First Nations Peoples Aboriginal Community Leader Sam Watson Snr passed away in Brisbane on 27 November. He was a proud Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba man, who had blood ties to the Jagera, Kalkadoon and Noonuccal Peoples.
Sam was a passionate advocate for the rights of Indigenous Australians. His first political action was to hand out “How to vote” cards for the “Yes” campaign for the 1967 referendum. He was a founding member of the Brisbane Chapter of the Australian Black Panthers and served at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in 1972 when it was founded.
Sam worked with elders to establish community organisations and peak bodies in health, housing, education, employment and legal aid in the 1970s. He fought against the brutality of the policies of the era that saw Indigenous communities subject to the oppressive control of the government.
At the forefront of the Invasion Day rally in Brisbane every year, Sam spoke out and acted against many injustices in society. He was a teacher, author, screenwriter, social justice advocate and a gifted, engaging and passionate speaker.
Sam was a mentor to many, including Natalie Lewis, Covenant Action Plan Project Officer within the Queensland Synod, who shares this short reflection.
Sam was knowledgeable, there was nothing that he didn’t already know. Whether you agreed with him or not—there were things that he was teaching you as an upcoming leader that you couldn’t help but be drawn to him. Sam was professional and diplomatic, which is one of the things that set him apart from others. His ability to remain calm amongst the chaos around him made him a different sort of leader and will be part of his legacy. But above all, Sam was a family man. He remained devoted to them and to the community.
The Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod mourns the passing of Sam Watson Snr, gives thanks for his life and work, and commits to continue to work for reconciliation and justice for First Peoples. Our deepest sympathy goes to his family, his friends and colleagues and the First Peoples community in Queensland.
Rev David Baker
Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod