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Gary Foley

b. 1950

Gary Foley (b. 1950) is an activist, actor, historian and museum curator. Of Gumbainggir descent, Foley moved to Sydney from northern NSW in the late 1960s to become an apprentice draughtsman. At the age of 17 he was attacked by the police in Redfern, read the autobiography of Malcom X, and developed into an indigenous rights activist. He helped to set up Sydney's Aboriginal Legal Service and Aboriginal Medical Service, and the counterpart to the latter in Melbourne. In 1971 he was a key organiser of demonstrations against the Springbok tour and is said to have 'hoaxed' the Australian into believing that there was an Australian chapter of the Black Panther movement. The following year he was prominent at the Tent Embassy; in 1974 he toured China with the Aboriginal delegation; in 1978 he took films on black Australia to the Cannes film festival and around Europe. In 1979 he set up the first Aboriginal Information Centre in London. After a term as first indigenous Director of the Aboriginal Arts Board (1984-87), he was active in the Bicentenary protests of 1988, and was later a consultant to the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody. His acting career began in 1972 with the revue Basically Black; since then he has appeared in a range of feature films and television series including Phil Noyce's first feature film, Backroads (1977) in which Foley substantially rewrote his own part, making it increasingly autobiographical. He also participated in street theatre and appeared as a guest singer with The Clash on their Australian tour in 1982. Foley opposes the aboriginal leadership of the past twenty years, regarding it as conservative and conciliatory. In 2002 he completed a first class honours degree in history at the University of Melbourne, where he is currently undertaking a PhD while working as Senior Curator for South-eastern Australia at Museum Victoria.

Updated 2018