About Paul Coe
PAUL COE Wiradjuri Activist
Paul Coe, a Wiradjuri man grew up in on the Erambie Mission in Cowra, NSW. He moved to Sydney in the late 1960s and became involved with the Redfern community development projects such as the All Blacks football team.
Coe was the first Aboriginal person to study law at the University of NSW. In 1971 during the South African Springbok tour of Australia, Coe confronted a large crowd of Australian protestors who gathered to oppose the Springbok teams racist apartheid-promoting policies. With a stirring speech he addressed the hypocrisy of Australia where people were ready to show their support of anti-racism overseas but had not yet addressed the current issues of racism that were at home in Australia.
Two years later Coe was at the forefront of the Tent Embassy protests outside Parliament House in Canberra. (The Aboriginal Tent Embassy celebrated its 50th anniversary this year and remains as the longest standing protest site in the world.) Coe went onto establish the Aboriginal Legal Service, which opened its doors in 1971. The service provided legal representation to Aboriginal people in response to police harassment. In 1976 Coe and Cecil Patten travelled to England to plant the Aboriginal Flag on Dover beach to challenge the terra nullius doctrine. A direct reflection of the invasion of Australia 200 years before. In July 2022, Jasmine Coe and Border Crossings unveiled a permanent plaque on Dover Beach to mark this occassion.
In 1979 Paul Coe took a case to the High Court of Australia challenging the settler occupation. This case ‘Coe vs Commonwealth’ was dismissed at the time but laid the foundation and provided the successful work for which the 1992 Mabo judgement was recognised by the courts and overturned terra nullius – the concept that Australia was empty land when settled.
Coe was a prominent figure in the fight for Land Rights and continues to promote Aboriginal social justice today.
Coe Gallery takes its name in honour of Paul Coe and the Coe family.