|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: May 6, 1998
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
You had someone on that bus with a tape recorder, didn't you, recording everything? What ... Did that have a really ... I mean was that being useful in publicising it?
Yeah, he was a fellow called Darcy, Darcy ...
Cassidy. Darcy Cassidy. And he was really good. You know, I sort of thought, well what do we need a person recording all of this for, you know? It'll be over in three or four days, but as it started, the trip started to bite, you know, and started to become sort of very important and we started to see the issues arising up before us. Well you know, he was very useful and he taped it all the way along, and he was excellent, you know, as a person that was taking all this information down and getting it out to the media. Because the media in the beginning were not interested in us. They thought, oh, we're just a bunch of radical students going out there and causing problems for everybody about a race issue that does not ... racism that does not exist, prejudice that doesn't exist. Perhaps a little bit, but not ... it wasn't deep seated. Aboriginal people weren't at a disadvantage. They liked living in humpies and on the riverbanks and at the end of the road where the rubbish tip [was]. They liked that. They liked a second class position in Australian society. Well, then it all started to come up that the Aboriginal people didn't like that and that there was a lot of racism and prejudice, you know, and then the media started to focus in, especially after Walgett, and Darcy was the person that stimulated all of that. You know, right from the beginning he was with us and right to the end he was with us. And he's got some valuable information on what happened on that whole trip.
With the Freedom Ride really making a change in Australian society, did it also make a change in you, Charlie? Did you feel different after that ride?
Oh yeah, I think, you know it was an educational trip for all of us. And it educated Australia, it educated all the people on the trip including myself. It changed my perceptions of white people, quite frankly. It took a lot of the bitterness and a lot of the hatred out of me about white people. And you know, I realised there was quite a few white people that really wanted to do something that were powerless to do it, or were caught up in the system themselves. And what they thought was okay was not okay, you know. Now they'd been shown something different and they're not going to go back to that again. And you know, so it was good for a person like myself and I can only speak for myself about that, where it sort of gave me a different vision of where Australia should be going and what we've got to do about it. It gave me an understanding more clearly about the depth of Aboriginal disadvantage in Australian society and the need for psychological change within the Aboriginal community, so we can confront the issues. Then with white people, it sort of enabled me to see them in a different light, a more understanding light, and a much more sensible way of viewing the predicament they're in and why they say the things that they do and why they act the way that they do. So it was good education for me.
It wasn't the only public activity that you took place ... took part in during your undergraduate years. There was also an incident, wasn't there, with a little Indian girl that was being deported. Could you tell us about that incident and how you got involved in that.
Well I was sitting at home once, and you know, we were against the White Australia Policy, which was strong at that time. Hubert Opperman, I think was the Minister for Immigration at that time. And we were sitting around there at home, just near the university, Sydney University there, and somebody came and said, 'Hey, they're deporting that Nancy Prasad out of Australia, because she's Indian. You know, that's very racist. We've got to do something about that you know. We're a Student Action for Aborigines, but we're a student action against, you know, all forms of racism, aren't we?' And I said, 'Oh I suppose we are'. And somebody said, 'Yeah, well why don't we do something about it?' So a group of us - and some of them are now eminent doctors I might add, and psychologists in Australian society, and legal people - decided to go down there and do something about it. Demonstrate. So we all jumped in different cars and took off for the Sydney airport. And they were actually in the process of transferring her from a car to the counter to despatch her out to the plane which was waiting out there. So we blocked the entrance off, so they couldn't get through. And we had our placards up as usual, you know, against the White Australia Policy, which was before anybody else ever took it up I might say, in this dramatic way. I hear, you know, are rewriting history quite frequently, about how they brought about changes in the White Australia Policy and nothing's ever mentioned about