Last week saw the passing of an inspirational man, Mr Eric Deeral, the first Aboriginal person elected to an Australian state parliament. Eric Deeral was a respected Gamay Elder of the Guugu Yimithirr nation. As the National party member for Cook from 1974 to 1977, Eric Deeral advocated for better infrastructure and services in his very large electorate, such as improved roads, schools and access to medical treatment.
Based in Hope Vale, Eric Deeral worked closely with local communities in many different capacities throughout his life. He was the first chairperson of the Aboriginal Coordination Council (1985), delegate to the World Heritage Organisation in Paris (1988), chair of the Legislation Review Committee that examined Queensland legislation and its impact on land rights in the early 1990s and in 2002, was intermin chair of the Yalanji Ang-Narra Yimidihirr Peoples Council. Mr Deeral was also deeply involved in justice issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Most recently Eric Deeral’s contribution to Queensland was acknowledged by Queensland Parliament’s convening of the Inaugural Eric Deeral Indigenous Youth Forum in June 2012, at which Mr Deeral was the special guest.
As part of State Library’s Indigenous Languages Project, a digital story produced in 2008 with Far North Queensland communities involved in language recording workshops and features Mr Deeral speaking about the value of recording and preserving Indigenous languages.