Transcript

Gurindji Blues Post Script: Unknown and unlikely facets of the Wave Hill Walk-off and the Gurindji people’s quest for independence, 50 years on

Charlie Ward, 14 September 2016

But of course, you all know what the discussion today is about, because you've come along to the lecture. So just as a sort of bit of bringing this into more current thing context, Charlie has also been recently involved in organising a two-day festival commemorate the 50th anniversary of the walk-off at Wave Hill. And this is an event, 50 years ago, that's well recognised as the birth of the Aboriginal Land Rights movement in Australia.

In August 1966, Gurindji man, Vincent Lingiari, led the walk-off of 200 Aboriginal Stockman and others who are working for the Vesteys on Wave Hill Cattle Station. This strike was in protest about their work conditions and pay conditions, and was also very widely supported by the Union Movement in Australia, and well-known identities, such as the author [INAUDIBLE].

So as speaker, Charlie Ward's been involved in organising this event. And part of the festival was retracing the steps of Gurindji five decades ago. I was in the Territory at the time, and I had good press coverage in the Territory. I'm not sure if it had much coverage nationally. So I just had a bit of a Google search yesterday to see what sort of commentary appeared on the event.

And it wasn't without some controversy. This history is a strong one in the nation's consciousness. And so it's not surprising to hear that it was also the site of a sort of mini-protest, I think it might be called, against the current government, perhaps, or perhaps the individual involved, or a bit of both. But during the speech given by Senator Nigel Scullion, who's the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs, a group of people turned their back on him, and were protesting loudly, and interrupting his speech.

So it's obviously something that's still really at the heart of our current dialogue in Australia. It might be 50 years ago, but it's still very relevant now. So Charlie's talk today is, of course, going to give us great insights into that history, and widen our perspective in the narratives around this. And I will hand over to him. Thank you.

[APPLAUSE]

Thank you. Thanks, Lindy. Thanks, everybody for coming today. I'd also like to thank the traditional owners and acknowledge elders past and present of the area that we're meeting in here. That was handy. Lindy's just done a sort of quick overview of the Wave Hill walk-off. I assume that just about everybody here would be familiar with the bare outline of the event in 1966.

It was one of the few things, I think, we can genuinely say, a single event that changed the nation. The situation of Aboriginal people, indigenous policy shifted on the access of the walk-off. The land rights movement, and the development eventually of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in the Northern Territory was initiated, if you like, in large part through the actions of the Gurindji people.

Indigenous policy shifted on that access, and also the cattle industry, which is, as you would know, the most economically entrenched industry in the North and Centre of Australia also underwent significant changes, which were in [? train, ?] but perhaps catalysed in part. The underlying issue of the indigenous people, and their place in the cattle industry, and how that place was going to change with the economic and technological changes that the industry was faced with in the 1960s and '70s are also bought to a very dramatic head by the Wave Hill walk-off.

So what I've got in mind today is a bit of a parallel journey, if you like, through the history that I've covered in my book. We'll be sort of looking at things in parallel with the book. And we'll move in a kind of chronological order. But these are the sort of backwaters and the tributaries that perhaps don't get as much attention in the book that I enjoyed the most, as a researcher and a historian, in discovering these unknown and unlikely facets of the Wave Hill story and the Gurindji people's struggle.

Before the walk-off and through the years, the proverbial eight years of waiting at Daguragu which weren't spent waiting at all, but spent in hard work, and lobbying, and doing a lot of speaking tours. So I think of people like Vincent Lingiari and Donald [? Nengiari ?] and [? Pincha ?] [? Numiari, ?] who've all passed through in Melbourne, and were hosted, indeed, by people who were present here today. Yeah, so it's a historian's detective story I guess you could say.

On a personal note, I arrived in Gurindji country for the first time in 2004. And I was employed to develop a strategic plan for the Daguragu Community Government Council, which no longer exists. It was abolished with all community councils in 2008 by the Martin labour government in the NT. And when I first went to that place, I already had the head for history. I was already very interested in the past. And I knew about the iconic Gurindji story of the walk-off and the hand-back.

