Australia Council mourns Justine Saunders

    01 January 1990

    The Australia Council for the Arts joins the Indigenous and non-Indigenous arts community of Australia in mourning, respecting and honouring the loss of Ms Justine Saunders who passed away on Sunday 15 April 2007.

    Actor, teacher and advocate for black theatre, Justine Saunders campaigned tirelessly for the greater participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander actors in Australian theatre, film and television.

    Born in 1953 a proud Woppaburra woman from the Kanomie clan of Keppel Island, Justine Saunders was destined for acting. She made her stage debut in her convent school’s productions of Finian’s Rainbow and Annie Get Your Gun.

    With acting in her blood, Justine joined the Aboriginal Black Theatre Art and Culture Company in Redfern, which she helped establish along with the Aboriginal National Theatre Trust, and passed on her skills to aspiring Aboriginal actors by teaching drama at the Eora Centre in Sydney.

    Justine Saunders became a professional actor in 1974. Her first film appearance was in The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978). This was followed by Women of the Sun (1982), The Fringe Dwellers (1985) – the Aboriginal National Theatre Trust’s production of Not the 1988 Party – and Lorna Bol’s play A Special Place (1989).

    A life-long campaigner against the typecasting of Aboriginal actors she appeared in the hit television series Number 96, Prisoner and Pig in a Poke.

    Her last acting roles included the stage plays The Last Cab to Darwin in 2004 and Black Medea in 2005.

    Justine Saunders has been greatly acknowledged and honoured with many awards including Aboriginal Artist of the Year by NAIDOC in 1985, a Medal of Australia for her service to the performing arts and national Aboriginal theatre in 1991, an Australia Council Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Red Ochre Award and a special Lifetime Achievement Award as one of Australia’s finest actors at the Deadly Awards in 2006.

    Justine will be sadly missed by the many people who shared friendships and worked with her.

    May she stand tall and proud alongside her ancestors knowing that she contributed to the development of black theatre in this county.

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