KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 2 / April-May-June 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

By Christine Howes

Chances are, if you happen into a library or government building around Brisbane, there will be a painting, mural or sculpture depicting some aspect of Aboriginal life or portrait of an Aboriginal person.

Chances are also high it might be Gloria Ann Beckett's work.

"Aunty Gloria's" artwork was an intended legacy for both her own people and the wider community. Just hours before she succumbed to cancer on May 22, she was organising art exhibitions and events.

Through her art she promoted understanding of a surviving and evolving culture born in more recent times from the struggles of her people. It was also an expression of her own personal struggles.

As a baby, she was taken from her parents along with her older sister Kathleen and placed at Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement in "the girls' dormitory" under the Queensland government's Aboriginal Preservation and Protection Act.

She was educated to grade eight in Cherbourg and, at 15, sent to various outback properties where she was forced to work as a servant. She lived at Cherbourg or Palm Island for 19 years and worked for five years under conditions of extreme hardship.

"Aunty Gloria" became known for her passion, commitment and long public fight to resolve issues around the Aboriginal Welfare Fund and stolen wages in Queensland.

The lack of what she and other community people felt was a just and honourable resolution of the issue was her great regret.

After she was diagnosed earlier this year with terminal cancer, family, friends and the community understood her reluctant choice to accept the reparation offer to help her family pay for her funeral.

"I probably have a lot to say to the government but I don't want to be vindictive, I just want to die in peace", she told the Koori Mail after making her decision.

"It would make me a lot happier if my people got a better deal... If I was able to stand up on my feet I'd still be out there fighting."

She would ask, I'm sure, if you happened to be in that library or building and see some of her work, that you would remember those words and take them as a reminder of what could and should have happened within her lifetime.

This article originally appeared in Green Left Weekly, June 18, 2003

 Stolen wages activist accepts Government reparations offer