22 July 2020 // Evelyn Scott
Evelyn Ruth Backo (1935-21 September 2017) was born in Ingham, Queensland, Australia; she is the granddaughter of a former slave who was kidnapped from the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu.
In the 1960’s Evelyn moved to Townsville Queensland. She witnessed the police abuse its power often by terrorising the Black people, discrimination in housing, health care, the education system and the employment sector.
Here, she connected with mentor Joe McGuiness and fellow Townsville political activist Eddie Mabo. She worked at the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League, fighting on the issues of the unjust Aborigines Protection Act, an act the declared Aboriginals as minors who needed to be protected by the government, the act also stripped the people of their political rights.
In 1967, she helped campaign for the Australian referendum which approved the amendments of sections 51 and 127 of the Australian constitution.
In 1971, she became an active member of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), an organisation where she served as the first general-secretary and vice-president. Equipped with a sound strategy, in 1973, the FCAATSI became an organisation led by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. She was a member of the National Aboriginal and Islander Council, the first national women’s organisation founded in the 1970’s.
Evelyn’s activism also extended to justice for her Australian South Sea Islander Community and protecting the environment; helping to create protection for the Great Barrier Reef and the land she became a member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority during the 1980’s.
In 1977, Evelyn was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal to acknowledge her work towards the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s rights. She was appointed as the Chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in the 1990’s; at that time the challenge was the federal government actively cutting funding for the reconciliation.
In 2003, she received the Queensland Greats award for her life-long work of fighting for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Australian Catholic University awarded Evelyn an honorary doctorate degree in 2000, and James Cook University awarded her an honorary degree in 2001. Later in 2001 Evelyn was awarded as an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia; the award is an order of chivalry established on February 14, 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, to recognise Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service.
Evelyn Scott died on September 21, 2017 at the age of 81 and her funeral was held as a state funeral. She was the first Aboriginal women to have a state funeral.