Indigenous Australia Has Lost One Of Its Champions, Deadlys Founder Gavin Jones

Gavin Jones. Photo courtesy of Deadly Vibe

Gavin Jones, founder of the Deadly Awards, an annual celebration of Aboriginal culture he began 20 years, has died.

Jones, a pioneer and champion of indigenous arts, culture and health, died at his farm near Goulburn on the weekend. He was 47.

His loss comes after the federal Government told his organisation, Vibe Australia, last month that it would cease funding at the end of the financial year and redirect the money to “front line services”. The move has forced the cancellation of the 20th anniversary Deadly Awards, due to be held at the Sydney Opera House on September 30.

Vibe Australia, which products a range of media products for Aboriginal people, including the Deadly Vibe and InVibe magazines, Deadly Sounds radio, and TV shows, is now searching for a way forward following the double blow of its loss of funding and its driving force.

Jones was born and grew up in and around Goulburn, and began a career in journalism before founding Deadly Vibe in 1993. He wanted to help indigenous people to reach their potential and build self-esteem with help from positive role models and media that told indigenous stories. He also wanted to improve health outcomes, hence Living Strong and the Logie-nominated, dance-fitness TV show Move It Mob Style, now in its 4th series and screening on both the ABC and NITV.

The Deadly Sounds radio program began at the same time and two years later, the monthly Deadly Vibe magazine was born. Late last year it celebrated it 200th issue and had a circulation of 55,000 per month. In the editorial for that landmark edition, Jones said “Overly negative media was the reason why we started Deadly Vibe magazine. To put something positive in the hands of our young people; something of a high professional quality that could be read and handed around at home or school that told a different story. A story we could be proud of.”

He spent the last two decades spreading a message of good health and self esteem to the young and those most disadvantaged, especially Aboriginal people in prison. He wanted to empower and better his community.

The Deadly Awards – deadly is a slang Aboriginal word mean cool and awesome – were first held in 1994 to celebrate indigenous music and later expanded to include other forms of entertainment and the arts, sport, health and education.

Last year’s winners included singers Jessica Mauboy and Archie Roach, Australian of the Year Adam Goodes, rugby league player Johnathan Thurston, actor Deborah Mailman, health academic Professor Pat Dudgeon and ethnobotanist Gerry Turpin. The awards were broadcast on SBS and watched by more than 500,000 people. A record 95,000 people voted on the winners.

Paying tribute to Jones on the Deadly Vibe website, his colleagues said:

Noted for his generosity, kindness, and genuine care for others, Gavin was one of the true pioneers and heroes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advancement, and will be missed and remembered by the countless individuals whose lives he touched, and helped to improve.

Festival director and arts presenter Rhoda Roberts, who worked closely with Jones, told Deadly Vibe that “So many seedlings have been produced across the industry because of this one man and his passion. He really was a pioneer, and I thank you deadly brother. Rest, then dance well with our mob because you will always be in our hearts and are one of greatest shining stars.”

In a message posted on its website, Deadly Vibe said it was working through the issues created by the sudden loss of Government support and looking for a new direction, saying:

We would like to thank everybody who has been a part of Vibe to this point over our 20 year journey and ask for your support at this critical time.

We would also like to thank the Australian Government, and the many officers and political people along the journey, for having the insight and vision to support Vibe for so many years.

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