Mum Shirl

by Sofia & Stefania from Melbourne

"I'm his mum." Mum Shirl<br>
Mum Shirl. Photograph unknown. Fair use. Original source:










Colleen Shirley Perry Smith was born in Cowra, New South Wales, Australia, on November 22, 1924, and died on the April 28, 1998, when she was 73 years old. She suffered epilepsy all her life. She was also known as the “Black Saint” of Redfern.

Shirley did not go to an ordinary school because of her epilepsy. Instead, she was taught by her grandfather and learned to speak 16 different Aboriginal languages. In the 1930s her mum and dad (Isabell and Joseph) moved their family to Sydney.

Colleen Shirley Perry Smith<br>

Fair use photo of Colleen Shirley Perry Smith for illustrative purposes.

Photographer unknown. Original source:

When her brother went to jail, Shirley would go to visit him. When she visited, other prisoners enjoyed her company. When her brother was released the authorities told him he wasn’t allowed to come back to see his friends. Colleen went for him. When she went back, the authorities would ask her “What relation do you have to the prisoner?” She would answer, “I’m his mum.” That is how she got to be known as ‘Mum Shirl’.

As she visited more and more prisoners, the authorities started to recognise the support she had for prisoners. So they started to allow her access to any prisoner she wished to visit. She acted as a mother to many.

In addition to her ‘Prisoner Life,’ Mum Shirl also helped children find homes and families. Another thing on Colleen's list was to establish the Aboriginal Legal Service. By 1990 she had brought up 60 children.

We class Mum Shirl as a hero because of her help to the Australian community, prisoners and children.

Page created on 8/26/2010 10:58:34 AM

Last edited 11/17/2019 10:51:27 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Civics and Citizenship Education - Read more about Mum Shirl.
Shirley Smith - Find out who is Mum Shirl's hero. Read a number of stirring tributes celebrating the life of this distinguished humanitarian.
Australian Women - A biography of Mum Shirl.