The movement campaigning to stop deaths in custody has lost a champion with the passing of Virginia Hickey, who died on 4 December. Known to everyone as Bowie, or Auntie Bowie, Hickey was a grassroots fighter on the front lines against injustice. Her incisive quotes, calling out racist double standards, got to the essence whenever she spoke with media — both mainstream and movement. She was a natural rally speaker: her wise words motivated action and demanded solutions.
Bowie was a tenacious campaigner against the epidemic of police racial profiling of First Nations youth, including members of her own family who faced harassment. She was TJ Hickey’s Aunt. The teenager’s death in 2004 during a police chase rocked her community of Redfern in inner Sydney. It had a lasting impact on Bowie. She never stopped speaking out to demand police accountability and justice for TJ. Over many years, she spoke with great clarity, declaring the Aboriginal community could have no faith in a racist, capitalist justice system, which specialises in cover-ups.
Bowie was a Gamilaroi woman from the Walgett area, who lived for almost five decades in Redfern. She was a well-respected community member, who was appreciated for her generosity, solidarity and welcoming open door policy. Cheryl Kaulfuss, from the Indigenous Social Justice Association-Melbourne, enjoyed spending time with Bowie when travelling to Sydney each February for the annual protest on the anniversary of TJ’s death. In tribute, Cheryl says, “Life will never be the same without Auntie Bowie. What a privilege it was to have shared a friendship with such a wise, compassionate woman. She certainly was a staunch warrior, and if there’s a legacy she left us, it is that we must continue to pursue justice for TJ.”
I met Bowie through movement organising and was proud to share a platform with her on a couple of occasions. One was in 2011 at a rally outside the Parramatta Court protesting ongoing police harassment of the Hickey family. The other was in 2016 at the action marking the 12th anniversary of TJ’s premature death. Bowie knew first-hand that Aboriginal people are more likely to be poor, and this is compounded by racism. She also had a well-developed class consciousness and stood with all who are mistreated by capitalism.
Condolences to her children Vanessa, Maxine and Dennis, to all her grandchildren and to the community of Redfern, who have lost a great matriarch. The community turned out in black, red and yellow in response to her requests that Aboriginal colours be worn at her funeral. Let’s honour Bowie Hickey by walking in her footsteps to continue the fight for justice.
Alison is a founding member of ISJA-Melbourne. This tribute is published with the permission of Bowie Hickey’s family.