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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

Essie Coffey (Bush Queen) and Orlando Gemes

1978 (printed 2003)
Juno Gemes

gelatin silver photograph on paper, edition 1/2 (sheet: 50.9 cm x 60.6 cm, image: 31.8 cm x 44.0 cm)

Essie Coffey OAM (1940-1998), community worker, singer, actor and film-maker, was a woman of the Muruwari people of north-western NSW and southern Queensland. Born Essiana Goodgabah, she narrowly escaped forced placement on a reserve. Her father brought the family up in a series of rural communities, moving around the country to follow seasonal work. In the 1950s she settled with her husband Albert ‘Doc’ Coffey in the New South Wales town of Brewarrina, where the couple raised eighteen children, ten of them adopted. Essie became a driving force in the town’s Aboriginal movement, earning herself the affectionate title of ‘Bush Queen of Brewarrina’. Co-founder of the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and an inaugural member of the National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, she refused an MBE. With Martha Ansara she made the award-winning 1978 film My Survival as an Aboriginal – a copy of which she presented to the Queen at the opening of Canberra’s new Parliament House in 1988 – and its sequel, My Life as I Live It (1993). Orlando Gemes, son of photographer Juno Gemes, grew up along the Hawkesbury River and travelled with his mother as she documented the Aboriginal movement for decades. He is now a founding partner and portfolio manager of a London-based credit investment firm.

Gift of the artist 2005. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program.
© Juno Gemes/Copyright Agency, 2021

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Juno Gemes (age 34 in 1978)

Essie Coffey (age 38 in 1978)

Orlando Gemes

Subject professions

Performing arts

Donated by

Juno Gemes (19 portraits)

Related information

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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