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Vale Ray Jackson


Don’t go crying over me. Just keep fighting. – Ray Jackson

A mighty warrior has fallen.

Ray Jackson

On the night of April 23rd, shortly after his final meeting with fellow members of the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) and less than a month after his 74th birthday, Wiradjuri Elder, activist and tireless fighter for human rights, Ray Jackson, finally laid down his nulla-nulla and found peace.

I have lost a colleague, friend and mentor. The oppressed have lost a supporter, advocate and partner in their struggle. Australia has lost part of its conscience.

Ray was never under any illusions about the ongoing war of Australia against its First Peoples. When he was still an infant his white father died on the Kokoda Track while defending against the fascist onslaught. The government responded not by offering his Aboriginal mother the sympathy and support due a war widow, but by stealing her four children and scattering them among white institutions and foster parents. Ray would never see his birth family again.

From his earliest memories to his final days Ray was both witness and subject to the racism of Australian society, media and authorities. But he neither descended into crime and addiction nor collapsed into self-pity. Ray Jackson fought back.

He fought not only for himself but for exploited workers, abused prisoners, vilified refugees and persecuted minorities. Most of all he fought for the families of death in custody victims in the face of hostile authorities, corrupt officials, a dishonest media and a largely indifferent public. After so many others gave up or sold out Ray stayed true and kept up the fight.

Despite the recent effusive eulogies to Ray on ABC Radio and in the Sydney Morning Herald, while he was alive his fantastic work was invariably ignored, misrepresented or actively denigrated by the Australian mainstream media. But the truth still got out. Ray is adored by Aborigines and activists across the country. His fame has even spread beyond the shores of this land, as evidenced by the Human Rights Prize of the French Republic ISJA was awarded in 2013. Needless to say the Australian mainstream media failed to report this high honour, an omission unthinkable had ISJA been a white-dominated NGO less critical of Australian authorities.

Ray’s health had been in steady decline for several years and he knew full well his time was almost up. Nonetheless he kept up the struggle unabated. He was doing what he loved and saw no reason to give it up during his final months. Our recent conversations had been smattered with dark jokes about his impending demise. Following a blogpost I made in which I gave him some well earned praise he gently reprimanded me in a conversation that went something like this:

“Yeah, I read it. Yesterday. And I’m still blushing.”

“You think that was a bit rich, you should hear what I’m going to say about you when you’re dead.”

“You can say I was a stubborn old bugger who didn’t know when to give up.”

“C’mon Ray. That’s alright for you to say. You’ll be dead. It’s the rest of us who’ll be doing the crying.”

“Don’t go crying over me. Just keep fighting. That’s what you can say. ‘Keep fighting. Stay strong’.”

Ray’s weapons were not only his megaphone, keyboard and tireless organising. After building ISJA from the ashes of the defunded Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, Ray helped keep dozens of young Aborigines out of prison and free from the spiral into chronic criminality it induces by setting up diversionary programs under which they received counseling, training in life skills and assistance in dealing with authorities. The program was an outstanding success but that didn’t stop the government from financially strangling that too.

But more important than Ray’s warrior spirit was his compassion, humour and humanity. He was one of the easiest people to talk to I have ever known. About anything. The title of ‘Uncle’ that comes with being a respected Aboriginal Elder wasn’t just an honorific to Ray, it fitted him like a glove. He was everyone’s favourite uncle.

More than his political activism it was his compassion, gentleness and understanding that brought solace to so many who had lost loved ones to murderous police and prison officers. Those suffering families weren’t symbols to use in his battles against unaccountable authority, to him they were first and foremost human beings who were in grievous pain and needed his love and assistance.

I regret that in recent years I have contributed so little to the causes Ray held dear. Even if I could no longer make it to ISJA’s Sydney rallies and meetings perhaps I could have organised something up here. Or just phoned him more often. But my grief and sense of loss are dwarfed by my pride and feeling of good fortune that my life was linked to that of such an exceptional person. As Rachel Evans and Raul Bassi note in their eulogy, “Ray Jackson changed the world”. It’s a better place than it would have been had he never existed. Can anyone ask more from life?

Upon hearing of Ray’s death I had to get outside and be alone with my memories of him. When I looked up into the clear blue sky that arched over our storm-ravaged suburb there was a huge eagle circling above, gazing down at my grief.

Goodbye Uncle Ray. There are none who could begin to take your place.


The Indigenous Social Justice Association on Facebook.

Online tributes to Ray:

Wiradjuri social justice warrior passes away – the soul rolls over by Gerry Georgatos – The Stringer
Wiradjuri warrior Ray Jackson has passed away by Rachel Evans and Raul Bassi – Green Left Weekly
Letters from the Indigenous Social Justice Association and MUA on the death of Ray Jackson – Green Left Weekly
Champion Of Indigenous Rights Ray Jackson Dies by Amy McQuire – New Matilda
Vale Ray Jackson: tireless fighter for justice and Aboriginal rights by Paddy Gibson – Solidarity Online
Aboriginal human rights campaigner Ray Jackson shone a light on deaths in custody for 30 years by Inga Ting – Sydney Morning Herald
A tireless fighter against a rotten system by Diane Fieldes – RedFlag
A tribute to Ray Jackson by Senator Lee Rhiannon
A tribute to Ray Jackson by Jenny Leong, MP

Coverage of Ray’s memorial service:

In Green Left Weekly

My earlier posts mentioning Ray:

Showing off my scars #1
Awards and unawards
Lifting the curse
Pining for Deb

From → hurts, politics, racism

  1. Gracie Smoke permalink

    I’m sorry for your loss. RIP Ray.


  2. Such a strong man, as his words and works portray… RIP Ray.


  3. Memorials to him were held in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle today (other places too for all I know).

    I knew how much respect he engendered among activists and Aborigines but I’ve been surprised at how many others also deeply feel his loss.


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