But I quickly began to talk to the local mob about their lives in those earlier times. And I was lucky enough to hear from some of the old people about life pre-Daguragu, pre-Kalkarindji which was a story that, I think they, by this time, are sort of well used to telling. And they really appreciate people's interest. And perhaps they enjoy, in some way, being able to share that story.

But the questions that came up for me pretty quickly were, I guess, how could I have relate the situation of Gurindji communities that I was in 2004 with these important moments on the chart of Australian history? And so I became curious. And what had happened after the walk-off? And how did the vision of the Gurindji elders, et cetera, adapt, and change, and grow, and dissipate? Or what had happened to it in the intervening decades?

So to say that I became fixated is probably a bit of an understatement. I've spent the best part of the last 10 years researching Gurindji history and that story. My computer told me that I've created or copied 11,152 files related to all of that. And to my own surprise, I have done about 100 interviews, which might have been over the top in hindsight. But you know, I enjoyed them all. Maybe we'll talk about a couple of those today.

That's the Wave Hill area. It's pretty reminders. It's pretty isolated. Some of you have been down there recently for the festival and appreciate how far away it is, 10 or so hours from Darwin. I'm in the promotional material for the talk today, I think it said that I was going to mention an unknown second walk-off. Well, I'm actually going to mention two unknown walk-offs.

There was a preemptive, exploratory strike by men from Wave Hill Station a couple of months before the event that we all know about. There were actually several strikes or walk-offs in the Northern Territory during that year. The context was that the North Australian Workers Union had bought a claim before the Arbitration Commission-- which I think was sitting here in Melbourne-- regarding the wage payments of indigenous workers in the cattle industry, which at that time were pitched at approximately 25% of the standard wage.

Even sort of identifying what the figures were is kind of complicated, because there were numerous arrangements. There were pensions, and pensions paid to invalids, and mothers, et cetera, who were family members of the people employed on the stations. Yeah, so each station administered its own payments. And they also had their own stores, et cetera, and different systems of payment, or in some cases, non-payment, and credit systems with the stores that they ran, et cetera, et cetera. But, yeah, to the best of my knowledge, the wage, as it was meant to be paid to workers be they the cattle or in the homesteads, was 25% of the standard wage.

The Arbitration Commission heard a lot of evidence. And most of that evidence came from the cattle industry. They did very little consulting with indigenous workers themselves. But the outcome of that case was that it was announced that equal wages would be bought in for all workers.

However, it was going to take two years. The stations would be forced to introduce that equal wage system by December 1968, which was about two and a half years after the announcement of the findings. So that, of course, was incendiary to the indigenous people and the unions up North.

And one of the main people who were working on that front was a [? Numadidi ?] man called Dexter Daniels. He was the second aboriginal organiser employed by the North Australian Workers Union. He'd been employed in 1965. And he was absolutely incensed when this result was announced. And so he went to his superior, Patty Carroll, who was an Irish unionist, and asked, look, can we do something about this? This is not on. I think it's time that we get my countrymen to go on strike. It's the only thing that the cattle industry is going to pay any attention to.

The North Australian Workers Union was not able to rise to that challenge immediately. There were a lot of conditions attached. And the question of, could they support people who weren't signed up as members to strike? And how could they logistically support a strike across the Northern Territory, if that was what was eventuated?

And said Dexter took it on himself to go freelance, if you like. And he went to his friends and his brother, Davis, who was working at the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal Rights, which had been established in about 1961 by several people from [INAUDIBLE] or Rapa River, as well as a couple of CPA Communist Party members, who were based in Darwin, Brian Manning and [? Terry ?] Robinson.

