Remembering a fearless champion – Kaye Mundine (1947-2016)
We planned to write an article about Kaye Mundine for the November edition of the SSH, to honour the 30th anniversary of her “big day”, but Kaye died on June 14, having spent her last years in Annie Green Court in Redfern. Jon Altman’s tribute to her was “Kaye Mundine was a fearless champion for Indigenous rights” and St Joseph’s Church Newtown was filled with people who came from far and near to honour her memory and offer their condolences to her family and friends.
Kaye was an extraordinary Bundjalung/Gumbaynggirr woman with a passion for social justice and the personality to communicate her enthusiasm and win people to her cause. Born in Grafton in 1947, the second eldest of the 11 children of Roy and Olive “Dolly” (nee Donovan), Kaye and her family moved to Auburn in the 1960s so that the children could get a better education. Kaye worked for a bank and then studied social work at the University of NSW.
Kaye’s CV is impressive!
In 1975 she became editor of the magazine New Dawn, published by the NSW Department of Youth, Ethnic and Community Affairs. In 1980 she established the first Aboriginal clerks recruitment program in the Australian Public Service. Between 1984 and 1987 she was, simultaneously, Commissioner for the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, and head of the Victorian section of the equal employment opportunity branch of the Australian Public Service Board. In 1987 she was transferred to the equal employment opportunities unit in the new Public Service Commission in Canberra. She served as a Commissioner on the Toomelah Inquiry and was Regional Director of the Queensland office of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission from 1988 to 1990. She worked with her older sister, Olive Brown, to found the ACT’s Aboriginal health service, Winnunga Nimmityjah, and played an important part in the establishment of the Baryugil Square Local Aboriginal Land Council. She also worked as a private consultant. In 1991 she acted as an advisor on multicultural affairs to the Chief Minister of the ACT government, and was an official visitor to the territory’s corrective services. In the same year she was also elected a regional councillor of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Council (ATSIC). In 1993 she was the leader of the advisory committee to the group at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at Australian National University who researched views on alcohol and other drug problems in the Canberra/Queanbeyan Aboriginal community. In 1997 she was an Indigenous representative at the Ministerial Summit on Indigenous Deaths in Custody. In 2001 she was Honorary Chairperson of the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Ethics Committee.
In her tribute to Kaye, Lord Mayor Clover Moore wrote: “We were honoured to have Kaye serve as the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer at the City between January 2003 and June 2007. This was a very significant time for the City in building our relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The City built a new community centre at Redfern, established principles of co-operation with the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, adopted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural protocols and undertook community consultation and research to inform the Eora Journey projects. Kaye contributed enormously to the success of this work.”
During those years, Kaye was an inspiring member of our local Redfern Residents for Reconciliation group.
All that without getting to Kaye’s “big day”! She was a fervent Catholic, and in the late 1960s was instrumental in the establishment of the Sydney Aboriginal Catholic Ministry with Father Eugene Stockton. In his 2015 book, Amplifying that Still, Small Voice, Frank Brennan wrote: “The preparation for the pope’s  visit became a highly collaborative enterprise with Aboriginal leaders taking the lead in the Church as well as in their own communities. Kaye Mundine, who escorted the pope up the dreaming path on November 29, 1986, assured the bishops gathered in Alice Springs that the pope fully supported an initiative for greater Aboriginal involvement in the structures of the Church.”
Part of what Pope John Paul II said that day is inscribed on the wall in St Vincent’s Church Redfern and still awaiting its fulfilment.