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WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.

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Pearl Gibbs

4 July 2020 // Pearl Gibbs


Further reading


Pearl Mary (Gambanyi) Gibbs (1901-1983), was born in 1901 at La Perouse, Sydney, younger daughter of Mary Margaret Brown, who was born in Brewarrina to Maria, an Aboriginal woman of the Ngemba or Muruwari language, and a white station worker, George Brown. 

In 1930, Gibbs helped run a camp to support unemployed Aboriginal workers, and in 1933 she organised a strike for Aboriginal pea-pickers. She was one of the first members of the APA, and attracted large crowds when she gave speeches in the Domain in Sydney.

She began to work with APA president Jack Patten and secretary William Ferguson, and in 1938 she was involved with organising the Day of Mourning protests, which at the time was the most significant Aboriginal civil rights demonstration in Australia. She was a spokesperson for the Committee for Aboriginal Citizen Rights, the lobby group which was set up to carry on the work of the Day of Mourning Congress. Later in 1938 she succeeded Ferguson as secretary of the APA, and she held the position until 1940.


In 1941, Gibbs made the first radio broadcast by an Aboriginal woman, on the station 2WL in Wollongong. Her speech was on Aboriginal civil rights, and carefully scripted so that it would be allowed on the air. Much of Gibbs' early work was done during a time when Aboriginal people were subject to controls on their movement, unless they had an exemption certificate from the relevant protection board.

Police would also monitor all public civil rights demonstrations. In 1993, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) released their file on Gibbs to the National Archives of Australia. The file included records of which political meetings Gibbs had attended, and clippings of newspaper articles in which she had been mentioned.


Gibbs spent much of her adult life in Dubbo. In 1946, she and Ferguson established a branch of the Australian Aborigines' League in Dubbo, and she was the vice-president and later secretary of the branch throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Later, in 1960, Gibbs set up a hostel to care for the families of Aboriginal hospital patients in Dubbo. From 1954 to 1957, Gibbs was the only Aboriginal member of the New South Wales Aborigines Welfare Board, and she was the only woman to ever serve on the board. In 1956 she was a co-founder, along with Faith Bandler, of the Australian Aboriginal Fellowship (AAF), which was a mainly urban organisation designed to facilitate cooperation between Aboriginal political groups and white people sympathetic to the cause. Gibbs was able to use the AAF to develop connections with the trade union movement in New South Wales.

Gibbs continued to be politically active throughout the 1970s, including supporting the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. She forged important links between the Aboriginal movement and other progressive political groups, notably the women's movement. Gibbs died in Dubbo in 1983. (source)

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