And he found a bit more of a sympathetic audience there. And as a result of that, travelled out to Newcastle Waters, to Helen Springs cattle stations in the Barkly Tablelands, which is more in the centre of the Northern Territory, Newcastle, Waters, Elliott, that sort of area. And the reaction to people on the stations was instantaneous.

He arrived with Curly Nixon and a couple of other non-indigenous unionists from Darwin. They all met with loaded guns in a couple of instances. And yeah, the first sort of successful walk-off was at Newcastle Waters. Commonly, it's said that that happened on the first of May, 1966, which is May Day, of course. Looking at the records, it looks like it was late April, 22nd of April.

So these days walk-offs and strikes were sort of erupting across the stations. And the welfare offices and station managers were getting worried, I think. There's references to Dexter Daniels being a sort of Messiah who has this instant, immediate effect on people, that they suddenly get all recalcitrant, and non-compliant, and want to go on strike, and cause all sorts of problems.

So it was in this context that five men walked off, I think it was the Number Four Stock Camp one on Wave Hill Station in June 1966. They walked to the Wave Hill welfare settlement, which is about 15 kilometres. I'm missing a picture here. Let me see. Yeah, anyway, they walked from here, which is Wave Hill Station showing the cottages which had been built by the Vestey Company at the behest of the welfare branch for their indigenous employees. And they walked, as I said, to the welfare settlement.

They were met by a welfare officer, who was sympathetic to what they had to say. And I'm going to talk more about him later on. But the reason that this is of interest is that the walk-off itself happened two months later. And at the time, there was a lot of debate about, where did this idea come from?

The people in the cattle industry and the country liberal party were very surprised. And they put forward the idea that it couldn't possibly have been something that had emerged from within the people at Wave Hill, that it must have been the result of Dexter Daniels and others who quickly came afterwards, who'd planted this idea and had caused them to leave suddenly.

What I learned quite quickly, speaking to people like Billy [? Bunter, ?] who's now passed away, was that people had been talking about walking off the station for quite some years before 1966. And that story has become quite clear. It's been developed and uncovered, I suppose, to a wider audience by the oral history work of [? Mino ?] [? Hikari, ?] who spent quite some time in Gurindji communities in the late 1990s. But yeah, he, as I did, quickly discovered that the planning and the vision for a life without the Vestey Company and for a life independent of the cattle industry had been growing, and was quite well-understood and communicated around the region.

And it seems as if that vision had been developed from the early 1950s. And the way that Billy Bunter described it to me was that certainly by 1962 or 1963, the men he was talking about were listening to radio. And they were aware of the equal wages case when that came. The growing kind of discourse about Aboriginal rights, and well aware of events in Darwin with the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal Rights.

And it was just a matter of time. It was a matter of waiting for support to be available. So I think people recognise that if they were going to leave the control of the Vestey Company and free themselves of the cattle industry, they were going to need some support, I mean purely on a practical level.

So it's of interest to me that some of these guys had an argument with the manager at Wave Hill Station, a fellow called Tom [? Fisher, ?] who again, we might hear more about later. And it was over pay. And it was led by one of the senior men.

And they went to the welfare branch. And the welfare officer there was a fellow called Bill Jeffrey. And he, as I said, was supportive, and actually fed them for a couple of weeks. Now that, in itself, was quite a significant thing, because it effectively broke the control with the Vestey Company had over people there at the time. And immediately, you had the North Australian manager of Vesteys, who was a fellow called Peter Morris, telegraphing Harry [? Gazey, ?] the head of the welfare branch, and saying, look, this isn't on.

Some of our employees have left the station. And someone down there at the Wave Hill school has been feeding them. We can't have that. You, yourself, would know that we shouldn't be feeding people who refuse to work. So they're attempting to kind of keep that cooperation that had historically been given between the cattle industry and the authorities in native affairs and the welfare branch.

So it's June 1966, and at that time, the leader of the walk-off, who, as we know, was Vincent Lingiari, was in hospital in Darwin. So as the story was told to me, Vincent had broken his leg. A mule had kicked him when he was shoeing it, I think. And this is the common account in any sort of record of the Wave Hill walk-off.

