|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.
So how did you feel when you heard that there was a kidney ready for you?
Well I was ... I was, you know, taken by surprise, of course, because I was working at that time in Adelaide and living in this Housing Commission home and was very unhappy with being on a kidney machine all the time. It was just so depressing because they were big machines and it took an hour to get on them, to set them up even, and an hour when you're finished. And I thought, yeah, are they joking or is this ... is this what usually happens when you go and have a transplant. You're just a phone call from a nurse in the hospital saying, 'Come up, we're going to give you a transplant', or what about some doctor dropping around and telling me or ... it all seemed so quick and, you know, not serious enough but, you know, certainly they were serious and yeah, that's the way doctors and nurses and sisters talk. They tell you the most serious things in the most ... in the plainest way and then I realised it was all for, you know ... for real. And got myself organised and went straight up there and within an hour or so I was on the mach ... on the operating table and the transplant took place and it was just ... it's an amazing thing really. And you know, I'm the world's longest living kidney transplant. There's no two ways about it. And I had a woman's kidney sewn in the right hand side in front of me, which most people tend to forget and well, I woke up from the operation, I sat up and I ... I ... I asked for a pen and paper and I must have written you know a lot of nonsense for about two or three hours. I ... I ... it just ... I just felt compelled to just write things down: policies about Aboriginal Affairs and administration, things about ... It just ... it was ludicrous, 'cause I must have been out of my brain. And ... but I could feel, I could physically feel and psychologically feel the toxic fluids draining out of my system and out of my brain with the new kidney ... started to function effectively pretty well straight away. I could feel it all and I was just as though, you know, I was coming alive. And I always remember that feeling. It was just the most wonderful feeling and that's why I got a pen and paper and started to write fairly indiscriminately about all sorts of subjects and threw the lot in the bloody waste bin but ... but it was just the feeling I had at that time.
With this new energy, this sense of new life, what did you do next with your work? What was the next step for you?
Well, I carried on and then ... working and Barry Dexter asked me to come back to Canberra, away from Adelaide and they treated me very well I must say. The Office of Aboriginal Affairs treated me very well indeed and looked after me when, you know, in most circumstances I ... I would be just put out on the street in terms of employment. So, you know, I'm very grateful for that. But, you know, even though you're grateful for all that you still got to say things to people. And so I went back to Canberra and became involved more intensely in the bureaucracy and then later on, of course, other things happened.
What did the change of government to the Whitlam Government mean for you in Aboriginal Affairs?
Well, you know, Gough was a ... Whitlam was a breath of fresh air, not only in Aboriginal Affairs but for the whole of Australia. And you know, what he did was to establish the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, you know, as per the referendum which enabled him to do that in 1967, and so that in 1972 there was the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and he ... and it was just more responsibility by the Commonwealth in terms of the needs of Aboriginal people throughout Australia - taking it away from the States, which is a very good thing but it opened a Pandora's Box. You know, everything started to happen then. The new responsibilities and new relations with ... with the States, new ... a new and exciting and energetic and a[new] relationship with Aboriginal people so that really sort of released the lid on all that suppressed energy. And so Gough was responsible for all that and he was very good.
There was a great deal of hope. What happened?
Well I think it always is the case in Aboriginal Affairs that, you know, you can have a Department of Aboriginal Affairs but the Aboriginal people have to be really willing and able to be part of it. And you can't race ahead of the wishes and the needs and the vision and the expectations and the abilities of Aboriginal people and so, you know, we had to energise the Aboriginal people first of all to be able to accept all these opportunities that were obviously there but the ... the policy of Aboriginal Affairs has always been made by government in isolation really to Aboriginal people. And we as administrators and bureaucrats had to administer that policy and that is always the case. That was always the case even when I became the secretary for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. You know a lot of Aboriginal people think I was always there, everything is going to change, but we only administer what policy is laid down by white people and government, whether local government or state governments. And that's the major flaw in Aboriginal Affairs in this country.
Did you find that you could have more influence on policy within the Department by talking to your superiors, or by making public statements which you weren't supposed to do that got reported in the press?
