Reconciliation Australia acknowledges the remarkable life and achievements of Dr Gordon Briscoe AO who passed away in late June.
A Marduntjara and Pitjantjatjara man, Dr Briscoe’s childhood was severely impacted by racism, the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act, and the assimilationist policies of the time.
From leaving school unable to read and write he went on to become a professional soccer player in England, an influential leader in the Aboriginal rights movement and eventually the first Aboriginal person to earn a PhD.
His contribution to the development of Aboriginal community-controlled institutions was enormous. He helped establish the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Aboriginal Medical Service, and the National Tribal Council. In 1971, Dr Briscoe served as the National Tribal Council’s inaugural Minister for Health.
He was an important figure in the establishment of the Aboriginal Embassy in Canberra in 1972.
With Professor Fred Hollows he was one of the architects of the National Trachoma and Eye Health Program, which challenged the racism and complacency of Australia’s health system. It is no exaggeration to say that without Dr Briscoe’s skills and efforts this groundbreaking health program would not have had the success it did.
Dr Briscoe lived a life of reconciliation. With a sharp intellect and an infectious sense of humour he took immense pride in his culture and fought his whole life for the rights and recognition of his people.
His work and achievements demonstrate the benefits of respectful relationships between First Nations people and other Australians and how relationships built on trust can produce substantial results and ultimately change the world.
This year we celebrated National Reconciliation Week with the theme Be a Voice for Generations.
Dr Gordon Briscoe was a voice for his generation and his achievements have had a profound impact on the generations that have come after him to create a more just, equitable and reconciled country for all.
He was a warm hearted, and charming man.
Dr Briscoe will be honoured today at a memorial on Yuin Country in Yangary (Batemans Bay) on the NSW South Coast.
Reconciliation Australia honours Dr Briscoe for his legacy of social justice and academic excellence.
We extend our deepest condolences to his wife Norma, his children Aaron, Lisa and John, and to his extended Mardudjara and Pitjantjatjara family.