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.