Vale Sam Watson

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Earlier this week, Australia lost one of its most courageous leaders and activists in Sam Watson. His family said that when he passed he was surrounded by loved ones, who held his hand as he made his journey back to the Old People.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) would like to extend our deepest condolences to Sam’s family, friends and everyone around the country who are feeling the loss of the great Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba man.

AIATSIS CEO, Craig Ritchie, said Sam had an unwavering commitment to improving the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and leaves behind a great legacy.

“Sam was resolute in his tireless work to improve the lives of First Nations Australians. He was on the frontline of countless movements and campaigns to create a better future for our people,” Mr Ritchie said.

“The effect he has had on Australia will be felt for years to come and we will miss his leadership, friendship and his stories.”

For over fifty years, Sam advanced the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. At just 16 years of age, Sam handed out how to vote cards for the ‘yes’ campaign for the 1967 Referendum.

He then served at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy from its foundation in 1972. Through the 1970s, Sam worked to establish community organisations and peak bodies in health, housing, education, employment and Legal Aid. Sam played a vital role in implementing the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, while working with the Brisbane Aboriginal Legal Service in the 1990s.

In 2009, Sam was appointed Deputy Director at the University of Queensland's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, where he taught courses in Black Australian literature.

Mr Watson was also a gifted raconteur and author. He was named National Indigenous Writer of the Year in 1991 for his novel The Kadaitcha Sung. He wrote and co-produced the 1994 film Black Man Down that was screened to global audiences as part of the Sand to Celluloid collection of Indigenous short films.

"Just as he loved his community, Sam was also devoted to his family," his daughter said.

"He was a much-cherished husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather."

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Last reviewed: 8 Apr 2020