Roberta Sykes

Roberta Sykes (1943-2010). Courtesy Collaborating for Indigenous Rights.

Roberta "Bobbi" Sykes (16 August 1943 - 14 November 2010) was an Australian poet and prose author. She was a life-long campaigner for indigenous land rights, as well as human rights and women's rights.[1]

Life Edit

Youth and educationEdit

Born Roberta Barkley Patterson in Townsville, Queensland, Sykes was raised by her mother and purportedly never knew her father. Sykes says in her autobiography that his identity is unknown, and her mother told her a number of different accounts about her father; variously that he was Fijian, Papuan, African-American, and Native-American.[2]

Early activismEdit

Sykes was, controversially, expelled from school aged 14 and, after a succession of jobs, including a nurses assistant at the Townsville General Hospital from 1959 to 1960. She moved to Brisbane and then to Sydney in the early to mid-1960s where she worked as a strip-tease dancer at the notorious Pink Pussycat Club, 38a Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross under the stage name, [pseudonym] of "Opal Stone". She became a freelance journalist and got involved in several national indigenous activist organisations. She was one of the many protestors arrested at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in July 1972.[3] She was involved in the creation and early development of the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, although other participants say that her autobiography exaggerates her role in this.Template:Who


Sykes's early poetry was published in 1979 in the book Love Poems and Other Revolutionary Acts. The first edition was limited to a thousand copies (with the first 300 numbered and signed). A mass market edition was published in 1988. Her second volume of poetry was published in 1996. In 1981 she ghosted the autobiography of Mum (Shirl) Smith, an indigenous Australian social worker in New South Wales.[4] She won the Patricia Weickert Black Writers Award in 1982.

Harvard and later activismEdit

Sykes received a PhD in Education from Harvard University in 1983. She was the first black Australian to graduate from a United States university.[4][5] She returned to Australia where she continued her life as an activist and was appointed to the Nation Review, as Australia's first (presumed) indigenous columnist.(Citation needed) In 1994 her role was recognised when awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal.[1]

Sykes's 3-volume autobiography Snake Dreaming was published between 1997 and 2000. The first volume won The Age Book of the Year 1997 and the 1998 Nita Kibble Literary Award for women writers.


See alsoEdit




  • Mum Shirl: An autobiography (with Colleen Shirley Perry). Melbourne, 1981.
  • Incentive, Achievement and Community: An analysis of Black viewpoints on issues relating to Black Australian education. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1986.
  • Black Majority. Hawthorn, Vic: Hudson, 1989. ISBN 0-949873-25-X
  • Murawina: Australian Women of High Achievement. Sydney & New York: Doubleday, 1993. ISBN 0-86824-436-8
  • Snake Dreaming: Autobiography of a black woman. (3 volumes), St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1997-2000.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 Rights campaigner Bobbi Sykes dies ABC Online (16 Nov 2010) - Retrieved 16 Nov 2010
  3. Robinson, S (1994). "The Aboriginal Embassy: An Account of the Protests of 1972". Aboriginal History 18 (1): 51. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Coleman, Wanda (1985). "Bobbi Sykes: An Interview". Callaloo (The Johns Hopkins University Press) (24): 294–303. 
  5. Kovacic, Leonarda; Lemon, Barbara (23 September 2009). "Sykes, Roberta (Bobbi) (1944 - )". The Australian Women's Register. Retrieved 23 February 2010. 
  6. Search results = au:Roberta Sykes, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Mar. 15, 2015.

External linksEdit

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