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Gibbs, Pearl Mary (1901 - 1983)

2001 Victorian Honour Roll of Women

Born
1901
Botany Bay, New South Wales, Australia
Died
28 April 1983
Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation
Aboriginal leader, Political activist and Social activist

Summary

Pearl Gibbs was a major figure in Aboriginal political activism from the late 1920s to the 1970s. She was involved in organising the Day of Mourning on 26 January 1938 to protest the invasion; spoke for the Committee for Aboriginal Citizen Rights; supported Northern Territory Aborigines in their conflicts with a frontier 'justice' system; called for Aboriginal representation on the New South Wales Board; set up the Dubbo branch of the Australian Aborigines' League with Bill Ferguson in 1946; became the organising secretary for a new Melbourne-based Council for Aboriginal Rights in 1953; was elected as the Aboriginal member of the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1954 and its only woman member; established the Australian Aboriginal Fellowship (with Faith Bandler) in 1956 and the first hostel for Aboriginal hospital patients and their families in Dubbo in 1960; and continued contributing to Aboriginal conferences throughout the 1970s.

Details

Pearl Gibbs grew up in the Yass and Brewarrina areas. After attending racially-segregated schools at Yass and Cowra, she worked as a maid and cook and married an English sailor named Gibbs. They later separated, leaving Pearl to raise their daughter and two sons. From the late 1920s Pearl started organising Aboriginal protests and from 1937 became a major figure in the Aboriginal political network. She was an early member of the Aborigines' Progressive Association, appearing at meetings in Sydney's Domain and drawing large crowds because a woman speaker was rare and because Pearl spoke with such fluency and passion. During the campaign for full citizen rights and an end to the Aborigines Protection Board, Pearl concentrated on women's issues: 'apprenticeships' ('employment' of Aboriginal girls as domestic servants by the Aborigines Protection Board), school and hospital segregation, health and the meagre Board rations on Aboriginal reserves. She successfully lobbied many women's organisations, including the Sydney Feminist Club, and made wider alliances with centre and left political groups than other Aboriginal activist in New South Wales at the time.

Pearl Gibbs was secretary of the Aborigines' Progressive Association from 1938 to 1940; vice-president and then secretary of the Dubbo branch of the Australian Aborigines' League in the 1940/50s; the organising secretary for a new Council for Aboriginal Rights in 1953; the Aboriginal member of the Aboriginal Welfare Board from 1954 to 1957; and vice-president of the Australian Aboriginal Fellowship in the 1950s.

Events

2001
Inducted onto Victorian Honour Roll of Women

Sources used to compile this entry: Goodall, Heather, 'Pearl Gibbs', in Radi, Heather (ed.), 200 Australian women : a Redress anthology, Women's Redress Press, Broadway, N.S.W., [1988], pp. 211-213; Radi, Heather (ed.), 200 Australian Women: A Redress Anthology, Women's Redress Press, Sydney, 1988, 258 pp. Also available at http://nla.gov.au/nla.arc-78644.

Leonarda Kovacic

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