Nurturing Culture and Activism in the Heart of Australia

Essie Coffey

Also known as Bush Queen of Brewarrina, Essie Coffey contributed to Australian politics, culture and art. According to Koori Web (2021), Effie was born in northern New South Wales (NSW) and spend her childhood life travelling alongside his dad between stations. In the 1950s, Essie married Albert Coffey and later moved to Brewarrina; in the northwest slopes of NSW. Among her most significant achievements, Essie engaged in various forms of political activism that politically impacted the aboriginal community.

For instance, in the 1970s, Essie formed the Aboriginal Legal Service, which became one of the first free aboriginal legal service providers in Australia. She also became one of the founding members of the National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (Ballad Films, 2021). Similarly, she was part of the team that formed the Aboriginal Heritage and Cultural Museum in Brewarrin, an institution that seeks to maintain the cultural heritage of the aboriginal community (Ballad Films, 2021).


In her 30s, Essie engaged in filmmaking and ended up making an award-winning film “My Survival as an Aboriginal”, which highlighted her life in the Brewarrina and addressed various issues of dispossession and colonialism suffered by the aboriginal community (Big Girl Don’t Cry, 2002). In 1988, Essie handed a copy of her film to Queen Elizabeth II, bringing the political plights of the aboriginal community to the limelight (Ballad Films, 2021).

She later produced the My Life as I Live It, which premiered in 1993, which highlighted the community development employment program – seeking to make a difference to the remote aboriginal township; while demonstrating the values of the aboriginal community, their dignity and self-determination (Koori Web, 2021). Living in the wild, Essie tirelessly engaged in working and campaigning for her people. Furthermore, because she saw the political struggles her community underwent, she remained committed to the political liberation of her community, forming the Aboriginal Movement in Bwrewarrina (Koori Web, 2021). This paved way for the confrontation against discrimination of the aboriginal community.

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‘Essie Coffey’, Koori Web: Heroes in the Struggle for Justice,, accessed 8 February 2021; ‘Essie Coffey’, National Portrait Gallery,, accessed 18 April 2021.

‘About Essie Coffey’, Ballad Films,, accessed 8 February 2021; ‘Coffey, Essie’, The Australian Women’s Register,, accessed 18 April 2021.

‘My Survival as an Aboriginal’, Ballad Films,, accessed 8 February 2021; Romaine Moreton, ‘My Survival as an Aboriginal: Go Away’, National Film and Sound Archive of Australia,, accessed 8 February 2021; ‘My Life as I Live It’, Ballad Films,, accessed 18 April 2021

‘Big Girls Don’t Cry (2002)’, Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association,, accessed 18 April 2021.

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