the students from Sydney University. Anyhow, so Nancy Prasad was on the arms of this big, six foot four, burly policeman. And you know, he was carrying her through. She was only a light little thing. And he managed to get through the [checks] and I was on the inside, myself and two students. And I said to him, 'Well look, I'll hold on to her for a while, while you just organise her tickets and you know, save you carrying her and all her belongings and all the rest of it'. He said, 'That's a good idea. Just hold on to her for a while and I'll get rid of these other things here and we'll get through this crowd. And come with me and we'll put her on the plane', see. I wasn't going to go on the plane with her, but I was going to take her to the counter to get the tickets. So I said, 'Righto', so I got hold of her. He gave me her, believe it or not. So we just turned around and took off with her. And he went to the counter. He goes, 'Well where are these students? Hey, they're gone'. So you know, we saw him there looking around saying, 'Where the hell are these students?' and by that time we'd shot through, three or four of us, and we dashed out through the building. And the rest of the students came from the outside to the inside and blocked him off then, and everybody else from coming outside 'til we got into the cars. So then we all jumped in the different cars, and I got in a silly little Volkswagen, you know. There was about five of us in there with this young girl and we were all crowded out, and could hardly move, could hardly breathe. And the bloody thing would hardly go. It wouldn't start. So we took off in this battered old Volkswagen for my home. Well, that was it. All hell broke loose again, [on] the television and radio. I got back to my place there at Forest Lodge, which is just alongside the university, and we were in the lounge room, and we had Nancy there for a while and ...
Was she scared?
No, she was quite all right. She was happy. I said, 'Don't you worry about anything, sis', I said, 'We'll look after you'. She said, 'Oh no, I'm all right'. And I said, 'We're not going to have you going overseas. You're going to stay in Australia with us'. She said, 'Oh, that's good'. So we calmed her down. We reassured her. Then one of our people took her from my place to her uncle's who had abandoned any idea of doing anything about it. He took her to her uncle's place. And then we all sat down there and we were just having a cup of tea and a few drinks and watching the television, and on it come: 'This man is wanted for kidnapping'. There was a big photograph of myself on the TV and all the rest of it. And they said, 'Hey, that's a charge you know. You can get twenty years' gaol'. And I said, 'God, could I?' I didn't realise the implications of it. And so you know, it was on. 'This man is wanted. If you've seen this man please report him to the police, you know. He's so high and so big and so wide and dark complexion, etcetera, etcetera'. And it was on the radio all the time: 'Charles Perkins and the Students Action for Aborigines is wanted for kidnap of Nancy Prasad'. And we heard it on the air and we said, 'Gee, what have we done?' and of course, you know, began to realise, well what we had done was what we wanted to really have done. You know, to sort of expose the White Australia Policy for what it was. And the next minute, knock, knock on the door. It was the police. And they said, 'Mind if we come in?' We said, 'Yeah, come in'. They said, 'We're looking for Nancy Prasad. We believe that you people here kidnapped her'. And we explained ourselves. We were against the White Australia Policy and all the rest of it. 'But search the house if you want to search the house'. It was an old house I had, an old little terrace place. You could get three people across and you'd fill the room up. And so they searched the house. She wasn't there. And so, 'We don't want you to leave the country. We want you to stay here'. And I said I had no intention of going anywhere. I said, 'We haven't got any money anyhow', and so he took all of or names and so on and so on. And that was it. And that was all that ever happened. And then we got on to radio and television and publicised the fact that it'd happened, but no action was ever taken against us. But Opperman had to explain it and then soon after that the White Australia Policy was broken. And the Student Action for Aborigines never got any credit for that at all. It was other people who have a tendency to write history, rewrite history in their favour, that claimed all the credit for that. And that was the catalyst for it all. It had massive publicity. It had never happened before. It was under difficult circumstances, because we could have got charged with kidnapping, as would have been technically the case. And Opperman soon lost his, you know, his Ministry over that. And he apologised later on for it, you know, and amended the policy.
Meanwhile, how were your studies going? Did you ... did you find exams problematic for you at university?
