• Entry type: Person
  • Entry ID: AWE0998

Gibbs, Pearl Mary

(1901 – 1983)
  • Born 1 January, 1901, Botany Bay New South Wales Australia
  • Died 28 April, 1983, Dubbo New South Wales Australia
  • Occupation Aboriginal leader, Political activist, social activist


Pearl Gibbs was a major figure in Aboriginal political activism from the late 1920s to the 1970s. She was involved in organising the Day of Mourning on 26 January 1938 to protest the invasion; spoke for the Committee for Aboriginal Citizen Rights; supported Northern Territory Aborigines in their conflicts with a frontier ‘justice’ system; called for Aboriginal representation on the New South Wales Board; set up the Dubbo branch of the Australian Aborigines’ League with Bill Ferguson in 1946; became the organising secretary for a new Melbourne-based Council for Aboriginal Rights in 1953; was elected as the Aboriginal member of the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1954 and its only woman member; established the Australian Aboriginal Fellowship (with Faith Bandler) in 1956 and the first hostel for Aboriginal hospital patients and their families in Dubbo in 1960; and continued contributing to Aboriginal conferences throughout the 1970s.


Pearl Gibbs grew up in the Yass and Brewarrina areas. After attending racially-segregated schools at Yass and Cowra, she worked as a maid and cook and married an English sailor named Gibbs. They later separated, leaving Pearl to raise their daughter and two sons. From the late 1920s Pearl started organising Aboriginal protests and from 1937 became a major figure in the Aboriginal political network. She was an early member of the Aborigines’ Progressive Association, appearing at meetings in Sydney’s Domain and drawing large crowds because a woman speaker was rare and because Pearl spoke with such fluency and passion. During the campaign for full citizen rights and an end to the Aborigines Protection Board, Pearl concentrated on women’s issues: ‘apprenticeships’ (’employment’ of Aboriginal girls as domestic servants by the Aborigines Protection Board), school and hospital segregation, health and the meagre Board rations on Aboriginal reserves. She successfully lobbied many women’s organisations, including the Sydney Feminist Club, and made wider alliances with centre and left political groups than other Aboriginal activist in New South Wales at the time.

Pearl Gibbs was secretary of the Aborigines’ Progressive Association from 1938 to 1940; vice-president and then secretary of the Dubbo branch of the Australian Aborigines’ League in the 1940/50s; the organising secretary for a new Council for Aboriginal Rights in 1953; the Aboriginal member of the Aboriginal Welfare Board from 1954 to 1957; and vice-president of the Australian Aboriginal Fellowship in the 1950s.



  • 2001 - 2001

    Inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women

Published resources

  • Book Section
    • Pearl Gibbs, Goodall, Heather, [1988]
  • Book
    • Turning the tide : a personal history of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, Bandler, Faith, 1989
  • Journal Article
    • Gibbs, Pearl, 1971
    • Gibbs, Pearl, 1962
    • Gibbs, Pearl, 1957
    • Gibbs, Pearl Mary (Mrs), 1954
    • Pearl Gibbs : Aboriginal Patriot, Gilbert, Kevin, 1983
    • Lovable Natives' and 'Tribal Sisters' : Feminism, Maternalism, and the Campaign for Aboriginal Citizenship in New South Wales in the Late 1930s, Haskins, Victoria, 1998
    • Aboriginal Sydney, Hoddle, Vance, 2003
    • Pearl Gibbs : A Biographical Tribute, Horner, Jack, 1983
    • 2001 Eldershaw Memorial Lecture Founding Fathers, Dutiful Wives and Rebellious Daughters, Lake, Marilyn, 2001
  • Edited Book
    • Before it's too late : anthropological reflections, 1950-1970 : Jane C. Goodale, Ruth Fink, Jeremy Beckett, L.R. Hiatt and J. A. Barnes, Gray, Geoffrey G (edited and compiled by), 2001
    • 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Radi, Heather, 1988
  • Resource
  • Site Exhibition

Related entries

  • Related Women
    • Bardsley, Grace (1920 - 1972)
    • Kingsley-Strack, Joan Goldie (1892 - 1983)
    • Bandler, Faith Ida Lessing (1920 - 2015)
  • Related Concepts
    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women