The way that it came about was that Vincent Lingiari is in hospital in Darwin. And he meets Dexter Daniels. And of course, Dexter ends up going down to Wave Hill Station, et cetera, et cetera. And that's the avenue that the support is sort of presented to Lingiari and the Gurindji people and other on Wave Hill.

So that's all well and good. But what I discovered was that in the very limited world of historiography about the walk-of some people were questioning how this-- it's too good a coincidence. So there is a conjecture that had possibly Vincent pretended to break his leg, so that he might have created the chance to meet with Dexter Daniels? That was actually put forward by [? Mino ?] [? Hikari. ?]

So this is just a footnote, but it's based on something that [INAUDIBLE] said in an interview with [? Mino. ?] Was it too coincidental that while the strike had been going on at the Newcastle Water Station the leader of the Wave Hill aboriginal people broke his foot and went up to Darwin, and that Daniels happened to know he was in hospital? It would also not be surprising if Vincent Lingiari intentionally let a donkey kick his foot to create a reason to contact unionists in Darwin.

So I mean what's going on here is that [? Mino, ?] I think absolutely rightly, is sort of looking at Gurindji agency. And how much did the Gurindji people have to do with forming the conditions in which they could walk off Wave Hill? I totally support that.

But the more that I thought about it, I thought, well, you know that's a bit strange really. Is Vincent such a good actor that he's convinced the manager of the station, and probably a nurse, and then someone else at the Katherine Hospital. And then he's in hospital in Darwin for three months, et cetera, et cetera, with a pretend broken leg? I just wasn't really sure if that made sense.

But then this is sort of conjecture is picked up by another fellow called Colin Salter, who I googled before this talk, and learnt that he's primarily interested in critical animal studies, whiteness, post-colonial studies, gender and masculinity, and micro-sociology. Activism is subcultural practise. So I'm not I'm not going to be too critical of Colin, because he's obviously got a lot on his mind. And due diligence in historic research probably isn't his first priority.

But he picks up this idea of [? Hikari's, ?] and based on what [INAUDIBLE] has said. And he said that the orchestration of such a meeting clearly fits within oral historical accounts. And secondly, there are numerous oral historical accounts supportive of [INAUDIBLE] account. He doesn't name what those accounts are. And I haven't found any others.

I thought I should have a look if there are any records which might tell us anything about Vincent's trip to hospital. And sure enough, I put in an inquiry to the Northern Territory Archives and my friend [? Carolyn ?] Newman. And I was driving south of Charters Towers in Queensland at the time when she rang up, and said, Charlie, Charlie, I've found those dates you were looking for.

There's a record in the Connellan Airways flight manifests. So that was that mystery solved. I'm sure what the date is there, third of May. And then we also have a record of Vincent returning to Wave Hill, also via Connellan Air on about the 20th of August.

It was actually just a week or something after this discovery that I went and interviewed a bloke called Neil [? Dudgeon, ?] who is somewhere in [INAUDIBLE] country, who was a stock man on Wave Hill Station. And he was vastly amused when I told him that people were wondering, was this true that Vincent had broken his leg? He was there on the stock camp on the day, and had a clear memory of it. So that was one little mystery solved.

So before I mentioned that when the five men from stock camp Number 2 walked off, they were met with a sympathetic reception at Wave Hill Station. That was a fellow by the name of Bill Jeffrey. Bill Jeffrey is well-known, I think, in terms of the walk-off. And he certainly features in Frank Hardy's book in great detail.

He was at Wave Hill, I think, for about a year before these events. And he looms larger than life. He provided extra food for the strikers when the walk-off actually happened. And also, his name features here on this document, which is an important expression of Aboriginal aspiration to land.

