11 August 2023

Sad farewell for 'gifted son', taken too soon

| Matt Nicholls
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Bruce Martin and his father David sit on the sand at Cape York Peninsula's Kendall River.

Bruce Martin and his father David sit on the sand at Cape York Peninsula’s Kendall River and chat about Country and life. Photos: Supplied.

Tributes are flowing from across the country for Canberra-raised Aboriginal leader Bruce Martin, who was laid to rest in Cape York Peninsula on Friday (11 August).

The prominent Aurukun man, who once sat on the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, was killed in Townsville on 12 July. Police have since charged three people with his murder.

His heartbroken father, renowned anthropologist David Martin, said his son was generous and gifted across all walks of life.

“He had a very strong presence wherever he was from a very young age,” he said of his eldest son.

“Wherever he was he lit up the room.”

David said his son managed to fit in everywhere.

“Wherever he was – Aurukun, Cairns, Canberra or even Germany or England – he was different from the mainstream but confident and comfortable,” he said.

READ ALSO David Martin: My son transcended all walks of life

“It wasn’t just that he was different, it was that he refused to be categorised as being lesser than those around him, or better, for that matter.

“He had this sublime confidence that the world was a good place and that he liked people and that people would respond well to being treated well.”

Long-time friend and fellow Canberra Grammar School graduate Dave Lees said Bruce was a larger-than-life figure who had the ability to draw people towards him.

“He was so much fun. He had a real spark and cheekiness about him,” he recalled from his home in Corowa on the Murray River.

“He actually finished at Campbell Primary School but we were united again at Canberra Grammar School.”

Dave Lees and Bruce Martin.

Dave Lees and Bruce Martin were reunited at Canberra Grammar where they excelled at a number of sports.

It was at high school where Bruce developed his passion for sport and competing.

“We were both extremely athletic growing up; swimming, basketball, water polo, rugby … the whole lot,” Dave said.

“I don’t know how you describe it but literally any sport he did, he just excelled at it. I think he won every trophy possible at high school.

“He was doing that many sports I think it was hard for him to choose which ones to continue with.”

Friends from his Canberra life who couldn’t make his Aurukun funeral hope to attend a secondary service in the capital.

“I’ve been in touch with (brother) Ricky and (father) David and I said that I’d love to be part of something in Canberra and I think it’ll happen in October,” Dave said.

READ ALSO Everyone wanted to be around him: School mate has fond memories

Bruce’s sister, Aurukun Mayor Keri Tamwoy, said he was constantly surrounded by children when back in Cape York.

“I believe he was like a Peter Pan,” she said.

“He was still a child at heart and I don’t think he really grew up.

“He connected to kids on their level; he was this fun uncle, fun older brother that would always take a child, wrap them up in his arms and do fun things with them or just sit down with them and be in their presence.

“Kids were basically drawn to him.”

Aboriginal stockmen from Aurukun.

This image, taken by Cairns photographer Brian Cassey, ran on the front page of The Australian in 2012 as part of a feature on Aboriginal stockmen from Aurukun.

The mayor said her brother would now be with his Elders.

“Our people believe that when we pass away we go to be with our ancestors,” she said.

“We go back to our homeland or just mingle around. We don’t go away. I think he’s with our ancestors now.”

She said his legacy in Aurukun would be APN Cape York, which he founded, and his son, Thiikel-ee’enh Wilfred Martin, known best as ‘Wilfy’.

READ ALSO My little brother was like a Peter Pan: Aurukun mayor

Fatherhood was something that came naturally to Bruce, who beamed with pride when his son was born in June last year.

“It’s something he had always wanted,” said Clancy Hearps, who also appears to be in her element as a first-time mum.

“For anyone who had the pleasure of witnessing Bruce as a father, it was as pure and joyful as you could imagine.

“He just adored Wilfy.

“Whenever he was with him there was this pride.

“If he was walking down the street holding Wilfy, he had this real sense of pride about him. ‘This is me and my son’.”

Proud dad Bruce Frank Martin holds Thiikel-ee’enh Wilfred Martin in his arms in Warrnambool, Victoria.

Proud dad Bruce Frank Martin holds Thiikel-ee’enh Wilfred Martin in his arms in Warrnambool, Victoria.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott also sent his condolences.

“I am shocked and sad that he has died so young and in such circumstances,” he said.

“I put him on my Indigenous Advisory Council because I wanted people who were equally proud of being Aboriginal and Australian.

“And, because I wanted Aboriginal people who were determined to make it in modern Australia as well as to respect their Indigenous heritage.

“I also wanted to encourage Aboriginal people to succeed in the real economy as well as being the professional champions of people seen as victims.

“In my experience, Bruce tried to be all these things.”

Bruce Martin was farewelled at a funeral service at the Uniting Church in Aurukun.

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