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Gilbert, Kevin (1933 - 1992)



Kevin Gilbert was born in Condobolin, New South Wales in 1933, of the Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi peoples. He left school after fifth grade at age fourteen, and worked in itinerant seasonal jobs. In 1957 Gilbert was sentenced to life imprisonment after a domestic dispute in which his wife was killed. During the fourteen years that he spent in some of the worst jails in Australia he strove to educate himself, honing his artistic talents to become a prominent poet, playwright, printmaker (Gilbert was Australia's first recognised Aboriginal printmaker) and photographer.
Gilbert wrote the play The Cherry Pickers in 1968 and first exhibited his work in 1970 at the Arts Council Gallery, Sydney, in an exhibition organised by the Australia Council. He was granted parole in 1971. Gilbert was instrumental in the establishment of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy opposite Old Parliament House, Canberra the following year, and wrote Because a White Man'll Never Do It in 1973. His book Living Black: Blacks Talk to Kevin Gilbert (1977) was awarded the National Book Council Book Award in 1978.
Gilbert was Chairperson of the Treaty '88 campaign, which fought for the establishment of a treaty enshrining Aboriginal rights and sovereignty. In this capacity he also organised the touring photography exhibition Inside Black Australia, in which his own work was included. In 1988 Gilbert was awarded the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's Human Rights Award for Literature for his anthology of Aboriginal poetry, Inside Black Australia, which he returned; feeling he could not accept such an award while his people were denied human rights in their own land. His work was included in Narragunnawali at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space in 1989. In 1992 he received a Australian Artists Creative Fellowship from the Australia Council. Kevin Gilbert died in 1993. The Kevin Gilbert Memorial Trust was established in 1993 to further his aspirations.

[Gary Foley]