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  • The Bug

Passing of Respected Aboriginal Elder

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article contains an image and the name of a deceased person.

Respected Aboriginal Elder Sam Watson passed Wednesday 27th Nov. It is upon his Country that Modifyre is produced, in Meanjin/Brisbane. BURN Arts inc. wishes to offer respect and solidarity to the Watson family. First we are sharing some words from Uncle Sam’s family, followed by some beautiful reflections from Jonno Sri, Councillor for the Gabba Ward. Rest in Power Uncle Sam.

Earlier today the Aboriginal community leader, Sam Watson passed away. He was surrounded by loved ones, who held his hand as he made his final journey back to the Old People. Sam was a proud Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba man, who had blood ties to the Jagara, Kalkadoon and Noonuccal Peoples. One of six children born to Samand Eunice Watson, Sam attended Mount Gravatt State High School. It was at Mount Gravatt State High that Sam met the love of his life,Catherine Gloria de Gunst. They would be together for fifty-two years.

At sixteen years of age, Sam took his first political action by handing out ‘how to vote’ cards for the ‘yes’campaign for the 1967 referendum. The successful referendum resulted in constitutional amendments that would give the Commonwealth the power to make laws in relation to Aboriginal people, and enable the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the Census. In the ensuing years, Sam became a founding member of the Brisbane Chapter of the Australian Black Panthers and he proudly belonged to the original Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Together with Aboriginal people throughout Queensland, Sam fought against the policies of the Bjelke-Petersen Government that saw our communities subject to the oppressive controls of the former Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement. Sam also marched against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and campaigned against the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

Throughout his life, Sam was involved in numerous community organisations, including the QEA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, and more recently, Link-Up.Each year, Sam would be at the forefront of the Invasion Day rally in Brisbane. It is his family’s hope that the Invasion Day rallies will continue to grow each year, because we know that he will be there in spirit.Just as he loved his community, Sam was also devoted to his family. He was a much cherished husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather. Sam also made loving connections with the Clay family on Palm Island; connections that remain strong today.

Sam was a gifted raconteur who kept his family and friends enthralled with his wonderful stories. Sam’s debut novel, ‘The Kadaitcha Sung’was short-listed for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in 1990. Sam would go on to write two plays, and his short film, ‘Black Man Down’ was included in the important collection, ‘From Sand to Celluloid’.

We would like to thank the wonderful doctors, nurses and volunteers of the Intensive Care Unit, and the staff of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Unit of the Princess Alexandra Hospital. It is impossible to put into words our gratitude for the love and care that they have extended to Sam these past few days. We would also like to thank Sam’s many friends who have reached out to us with their love and kind words.

Nicole Watson on behalf of the Watson Family.

From Jonno:

For those who haven’t heard yet, I have some extremely sad news to share…

Uncle Sam Watson passed away today.

His health deteriorated quite suddenly late last week, and this has come as a shock to the whole community. I visited him in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital yesterday, and I’m grateful that I got the chance to say goodbye to him before he passed, and to offer my love and support to his family. I’m sure they know how loved and respected he was, and how many people will be thinking of them and sending them positive energy at this sad time.

Uncle Sam was an amazing man. A powerful Aboriginal activist and community leader with a rare ability to unite and inspire people. Trying to put into words what an impressive person he was, and how much he meant to so many of us, is an impossible task. His family has shared a public statement which I’ve reposted here. It highlights just some of the many important projects he was involved in and the tremendous positive changes he advocated for.

Some people are giants. They shape and lead not only their own communities, but our entire society, in ways that most of us can’t even imagine. Uncle Sam’s imprint on this city and this entire country is so deep and far-reaching that I don’t think anyone could hope to fully articulate how special he was. He has transformed this place, and influenced so many of us for the better.

I know First Nations communities across this continent and the entire globe will be mourning his passing deeply. He will be impossible to forget; his legacy is everywhere.

Uncle Sam embodied so many positive values and qualities that all of us should strive to emulate. I can’t say I have many ‘role models’ in life, but he was definitely one of them. He was a kind, compassionate man who made time to check in with people when he knew they might be going through a rough patch, and you always knew he’d have your back in a pinch. He had a cheeky sense of humour, a quick wit and a knack for storytelling. He was wise and thoughtful, but also fierce and formidable when it came to standing up against injustice.

Uncle Sam was also an important source of advice and guidance to many of us in the Queensland Greens. All of us are so very sorry to hear of his passing, and we’ll be guided by his family in terms of how best to honour and respect his memory during this time of grieving.

Today is a very sad day.

This city has lost a great man.

Thank you Uncle Sam Watson. We will not forget you, or the lessons you’ve taught us.

We will miss you… so, so much.

Image: Michelle Smith


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