Renowned Aboriginal activist and Order of Australia recipient Dr Evelyn Scott has passed away at the age of 81.

She was the granddaughter of a man who was brought to Queensland in chains to work the sugar industry as a slave labourer after being kidnapped from Vanuatu.

Her life was guided by advice her father often gave her: “If you don’t think something is right, then challenge it.”

Evelyn was introduced to political activism in the 1960s after moving to Townsville, where she saw firsthand how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were discriminated against in housing, employment, educational opportunities and access to health care.

At the start of her political activism Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland suffered under the various iterations of the notorious Aborigines Protection Act whereby they were classified as minors under the “protection” of the Queensland Government and had no political rights.

Today, the “Act” has gone, First Nations people sit in both the State and Federal Parliament and the concept of a treaty has entered mainstream political debate. The change of circumstances in Queensland and across the country owes much to the tireless and intelligent campaigning of Dr Scott.

Evelyn was the first General-Secretary of the Indigenous-controlled Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the Chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.

As a committed environmentalist who campaigned for protection of the Great Barrier Reef and believed in the need for stronger Indigenous voices in land and sea management she became a board member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in the 1980s.

Her work was recognised throughout her life; she was granted the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 1977, received two honorary doctorates for her work in reconciliation and the advancement of women and was awarded an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia.

Her son, Sam Backo, says fishing and family were two of his mother’s biggest passions.


Dr Evelyn Scott’s name and photo have been published with the permission of her family.