Ms Dhu 1a - The Leadership of Women


The Struggles of Women

In 1983, 16 year old Yindjibarndi youth John Pat died at the hands of white, off-duty policemen in Roebourne, Western Australia. In 1984, Aunty Helen Ulli Corbett, a Yamatji-Nyoongar woman who was living in Sydney, formed the Committee to Defend Black Rights (CDBR) with other Aboriginal women as ‘a response to the naked racism’ revealed in the killing of John Pat. In 1986 they embarked on the first of several national ‘listening tours’ to connect with families who had been affected by deaths in custody.

The CDBR was a vehicle through which bereaved Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities could find support and resist the violent structures of the colonial prison state. Aboriginal women played a critical role in campaigning for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) however there is scant information available on the public record about this activism. This erasure is indicative of the broader struggle of Aboriginal women for recognition, representation and visibility.


Aunty Helen Ulli Corbett (Helen Boyle) speaking at Sydney Town Hall, 1987.

‘When there were jobs to be done, meetings to be organised, it was the women who did it…the CDBR was and still is spearheaded by Aboriginal women; its think tank is made up of women and 50 percent of its national committee are women.’

Aunty Helen Ulli Corbett (The Guardian, 21 January 1992)




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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.