Tributes Flow for Aboriginal Leader
Thursday, 4th April 2013 at 9:16 am
Tributes have flowed following the passing of outspoken Aboriginal leader and Australia’s first Aboriginal Cabinet Minister, Ernie Bridge AM.
The Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia has expressed deep sorrow at the death saying it is a great loss to Australia.
“Ernie was truly a pioneer for his people, representing the Kimberly electorate in the West Australian Parliament and becoming the first Aboriginal person to serve as a cabinet minister in any Australian Government,” Co-Chair Dr Tom Calma AO said.
“Born in 1936 when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people enjoyed almost no political or social rights, Ernie Bridge struggled against adversity his whole life and became a successful businessman, pastoralist, country singer and a powerful advocate and role model for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people everywhere.
“His perseverance and strength of character were exemplified by the fact that even while critically ill with mesothelioma he was preparing a legal case against asbestos producers and the Shire of Warburton for his exposure to the deadly dust,” Dr Calma said.
Dr Calma said Bridge shattered the negative stereotyping of Aboriginal people and was a trail breaker in the movement for reconciliation and recognition of Australia’s First Peoples.
“On behalf of the board and staff of Reconciliation Australia I pay my respects to Ernie and sympathy to his family and friends for their loss.”
Ernie Bridge is survived by his four children.
West Australian Labor leader Mark McGowan paid tribute to Bridge, describing him as a great West Australian and trail blazer.
"What Ernie personified is that you can come from anywhere, any background and you can do great things in Western Australia," McGowan said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said Bridge was a man of integrity and courage.
"Ernie Bridge was not only a pioneering Aboriginal leader and giant of a role model for younger Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, he was also a unique individual who could count hundreds as friends,'' Commissioner Gooda said.
Caritas Australia, the international aid and development organisation of the Catholic Church, has also paid tribute to Ernie Bridge, who was the President of its partner organisation, Unity of First People of Australia (UFPA).
UFPA is one of Caritas Australia’s long-term partners in the First Australians Program.
Caritas CEO Jack de Groot said Bridge was instrumental in the establishment, development, management and implementation of the program, which strives to prevent diseases like diabetes and to improve healthcare across vulnerable Indigenous Australian communities.
de Groot and Mark Green, Group Leader, First Australians Program, both recently spent time with Ernie and his family in Perth.
“To know of Ernie’s wonderful focus on walking with Aboriginal people so they become the owners of programs to prevent diabetes has been inspiring,” de Groot said.