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Dr Roberta Sykes and Naomi
, 1994

by Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph (sheet: 60.8 cm x 51.0 cm, image: 44.1 cm x 31.8 cm)

Roberta Sykes (1943–2010), writer and activist, became involved in Aboriginal affairs in the early 1970s. After completing her PhD at Harvard, she became the first secretary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972, and subsequently worked as a health educator and columnist, Chair of the ABC's Promotional Appeals Tribunal, and consultant to government agencies, including those involved in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The founder of the Black Women's Action in Education Foundation, Sykes published nine books, including the three-volume autobiography, collectively titled Snake Dreaming (1997–1999), which won many awards including the Age Book of the Year and the National Biography Award. Sykes won the Australian Human Rights Medal in 1994.

A book about Australian women was published following the establishment of the Office for Women’s Affairs by the Whitlam government in 1973. Described as a ‘collective portrait’, it featured interviews by writer and artist Virginia Fraser, along with photographs by Carol Jerrems of women from various walks of life.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2004
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2004.151