Sharon Ruby Dykes
Stories & Ideas

Fri 17 Feb 2023

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Learn more about the strength, resilience and legacy of Essie Coffey, whose film, My Survival as an Aboriginal, is showing as part of the How I See It: Blak Art and Film exhibition at ACMI.


Mum was a recipient of the Order of Australia Medal and at that time too they offered her an MBE, Member of the British Empire, and she said, "I'm not a member of the British Empire, I am an Aboriginal."

[Essie Coffey, from My Survival as an Aboriginal] "I’m Essie Coffey an Aboriginal, Murawari woman from Brewarrina, Dodge City."

[Ruby laughing] She said, "I don’t want that."

My name is Sharon Ruby Dykes, better known as Ruby. I'm the eldest daughter of Essie Coffey.

Essie Coffey was a strong black woman from the Murawari Nation, her clan group was the Gunangara Clan. She was an activist, a singer. She loved family, she loved being with people. But most of all, she loved sharing her knowledge.

[Essie] "You’ve got to break the leaves off it. You suck it or you chew it. If not you sort of break the limb off it, a little limb off it and walk along and just chew on that."

[Ruby] With her first film, My Survival as an Aboriginal, Mum talks about her experiences, her living conditions, the social day-to-day living, impact on the family, and it's from her own experience.

Mum was back and forth to Sydney all the time with meetings and everything and I think she just accidentally bumped into Aunty Martha [Ansara] and they became really good friends, and then she invited them to come out to see where she lived and come out and visit Brewarrina, and the old Mission and Dodge City and Weilmoringle, and she took them all around and they loved it, and they said, "Hey Essie let's do something.” Yeah, and she said, "This is my story and I want to tell it."

And that's how she made My Survival as an Aboriginal. The atrocities that she seen and experienced at Brewarrina Mission, you could see that sticking out in Mum's story.

I think, you know, she wanted to see change.

[Essie] "No white person is going to brainwash me. I'm going to live my own life, me and my family."

[Ruby] She had heaps of kids then, her own seven plus a lot of others that she’d taken in. She took them in before the welfare took them. That was a big thing out there,kids running away from welfare officers, come and just taking kids.

She stood up. She stood up to the welfare.

[Essie] "He’s a tracker, I take him out on bush hunts and he do a bit of tracking for me. He’s one of the best hunters I got in my family."

[Ruby] People think that we don't practice lore, that we have nothing but they just see what's in front of them. They don't see what's behind and what's in us.

The resilience that she had to put up with. The racism that she had to face. Yeah, it made her tough, it made her strong. We could stand tall and be proud and know that we were left a great legacy by my Mum, our Grandmother, our Aunty in what she and all that she'd done and in all that she’d achieved.

You know, she just wanted to improve Aboriginal–White relations and making it known there are people out there that have struggled and they want to know, they want the world to know, you know, that people can make a difference.

What we saw last night was very beautiful, very overwhelming and I thank ACMI for bringing that to the forefront and saying this is how I see it.


Like she always said: stand tall, stand proud, because you're on Aboriginal land.

This land is our land.

This is our home.

This is our palace.

And you and I will live like King and Queens.

Learn more about the work

How I See It: Blak Art and Film

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