Oh yeah. My studies were all going pretty good. I did all of that while I was studying, as everybody else did. And in fact, it stimulated me to sort of work harder. But I always ... what really made me work hard at university was an experience I had right at the beginning when I sat with 800 other students in the first month of Anthropology, to do an Anthropology test. And I finished it in the space of ... well, half the time and I was going to get up and go, but I thought, gee I must be brilliant. I must be real brilliant. Everybody else is a dumb-dumb. And I thought, this is going to be a breeze this university. Look at me, I've finished this test, and nobody else is even anywhere else near finished. So I waited and waited and waited 'til somebody got up and then I walked up with them, and I went over to my wife and I said, 'That was a piece of cake'. I said, 'Here I am, they're still ... there's about 700 or 800 of them back there still studying back there doing the exam, and I'm finished'. She said, 'Oh, you must have done well'. I said, 'Oh, of course I did'. I said, 'It's easy'. So I went to the ... about three weeks later I went to the board at the Department of Anthropology where they have [the results] up there and I looked at the ... not credits, what's above that? The distinctions. I looked at the distinctions. I said I should be at the top of the list. So I looked at the top of the list. I wasn't anywhere there. I wasn't on the merits. I wasn't on the credits. And I said, 'Oh, fancy getting an ordinary pass'. I wasn't even on the ordinary pass. And I looked in the fails: there I was. Smack in the middle of all the failures. I failed the test. I just didn't read it right. I, you know ... it was sort of ambiguous. I didn't understand the words and they were very cleverly written and I thought I was a smartie, that I understood them, you know. And it taught me a lesson. From that day onwards, I studied hard. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I thought: you overestimated your capacity. You're not as smart as think you are. You're reading things as you want to read them and not as they are. You know, you've got a lot of work to do. So get into it. And I disciplined myself from that day on. [It] shattered me for about a week. I could hardly walk. And I was so ashamed of myself. But it taught me a lesson, and from that day I recovered then, and I said, 'Right, I will now discipline myself', and I did. Six in the morning 'til eleven at night, for three years. And taking the year before that, the matriculation, that was pretty hard. So four years, six in the morning 'til eleven at night. Every hour of every day, you know, two hours, an hour on. That's pretty hard to do.
Did Eileen mind not having your company?
No, she was there all the time with me, you know. And she sort of backed me up, when I broke she ... we had a cup of tea and a good talk. I mean you can't live in each other's pockets, you get bored with each other, you know. So it was good. We sort of had something to do. She managed the home with the scarce resources. Kept me motivated. We went out now and then, you know, to the pictures or something, and live a frugal sort of existence. But we were together and that's the main thing. And we were ... had the same objective and I think that's that way to go. And it was hard for me because I was ... you know, I just passed, even then. Just passed. If I didn't do that I wouldn't have passed. So it had to be that way: it had to be hard, it had to tough, it had to be disciplined. And you know, it had ... if it wasn't, I wouldn't have got through.
You were the first Aboriginal man to graduate from a university in Australia. Were you very conscious of that?
I believe I was the first Aboriginal person to graduate from [an] Australian university: the first one who identifies as an Aboriginal. There's been a few that have passed through before me, but they didn't identify as an Aboriginal. I was the first who said I'm an Aboriginal and I'm proud of it, and I got through university. And that's what I said. I was the first one to get a degree from any university. Right. And some people have said, 'No, you didn't get ...' but the records will speak for themselves. But I was the first one to proclaim. And you know, I was really proud of that, you know, not so much being the first, but having to get it anyhow. I was pleased to have disciplined myself over that time to achieve that objective. And I know if I can do that, well I can do anything. And I think that's the ultimate objective of anybody, isn't it? To go for something, to reach a goal and say well I've done that, so I can do other things as well. It gave me an enormous confidence boost. And it instilled a lot back into me of respect for myself, and for others as a consequence - a bit of dignity. And so I was able to hold my head up then and I'd say, 'Right, we'll go for it, we'll go for it'.
Your mother came to your graduation. Did she take in the significance of what you'd achieved?
