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Aboriginal Australian activist, Ken Colbung (1931-2010) was in an institution as a child.

Ken Colbung was a Nyoongar elder born at the notorious Moore River Settlement in Western Australia. He was sent to Sister Kate’s Home for Children in Perth after his mother died when he was six years old.

Colbung joined the army when he was nineteen and went to Korea. Being in the army was his first experience of being treated as an equal. After he left the army, Ken was inspired by the 1960s Aboriginal Rights Movement and became a prominent Aboriginal rights activist in Western Australia.

One of Colbung’s notable achievements was successfully lobbying alongside other Nyoongar leaders for the head of Aboriginal warrior Yagan to be returned to Australia in 1997. Yagan’s head was traced to an unmarked grave in Liverpool after being exhibited in a British museum. Colbung also made a significant contribution to the campaign to erect a large statue of Yagan on Perth’s Heirrison Island in 1984.

In delivering the 1988 Wentworth Lecture titled “Not Land Rights but Land Rites“, Colbung discussed constitutional recognition of Aboriginal heritage, stating,

As a member of a minority of which all Aboriginal issues are intrinsically involved, Australian politics has neither protected our land rights nor our land rites. Democracy, on the other hand, can guarantee what Aboriginals are entitled to for their wellbeing (Colbung, p. 94).

Colbung was awarded an Order of the British Empire in 1980 and an Order of Australia in 1982 for services to Aboriginal communities. He passed away on the morning of 13 January 2010 at the age of seventy-eight.

In 2022, Ken Colbung was featured in Episode 6 of Series 1 in the ABC program, Stuff the British Stole, for his influence in the repatriation of Yagan’s head to Australia.


Colbung, Ken. “Not Land Rights but Land Rites“, in Robert Tonkinson (editor), The Wentworth Lectures: Honouring Fifty Years of Australian Indigenous Studies, Aboriginal Studies Press, 2015. (p. 90-101).

“Moore River Native Settlement (1918 – 1951).” Find & Connect, 2021.

“Sister Kate’s Children’s Cottage Home (1934 – 1980).” Find & Connect, 2021.

Thompson, Chris. “Aboriginal activist Ken Colbung dead at 78.” WA Today, 13 January 2010.

Image available at here.