It's probably up there with the [INAUDIBLE] [? Bark ?] Petition and the Larrakia Petition of 1972, I think it was. This was sent to the Governor-General Lord [? Roger ?] [? Casey ?] in March 1967. And it was Frank Hardy's effort to distill and articulate in English that would be understood in Canberra the Gurindji people's aspiration to land.

So as you can see, there's four thumbprints there from [INAUDIBLE] Gurindji men, in this case. And there's two signatures. One of them is Frank Hardy's. And Frank Hardy, for those of you who don't know, he was a significant activist in Australia in the post-war decades, and a journalist, and an author, who was a member of the Communist Party of Australia, and at the time of the walk-off was sort of having a bit of a soul-searching period in the Northern Territory, and was at Wave Hill very quickly after the walk-off, and became the Gurindji people's advocate and spokesperson to some extent, certainly in terms of print and his articles that he wrote for the Australian newspaper.

The other signature here is that of Bill Jeffrey. I, of course, wanted to know-- I knew that Frank Hardy had died long ago. But I was very keen to find out what had happened to Bill Jeffrey. And the guy sort of features here at the centre, if you like, of the walk-off. And I was busy doing my sort of private investigator kind of sleuthing. And nobody could tell me anything about Bill Jeffrey. And I was amazed.

I thought it was a bit sort of like Harold [? Holt, ?] what do you mean, you've lost Bill Jeffrey? He's disappeared off the face of the Earth. Brian Manning had some clue, which I think was a false one, about the Unitarian Church. But basically, nobody knew anything about him, or his family, or what he'd done after the events that he was involved with at Wave Hill.

So I got into trying to track him down. And I discovered, I think, the first thing was references to him that had been made in parliament in Canberra by the Labour Party. Because it turned out that after the walk-off he'd been removed from the welfare branch. He was persona non grata.

And he'd sort of become a whistleblower. And he had a very sort of flamboyant phase of media and public appearances for about 18 months after he left the Northern Territory, in which was very critical of the agenda of the welfare branch, and the cattle industry, and called for reforms, and royal commissions, and all the rest of it. So I worked that much out.

But then I still had no idea where he'd gone afterwards. And it was probably, well, a couple of years, I think, until I found a record of a telegram from Bill Jeffrey, which he sent to the Hand-Back Ceremony in 1975 wishing people all the best. And I always knew that you had it in you, and things like that. And was sent from North Queensland.

So that gave me a bit of a fix. I thought, OK, he's popped up 10 years later. And he's in North Queensland. That led me on a sort of embarrassing path of faxing nursing homes-- which I don't recommend to anyone who's contemplating historical research.

But eventually, I struck it lucky. And I found a record of his wife's death. Which was a minor miracle, really, because even with this guy, people referred to him in different names. They used different spellings even on the same page. And the question of his name was one thing. And then his wife's name was another one.

So it was really just perseverance and blind luck. But I found this record of somebody called [? Ann ?] Jeffrey, who passed away in about 2006 in Adelaide. And I sent a email to the funeral director, who-- this might seem a bit morbid. But they replied. And they gave me contact details for the next of kin, who certainly wasn't the daughter who was named in Frank Hardy's book. Well, it turned out that it was her. But she has a completely different name. And she actually wasn't his daughter. And the whole sort of thing kind of started unravelling.

So in The Unlucky Australians, Bill Jeffrey presents himself as a fellow with a huge guilt about the treatment of indigenous people. And this is why he's sort of been driven to kind of help them make a stand, et cetera. And the basis of that, as he put it, was that he was brought up by wild Irishmen on the Northern Frontier in Queensland. His uncles were all light horsemen from the First World War, and did awful things to Aboriginal people.

I'll give you a taste of what Bill Jeffrey has to say. "My earliest memories as a child among the Aborigines are of happy times. But I can never recall them without one terrible act of inhuman cruelty stalking across my mind. I could hear my father and his brothers abusing them-- the Aboriginal workers-- as only wild Irishman can.

