About Essie Coffey, OAM

Essie Coffey, affectionately known as Bush Queen, was born Essieina Shillingsworth near Goodooga, N.S.W., the youngest of eight. Her mother was Ruby Bailey and her father, Donald Shillingsworth, known as Goodgabah, was a tribal elder of the Murrawarri people. Essie was brought up in the bush and as a teenager worked with her family on stations throughout Northwest New South Wales. Upon her marriage to Albert Coffey, she settled on the banks of the Barwon River at Brewarrina and began her family. In 1969, the Coffeys moved to the Reserve at West Brewarrina, known as Dodge City. There Essie raised eight children and ten step-children.

In the 1960's Essie, along with Steve Gordon and Tom Winters, founded the Aboriginal Movement in Brewarrina, establishing the Western Aboriginal Legal Service in the 1970's. Essie was also on the N.S.W. Lands Trust and the N.S.W. Advisory Council. She was well-known throughout the state as a Country & Western singer and song-writer.
In 1985, Essie was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for her services to her people.

In the 1990s, Essie was a Supervisor of the Community Development Employment Program in Brewarrina , a member of the Wakamurra ASTIC Regional Council for Northwest N.S.W., Co-founder of the Aboriginal Heritage & Culture Museum of Brewarrina, on the Board of Ngemba Housing Cooperative, an inaugural member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation and Co-founder of Magunya Aboriginal Women's Issue organisation. She had a particular interest in women's affairs and helped to create the first women's knock-out football team in the Northwest region.

In later years, Essie developed renal failure and became the subject of the film Big Girls Don’t Cry, by Aboriginal filmmaker Darren Ballangarri. She passed away on January 3rd, 1998.


1978: Director/Co-Producer: My Survival as an Aboriginal

Co-Producer: Robin Campbell, Old Feller Now (Dir. Alec Morgan)

1993 Director/Co-Producer (with Martha Ansara & Kit Guyatt) My Life as I Live It

As an actor:
1976: Backroads (Directed by Phil Noyce)
1980: Women of the Sun, 2nd part


Read More about Essie Coffey's life on Gary Foley's Koori History Website.


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