Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gloria Fay Brennan (1948–1985)

by Christine Choo

This article was published:

Gloria Fay Brennan (1948-1985), Aboriginal community leader and public servant, was born on 12 September 1948 at Leonora, Western Australia, second child of Western Australian-born parents James Brennan, woodcutter, and his wife Myrtle, née Goodilyer. Gloria claimed Weebo as her doogurr, or country. As a small child she learned to speak the Wongi language fluently. Attending primary schools at Leonora, Laverton and Menzies, she and her siblings spent holidays with their Aboriginal grandmothers, camping in the desert country, finding bush tucker and listening to stories about their spirit ancestors. She topped the small one-teacher school at Menzies while assisting with grades one to three. Her parents worked and saved to send Gloria to high schools at Kalgoorlie and in Perth, refusing to accept a government scholarship. Not many knew of her talents as a classical pianist and as a singer. In 1966-71 she worked in programming for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Perth.

At a University of Western Australia summer school in 1969, entitled `Aboriginal Progress—A New Era?’, the speakers Charles Perkins, John Moriaty, Margaret Valadian and David Anderson made Brennan aware of the need to address injustices experienced by Aboriginal people. Inspired to further her education, she enrolled in 1971 as a mature-age student in the faculty of arts at UWA (BA, 1978); she majored in anthropology, and also studied linguistics, English, history and music. A member from 1971 of the Aboriginal Advancement Council of Western Australia and of the New Era Aboriginal Fellowship, she was concerned about a range of issues, including the welfare of women and children, Aboriginal education and health, and the need for interpreter services. In the mid-1970s she helped to found the Aboriginal Medical Service in Western Australia, and joined the Aboriginal Women’s Council and the Black Australian Women’s Movement. As a casual field officer with the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, which she had helped to establish in 1973, she was involved with the domestic violence task force and in 1974-75 was an interpreter with the legal team investigating allegations of police brutality at Skull Creek, near Laverton. In 1975 she joined the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Perth, becoming a senior research officer and a community adviser.

An advocate for Aboriginal land rights, Brennan co-authored (1975) a paper entitled `No Land for the Soles of Our Feet’, which was published in Aboriginal and Islander Forum. She travelled extensively, made contact with other indigenous people, and studied the Inuit of Canada. In 1977 she was a delegate to the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in Lagos. Next year she transferred to the Canberra office of the DAA and prepared a report on interpreter services for disadvantaged Aborigines. In December 1980 she joined the Equal Employment Opportunity Bureau in the Public Service Board, as officer-in-charge of the Aboriginal Unit. She was president (1981-83) of the Aboriginal Publications Foundation. In 1983 she took up a six-month overseas study award and investigated how language and affirmative action policy were used to increase employment and education opportunities for minority groups.

A gregarious woman, with a big laugh, a big heart and a wicked sense of humour, Brennan was practically inseparable from her telephone. She loved life, people and conviviality. Challenging stereotypes of Aboriginal people, she became a highly respected bureaucrat, a forthright public speaker and an international traveller. She died of cancer on 2 November 1985 in Perth and was buried with Anglican rites in Kalgoorlie cemetery. The Gloria Brennan Memorial Honeywell Bull fellowship for promising Aboriginal students of Western classical music was first awarded in 1987; a scholarship for Indigenous undergraduates studying at public Western Australian universities was also named after her. The Gloria Brennan Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Centre was established in East Perth to provide health and childcare information.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Gilbert, Living Black (1977)
  • S. Muecke, No Road (1997)
  • Canberra Times, 6 Nov 1985, p 16
  • West Australian, 6 Nov 1985, p 36.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Christine Choo, 'Brennan, Gloria Fay (1948–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 September, 1948
Leonora, Western Australia, Australia


2 November, 1985 (aged 37)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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