Pearl Mary Gibbs, an Aboriginal Activist, Born in Botany Bay, in 1901, did many things in her lifetime defending indigenous Australians, Gibbs especially focussed her efforts on ATSI women’s rights, particularly regarding their slavery in domestic service and their sexual exploitation, this was inspired by her own experiences. Gibbs mother named Mary Margaret Brown, was born in Brewarrina. Brown was an Aboriginal woman of the Ngemba or Muruwari heritage. Pearls father, David Berry was alienated from the family. Once Gibbs was born, her mother returned to her employment which remained in Yass, Gibbs and her sister once old enough attended school there before this they were declined schooling in Cowra because of her aboriginal heritage. While Gibbs attended school, she usually was discriminated against, Gibbs had quite fair skin as she was a half – caste child, although this discrimination was still strong causing her to identify strongly as an aboriginal woman. Pearl Gibbs had an aboriginal background this built her a desire for justice and made her want to become an activist. Although Gibbs was half-caste, she used this as her advantage as this allowed her to appeal to both races, this allowed her to work with both races not against them.
Pearl Gibbs early on in life was involved in working for ATSI rights, in 1917 Gibbs moved to Sydney to be employed in domestic services. Gibbs political career really started in the late 1920s her first employment involving ATSI people was assisting the aboriginal protection board. Gibbs main role there was organising strikes among the Indigenous people who were unskilled, poorly educated workers, employed only in menial jobs, such as harvesting crops and receiving poor wages for working long hours under dreadful conditions at Nowra in the early 1930s, Gibbs also became a prominent speaker in the aboriginal protest campaign in the 1930s, including the Australia day protest in 1938, and was a member of the first commissions to the prime minister. Gibbs delivered her own scripted radio talk in Sydney and Wollongong in June 1941 in this talk she made it clear that she was working with white Australians not against them “Intelligent and educated Aborigines, with the aid of good white friends, are protesting against these conditions” making it clear that she wants them to work together. In 1942 Gibbs also wrote for the press supporting Aboriginal people in conflict with the justice system. Gibbs was secretary of the Aborigines progressive association, vice president and then secretary of the Dubbo area of the Australian aborigines’ league in 1946, and organising secretary of the council of aboriginal rights in 1953. Gibbs did many different jobs, but all where based around ATSI peoples as she was very passionate to get her people treated properly mainly by the government but also overall discrimination. Gibbs aims where focused on the inequality of rights between both the ATSI and white Australians, Gibbs specifically focused on women and children urging for change in the working conditions that ATSI People were facing, H. Goodall expresses, “As secretary (1938-39) of the Aborigines Progressive Association … health conditions mothers and children faced on government-managed reserves”. Gibbs was very hurt by the mistreatment of the people who she worked with in her time working in domestic work, she worked with people who didn’t have a voice and focused largely on this to enforce change. Overall, Gibbs activism was encouraged by her Indigenous heritage, her involvement in the workforce exposed her to the injustice of ATSI people but what she aimed for in her time of activism was ending sexual exploitation and increasing women’s rights so all ATSI women could have a voice.
Throughout Pearl Gibbs life she never gave up her activism to mainly defend ATSI women’s rights, she continued her activism until the day she died in 1983. Her legacy still lives on. While Gibbs was an activist, she worked with many others involved in this field including William Ferguson, William Cooper, Jack Patten and Charles Perkins as well as many others. Gibbs contributed highly to achieve racial equality between ATSI peoples and white Australians, much of what Gibbs did had a long – term impact for ATSI peoples in society today. This was done by her focus to make a change, her achievement in activism still is reflected upon today.
Gibbs mainly communicated through public speeches ensuring she as a half – caste aborigine speaks to both white Australians and ATSI people working with them both. Gibbs mainly focused on Women’s rights and Indigenous children getting better education, “the bad housing and sanitary conditions, the lack of food, the neglect of the aged and sick, no proper education for the children – is there any wonder that my aboriginal people are broken hearted and discouraged at such shocking conditions! Ah! My white sisters, I am appealing to you on behalf of my people to raise your voices with ours and help us to a better deal in life surely you are not so callous as to ignore our plea.” Gibbs said this in April 1938, Women today, even after her death this lived on and was keep in mind, since this points out both cultures as she calls the indigenous Australians her people, although she also calls on her ‘white sisters’ making them both her families and relating to both cultures. This shows the strong communication skills in which Gibbs used to convince all Australians to follow her leading example.
Gibbs as an activist managed her media coverage significantly well, in Sydney and Wollongong Gibbs became the first ATSI women to speak on the radio and she did this making links between White Australians and ATSI Australians this was highly significant as she did this in majority of her discussions, speeches or articles. Gibbs collaborated with other activists at the time, this made her name known and established. These people aimed to get justice and equality towards all ATSI people. This group doing many different things, mainly protests didn’t have an impact straight away but it did raise awareness about the issues and create media coverage meaning more people learnt about these issues and discussed them.
Gibbs left a long powerful legacy for Australians, present and future and for those future activist, Gibbs was the main activist in contributing to ATSI women and children which is what she hoped for when she began activism as due to her background and experiences knew this first hand, Gibbs brought attention to groups that didn’t have enough knowledge or power to speak up for themselves. Gibbs legacy still lives on highly today, in 2018 Gibbs was one of the ATSI women who were celebrated in the ‘Because of her we can campaign’, proving that her legacy is still being brought up today and all the ATSI people especially women being so grateful to her as she made such a difference in society and even though she has passed her knowledge and her standing made such an impact then that it is still impacting society today. Gibbs stood up for all Australians and included them all in what she was fighting for this allowed all races in Australia to come together as one and for those present and future white Australians to continue to apologise for ancestors mistakes and reflect upon what Gibbs did and changed in just standing up and speaking out, Gibbs made powerful and positive relationships with all races allowing all to listen to her, this made her stand out from the other activist during this time period. Gibbs didn’t just empower ATSI people, but she also empowered all women to push for the rights that they are intitled to. Pearl Gibbs life in activism made a long-lasting effect on Australia and this empowerment of women meaning her legacy is still lived on and reflected upon in the past, present and the future.
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