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Magical milestone for respected Elder

Saturday, 4th July, 2020

Dr Beryl Carmichael will celebrate her 85th birthday today at the old Menindee Mission where she was born. PICTURE: Otis Filley Dr Beryl Carmichael will celebrate her 85th birthday today at the old Menindee Mission where she was born. PICTURE: Otis Filley

By Mark Merritt

Today marks the 85th birthday of Ngiyeempaa Elder Dr Beryl Carmichael of Menindee, a lifelong campaigner for the rights of Aboriginal people and the restoration of the Darling River.

Born on the Menindee Mission in 1935, her traditional name is Yungha-Du and she is widely respected for her commitment to her community, her lore, language and culture.

“I grew up amongst the lore people,” said Beryl.

“Everything is connected, the birds the animals, the land the sky, everything. We’re all spiritually connected too.”

Beryl Carmichael has been active in Aboriginal education for more than forty years and was involved in the State Aboriginal Education Consultation Group and was an Aboriginal Language Support Officer, advising the NSW Board of Studies.

She also served on the National Parks Advisory Council, the Western Lands Advisory Council, and the NSW reconciliation council.

In 2004, she was awarded the NSW Department of Education and Training’s Meritrust Award, and was presented with a Centenary of Federation Medal for devotion to cultural awareness and contribution to Australian society. A documentary about her life was made in 1996.

In February this year Beryl Carmichael co-signed a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, stating the intention to close the Barrier Highway at the Bridge in Wilcannia unless better outcomes could be realised for the people and wildlife along the Darling River and Menindee lakes.

The main demand was that water be taken off the market and water trading ended in Australia.

The letter also called for an immediate embargo on river diversion, flood plain harvesting and pumping of rivers by irrigators upstream, and for the river to be allowed to flow all the way to the junction with the Murray River.

The Prime Minister did not reply to the letter and on March 13 the bridge at Wilcannia was blockaded for six hours.

A regular correspondent with Queen Elizabeth, Beryl recently informed Her Majesty of her concern that government was allowing corporations to ruin the Australian landscape and ecosystems.

The Queen wrote back, advising her to contact the Governor General of Australia. 

“I have not yet written that letter yet because I was hoping that things could be sorted out, but I think I’d better start writing that letter tonight,” said Beryl.

The destruction of the natural world for mere profit must not be allowed to continue, she said.

“They’re getting rarer and rarer, our native species. We need to do what we can to protect them and their habitats, otherwise we won’t have any.

“Soon we we’ll have to put out cardboard cut-outs of the birds and animals so our young people will know what there used to be there.

“I’m concerned for the children. In the end what’s going to happen to them? I worry about the children.”

A special happy birthday wish is being extended to Beryl by Sydney activist group Water For Rivers which has taken inspiration from her and made it into an urban and national action campaign to restore Darling River flows to Menindee and beyond.

We are all wishing her a wonderful day with family, close colleagues and associates.


Mark Merritt is part of the media collective “Earthling Studios” which produces the website www.thevanishing river.com.au and is aligned with “Water For Rivers - Sydney”.

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