Not really. See, when I said to my mother I'm going to Sydney University, she said, 'Oh, that's nice. That's good'. But Sydney University didn't mean you know ... what's Sydney University to her? That's not her university. Her university is living, you know, out in the bush, in the country: animals, creeks, trees. That's the university of life. That's her university. That's where she was educated. For me, you know, doing that is something, that's not in her world. It's not of interest to her, you know. She said it's nice that I'm going there, but what are you going to, sort of thing. When I brought her down, that's the first time she's been out of Alice Springs into Sydney, she got in the jet plane and you know ... we sat down and then we were 35,000 feet up in the air, and she said, 'Where are we now?' And I said, 'Well, we're up in the air now'. And she looked out and she said, 'What happened to that airport?' you know. She didn't understand we had to get up off the ground like that, you know, and she didn't realise we were up so quickly and up so high. And when I brought her down to the MLC building down here in Sydney, she'd never been in a lift before. You know, never messed around with electrical switches of that nature. Got into the lift, I said, 'We've got to go into this room here'. So we went in the room, the lift, and the MLC building in Circular Quay was the highest building at that time in Sydney. It's now dwarfed. And right on Circular Quay as you know. And we went in there. We got up the top. I opened the door and she said, 'What happened to that room?' I said, 'Well, this is what they call a lift. You get up and you go up the top of the building'. 'Oh', she says, 'That's a good idea'. So it's just not her world you see. So we get up the top and looked around and she jumped back from the ... to see everything so small down below. So everything was new and exciting for her. And we went to Sydney University, she couldn't ... she was excited and pleased that I'd got there, and that everybody was, you know, saying that we'd done good things and all that. She was very proud and pleased with me but she couldn't wait to get back to Alice Springs. Alice Springs people are like that. You know, Central Australian people are like that. You take them away for one day or two days or a week, they can't wait to get back. If you turn your back they're gone. Gone by plane or train or something to get back. And my mother was the same. She enjoyed it all and the company of the kids and being there at Sydney University and seeing the wonderful buildings, and you know, the wonderful reception in the hall and the clap I got when I received my degree, and the photographs and all that taken on the sacred lawns in the quadrangle afterwards. But that was fine, yeah, she loved it.
What were you going to do with your degree? Did you have plans by the time you graduated?
I knew exactly what I was going to do with the degree. That degree was going to help me to do what I've been doing since I graduated: to sort of take a position in Aboriginal Affairs that was, I believe, principled and strong and aggressive and whatever the consequences, to go for it. And to attack racism and the disadvantaged position of Aboriginal people and rednecks and sacred cows and all these ... you know, all the inequalities that Aboriginal people face in Australian society, try to eliminate them. That was my, you know, general direction I was going in. All of those things I was aiming at. It was a sort of a shotgun approach to Aboriginal Affairs, but that's all you could do, you know. You know, attack governments of whatever political colour, state or federal. Attack the RSL, welfare branches, missions, churches, unions.
You said 'of whatever political colour'. While you'd been an undergraduate, had you got involved at all in the party politics at the university?
Never. I never, ever got involved. I was going to join the Labor Party one time, but you know, see they take the rigid stance, the political parties, on Aboriginal Affairs, you know. And if you don't agree with them, they don't like you. I felt it best to be flexible to pick the best out of whatever political party is in power or not in power at the time and I've stayed that way all the time. I've stayed that way. Some people think I'm more inclined to the Liberal-Country Party, which I'm not. I was a member of the Labor Party at one time, many years ago in Canberra. But I found the same there again. There was too many people talking a lot of nonsense, and two of them were Members of Parliament. One became a Minister, and I won't mention her name. But I got bored to tears listening to the rubbish they were talking about and so I just resigned from that, and I've never been a member of any political party since. But I think both political parties have got something to offer in Aboriginal Affairs, but they still offer it mainly as a secondary consideration to their aims and objectives. Aboriginal Affairs always comes second or third in the priorities on their agenda. And that goes for Labor as well as the Liberal-Country Party.
