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baya-ngara: read/speak knowledge – Because of her, we can

By: Nathan Sentance, Category: At The Museum, Date: 13 Jul 2018

This NAIDOC Week we celebrate the contributions of Joyce Clague, the first Aboriginal person to join the Australian Museum Trust.

Nathan and Aunty Joyce Clague

Nathan and Aunty Joyce Clague
Photographer: Nathan © Australian Museum

Joyce Caroline Clague MBE (née Mercy) is a highly respected Yaegl elder and an Aboriginal rights activist and she was the first Aboriginal person to be a trustee on Australian Museum Trust. As one of the most influential female political activists in Australia, Joyce has worked tirelessly to create social change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and this included being heavily involved in the instigation of the 1967 Constitutional Referendum as well as contributing to the YES campaign for the referendum by speaking at local community organisations and groups around Sydney such as the Rotary Club, Apex Australia, the Lions Clubs, the Business and Professional Women’s Association and a Country Women’s Association conference.

In addition to this, she fought against the inequalities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the convener of the 1969 Federation Council for Advancement of Aborigines (FCAATSI). The first Welfare office for the foundation in the mid-sixties.

Furthermore, Clague was involved in Aboriginal health programs in Central Australia and was Australian delegate to the World Council of Churches.

In recognition of her hard work and accomplishments, in 1977, she was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). Her father encouraged her to accept the honor on behalf of Aboriginal people. She refers to the MBE as More Black than Ever.

Always being a trailblazer, Joyce Clague became the first Aboriginal Australian Museum Trustee in 1985. Australian Museum Trust president, Robyn Willlams said “I am particularly proud to be able to formally welcome my good friend, Joyce Clague, an Assessor of the Land and Environment court of NSW by position, and a woman of profound good sense by nature. An asset to the Trust, she has already demonstrated calm and wisdom in her deliberations. Joyce’s particular interest in the establishment of regional Aboriginal Museums will be supported by the advice and expertise of Australian Museum staff.”

Joyce Clague has created change to make the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people better. Joyce paved the way for recent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievements at the Australian Museum including the launch of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander strategy, the GADI exhbition, the Weave Festival and the baya-ngara Australian Museum Library project, which this post is a part of. These achievements have facilitated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have greater agency over their culture and history at the Australian Museum.

The centre piece of the GADI exhibition at the Museum was a tribute to Aboriginal fisherwomen of the Sydney region. This kind of representation may not have been possible without the work of strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, such as Joyce Clague, in and out of the museum.

Today, we acknowledge and thank Joyce Clague and the courageous women like her. Because of her, we can.