Both. I felt that, you know, there is a conflict in me as a public servant speaking out but I said, 'Well bugger that, I'll get arrested and that', and that's why I got in a lot of trouble and I ... I really created the path for most public servants to speak out, I ... I think anyhow. I was the only one speaking out as a public servant. Nobody else was. And everybody thought it was horror, you know. This is ... this is unbelievable that a public servant could speak out at that time but I was obliged to. And I was counselled and written to and reprimanded on many occasions but Barry Dexter I think understood that, that I had to speak out because I was an Aboriginal, even though I was a bureaucrat. And ... but it was very difficult for me because you ... you're caught between two trees really. You sort of, you know, you like to have a job, you like to have the security and you like to be good in your job and do the things you want to do and focus in on it, but with an Aboriginal, certainly with myself, and I can only speak for myself, I had to do all of that. But then I had to speak out as well which caused complications in your job. So it was really hard and I don't think a lot of people realise how difficult it was, particularly for me, at that time, because I was speaking out all the time because I felt there was a need to. You just couldn't sit back and watch people dying all around you or suffering all around you, while you had a job as a bureaucrat, you know, in Canberra where you had a nice house, you know, bitumen roads, clean water coming through the taps and other people had nothing of that and they were your own people. So you had to speak out and that, that was my problem. It's been my problem all my life. You know, I could just sit back and enjoy things and I could have made a success of bureaucracy. I could have been whatever. I was offered positions at a very high level in, in the bureaucracy and then secondly, in diplomatic posts and much more than that I might add. Not only by bureaucrats, senior bureaucrats, senior bureaucracy but by ... not only by politicians but by Prime Ministers and I ... I know I chose the path that I'm on now.
Who did you come most in conflict with? What was your first really really big conflict? Who was your first really major political enemy?
Oh, I think my major running conflict was with Barry Dexter and Dr. Coombs but that ... they were very good people, you know, and they had to do their job and they were trying to do the best they could as well, as I was, but I had more responsibility than them because I was an Aboriginal person and Aboriginal people expected more of me and it was necessary I said that ... those things I did at that time. To show leadership and sort of say things and ruffle people up, stir them up you know and that's what I wanted to do: to stir people up, just all ... Aborigines as well, say, 'Hey listen, this is not right. What are we going to do about it and what are you going to do about it? And what are we going to do about it?' And you know, that ... those things need to be said at that time because if you wait another ten years a lot of people die unnecessarily, people suffer unnecessarily and you know, you shouldn't allow that to happen. If you can make a contribution to stop that happening to ... to greater or less degree then do it. But you know, I got into trouble with oh, lots of them - every ... every Minister of Aboriginal Affairs I got in trouble with and I've been with sixteen of them.
There was one who actually really, though, you had major conflict with and that was Cavanagh.
Oh, Senator Cavanagh, well, he just ... he, you know, wasn't particularly bright, as most politicians aren't, you know, especially when they've been union people ... union, you know, officials or secretaries in the Liberal parties and they promote them into Parliament of all places, you know. To get them out of the road perhaps. And that ... with say Cavanagh, he came through the union ranks, he was a plasterer, he used to plaster the walls of buildings and all sorts. Well you know you don't get much sensitivity about personal and international and national relationships plastering walls. And so we ... we came into conflict because I don't have a great appreciation of the unions. I don't think much of the union movement. I think they are very reactionary and conservative, protecting only their own and even then they don't do a good job of that and he was in that ... in that area and then he didn't have a great imagination. He didn't have a great intellect and he didn't know what it was all about, you know. And when I spoke out he was only wanting to protect the Government, which was his responsibility and he wrote to Bernice to ring up Barry Dexter constantly, 'Why don't you shut Perkins up? You know and why don't you write him a letter? Why don't you dismiss him? Why don't you send him somewhere else?' And poor Barry Dexter had all this pressure on him from Cavanagh, as he did with other Ministers and other bureaucrats, to sort of get rid of me or shut me up or discipline me. And Barry did that now and then, you know, as much as he could but he was always apologising for it you know, 'Sorry mate, I got to do this, you know. This is my job and, you know, you've really gone overboard this time'. And I said, 'Well that's that stupid Minister, or that stupid political party, but with Cavanagh we never got ... we never hit it off because we were just living in different worlds. I don't know what world he was living in but I was in Australia and, you know, I had my responsibility to my people and to my country and he had his to his union ... to his political party, I suppose.