When you went to university you had this very strong idea that you were going there because you had a cause, because you wanted to prepare yourself for that. While you were there though, you must have realised that with a degree there were a lot of other options open to you. Did you find any of those alternative options at all tempting?
No. I only went to university for one reason, and that was the Aboriginal Affairs, and the Aboriginal people. And what I could do. And that still remains the same today, thirty-five, thirty-four years later. Never changed. I had no inclination to go into politics, which I could have done very easily, and been successful at it, I'm sure. Nor did I have any inclination to go into business, which I could have done reasonably well at. Who knows? I only went in there for one objective and that's for Aboriginal Affairs and Aboriginal people. And I've stayed with that all the time.
Why do you think that that was so firm in your personality, in your mind?
Because of what I am, being an Aboriginal, and because of the injustices Aboriginal people - and my people, which is ... when I say Aboriginal people I'm talking about my family - are facing, you see. And you can't ignore your family. You can't just say well I'm going to go and look after myself, if my family's not being looked after, you know. I mean what's life all about? That's not what life's supposed to be about. If their doing all right, then you can sort of do all right yourself. But if you're doing all right and they're not doing all right, there's no reason to live, you know. There's no reason for you to go on like that, if you can't look after your own people. So I felt that's why I'd go to university and that's why ... that's my cause and that was the burning fire in my belly all the time. And it always has been.
How did you find the right context to work in when you first graduated?
Well I searched around for a bit, but already the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs was established, which was the first major organisation in Australia. And that was in Central Railway, in front of Central Railway in George Street, in an old funeral parlour, believe it or not, which Ted Noffs, myself and Candy Williams saw on the street and we decided to buy it. No money. Didn't have a penny in our pockets, but we thought we'll buy that, set that up as a Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, which will be a focal point for Aboriginal people from all over Sydney and New South Wales. You know, talk about dreamers. And then we said, 'Right, now let's go and get the money'. But Aboriginal Affairs has been my cause all my life, not only as a cause that I pick up because it's, you know, a cause as some causes are that people pick up and let go now and then. It was my cause all my life because of my people and that's the way I am and that's the way, you know, I just saw no other. And I wouldn't like that to happen to my kids, you know, so much, because I think now's the time to sort of think of other options, you know, and I wouldn't like them to tread the path that I've trodden, because I think it's a bit too difficult. But when we first started off the Foundation in Sydney, that was really the first institution of its kind that was going to cater for the needs of Aboriginal people. And I think that was a revolution in itself as well.
And you were in the group that set it up while you were still an undergraduate?
Yes. I was on the committee, and I was in the fund-raising. We had a big fund-raising drive around ... and I can't think of the Lord Mayors now that were part of all of that. I can think of Mr. Lawrence, who was the Deputy Commissioner of Police, who was part of the committee there, [and] Mrs Bates, Thelma Bates ...
Harry Jensen was the Lord Mayor; Ted Noffs of course and a number of other people, Mrs. Cox, all played a big role in that. Kenny Brindle, the Aboriginal leader that passed away some time ago; Candy Williams and so on. These are the people that were involved. Col Hardy, Jimmy Little. And we finished up getting the money to buy it. But it was hard, because there was a lot of racism, you know, in Australia against Aboriginal people at that time, and so it was hard to get any money together. Most of the time ... and then when we did get established, we had to go on the street and sell old clothes and buttons and collect other things: you know, foodstuffs which we'd sell again to get money to keep the thing going. Then we'd have to send letters out to companies and so on to give us some donations and we got five pounds from some of the big organisations like Woolworth's and so on, who could afford millions, and they gave us five pounds. Then we had to have a button day once a year, you know. I sort of participated in selling buttons on the street. I used to sell buttons on the street. When I became the manager after I graduated, I used to sell the buttons on the street to get my wages. And so it ... when you reflect on all of that, young people today, especially young Aboriginal people, they think all of this has always been here, you know. When we started there was only about ten ... ten ... yeah, at the most - Aboriginal organisations in Australia. Now, when I finished up, when I started in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, it was the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, there was about twelve or thirteen or fourteen. When I finished up being secretary, there was two thousand. So you know, it's sort of been a build up. But right at the very beginning in those early 1960s, there was nothing, nothing at all. And so selling buttons on the street was hard going to get your wages, but that's the way it was, you know. We didn't have any option. And when you sell a button to some white person who tells you to go and get stuffed, but using cruder words than that, [doesn't like] the blacks or the niggers, you really are hard pressed not to react. And they often used to say that to me, you know. And I'd say, 'That's all right, thank you very much'. Which I thought was a magnificent achievement on my part, not to lose my temper and hit them over the head with a tray full of buttons. [Laughs] Never did that.
