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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Lorraine Mafi-Williams (1940–2001)

from Byron Shire Echo

Lorraine Mafi-Williams, reading from her book 'Spirit Song', 1993

Lorraine Mafi-Williams, reading from her book 'Spirit Song', 1993

photo taken by Bob Cummins

Lorraine Mafi Williams, an Aboriginal activist often at the centre of local controversy, died last Tuesday aged 60. Ms Mafi Williams was the daughter of Bandjalang man Rev. Bob Turnbull, an activist in the 30s and 40s, and her family was from the Woodenbong area. She was born at the Purfleet Mission at Kempsey. Like many of her generation, Lorraine Mafi Williams was taken from her parents at a young age. During the 70s and 80s she became part of a powerful activist group in Sydney. With her cousin Mum Shirl and her niece Isabel Coe she was instrumental in helping care for over 4,000 troubled children of many ethnic backgrounds. She helped found the Black Theatre in Newtown that started many people such as Eddie Mabo and Brian Brown in acting and political careers. Ms Mafi Williams was a film maker and her short film Eelemarni won the Erwin Rado Award For Best Australian Film, Melbourne Film Festival, 1988. She was also a writer and story-teller, and edited Spirit Song, the first anthology of Aboriginal poetry, published by Omnibus Books in 1993. Ms Mafi Williams undertook a great deal of Aboriginal women's business. Leavers Lake, a small tea-tree lake near Suffolk Park, was of particular importance to her. Her occupation of land at Suffolk Park, where she wanted to establish a cultural sanctuary, was strongly opposed by the Arakwal people. Her friend Bob Cummins said, "She was a brilliant person, but Byron Bay turned on her and she was reduced to the status of a charlatan by people ignorant of her knowledge. These pressures contributed to her death." Ms Mafi Williams had been seriously ill over the past three years, suffering two heart attacks and being diagnosed with diabetes. She had spent many months in and out of hospital, and died peacefully in her sleep. Her funeral arrangements had not been finalised as The Echo went to press."

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Citation details

'Mafi-Williams, Lorraine (1940–2001)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Lorraine Mafi-Williams, reading from her book 'Spirit Song', 1993

Lorraine Mafi-Williams, reading from her book 'Spirit Song', 1993

photo taken by Bob Cummins