Activist grandmother Pearl Gibbs remembered in NAIDOC week

"I take courage in what she does": Photo of Pearl Mary (Gambanyi) Gibbs, an Indigenous rights activist and the grandmother that Anny Druett never got to meet.
"I take courage in what she does": Photo of Pearl Mary (Gambanyi) Gibbs, an Indigenous rights activist and the grandmother that Anny Druett never got to meet.

The granddaughter of a passionate Indigenous activist gave a lively speech at the launch of National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Celebration (NAIDOC) week on Monday at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.

Before the flag raising ceremony, Anny Druett of Wentworth Falls said she was working on “bridge building” between the white and black communities, just as her activist nanna Pearl Gibbs had done.

Catalyst for change: Anny Druett of Wentworth Falls gave the keynote speech at the launch of NAIDOC week in Katoomba on Monday.

Catalyst for change: Anny Druett of Wentworth Falls gave the keynote speech at the launch of NAIDOC week in Katoomba on Monday.

In 2018, NAIDOC week (July 8-15) celebrates the culture, history and achievements of the Indigenous community. This year the focus is on the role of Indigenous women with the theme ‘Because of her, we can!’

“My Nanna had a huge influence on my life. Pearl was a maverick, she was one of those woman who was before her time,” Ms Druett, a workplace trainer, said.

Pearl Gibbs helped plan the 1938 Day of Mourning on Australia Day and set up the Aboriginal Australian fellowship in the early 1950s with Faith Bandler, an early petition for Indigenous rights, which was “unheard of to have whitefellas and blackfellas working together”. She was the first and only woman to sit on the Aborigines Welfare Board.

“She bled Aboriginal affairs. She worked towards getting Aboriginal women and men and children on the census rather than being counted as horrible words like ‘mixed races’ or ‘half race’ or ‘quadroon’ (half white/half black) or ‘octaroon’ (one fourth black) on the registers of missions and reserves and stations,” she said.

“She worked with historians, writers and authors ... feminists and the unions... giving them messages that they could carry on further.  She was so well networked she could pick up the phone and dial prime ministers. She was the first Aboriginal woman to talk on radio. 

In an interview in the Daily Liberal in 1954, while making a bid to be elected on to the Aborigines Welfare Board in Dubbo, Pearl Gibbs was described as being a “quarter caste”. She said at the time it was “unfair” Aboriginal children were segregated in schools and the Indigenous community lacked proper social benefits despite paying tax, including the invalid pension, the widow’s pension, the baby bonus and “were not admitted to the same wards in hospitals”.

And Ms Druett’s grandmother made those achievements, despite huge personal loss after her three children, including Anny’s mother, Marie, were taken away from her after the marriage broke down, something her family refused to talk about.

“My [English born naval steward] grandfather Robert James Gibbs removed the kids and dumped them all in a foster home. The last time my mother saw her mother was when she was seven. The whole intent of the Aboriginal Welfare Board was to clean up the skins of people so everybody looked blue eyed and fair skinned.”

Ms Druett said NAIDOC week gives her a chance to “keep on doing what Pearl was doing” – the grandmother she never met.

“For me the goal is relationships with people, you can’t do the social, jobs, housing, education [without that]. I’ve got a responsibility. I learnt from Pearl it takes decades to get things moving.” 

  • There is a NAIDOC Aboriginal Community Day at Katoomba’s Gully on July 14 from 11am to 2pm and multiple other activities. Go to  www.bmcc.nsw.gov.au/naidoc