Mourning the death of a great leader
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) has expressed shock and sadness at the premature death of Mr Djerrkura on May 27. Born at Yirrkala near Nhulunbuy in East Arnhem Land, Mr Djerrkura was a senior elder of the Wangurri Aboriginal Clan and responsible for a number of traditional and ceremonial activities on behalf of his clan. Mr Djerrkura will be remembered as a great champion for his people and a great ambassador for Australia. He devoted his life to righting wrongs. He never backed down from his beliefs, nor compromised them. He spoke about unequal opportunities in regard to education, employment and training. He spoke about the legal system, policing, constitutional change, customary law and how Indigenous cultures and languages were being destroyed. It is ironic that his words still ring true today and that our great nation is still to effectively address so many of these issues. Mr Djerrkura committed his life and considerable energy to fighting against racism, ignorance and paternalism and had the knack of pricking Australia's conscience over many years about the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were being treated in the "Lucky Country". He was a great Australian who fought to try and make Australia a fairer and better country for us all. He was heartened by the way the push for Reconciliation in Australia was developing through people power. Widely respected throughout Australia as a leader he served as Chairman of ATSIC from December 1996 to December 1999 and has held the positions of ATSIC NT North Zone Commissioner and Chairperson of the Miwatj Provincial Governing Council. The father of three also held a number of other current positions, including the director of the Board of the Indigenous Land Corporation, chairman of the Batchelor College Council, a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and a board member of the National Australia Day Council. He has held key positions in Aboriginal health and education organisations, and has a long history in Aboriginal administration and business. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1984, for services to the Aboriginal community and his tireless and dedicated work confirms his place in the forefront of modern Australian history. We consider it an honour and a privilege to have known and worked with Mr Djerrkura. Our hearts are with his family at this time. He will be sadly missed.
* * *Note: In keeping with Aboriginal custom and the express wishes of Mr Djerrkura's family, we do not publish his photograph nor use his first name.