So what was your job as manager?
Well, whatever I wanted to make it. Nobody knew what we should do. It was all new ground we were treading. Here was a Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs to help the Aboriginal people meet their needs and wants. What wants? What needs? Obvious ones of education, employment and housing and health and you know, all of that. And so I used to go and find employment for Aboriginal people around Sydney in the firms, and then I used to meet Aboriginal people coming in from the country, and I used to take them to the hospitals, and I'd take them to some other place or help them to go out to the prisons. Some people have forgotten all of this. And medical services. We used to take them to the hospital and then they had a medical service start and the legal service, you know. And ... but we used to run concerts there, and oh, they used to come in their hundreds from all over the place, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Concerts and dances. And they were legendary, you know. And a lot of the blacks around Sydney and around New South Wales and around Australia have all been to the concerts. And they've met each other, got married there, and had kids and you know. They've set them up for life in that sense, and they all remember that. And so it was brand new in everything we did. I mean, you know, we'd get in one day and somebody would turn up with a big truckload of old toys. So we'd sort them out, fix them up, and bundle them up and take them out to families that didn't have toys for the kids. Well that was new. Then we'd look after families where the father or the mother was in prison and feed them for ... you know, for a long time. Give them money for food and take foodstuffs to them, or clothing and then go and visit their sons or their daughters in prisons, which in the early 1960s was unheard of, you know. When we used to turn up at the prison, they couldn't believe it, you know. Somebody's come to see me in prison. And the same with the parents, the mothers and fathers, you know. They didn't have anything. Some of them very old. They were pretty well destitute. We used to look after them. We used to look after the sick people in the homes, who nobody was caring for - the old people. We didn't do as good a job as we could have, should have done, because we didn't have the money, or didn't have the personnel. But we employed welfare officers. We employed Joyce Mercy, as she was then called. She's now Joyce Clagg and her husband's a fairly important person in a state Department. Now she was one of our first ... Welfare officers we called them. Welfare for what? So she went out and saw people, you know.
So it was very, very basic, practical, grass roots stuff you were doing?
Yeah. And you know, and breaking new grounds and setting new rules and raising the vision and stimulating people and encouraging them, you know, and having a focus for Aboriginal people, you know. They were having a look to something, somebody.
Did you like this time? Did you ...
Yeah, they were exciting times, yeah. But hard. I mean, I used to go to meetings and they would cut my wages back to really nothing. I was on about $32 a week or something. And I used to buy my own ... you know when I'd travel outside of Sydney and all that, we used to have to sleep in the back of the station wagon because they wouldn't give me any money for a motel or anything like that. Me and another Aboriginal bloke, we used to sleep arm in arm in the back, you know. A bloke called Boomanulla Williams.
No travel rorts for you.
