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
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.
1993 Director/Co-Producer (with Martha Ansara & Kit Guyatt)
My Life as I Live It
As an actor:
(Directed by Phil Noyce)
1980: Women of the Sun, 2nd part
Read More about Essie
Coffey's life on Gary Foley's Koori
Ballad Films • Martha Ansara
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