• "What you see in him that day before he passed away, that was him all his life." Pictures: Solidarity Online (left), Professor Joseph Pugliese (right) (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Right until the day he died, Ray Jackson was fighting to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody. This lifelong work is today being recognised by Macquarie University in the lead up to the 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody report.
Laura Murphy-Oates

The Point
13 Apr 2016 - 1:29 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2016 - 1:37 PM

When 73-year-old Wiradjuri elder Ray Jackson passed away in Sydney on April 23 2015, he was wearing three rubber bracelets in the colours red, black and yellow. All were inscribed with a name, date of birth and date of death.

His eldest daughter Carolyne Jackson says he owned many of these bracelets, each representing a different cause - a different Aboriginal person who died unjustly.

“If he was still around he would still be doing what he was doing,” says Carolyne.

“He wouldn't stop until there is justice ... for all the deaths in custody.”

Receiving a posthumous doctorate on his behalf at Sydney's Macquarie University today, is a bittersweet moment for his four children and five grandchildren, she says, especially so close to the one year anniversary of his death.

“I think he would have been chuffed, and we're really thrilled for him, but at the same time we're sad that he is not here to accept it,” she says.

This isn't the first accolade the social activist has received recognising his role in social justice movements throughout the past 30 years.

In 2013 he was awarded the prestigious French Human Rights Award by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.

Ray Jackson was a voice for the families of rugby player Eddie Murray, whose 1981 death in police custody at Wee Waa Police Station was a key motivator for a royal commission 8 years later, and also for Redfern teenager TJ Hickey, whose 2004 death sparked the Redfern riot.

A former trade unionist, Ray became the founding secretary of the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee in 1987. The ATSIC-funded committee monitored breaches of the recommendations of the Royal Commission for Aboriginal deaths in custody.

“He was instrumental in shaping those recommendations,” says Macquarie University Professor Joseph Pugliese, who describes Mr Jackson as both a friend and a mentor.

“What really frustrated him was that the failure to implement [them] resulted in increased deaths in custody and increased incarceration of Indigenous women and children in particular.”

When the committee's funding was cut in 1997, Ray was undeterred, co-founding the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), and continuing his work out of his one-bedroom apartment in Waterloo, right up until the day he died.

“Obstacles didn't seem to phase him,” says Ken Canning, a long-time friend and now the current chairman of ISJA. 

“As he got older he just got more determined and I think that's why he is such a great loss, he just knew so much.”

According to Carolyne, on April 22 last year, Ray had just been discharged from hospital after receiving two weeks of treatment for multiple illnesses - diabetes, emphysema and kidney disease.

He went to see his friend Don, co-founder of ISJA, and then to check on the Redfern tent embassy, something he would do often, she says, even in the middle of the night.

At 11pm he sent his last email out to ISJA members. He passed away the next day in his bed.

“What you see in him that day before he passed away, that was him all his life,” she says.

“It never faltered.”

Tackle causes of incarceration now or see Indigenous people make up majority of inmates by 2025
COMMENT | This Friday marks 25 years since the end of the four-year Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The narrative of human suffering and misery not only continues to fill prisons, but has escalated, writes Gerry Georgatos.