Ray Jackson: an inspirational fighter for justice

Vicky Roach

Vickie Roach is a Yuin woman, a survivor of the Stolen Generation and a writer. She gave this speech at Ray Jackson’s memorial celebrations at Redfern Community Centre on April 21.

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I’d first like to acknowledge the Gadigal people and the Eora nation whose land we meet on here today and pay my respect to Ancestors and Elders, past and present.

I’d also like to acknowledge and pay respect to Uncle Ray’s family, friends and comrades, and to all of you who have gathered here on this day to remember and commemorate the life and work of our esteemed and much loved Wiradjuri warrior, Uncle Ray Jackson. 

Uncle Ray was many things to many people. He was a proud and loving father to six children, a grandfather and even a great-grandfather. He was also a friend, a confidante and an ally to so many more of us in the broader community and over the course of his life. 

Politicised as a young man through his involvement with the union movement as a wharfie, Uncle Ray was a passionate activist and an indefinable and implacable opponent of injustice, oppression and the marginalisation of all disadvantaged people everywhere.

He gave support to asylum seekers being held unlawfully in Australian detention centres, drew attention to foreign-born victims of police violence, and protested police brutality on Mardi Gras party-goers in 2013 on Oxford Street. 

Yet, no battle did he fight more ferociously, nor more tenaciously, than his long time war on the brutal, systemic and institutional injustices experienced by First Nations people. 

Throughout his life, Uncle Ray tirelessly championed the rights of First Nations children and their families against persecution by the police and department of child-stealers and campaigned relentlessly for justice for Aboriginal deaths in custody. He also ensured the families and victims of systemic abuse and state violence were cared for and supported. I think of TJ Hickey and his family here and Uncle Ray’s bloody-minded determination to see justice served for the brutal murder of this young lad during an unlawful pursuit by the police.

Through his work on the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee and later through Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), Uncle Ray’s courage and conviction gave us all a space to express our grief, our anger and our frustration with staggering incarceration rates, never-ending deaths in custody and the radicalised state violence that legitimises these injustices. Uncle Ray gave focus and purpose to our sadness and our rage. As someone once said, he “glued” things together. 

He also inspired us. I’m sure each and every one of us here today has been enlightened, inspired or emboldened by Uncle Ray at some point in the struggle. I know I have.

And I know that even though he may no longer be among us, Uncle Ray Jackson’s legacy of humble courage and righteous tenacity in the face of unthinkable injustice will continue to resonate throughout the years and through our stories, and will live on to inspire a new generation of justice fighters. 

Today we remember and honour a fearsome warrior and great man. Rest well Uncle Ray. 

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