• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: IMP0121

Coffey, Essie

(1940 – 1998)
  • Born 1 January, 1940, Goodooga Queensland Australia
  • Died 3 January, 1998
  • Occupation Actor, Community worker, Filmmaker, Singer


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.


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 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.


Published resources

Archival resources

  • Mitchell and Dixson Libraries Manuscripts Collection
    • Earthworks Poster Collective silkscreen posters, 1974-1980
    • Ros Bowden - interviews conducted for radio programs and documentaries, ca.1975 - 1989
  • National Film and Sound Archive
    • My Life As I live It
    • Big Girls Don't Cry
    • My Survival As An Aboriginal : [NFSA Restores]
    • [Coffey, Essie : Interviewed by Martha Ansara, 1992 : Oral History]
  • National Library of Australia, Oral History and Folklore Collection
    • Essie Coffey interviewed by Hazel de Berg in the Hazel de Berg collection [sound recording]
  • National Library of Australia
    • [Biographical cuttings on Essie Coffey, Aboriginal activist and country and western singer, containing one or more cuttings from newspapers or journals]

Related entries

  • Related Organisations
    • Aboriginal Legal Service (1970 - )
  • Related Concepts
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women
    • Film