AustLit logo
person or book cover
Image courtesy of Eleanor Gilbert
Kevin Gilbert Kevin Gilbert i(A33538 works by) (a.k.a. Kevin John Gilbert; Kevin J. Gilbert)
Born: Established: 10 Jul 1933 Condobolin, Condobolin area, Central West NSW, New South Wales, ; Died: Ceased: 1 Apr 1993 Canberra, Australian Capital Territory,
Gender: Male
Heritage: Aboriginal Wiradjuri ; Aboriginal Kamilaroi ; Aboriginal ; English ; Irish
The material on this page is available to AustLit subscribers. If you are a subscriber or are from a subscribing organisation, please log in to gain full access. To explore options for subscribing to this unique teaching, research, and publishing resource for Australian culture and storytelling, please contact us or find out more.


Kevin Gilbert (10 July 1933 - 1 April 1993) was born into the Wiradjuri nation on the Kalara riverbank (Lachlan River) in Condobolin, Central New South Wales. During his lifetime, Kevin was a tireless advocate for Aboriginal rights and responsibilities and has left a legacy for others Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal to follow in the struggle for recognition and acceptance of Aboriginal sovereignty and an understanding of the spirituality of the oldest living culture in the world.

The youngest of eight children, Kevin and his siblings became orphaned at a very young age, which exposed the family to the racism of constant police harassment in country towns. He escaped the orphanages and with two of his sisters, returning to Condobolin to their family and extended family where they lived off the land in a 'fringe camp' and holding onto Waradjuri language and culture.

Married with two children, Kevin successfully worked his way to being a station manager on a property near Condoblin, but his marriage ended in a tragedy with the murder of his wife Gomah, aged 23, for which he served over fourteen years in Australia's harshest jails. With limited reading material, and a formal education to fourth grade, Kevin read dictionaries from cover to cover and developed an extensive vocabulary.

In Long Bay Goal, Kevin learnt the art of lino-cutting techniques which enabled him to become the first Aboriginal printmaker. He made his own tools 'from a spoon, fork, gem blades and nails', carved 'old brittle lino off the prison floor' and printed images using the back of a spoon. His artwork was first exhibited in 1970 at the Arts Council gallery, Sydney, in an exhibition organised by the Australia Council.

His creative talents also flourished through poetry, essays and plays. Kevin became the first Aboriginal playwright with The Cherry Pickers written in 1968. In 2001, The Cherry Pickers directed by Wesley Enoch, toured to the Commonwealth Games Cultural Festival in Manchester 2002: Exeter Brighton; Nottingham and Salisbury, England.

In 1971, Kevin joined the Gurindji Lands Rights campaign and was instrumental in establishing the Aboriginal Tent Embassy opposite Parliament House in Canberra in 1972. He crystallised central issues of the Aboriginal political struggle in Because a White Man'll Never Do It and it is recognised as an Angus and Robertson Classic.

He exposed the reality of surviving genocide in the oral history Living Black a collection of Aboriginal people's stories which won the National Book Council award in 1978. In 1979 he spearheaded the National Aboriginal Government protest on Capital Hill, Canberra, calling for acceptance of, and respect for, Aboriginal Sovereignty.

In 1981 he moved to the bush on the Queanbeyan River and co-ordinated the Treaty '88 campaign. He defined a legal argument for justice in Aboriginal Sovereignty, Justice, the Law and Land (including Draft Treaty) and completed the books Inside Black Australia, The Cherry Pickers, and Child's Dreaming.

To coincide with the 1988 opening of the new parliament house Kevin commissioned and exhibited the ground breaking photographic group exhibition Inside Black Australia: Aboriginal Photographers' Exhibition. Later that year, for his anthology Inside Black Australia, the Governor-General presented him the 1988 Human Rights Award for Literature, but Kevin publicly refused it on the grounds that Aboriginal Peoples continue to be denied basic human rights in their own land.

In 1992 Kevin Gilbert was instrumental in re-establishing the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and spent most of the last year of his life at this Tent Embassy. He had a profound conviction that the Aboriginal Embassy is the vehicle through which there will be a resolution to the underlying conflict over the opposing sovereignties in Australia. In the lino-print Colonising Species, with the blood of the oppressed dripping on the Crown, he depicts the turning point for justice as the High Court Mabo decision.

In 1992 he was awarded a four-year Creative Arts Fellowship for his 'outstanding artistic contribution to the nation' but sadly died six months later aged 59. On 8 April 1993 a memorial for Kevin was held at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Canberra, where some of his ashes were placed in the fire.

In 1995 Kevin was posthumously presented the RAKA poetry award for Black from the Edge and was highly commended in the ACT Book of the Year award. His autobiographical book for children, Me and Mary Kangaroo, was short listed for the 1995 Australian Multicultural Award.

Kevin is survived by his six children Kevin, Kerry, Kate, Ruth, Euroka and Kalara and many grandchildren and great grandchildren; his second wife of Dutch heritage Cora Gilbert (nee Walther) and English born Eleanor Gilbert (Ellie) (nee Williams) his third wife. (Source: Kerry Reed-Gilbert, 2015.)



