If you ever found yourself walking down the streets of Redfern in Sydney, you may have come across a well-known figure, Ray Jackson. He was pretty hard to miss as he always wore a hat covered in political badges – often with a matching vest. Definitely an old school activist, Ray devoted decades to the campaign to Stop Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Ray was the president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association. He was also a Wiradjuri elder.
There is no doubting Ray's commitment; he spent up to 30 hours a week, sometimes more on investigating cases, supporting families of victims, and meeting with members of state and federal parliaments.
'Sometimes my kids and grandkids ask me when am I going to give up my activism and I always tell them when one of them is willing to take over the work,' he said.
Ray also participated in the wider Aboriginal struggle and there probably wasn't a protest that he hadn't attended. However, it was Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that took up most of his time.
Despite his and many other activists' efforts, little has improved in Australia since a Royal Commission was held in 1991 looking at Indigenous deaths in custody. The Royal Commission made 339 recommendations to federal and state government departments responsible for police and prison incarceration. To date, almost none of the recommendations have been implemented.
Instead, the rate of imprisonment of Indigenous Australians continues to be high – Indigenous inmates account for a quarter of the prison population but only 2 per cent of the general population – and the rate of deaths in custody has not decreased.
Ray Jackson died peacefully in his sleep on 23 April 2015, shortly after attending a meeting of the Indigenous Social Justice Association.