Australian Women's Register

An initiative of The National Foundation for Australian Women (NFAW) in conjunction with The University of Melbourne

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    My life as I live it: Essie Coffey Speaking to a policeman, outside the Aboriginal Legal Service office, courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive.
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Coffey, Essie (c. 1940 - 1998)

OAM

Born
c. 1940
Goodooga, Queensland, Australia
Died
3 January 1998
Occupation
Community worker, Singer, Actor and Film maker

Summary

Essie Coffey was a Muruwari woman born in southern Queensland. She was co-founder of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and served on a number of government bodies and Aboriginal community organisations.

Details

Born at Essiena Goodgabah in southern Queensland, Essie Coffey and her family were fortunate to avoid forced relocation to a reserve. Instead they lived on the move, following seasonal rural work.

Coffey went on to be co-founder of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Museum in Brewarrina, serving on several government bodies and Aboriginal community organisations including the Aboriginal Lands Trust and the Aboriginal Advisory Council. She was an an inaugural member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

Coffey was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) on 10 June 1985, for service to the Aboriginal Community. She was nominated for an MBE but refused it, explaining "I knocked the MBE back because I'm not a member of the British Empire".

With Martha Ansara, Coffey made the award-winning film My survival as an Aboriginal (1978), which she gave to Queen Elizabeth II as a gift at the opening of Australia's new Parliament House in 1988. The sequel, My Life As I Live It, was released in 1993. Coffey also appeared in the film 'Backroads'.

Essie Coffey and her husband, Doc, had 18 children, 10 of whom were adopted.

Sources used to compile this entry: 'Australia looses Essie Coffey, Bush Queen of Brewarrina', in ATSIC News, March, http://www.atsic.gov.au/News_Room/ATSIC_News/March_1998/bush_queen.asp; Horton, David (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia : Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture, Aboriginal Studies Press for AIATSIS, Canberra, 1994, 2 v. (xxxiii, 1340 p.) pp; 'Memorial to a great woman', in Walking together, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/car/2000/4/wtpage28.htm.

Archival resources

Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales

  • Earthworks Poster Collective silkscreen posters, 1974-1980, 1970s - , PXD 889; Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales. Details
  • Ros Bowden - interviews conducted for radio programmes and documentaries, ca.1975 - 1989, c. 1975 - 1989, Z MLOH 304; Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection, State Library of New South Wales. Details

National Film and Sound Archive

  • Big Girls Don't Cry, 2002, 743856; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • Coffey, Essie: Interviewed by Martha Ansara, 1992, Oral History, 1992, 276680; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • My Life As An Aboriginal, 1978, 7262; National Film and Sound Archive. Details
  • My Life As I live It, 1993 - 1994, 284237; National Film and Sound Archive. Details

National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room

  • Biographical cuttings on Essie Coffey, Aboriginal activist and country and western singer, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals, BIOG; National Library of Australia Newspaper Microcopy Reading Room. Details

National Library of Australia, Oral History & Folklore Section

  • Essie Coffey interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection, 1980, ORAL TRC 1/1154; National Library of Australia, Oral History & Folklore Section . Details

Digital resources

Title
My life as I live it: Essie Coffey Speaking to a policeman, outside the Aboriginal Legal Service office
Type
Image
Control
NFSA 363255-1002
Repository
National Film and Sound Archive

Details

Clare Land

Site-wide information and acknowledgements

National Foundation for Australian Women The University of Melbourne, eScholarship Research Centre

http://www.womenaustralia.info/biogs/IMP0121b.htm

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