No, absolutely not. Didn't have a chance to have a rort of one sort or another. No chance to exploit anything. And wouldn't even give me money to buy meals so we lived on pies and pasties all the time. But that was all right, that was ... we felt that that was pretty normal. But some of them were a little bit tough on us, making it hard for us. You know, they kept cutting back. And I used to work seven days a week for them, you know, early in the morning 'til late at night and concerts on a Sunday and dances on a Friday. Mum Shirl used to be our bouncer down at the Foundation and down at the Botany Town Hall, Mascot Town Hall. Another place we used to have them at Alexandria there. She used to be the bouncer. She said, 'No, don't need any men. I'll do it'. She said, 'I'll handle them both'. And she did. And so we used to pay her to bounce. And she was very good.
Did you ... Were you engaged at that stage in political activity to try to change the official line on Aborigines? I mean, in other words, as well as taking care of people yourselves, were you trying to get backing at State or Federal level?
Yes, we did. We continually lobbied Federal and State politicians as best we could. We campaigned for the abolition of the Aboriginal Welfare Board in this State, and the managers that controlled them, we believed they were acting in a dictatorial way to the Aboriginal residents. All of those things we campaigned. Not myself so much, but the people on the committee, like poor old Bert Groves and these sorts of people ... were the ones that ... and Kenny Brindle. They're the ones that spoke out and ... you know, and had meetings about all those issues. And I continually spoke to Rotary Clubs, Legacy ... not Legacy, what's the other club, not Rotary Club?
Lions' Clubs and all the rest of them, all round the countryside and I was on numerous television programmes and radio programmes all the time. Not really being as articulate as I would want to be, but you know just saying things about Aboriginal rights and some of the principles that we thought were important, that people should think about. And you know, just starting to have affect in the community we think. And I remember the time when I was on that Freedom Ride, I came back from Walgett especially, they flew me back specially to get on the programme. Bill Peach's programme. It was the early days of that. And I never saw that in the ABC when they reviewed the history of the ABC and the television coverage you know. That was a significant moment in race relations. But I got on the ABC and had that strong discussion with them about what was happening in Walgett and so on. And that got massive coverage. And I think all of those things we sort of played our part in. And I think all those things were very helpful. But it was early days for everything and it was very nitty gritty, very grass roots. And very stimulating. But very difficult too. And all on untrodden ground. And dangers were everywhere.
It was local to New South Wales. Did you start thinking in a more national way? Did you start thinking about the ... whether or not maybe Canberra was the place during this time?
Well it started to spread from there. Right around Australia people started to pick it up in newspapers and on radio and on television what was happening in Sydney and what was being said by different people, especially with the Freedom Ride and the Nancy Prasad kidnap case there against the White Australia Policy. Those were just very significant events and people still remember them, you know. And it sort of changed the direction, I think, about race relations in this country, quite dramatically. But, you know, at the end of this time I think towards the end of the sixties I thought well, you know, the best place really to make a national contribution would be at the national level, and that means Canberra. How do I get to Canberra? Well, I met Harold Holt in the Waldorf Astoria in New York. I didn't know Harold Holt from a bar of soap, nor did I know Zara either. But you know, I was in New York at the time and I rang up and said I'd like to meet him, you know, to somebody. And they said well he's staying there and I said I'll go round and see him. They said, 'Well, who are you?' I said, 'I'm an Aboriginal leader, so-called'. I said, 'I want to see him, and he should speak to me', you know. Calling in great ignorance. And so I trotted off to the Waldorf Astoria, because I was staying down at some dive on the other side of New York, you know. But when I got to the Astoria I thought, oh gee, this is a big place, a nice place. And I rang up to see him and yeah, that's all right. Come up and see him, you know, such and such a time. Fine, so I went up to see him and we had a good yarn and I found him a really nice person. And Dame Zara come in and we had a cup tea. She made a cup of tea for us all and we all [were] chatting away, and I told them about this and that. And I said, 'Well, I'll write you something'. I think it was to him I did that. 'I'll write you something on Aboriginal Affairs, what I think should happen'. He said, 'You do that'. And so I took off and he went back to Australia or wherever. But soon after that he set up the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and I think I helped him a little bit in that direction. And I sent back my statement to him which got printed in the Quadrant, and Quadrant have got it ...
[end of tape]