Australia Council Salutes John ‘‘sandy’’ Atkinson

Art Announcement from Australia. Published by anonymous on Friday 22 April 2016.

Australia Council Salutes John ‘‘sandy’’ Atkinson image

The Australia Council for the Arts today celebrates the life and mourns the passing of revered Bangerang Aboriginal elder, Uncle John ‘‘Sandy’’ Atkinson of Tatura aged 84. A proud Bangerang man, Uncle Sandy was an influential person in Aboriginal affairs at a local, state and national level, working tirelessly to keep culture strong.

Sandy served as chair of the national Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council for many years from 1978-1979 and 1981-1982. In 1983, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in recognition of his service to Aboriginal arts.

In the 1970s Uncle Sandy worked hard to establish Australia’s first Aboriginal museum or ‘‘keeping place’’ to house local artefacts and art while chair of the Shepparton Aboriginal Art Council. The Bangerang Cultural Centre opened in 1982 becoming an important institution for the local and national Indigenous community.

The Australia Council contributed a significant number of artefacts and artworks to the centre.

Lydia Miller Executive Director Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts said ‘Uncle Sandy was a major leader in culture. He had great humour, great purpose, knowledge, energy, kindness and dignity.’

‘‘He worked with Indigenous and other people to achieve long term success and rewards. He was a gentleman in every sense.” she said. “The list of institutions to which he contributed is extraordinary; he was the first Indigenous person in Australia to be part of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), chaired the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, was part of the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Language and Culture, an oral historian and Board trustee at the Koori Heritage Trust.”

Sandy had a passion for music and played pedal steel guitar for 60 years and travelling annually to the Gympie music muster.

Uncle Sandy was involved with the Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative and Medical Clinic in Mooroopna and held roles with the Museum of Victoria, Victorian Ministry of the Arts and State Library of Victoria.

“All of these illustrate an exemplary lifetime of working with Indigenous people to create opportunity and make success happen for others. This is exactly what the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peer assessment of artist’s projects did when Sandy was Board Chair at the Australia Council and what the Indigenous peer panels continue to do today” Miller added. “Sandy Atkinson is an inspiration to First Nations people nationally. He will be missed by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike” she said.

“We extend condolences to his wife, Gwen, their five children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and their extended family and friends.”