• Indigenous leader Sam Watson marches in a death in custody protest he organised in Brisbane, 20 December 2006. (AAP)Source: AAP
After more than fifty years fighting for the rights of his people, the proud Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba man passed away yesterday.
Jodan Perry

28 Nov 2019 - 7:18 PM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2019 - 7:21 PM

Sam Watson was always on the frontlines fighting for his people.

Every January 26 you could count on him being front and centre at Brisbane's Musgrave Park for the annual Invasion Day Rally. After a half-century of achievements, perhaps that will be a lasting image in the minds of many.

Sam passed away yesterday after a short battle with illness. He was surrounded by his family who held his hands as he underwent his final journey to his ancestors.

His daughter Nicole, beside him in his final moments, told NITV News the family are still in shock after his sudden passing.

"We're quite overwhelmed at the moment ... but over the last twenty-four hours we've received so much love .. and that has been a great source of comfort for our family," she said.

Sam’s advocacy is well known in the community. He was a tireless fighter for Aboriginal Rights, but Nicole says there was so much more to the man.

He was a passionate Queensland Maroons fan with a wicked sense of humour, who loved nothing more than spending time with his wife Cathy and his grandchildren.

He was also incredibly proud of the next generation coming through the Murri Community who he met during his political work.

“He was a paradox in some ways, when he political he was very staunch, but he was also a very compassionate person and he always had faith in people,” she says.

“He had so many friendships, not just in the Murri Community but the broader one, he was just a really great friend and listener …. We’re just so privileged for the time we got to spend with Dad.”

A trailblazer and a 'wonderful human being'

From handing out 'how to vote' cards on the day of the 1967 Referendum, to playing a crucial role in implementing the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, to most recently assisting families of the Stolen Generations connect via his role at Link-up, Sam was always pushing to improve the lives of Aboriginal people

The impact of his work is far-reaching.

Andrea Mason, Coordinator of the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara Women's Council said Sam's contribution to social justice and Aboriginal affairs will long be remembered.

"He was a giant of the Aboriginal Rights movement ... He had a huge heart to advocate for the community in Queensland and nationally, but also he's left a legacy for his children and family," she said.

"He comes from a remarkable time because he was also a campaigner on the day of the Referendum, and to me these are the men and women who are not faceless because they didn't see their job as done, they stayed involved and continued to be strong and fearless in their advocacy to see a better future for our community."

Radio Host at 98.9 FM Karen Durante remembers meeting Sam as a junior journalist.

"Uncle Sam was such a wonderful human being. I remember meeting him when I first met to Brisbane, he was one of the first activists I spoke to while working for the ABC. He was so eloquent in the way that he explained our issues, that meant a lot as a young person .. he will be sorely missed."

Catherine Liddle, the First Nations Media Association CEO, says Sam's tireless advocacy was crucial in opening doors for Aboriginal people.

“What we do now wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for voices like his, and to lose those voices from the landscape is devastating. He did open pathways for other people, and as a journalist I always found him accessible," she said.

"He would always comment and he gave us the stories and he gave us his story, and going forward I think that's something we will all be able to hang onto."

Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba leader Sam Watson has passed away
Award winning author, screenwriter and activist Sam Watson has passed away at age 67.