First Nations leader Sam Watson left his mark and has been honoured after his death on 26 November at just 67 years old. Thousands turned up at his funeral to say farewell. Matt Dennien wrote the following. It was published in the Brisbane Times (6 December 2019).
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article contains an image and the name of a deceased person.
Brisbane Aboriginal leader Sam Watson has been remembered as a caring and passionate advocate for the rights of Indigenous people and others at a public funeral service on Friday.
Mr Watson passed away on November 26, just a fortnight after his 67th birthday.
More than 1000 gathered Friday to farewell the proud Wangerriburra and Birri Gubba man, who had ties to the Jagera, Kalkadoon and Noonuccal people, in West End’s Musgrave Park.
“We’d get no better place for Aboriginal people I suppose in the whole of Queensland, than right here,” said Uncle Des Sandy during a welcome to country. “The home of us, in Musgrave Park.”
At the funeral on Friday, Mr Sandy was the first in a procession of family and friends, colleagues and community members, to pay tribute to the man.
All shared stories and condolences – eliciting both laughter and tears. Volunteers hurried with cups and water jugs between rows of seats laid out under a large marquee.
Many more stood around the edges, seeking shelter from the 38-degree heat. Others found shade under nearby trees.
Steve Watson, Mr Watson’s younger brother, delivered a tribute on behalf of the family.
“It’s going to be tough without brother Sam, particularly with our family gatherings at the Men’s Shed,” he said.
“I heard Sam speak at a funeral many years ago in which he implored the gathering to take a positive out of that Sorry Business.
“If you knew you had done the wrong thing, then go up to that person and apologise to them – and the other person have th
“Because after all, when we all go into the Dreamtime and we’re all up there together, you’re going to say those words then, so why not say those words now.
“Live by the principles of the Dreamtime: you respect mother earth, you respect your elders, you respect your community and everyone in it – whether it be white or black, Christian or Muslim.”
Aunty Ruby Watson spoke of the gift Mr Watson wanted her to “bring to this space – to our mob, to our extended mob, to our whole community”.
“The thing that I heard in my heart, and I imagined floating to me from brother in that totemic consciousness, was … knowing Country is our gift,” she said.
“Maybe with remembering brother Sam, and what he means to each of us, we could remember where we have come from and remember how much that kept us going and sane and whole.
“If there was something that you remember from brother Sam, I would like you to identify it, I’d like you to hold it in your heart, and I’d like you to pass it forward.
“Pass it forward so that brother Sam’s legacy keeps going.”
Tributes were also given by the Clay family and Aunty Pat Thompson, Aunty Debbie Sandy and Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.
Those gathered were reminded of the expansive reach of Mr Watson’s legacy, from novels to screenplays and a short film, to his work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service and Link-Up.
Dr Gary Foley would later address the crowd, too.
He spoke of the political upbringing the two shared organising for the 1967 Referendum Campaign, after which Mr Watson would go on to continue organising and advocating for the rights of Aboriginal people.
The crowd cheered when Dr Foley told a mantra he said was shared by the two: “native title is not land rights”.
Taking to the stage with her brother, Samuel Wagan, Mr Watson’s daughter Nicole spoke of how difficult the loss had been for the family.
“But I want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the love and kindness that we have received from many of those that are with us today,” she said.
At the closing of the service, before a lunch and open-mic afternoon at nearby Jagera Hall, the crowd spilled into the heat to see Mr Watson off one last time.
Forming a guard of honour, fists raised, they fell in behind his hearse as it slowly made its way out of the park.