Aboriginal leader Sam Watson's farewell draws big numbers

Sam Watson. Photo: Helen Kassila

More than 1000 people attended the funeral for Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba leader Sam Watson in Musgrave Park on December 6.

Watson passed away on November 26, just two weeks after his 67th birthday.

Attendees included a wide cross-section of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community, including progressive activists from Queensland and interstate. Watson was not only a leading Murri activist, he was also a prominent author, playwright, filmmaker, and former academic.

Watson had also been the Socialist Alliance (SA) spokesperson for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. He ran for the party in state and federal elections a number of times.

The funeral ceremony was both sad and inspiring: tributes were  given by his family, friends and political figures including Queensland Labor Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.

However, the tribute from his long-time comrade, Uncle Gary Foley, was a highlight. Foley recalled their shared political awakening as teenagers organising for the 1967 referendum on the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people. They were both also involved in the fight to establish and maintain the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra in the 1970s, and many other campaigns since.

Foley spoke of their deep commitment for the struggle for Aboriginal sovereignty and rights over many decades. He drew loud applause when he recounted the saying both maintained: “Native title is not land rights”.

Together with her brother Samuel Wagan Watson, Nicole Watson delivered the eulogy for her father. "Uncle Sam was a passionate advocate for members of the Stolen Generation and their loved ones. Uncle Sam believed in the importance of solidarity between Murris and other communities that experienced marginalisation.

“In recent years, he became a staunch opponent of Australia's harsh refugee policies, and Uncle Sam believed passionately in our unions.

“Uncle Sam had two great loves in his life, his community and his family. His heart would almost burst with pride at each Invasion Day rally, as he witnessed our young people assume the reins of the glorious struggle. But Dad also cherished nothing more than spending time with his precious grandchildren," Nicole Watson said.

Aboriginal songs, dancing and raised, clenched fists accompanied the hearse carrying Sam's body which slowly circled through Musgrave Park. The crowd walked behind to honour one of the great leaders of the Murri movement, later adjourning to Jagera Hall to hear more about Sam's invaluable contribution to the Aboriginal movement and the wider progressive struggle.

Vale Uncle Sam Watson!