Most Referenced Works


  • Other Books

    The Purfleet Report

    Aboriginal Sovereignty, Justice, the Law and Land (including Draft Treaty)

  • Linocuts

    • Corroboree Spirits
    • Bhoolbene Miggai
    • My Fathers' Studio
    • Lineal Legends
    • Eagle Men Legend
    • Burrawang
    • Mabung
    • Massacre Mountain
    • Christmas Eve in the Land of the Dispossessed
    • Colonising Species


    • National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
    • Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney
    • Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
    • Queensland Museum, Brisbane
    • West Australian Art Gallery, Perth
    • Powerhouse Museum, Sydney
    • Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra
    • National Museum of Australia, Canberra
    • Private Collections

  • Exhibitions

    • 2004 Athens Olympics, Athens, Greece
    • 2001 Intermission, Wharf 2 Gallery, Sydney Theatre Company, Sydney
    • 2001 Kevin Gilbert Retrospective, Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-Op, Sydney
    • 1996-1999 Breath of Life: Moments in Transit Towards Aboriginal Sovereignty toured nationally to Canberra, Adelaide, Armidale, Moree, Sydney,Townsville, Toowoomba, and internationally to Rebecca Hosacks Gallery, Soho, London; and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Commonwealth Peoples Centre, Durban, South Africa.
    • 1995 Yiribana, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
    • 1994 Urban Focus, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
    • 1994 Tyerabarrbowaryaou II - I Shall Never Become a Whiteman - Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney Harbour; Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, Ballarat, Victoria; Urban Focus, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, and exhibited in Cuba at the 5th Havana Biennial.
    • 1994 Who's Afraid of Black, Red and Yella, Museum of Ethnology, Rotterdam.
    • 1994 Legends From Down Under, Boomerang Falerie, Amsterdam.
    • 1992-1994 New Tracks-Old Land, Australian Galleries, Green Street, Soho, London; USA Tour, New York, Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon and Massachusetts Collage of Art, Huntington Gallery, Boston Massachusetts; Northern Territory Museum of Arts and Sciences, Darwin; Queensland Aboriginal Creations, Brisbane; Redcliff Entertainment Centre, Redcliffe, Queensland; and Memorial Tribute, Gallery One, National Gallery of Australia.
    • 1992 Painting Our Dreaming, Alliance Francaise Gallery, Canberra; '92 Pressing Spiral Arm Gallery, Canberra.
    • 1991 Tjukurrpa Nganampa Kantyila Kanyintjaku - Keeping Our Dreaming Strong, Hackett, ACT; Alliance Francaise Gallery, Canberra; Social Images, Gorman House, Canberra.
    • 1990 Desert Art, Albert Hall, Canberra.
    • 1988-1999 Inside Black Australia, Aboriginal Photographers Exhibition, Showground, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales; Trades and Labour Club, Newcastle, New South Wales; Queensland Museum, Brisbane; Museum of Victoria, Melbourne; Narragunnawali, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Canberra; Albert Hall, Canberra; Leftbank Bookshop, Tin Sheds Gallery, Sydney; Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-op, Sydney; and Centreprize, London.
    • 1975 - 1976 Koorainghat Gardens Art Gallery, Taree.
    • 1971 Robin Hood Gallery, Sydney.
    • 1970-1971 Arts Council Gallery, East Sydney.

Awards for Works

y separately published work icon Me and Mary Kangaroo Ringwood : Viking , 1994 Z271562 1994 single work children's fiction

'I remember all those things, like magic moths with rainbow wings and spider webs with pearly dew, but the memory I love most is when I was a little boy and used to play with my friend Mary Kangaroo... A celebration of a special friendship, Me and Mary Kangaroo is a story for all ages, a lyrical, moving tale to be shared again and again.' (Source: Publisher's blurb)

1995 selected White Ravens
y separately published work icon Black from the Edge South Melbourne : Hyland House , 1994 Z21621 1994 selected work poetry

'Kevin Gilbert was widely respected as Aboriginal Australia's most prominent poet and most powerful spokesman before his much-lamented death early in 1993. This moving and stirring collection of poetry represents the last complete work he passed for publication prior to his death. Direct, Passionate, Humane and full of keen wit, Gilbert's verse appeals across racial and ideological boundaries to the noble soul within us all. As well as poems that plea for a greater understanding of the plight of Aboriginal Australia, Black from the Edge contains poems that reveal another side of this inspirational man; a pensive, candid genius attempting to achieve a quietus in the last years of his extraordinary life.' (Source: Goodreads website)

1995 winner Australian Centre Literary Awards The Kate Challis RAKA Award
y separately published work icon Inside Black Australia : An Anthology of Aboriginal Poetry Ringwood : Penguin , 1988 Z372806 1988 anthology poetry (taught in 3 units)

'Inside Black Australia', is the first anthology of Aboriginal poetry to be published, it contains 150 poems by more than 40 Aboriginal writers and poets.

1988 winner Human Rights Awards Poetry
Last amended 4 Dec 2019 09:05:32
Other mentions of "" in AustLit: