In memory of Aboriginal trailblazer Irwin Lewis

Irwin Lewis

The University of Western Australia has paid tribute to Irwin Lewis, the first Aboriginal student to attend UWA, who passed away on January 28 at the age of 80.

Born on 21 April 1939 in the Mid-West town of Morawa, Western Australia, Mr Lewis attended Christ Church Grammar School where he was dux of the junior school, a school prefect and satisfied the requirements for matriculation.

In March 1957, Mr Lewis became the first Aboriginal student to attend UWA, enrolling in the Faculty of Arts.

He was one of Australia’s leading Indigenous public servants in the 1960s and played in the Western Australian Football League for Claremont Football Club, part of the club’s winning premiership team in 1964.

His three sons, Clayton, Cameron and Chris followed their father’s footsteps at the Claremont Football Club. Chris became a star player for the West Coast Eagles AFL team, which won premierships in 1992 and 1994.

In retirement, Mr Lewis spent time as an artist, painting and working with ceramics. He was a multiple finalist in the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Award and a finalist in many other contemporary art awards.

UWA Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Education) Professor Jill Milroy said that as the first Aboriginal student to attend UWA, Irwin Lewis was an important part of the University’s history.

“Since this time the University has welcomed and graduated hundreds of Aboriginal students, including many Indigenous doctors and lawyers,” Professor Milroy said.

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater said that Irwin Lewis was a brave and highly gifted man.

“He had the courage to overcome obstacles and create the pathways for future generations, and the nobility to offer his gifts in the service of others. The University of Western Australia is proud to have been a part of his remarkable life.”

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