UPDATE: Former WA politician Ernie Bridge has died.
Mr Bridge, who was the outspoken Kimberley MLA from 1980 to 2001, died in Perth yesterday. He was 76.
Less than a fortnight ago, Mr Bridge revealed he was suing the State Government and companies owned by Australia's two richest women for damages, claiming he had developed asbestos-related diseases after being exposed to dust and fibres on visits to Wittenoom during his terms as an MP and minister.
Mr Bridge had malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural disease, asbestos-related disease and respiratory degeneration.
The writ, filed in March by Slater and Gordon, says the diseases were a consequence of Mr Bridge's exposure to the inhalation of asbestos dust and fibres during visits to Wittenoom in about the 1980s to 1990s.
Mr Bridge was WA's first Aboriginal MP and the first indigenous Cabinet minister in any Australian government.
Resources Energy and Tourism Minister Gary Gray said Mr Bridge made an immense contribution to the community during his 21-year career as the state Member for Kimberley.
"As Australia's first indigenous minister Mr Bridge was a visionary who never stopped working for the people of the north," said Mr Gray, who is a former parliamentary secretary for northern Australia.
"I last saw Ernie in Fitzroy Crossing and I can think of no better description of him than 'Mr Kimberley' because of his contribution as a parliamentarian and as a businessman and pastoralist."
Mr Gray said Mr Bridge stood up for what he believed and first stood for the Kimberley seat in 1977 and successfully challenged the controversial election outcome at the Court of Disputed Returns. He lost the subsequent by-election.
"Ernie may have been known to many as a country singer but he had a deep commitment to Aboriginal representation and I believe made a significant contribution to democracy and Aboriginal enfranchisement."
Mr Bridge was made a member of the Order of Australia in June 2012 for "service to the indigenous community, particularly through support for health management programs and to the Parliament of Western Australia".
He served as the ALP member for the seat from 1980 to 1996 and then as an independent from 1996 to 2001.
In 1986, he was made Honorary Minister assisting the Minister for Water Resources and continued his association with water issues throughout his career, including promotion of the Ord and linking the Fitzroy River to Perth.
Mr Bridge is survived by his four children.
Labor leader Mark McGowan today paid tribute to Mr Bridge, describing him as a great West Australian and trail blazer.
"What Ernie personified is that you can come from anywhere, any background and you can do great things in Western Australia," Mr McGowan said.
"You don't have to come from privilege, you don't have to have gone to the best schools. You can be of any background and you can do good things, and that was Ernie's life experience.
"He achieved that, he showed the way for Aboriginal people in Western Australia, he showed the way for all our citizens."
Mr McGowan said that in his 21-year parliamentary career Mr Bridge held various Cabinet posts and was well-respected and well-liked by all sides of politics.
He said Mr Bridge was a "great raconteur", an "excellent public speaker", and was "a fella with a broad general knowledge and a great deal of compassion for his fellow citizens, especially those living in the Kimberley".
"It's quite an achievement to become the first Aboriginal cabinet minister in Australian history and for that his passing is a very significant and sad event for this State," he said.
Mr McGowan said he visited Mr Bridge in hospital, along with former Pilbara MP Tom Stephens, during the election campaign where they spoke for about 40 minutes.
"He was upbeat, he was in good spirits, he was determined to do his best to defeat the illness that afflicted him, but unfortunately he has now passed away," he said.
"It was great to meet him on that final occasion, great to have a last conversation with him. I know he'll be missed by many West Australians."
Mr McGowan said despite Mr Bridge spending the past four years of his parliamentary career sitting as an independent MP, he was still supportive of the Labor party.
"Certainly when I saw him three or four weeks ago in hospital he kept talking in terms of 'how are we going', 'hope we're doing well'," Mr McGowan said."The way he spoke said to me that he was still on side and still wanted Labor to do well in the State election and do well in the future, so I was encouraged by his words."