But poor old Barry Dexter says that you used to sometimes come in and promise him that you would hold your tongue a bit more and then the next thing he'd see you on the box having a go.
I know, I ... I, you know ... I'd made a commitment to him and I promised him on a number of occasions, 'No, I'm not going to say any more, shut my mouth'. But that was not possible. It was just not possible. And I knew I was doing the wrong thing by Barry but I knew I was doing the right thing by my own people. And it was not only for my own people, it was for Australia, you know, and you know lot of people think you know what you're doing is for Aboriginal Affairs but it's for all of us and, and Barry, I think he understood that and I reckon he was very pleased with me doing that because he felt the same way. He was a very kind hearted person and he's a person who ... who believed in the rights of people and he believed in human rights and he believed that, you know, Aboriginal people were having their human rights infringed upon but he couldn't do it but I could you see. So I had to be ... in most of my life in the public service, in terms of speaking out and getting involved with governments and being in conflict, I had to be the bad guy. Well, that's ... that's the role I had to play. [INTERRUPTION - PLANE]
During that period of the early [and] mid seventies, there was a tremendously strong protest movement happening generally and the Aboriginal people were part of that and you were very much leader in that. Where did that lead you with this voicing of the protest at that time? What happened to bring you finally into complete conflict with the Government?
Well, it was a gradual build up. You know, with people like Cavanagh and ... and you know other people in the ... Bill Hayden and all them, you know, in the Labor Government. They all were on the outside for Aboriginal people but they didn't want anybody speaking out and disturbing the Government's progress, they were thinking about the next election you know and you can't blame them for that. So, you know, I was very unpopular in the Cabinet. And ...
There was an incident too, wasn't there, where an Aboriginal person came and held people at gunpoint. Could you describe that incident?
That's right. Yes and of course there was a time I was banned for a whole year without salary.
We'll get to that but that happened after the incident, didn't it?
I'm not sure. Well, we were all demonstrating you see in front of Parliament House and I was a public servant, and I was leading it. I must have led dozens of demonstrations when I was a public servant, even when I was the secretary of the Department I led them. And that sort of causes, you know, various governments heart attacks and, you know, uneasy ... uneasiness. But we were all there demonstrating about Aboriginal rights and so on, which some people tend to forget. And then all of a sudden the police come up and said, 'We want to have a word with you'. I thought they were going to arrest me, you see. They said, 'No, we want a word with you. We've got a problem back at the Woden Valley offices of AT - not of ATSIC, but the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. We'd like you to come back there'. And I said, 'Well, what for?' They wouldn't tell me so I jumped in the car with them and off we went. So I told everybody to carry on you know, I'll be back soon. So we went pulled in to the Woden town, in Woden Square there, and one of the officers in the Square ... it was occupied by certain Department of Aboriginal Affairs officials and so the police took me there and I realised that it was pretty serious. There were police all over the place and everybody was pushed out of the buildings and I thought, well there's something serious must be going on here. Well, it was, and ah, Frank Moore, Moore, and Jerry Long, through the senior officers were being held up by this particular person, who had a gun. Bobby Macleod. And so, you know, I didn't know that until they took me to the bottom of the stairs there and said, 'Look, this is the situation', and they explained it all to me. Apparently Bobby went there looking for Barry Dexter and he didn't find Barry but he found the other two, and so he ... we ... I went up the stairs and then I saw all the heavily armed police. They had all the stuff on them, in the front of them, you know, this padded clothing and so on, and repeater shotguns. And I thought, this is a really heavy scene. And, you know, the best ... the most I've ever seen was a 303 and a 22 rifle but these blokes had the latest weaponry and they were very serious and they're going ... they were standing outside the door and they were going to go in. And there were a few people in there and anything could have happened. There were some ... I reckon about two or three would have been killed, you know, before everybody realises who was