantle because she was made homeless.”
Dr Pettitt said that following her funeral in Narrogin, he hoped a local celebration would be held to honour her contribution to Fremantle.