Ms Cowley was born in Broome with cultural connections to the Bardi, Worrora and Torres Strait Islander peoples. She started her career as a nurse, taking up further study to achieve a Bachelor of Science in Aboriginal Community Management and Development.
Ms Cowley worked hard and held senior positions within the Western Australia Department of Aboriginal Affairs holding positions including Child Safety Director and Ministerial Advisor Council on Child Protection. Her passion for social justice led her to take up the position of Chief Executive Officer for the Aboriginal Family Law Services in WA and saw her contribute her leadership to a number of valuable community services including the Aboriginal Alcohol & Drug Services and the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.
As Chair of National Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Women’s Association (NATSIWA) for a number of years Mary keenly empowered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women to have a strong and effective voice in the domestic and international policy advocacy process.
In 2013 Ms Cowley became the inaugural Co-Chair of Reconciliation WA and was honoured as the organisation’s only lifetime member. Mary made vast contributions to reconciliation not only in Western Australia, but also more broadly throughout our nation. Her passing in January 2018 was a very sad loss for the WA community, and her legacy will not be forgotten.
Thank you to Ms Cowley’s family for providing the following insights:
What or who got Ms Cowley involved in reconciliation?
Mary was involved in reconciliation as an activist, advocate and leader for her whole life – it was a part of her – she became formally involved when she worked to establish Reconciliation WA in 2013 and was active on the Board until her passing in January 2018. She is RWA’s only life member.
What was Ms Cowley’s vision for a reconciled Australia?
Social Justice was a key driver for Mary – she wanted her family and her people to enjoy a full and rich life which celebrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and contributions. Mary wanted all Australians to experience the richness of her culture and spirituality. She didn’t want her children nor her grannies to have to fight the fights she did. She taught all who came in contact with her to fight for what they believe in. She led the way by example.
What did she see as the biggest challenges to national reconciliation?
Truth telling and visibility – the huge challenge of bringing the truth alive and ensuring it has a powerful voice at all levels of the Australian community.