KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 2 / April-May-June 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
artist and activist,
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
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
"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