Then the fight started. My father and uncles went into the shed behind the house. Then came the crack of rifle fire. They left the shed carrying a pick shovels and a crowbar. They're going to mend the fence, my mother said. But I knew, and she knew I knew. I still don't know if they managed to reach the safety of the scrub, or had been shot down."

It's a very powerful account of life on the Northern Frontier. When I met Bill's stepdaughter, she indicated that perhaps Bill wasn't completely truthful in his representations of himself. And she directed me towards his real children, who also tell me that Bill was a fabulist, and as far as a father goes, a complete failure who disappeared from their lives and made a life habit of bullshitting, I suppose.

It's a strange situation to be congratulated by people for outing their grandfather and father as a liar. But that was the situation. So it turns out that Bill Jeffrey was born and raised in Footscray here in Melbourne. His parents were Methodists. His dad was an engine driver-- I guess that means a tram conductor or a train driver-- and a boilermaker. And his grandfather was a fellow known as the Hallelujah Botanist, who accompanied King Edward VII on trips to India and Egypt.

All very interesting. But it helped explain why I couldn't find any of these uncles in North Queensland.

So I guess one of the outcomes of that is that it's now obvious that Bill Jeffrey has pulled one over his mate, Frank Hardy. And now we can read the Unlucky Australians and passages where Bill says, I bet those bastards in Canberra are checking up on me. Hope they find out a few things. I'm not too clear on me own early history.

Now this is sitting on the beach at Manly drinking Beenleigh rum with Frank. But this is sort of makes a bit more sense. Perhaps Bill's getting a bit sort of-- I don't know what's going through his mind. But he certainly had Frank believing everything he had to say.

So this is Wild Bill, as he liked to be known, 1967, 1968. He had a great time with journalists. He sort of took 10 years off his life, and added three inches to his height. And they talked about Fidel Castro beard. You can see his cattle spurs there in the photo on the left. I don't know if he could ride a horse.

But he was a fascinating guy. And I followed him, if you like, to North Queensland. He spent the last decades of his life in a town called Ravenshoe. I think I've got that right.

And people told me, chapter and verse, it was a very interesting experience. At one moment, I had somebody telling me about how his long-suffering partner, [? Ann, ?] had finally go to the Department of Veterans Affairs to try and get him on a pension. And this is after 30 years of consorting with Wild Bill.

And I said, oh, we've never heard of that bloke. And I think that was the end of that marriage. But then the next day, I met someone who said, oh, what a character. Did you know what he did in Second World War with the Irish Fusiliers, you know? So amazing, amazing fellow.

And he was able to live this life of sort of moving between these different worlds. And one of the reasons for that was because he had amazing technical skills. That thing on the left is a steam train engine, which he made, and we managed to track down. So that's a story of Bill Jeffrey.

Right, I'm moving much more slowly than I intended. I'll have to tell you about the second or the third walk-off. I'll just quickly touch on the role of surveillance at Wattie Creek. In early February 1972, the head of ASIO Peter [? Babor, ?] advised cabinet it was clear that the radical movement in Australia is going to turn its attention from Vietnam and the moratorium to Aboriginal affairs.

At Wattie Creek, people were very aware of the fact that they were being watched. Vincent Lumiari said in 1971, policemen just come around here, keep an eye on us, tell them what we're doing. And the reasons for that are very clear.

This was interesting to me, though. I knew that ASIO were active, and using people in the media, and aerial surveillance. And I'd interviewed policeman who told me that ASIO were a special branch of the Northern Territory Police would visit with ASIO to try and keep a grip on what was going on at Wattie Creek so they could report back. To who I didn't know, but this was fascinating to me.

This is a communication between the Department of the Interior to Fred Chaney, who back then was the Administrator of the Northern Territory. So the minister, that's Peter Nixon, has decided that it is important that a discreet but effective surveillance on the number of people moving into Wattie Creek, and the building, or in particular, fencing materials, they may bring with them. He's asked that he be given regular reports in this regard. And it is therefore significant that he be informed immediately.

