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Abdullah, George Cyril (1919–1984)

by Yasmin Jill Abdullah

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

George Abdullah, n.d.

George Abdullah, n.d.

photo supplied by Philip Abdullah

George Cyril Abdullah (1919-1984), community leader, was born on 9 August 1919 at Guildford, Western Australia, youngest of five children of Joseph Benedict Abdul, a labourer from Calcutta, India, and his Aboriginal wife Mary Salina, née Griffin. Educated at the Benedictine Mission, New Norcia, George was a farm labourer at Goomalling for six years before beginning full-time service in the Militia on 15 April 1942. Employed as a driver with the Bulk Issue Petrol and Oil Depot at Salter Point, Perth, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 11 August but remained at the BIPOD. He was discharged on medical grounds on 28 October 1943. On 6 December 1944 at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, New Norcia, he married Gladys Martha Kelly, from Moore River Native Settlement; they were together for only a short period of time.

From 1946 Abdullah worked as a labourer, truck driver, and linesman with the South Australian Railways. He participated in a number of Perth organisations and committees promoting Aboriginal rights. Granted citizenship on 23 January 1947, he was an early member of the Coolbaroo League, a welfare group that administered the Allawah Grove settlement and held social functions for Aborigines at Northbridge and Eden Hill. In 1952 he called a public meeting to discuss citizenship rights for Aboriginal people, as a result of which the short-lived Original Australians Welfare and Progress Association was formed. Also in 1952 he helped to establish the Western Australia Native Welfare Council (from 1963 the Aboriginal Advancement Council of Western Australia). Divorced in 1956, he married with Churches of Christ forms Vera Alwyn Moore on 15 June that year at her parents’ North Perth residence.

Abdullah travelled to Sydney, Adelaide and Perth in the early 1950s to address meetings of diverse groups about the plight of Aboriginal people, and on Sundays regularly spoke from a soapbox at the Perth Esplanade. For some years he ensured that a float representing Aboriginal interests was entered in the Trades and Labour Day procession. He was a member of the local United Nations committee on human rights. In 1958 he established the Western Australian Youth Club, which catered for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children and adolescents. He organised an all-Aboriginal conference in Western Australia in September 1962. For several months in 1966 he managed the Aboriginal Advancement Council’s centre at Beaufort Street, Perth.

In 1970 Abdullah was involved in setting up the Aboriginal Rights Council (later Aboriginal Rights League); he was a founding executive member of the National Tribal Council (1970) and of the Aboriginal Publications Foundation (1972-81). He established the Aboriginal Development and Cultural Council at Geraldton and was employed in the early 1970s as a liaison officer with the Commonwealth Office of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra. He was active in the National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (from 1977 the National Aboriginal Conference) and stood unsuccessfully for the Senate as an Independent at the Federal election in December 1975.

A charismatic leader, Abdullah fought for forty years for equal rights for Aboriginal people, saying `don’t be ashamed. Be proud of being an Aboriginal’. He died of coronary artery disease on 6 August 1984 at Nedlands and was buried with Catholic rites in Guildford cemetery. His wife and their daughter and three sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Gilbert, Living Black (1977)
  • West Australian, 4 Sept 1962, p 12, 17 Sept 1962, p 8, 7 Dec 1975, p 8, 9 Aug 1984, p 13
  • Newsletter for the Aboriginal People of Western Australia, Oct 1972, p 35
  • series B883, items WX2518 and WX33318 (National Archives of Australia)
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Yasmin Jill Abdullah, 'Abdullah, George Cyril (1919–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/abdullah-george-cyril-12117/text21705, accessed 26 September 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012