who and ... but there was only ... so they ... I went up the stairs and they said, 'Who are you?' and I explained who I was and I said, 'There's a mate of mine in there, Bobby Macleod'. I realised it was him because he was calling out for me. He wanted only me to come in, you see. Nobody else. Bobby and I have been good friends all the time. I know his family well. And he's really concerned about Aboriginal Affairs and always has been, you know, but he takes it very deeply as he did on this occasion with a couple of the other Aboriginal people who were with him. And so I went and stood outside the door and I ... I ... The copper said, 'Well, we're going to go in'. I said, 'Well you just can't go in. If you go in now', I said, 'Somebody is going to get hurt. You know anybody could get hurt and you might kill somebody'. They said, 'Well, we're not waiting any longer. We'll give you two minutes, three minutes', something like that was said, but it was a limited amount of time anyhow, and I thought well, you know what can I do in that amount of time and so I had to knock on the door because they were going to shoot if anybody came in as well. So they said. And once ... if a bullet comes one way, surely they're going to start shooting the other way and so I yelled out to him and I said, 'Well look it's me, and I want to come in and have a yarn with ya', and he was really wild. He was very angry and very upset and he could have gone either way. And so he said, 'Come in'. And I was pretty nervous. I mean I'd just never been in that situation before. I don't mind getting in front of a crowd and pushing and shoving and yelling but when guns are involved well, then, you know, that's another matter. I'm not into that sort of thing. And so they opened the door and pushed me in and locked it again - closed it again. And there I was. The scene was: he had the gun to this bloke's head and into his mouth and so on, and he was very angry. And he said, 'If they come through the door, this fellow's gone'. And that's what would have happened. So we started talking and I don't know whether to put this down on this tape because it's a bit ... Nobody knows this so you'd better stop the tape for a bit, eh?
Why don't you tell us and we'll just make a note that it's not to be used.
(Laughs) It could cause problems. How can you guarantee me that.
All right, we'll stop the tape then.
So we got in there and he had the gun and he would have blown his head off because they were getting a bit excited and if he wouldn't, another bloke, an Aboriginal would have shot somebody. He wanted to grab the gun and they wrestled over the gun and I said, 'Look, you can't ...', you know a few words - swear words here and there, so we argued amongst ourselves. 'Don't do this sort of thing. It's just not going to do any good for anybody. You've just got to do it properly and, you know, just let's argue the point but once you start shooting somebody', I said, 'Things get a bit out of order then and ... and other things can happen as a consequence'. But they were both ... two of them very angry indeed. They were right on the balance. And the stupid part about it was that the bloke who was involved, who could have got shot, was wanting to argue with them. And I said, 'Shut your fucking mouth. Don't argue with people who're going to shoot ya! Just shut your mouth'. And he wouldn't shut his mouth up. He wanted to tell them off for being there with a gun. For Christ sake would you believe? Every ... most people in the world would have been on their hands and knees and promising anything and been nice and friendly but no, not him, he wanted to sort of argue the point. And so ... you know, I ... I just couldn't believe it. Anyhow they calmed down and people ... the coppers were yelling out through the door, 'How long ... how much longer? How much longer?' so it was all getting a little bit tense and we weren't seeming to be getting anywhere in terms of disarming him and so on. And they wanted to come through. They said, 'We're going to give you another such and such a time', and I said, 'Wait, wait, wait a bit'. Because if they'd have come through, well, I could have got shot as well. And you know, I didn't think that was a good idea at all. And, you know, they wanted to come in the room and if they started blasting, well, anybody gets hurt then. And so we decided then, what's going to be our strategy. So the best ... we thought well, the best thing to do is to take the bullets out of the gun and then we could make it look though it was only, not so much a joke, but it was not as serious as people thought it was. It was an empty gun anyhow and they were just trying to sort of upset everybody. Bob's real objective was to make the point. That's what he wanted to do but it could have got out of hand. It could have. It could have tipped, you know, easy. It got to that point. It got to