As communication between Darwin and the Wave Hill Centre is by radio only, arrangements have been made with Vesteys for reports or communications, which must be kept confidential, to be conveyed by telephone to the Wave Hill Homestead. Mr. Bell of Vesteys will make arrangements with Miss Williams, the bookkeeper at Wave Hill, for the police and welfare officer to use the Wave Hill telephone for this purpose.

This is sort of the smoking gun stuff, the cooperation of the Vestey Company and the Department of the Interior of the Northern Territory Administration in this regard of actively colluding to monitor, if not undermine, the work that was happening at Wattie Creek was always strenuously denied. I would have loved to talk to Ms. Williams, who apparently would also be able to take any messages for the police or welfare officer at Wave Hill which are not appropriate to send over the radio.

By all accounts, there was a welfare officer who was in the employ of ASIO. And the welfare officers sent weekly reports to his superiors, which is very handy to do know now what was happening at Dagaragu on a weekly basis. My favourite story about him was that he was visited by his minders from ASIO. And he was trying to impress them boy driving his Land Cruiser through the Victoria River and he stalled. That was probably a bit embarrassing.

The second, or we could say the third, Wave Hill walk-off was actually occurred in 1982. Now I'm not going to burden you with all the reasons why this occurred, because then you wouldn't have any reason to read my book. But things were not going well by that stage for the Gurindji people. And they were increasingly frustrated about the lack of control that they felt at what was, by then, known as Kalkaringi.

There were numerous [? Gotti, ?] or non-indigenous people, employed by the Department of Aboriginal-- not so much the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, but the semi-government, government-funded agencies that had sprung up in the wake of self-management or self-determination policy. There were private business being run by Europeans. And they were rightly frustrated about the lack of control that they had at Kalkaringi, and also questioning since they felt that the young people were also confused about their place in the community, et cetera.

So the families of Victor Vincent, who is Vincent Lingiari's eldest son-- Billy Buntas' family, Donald [INAUDIBLE] and Jerry [? Ringiari, ?] are all central walk-off families, all centrally involved in the struggle at Wattie Creek and the [? Maramala ?] Cattle Company-- all decided to leave the area and to create another outstation some miles to the south in the Southern portion of their lease, which was still then a lease. It hadn't been awarded back under the Land Rights Act at that point.

So that was October 1982. And Billy Buntas said, we've tried this, meaning Kalkaringi and Dagaragu, for 16 years. And it hasn't worked. Well, I think we can say that for social reasons and economic reasons, that attempt to sort of begin again and physically leave, the communities there didn't last. And people were sort of drawn back.

But I think that's an indication of the ongoing struggle, and the conflicted relationship of the two communities, which are there today, and that arose in the wake of the Wave Hill walk-off, and the then-government's failure to support the aspirations of the Gurindji people. So I might turn it over to questions now. I think there's a couple of microphones around.

So questions, we've got time for a few questions.

[APPLAUSE]

Yes?

Thank you, Charlie. That was really, really interesting. And I look forward to reading your book. At the 50th Wave Hill walk-off this year, all about that time, apparently Nigel Scullion is still pushing for a 99 whole of township lease on Dagaragu. what do you say to that? And this is all part of the struggle? Were you aware of that, or?

Well, I understand that the minister is pushing that agenda. I think what's not clear is whether housing and other issues are sort of being held up as depending on whether people will sign leases or not. I don't think that we probably need to worry too much about the mob at Dagaragu, because I'm sure they won't sign anything unless they want to. But I'm not totally up to speed with that debate at this point.

But that disparity between Dagaragu and Kalkaringi is blindingly clear, because Kalkaringi is being used at this point as a sort of show piece for the government's push of encouraging development through housing and private tenure. And they've subdivided a number of blocks of land. And they've just had an auction, LJ Hooker. And it's a first for a community in the Northern Territory. And that's certainly not the case at Dagaragu. So that disparity is going to probably continue.

