Vale Denis Walker, Aboriginal freedom fighter

January 18, 2018
Denis Walker at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 2015.

Denis Walker, an Aboriginal rights activist and freedom fighter who died on December 4 at the age of 71, has been described as a trailblazer, revolutionary and a giant in the Aboriginal movement.

A Noonuccal man from Minjerribah, Stradbroke Island, in southern Queensland, Walker was the son of poet Oodgeroo Noonucal (Kath Walker) and Bruce Walker.

He was a major figure in the civil rights and land rights movements of the 1970s, and continued to fight for a treaty between the Australian government and Aboriginal nations until his death.

In 1972, Walker co-founded the Brisbane chapter of the Australian Black Panther Party (BPP) with fellow Murri activist Sam Watson. At the time, Walker declared the BPP to be “the vanguard for all the depressed people, and in Australia the Aboriginals are the most depressed of all”.

Walker was a member of the famous “Brisbane Three”, with John Garcia and Lionel Fogarty who, in 1975, were charged by Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Special Branch on a trumped up charge of conspiracy. After a national campaign in their defence, the three were eventually acquitted.

Watson paid tribute to his friend and comrade: “Through the 1960s, Denis was involved in the Aboriginal advancement movement. In the 1970s, we entered the Black Power phase together.

“Denis and I launched the Black Panther Party of Australia in 1972. We developed its aims from the US BPP San Francisco branch manifesto, adapted to the Australian situation.

“We offered Black studies classes to Aboriginal youth here, in particular programs of self-help. Denis played a key role.

“He later shifted to involvement in the national medical service program, and later again to the national Treaty movement.”

In a moving eulogy at a service at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra, Walker’s son Raymond [Nunka Wulew] said: “He will be remembered not only as a father, grandfather and great-grandfather but as an advocate, leader and a warrior for our people in his mission for peace, prosperity and healing. May his spirit rest in the Dreamtime.”

Bundjalung man Robert Corowa told NITV Walker elevated the Aboriginal movement: “I’m very proud of my brother for moving it to the next level and that was to start things like the National Aboriginal Health Organisation, which was started up in Brisbane, the Aboriginal Legal Services, started in Redfern, which he was a big part of.”

Fellow activist Les Collins said Walker was instrumental in establishing many services available to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community: "Like the legal services, health services, housing services, childcare services, pre-school services and influencing government policy in these matters and matters such as education.” 

Gunai-Gundjitmara elder Marjorie Thorpe first met Walker in Brisbane in the 1970s. “He established all of these organisations on the basis of sovereignty, of being sovereigns, of us being the original peoples of this country who never gave up that sovereignty. He always fought to maintain our spirit of who we are and where we come from.”

Collins said he was a fearless leader who will always be remembered: “He’s like our modern day Pemulwuy or Windradyne. He was a fighter and a visionary and, to my knowledge, he never took a day off from fighting for our rights.”

Watson said: “Denis made a great contribution to the Black liberation struggle in Australia. He was an inspiring leader for our continuing movement, and will be widely remembered.”

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