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Indigenous Law Bulletin

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Editors --- "Surviving in Our Memories: A Tribute to Essie Coffey OAM 1942 - 1998" [1998] IndigLawB 32; (1998) 4(10) Indigenous Law Bulletin 23

Surviving in Our Memories:
A Tribute to Essie Coffey OAM 1942-1998

Essie Coffey will be sadly missed-not only at Brewarrina where she lived, but across Australia-for her tireless efforts in advancing the cause of Aboriginal Australians. She was born Esseina Goodgabah in 1942 near Goodooga in north western NSW. Her father Donald Goodgabah was an elder of the Murawarri people. She moved to Brewarrina, NSW, with her husband Albert 'Doc' Coffey, in the 1950s, where she raised a large family.

ATSIC Commissioner Steve Gordon worked for more than 30 years with the Bush Queen, as she was known. In paying tribute to her he said: 'I believe that because Essie saw our people rounded up on the back of trucks and sent to reserves, she was committed to see change during her lifetime ...Essie paved the way by always fighting discrimination head on.'

During her active life she was: member of the first Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, co-founder of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service, representative on the NSW Aboriginal Land Trust, and she became an ATSIC Regional Councillor. In 1985 Mrs Coffey was awarded with the Order of Australia, after turning down an MBE, saying that she was 'an Australian and not a member of the British Empire.' In 1988 she presented Queen Elizabeth II with a video of her film, My Survival as an Aboriginal, at the opening of Australia's new Parliament House in Canberra. This first film, produced in 1978, was followed by a sequel in 1993, My Life as I Live it, both of which received national and international acclaim.

'The Bush Queen touched thousands of peoples' lives and we will all truly miss her,' Mr Gordon said.

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