People might be interested that I was in Wave Hill nine years before the walk-off. And I was a welfare officer inspector there. We were called patrol officers and welfare officers. The conditions were shocking. I wrote a report-- I've given you another report earlier today-- the people were not really paid at all. That were given rations in my time. I'm talking about 1957.

I was there with a fellow named [INAUDIBLE]. I remember very clearly, the rations were in part the guts of bullocks that were killed. And the guts were thrown on the dust and they said, that's your [? taca. ?] And it was quite disgusting.

The only hold we had over them was the government had seduced the Vesteys organisation to accepting maintenance payments. And we can withdraw the maintenance payments. But a little anecdote-- perhaps partly funny, but partly sad-- I had dinner at Wave Hill with Tom [? Fisher, ?] the manager in the big house. And it was a concrete floor. And the old dining room-- I don't know whether you've seen it. And there were [? punka ?] going backwards and forwards.

And the fellow sitting next to me was a doctor. And he wanted to light his cigarette. And Tom stamped his foot on the concrete floor, and the [? punka ?] stopped. Why? Because the little boy who had to sit there all night pulling the rope, heard that and stopped pulling the [? punka. ?]

Then Tom scrubbed his foot on the floor, and the [? punka ?] started again. Now at the end of the dinner-- and this was normal behaviour-- the scraps were put on a tin plate. And as you would for a dog, put out, said, the two little boys could have. And I saw that.

There was no firewood in the camp. And one of the conditions of continuing to give maintenance was that they start a system of getting some firewood. You would have to remember, the bush is all cleared out with the people sitting down. So we organised donkey carts to go and get timber. And also, to get them some water in the camp.

But times were pretty tough with old Tom [? Fisher, ?] I can tell you. And some very nasty things had happened at Wave Hill some years before. I supposed I got to stop.

I think we're getting close to time.

Well, I'll shut up but--

I mean, what you're saying, that's a great advertisement for oral history.

Yeah.

Amazing.

Well, they've got me on tape in Canberra. Durational But not many of us are left that were there. I'm 82 now. And we can tell the stories of those times-- thank you very much.

Thank you.

Thanks, [INAUDIBLE]

Upper back there, [INAUDIBLE], John.

I realise we're short for time, but first of all, I'd just like to say thank you for a really great, interesting piece on the walk-off. My interest is in your thoughts, as the Gurindji walk-off sit in the greatest story of Aboriginal land rights, particularly early walk-offs, the Cummeragunja walk-off in 1939, the Brewarrina walk-off from the 1940s, or even going further back to the efforts of the [INAUDIBLE] people to secure land at [INAUDIBLE] the [INAUDIBLE] people at [INAUDIBLE] in the 1880s. How do you see this story fitting in the greater context?

That's a good question. There's also the Pilbara strike in the 1940s as well. There's [INAUDIBLE], another one in more recent times. I think that it's part of a struggle for autonomy, and independence, and respect. And it hasn't been resolved yet. And those walk-offs, and strikes, and protests are only going to continue.

So I don't have any great insight into that. But as you'd know, there's numerous, numerous indigenous groups and organisations that have supported them throughout European settlement. I just see that continuing, really, whether it's protest against government policies, as in WA Barnett government closing down communities, or whether it's the encroachment of resource companies onto indigenous land. Yeah.

Thank you.

Thanks.

OK, so I just want to thank you very much for a really, really rich and complex history, and encourage people who are interested in getting a copy of Charlie's book. He will be up outside our museum shop straight after this lecture, and will be signing copies. And of course, I'm sure will be happy to engage in other questions that people might have. So if you all put your hands together and thank Charlie Ward for a great talk.

[APPLAUSE]

Thank you.

Connect with Museums Victoria

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive the latest news about our exhibitions, special events, programs and offers.