Rob Riley: An Aboriginal leader's quest for justice

rob riley cover

Quentin Beresford

Apr, 2006
Auto / Biography
Award-winning publications
Native Title & Land Rights
Product type: 
Book format: 
Aboriginal Studies Press
Place of publication: 


Widely regarded as one of the great Aboriginal leaders of the modern era, Rob Riley was at the centre of debates that have polarised views on race relations in Australia: national land rights, the treaty, deaths in custody, self-determination, the justice system, native title and the Stolen Generations. Set against the tumultuous background of racial politics in an unreconciled nation, the book explores Rob’s rise and influence as an Aboriginal activist.

He tragically took his own life in 1996, weighed down by the unresolved traumas of his exposure to institutionalisation, segregation and racism, and his sense of betrayal by the Australian political system to deliver justice to Aboriginal people. His death shocked community leaders and ordinary citizens alike.

Drawing on perspectives from history, politics and psychology, this work explores Rob’s life as a ‘moral protester’ and the challenges he confronted in trying to change the destiny of the nation.

Winner of the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission, Arts Non-Ficton Award, 2006
Winner of the 2007 Stanner Award

Reviews and endorsements

'This is a fine book, an illumination account by a fluent writer who has written solidly researched book on Aboriginal crime and justice.'

— Victoria Laurie, The Weekend Australian, 13–14 May 2006

'Of the many books that have been published in recent years on Aboriginal society and people, this biography must surely rank as one of the finest.

In reading this detailed story of the life and times of the Aboriginal activist, the late Rob Riley, we cannot fail to be highly indignant of the injustices White Australian society has perpetrated on the indigenous population.

This biography is informative and deeply thought-provoking.'

— Paul Kraus, Sydney Morning Herald, 'Weekender', 29 July 2006

'This is an account of a modern tragedy and it weighs heavily. It will be daunting for the casual reader, enlightening to students of political change and inspirational to those committed to the betterment of indigenous people.'

— Warren Brewer, The Mercury Magazine, Saturday 17 June 2006

'Going deeper, maybe some real positives emerge from Riley’s chequered career. In my view, Beresford largely lives up to his credo of balancing natural sympathy and professional detachment. I therefore congratulate Aboriginal Studies Press and the Australian Council (which also gave assistance) and commend this instructive book to inquisitive bleeding hearts and white armbands alike.'

— Stephen Saunders, The Canberra Times, 'Panorama', Saturday 15 June 2006

'[Beresford] maintains that Riley must be understood as ‘a victim of Australian racism in all its interwoven and barely acknowledged historical and contemporary manifestations’. Such themes make this a challenging, engrossing book, both in characterising recent history and in setting the terms for current debates.'

— Nicholas Brown, Aboriginal History, Vol. 31, 2007

'This is a finely-written biography which recognises and celebrates Rob Riley as an Aboriginal leader who may inspire younger generations of Indigenous activists. Just as importantly, for non-Indigenous readers it provided an opportunity to walk in the shoes of such an activist and to feel the ongoing stress of someone on such a quest for justice.'

— Sue Taffe, History Australia, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2009

Information about purchasing ASP’s ebooks.

Last reviewed: 12 Sep 2016