a point where he was really going to perhaps carry through with it. But really what he wanted to do was to tell everybody to wake up, how bad things were in Aboriginal Affairs. That's what he wanted to do. Because nobody was listening. That's why we were having the demonstration. Cutting the funds and not doing what they're supposed to do in Aboriginal Affairs and he felt obliged to tell everybody, 'Hey listen, it's serious, we want you to listen'. That was his whole objective originally but it just escalated. So we decided, well, we've got to get rid of the bullets. How are we going to do that? So we tried to shove them in the ceiling. It wouldn't work. They kept falling out. So we put them under the carpet or something like that or on the desk. No place in the desk. They'd search that. So I said, 'Give them to me', so I put them all in my shoes. So I walked out with a shoe full of bullets. [Laughs] And I said, 'They won't search that. That's the last thing they'll search'. If they had of found the bullets in the guns then there would have been a real problem. And even the bureaucrats, Jerry Long and ... they knew that. And so we said, we sort of ... Then I went to the door and I said, 'Look it's all done now. Nothing is going to happen. I got the gun. I got it in my hand here now. Everybody has calmed down. You can come in'. So everybody sat down and the police come in and, boy, they looked very serious when they come in. You know, they scared the daylights out of me. Just imagine if they were really going to do something. So I handed over the gun. I said, 'Here's the gun, no problems. Everybody is happy. Nobody is going to do anything'. But ... Jerry Long was not to press charges, you know. He was ... and the others weren't supposed to take any other action. The Aborigines weren't going to shoot anybody so everybody come to an arrangement. So they took Bobby off. They arrested him and the other Aboriginal fellow. I'll think if his name in a minute. He was a very ... He was a very serious man. He didn't mess around. Bobby was one thing but this bloke, he was ... he knew what guns were about. And he ... he was the one who was going to do it all. I can't think of his name.
Anyhow they let him off, and I took off home then and Eileen and them were home and they said, 'Oh did you hear about the big ... there's a big hold up and everything'. I said, 'Yeah, I just came from it', and I told her what it was all about. I said, 'Now listen, I've got a shoe full of bullets here. I've got to get rid of them'. So I said, 'What am I going to do with them?' So we had a look at them - all these little shells. I forget what calibre it was, you know, in the revolver. I think there was about six of them, four or six of them. So I got them a nice ... I put a couple down the sink down the back, and I buried a few in the garden down the back and tossed a couple indiscriminately over the fence I think. So I got rid of them all anyhow. And that was that. No bullets. No nothing. A bit different walking out of the room with a shoe full of bullets, you know, really cutting into your leg, into your foot. So that was the end of that and I think after that time Barry Dexter said to me, 'Come back in[to] the office and we'll, you know, start working properly and we'll see to some of these things'. They finished the demonstration off down the ... down the Parliament House and a lot of them came around to my place and we had a little talk, you know.
That wasn't the only time that you were called on to intervene to calm down things when they got heavy. That was ... that was of course the worst time but you developed quite a reputation for easing things when there was conflict on. Where does that come from, that ability to make peace?
Well, you know, you talk to people you know. I'm always ... I'm always one for mixing with people you know: Aboriginal people, white people at the grass roots level. You know, because that's where I come from, that's where I belong and I used to, for example when the Commonwealth Games were on in Brisbane, there was a bus load going up there with guns. They were all going to go up and shoot up the place and not many people know about that. There's a lot of things they don't know, [that] not only myself but other people stopped happening of a violent nature, because you wanted to, sort of, have arguments and push and shove but for nobody to get killed in the process you know. Nobody wanted that. I didn't want it and nobody else wanted it. But this bus load of people were going to go up there and just really take guns and shoot up the place at the Commonwealth Games, you know. And that stupid Bjelke Joe Peterson and all his racist Cabinet were sort of carrying on. What if we just let them go? But we stopped the bus going. We told them all they can't do that and we didn't want them on the demonstration. And we had the demonstration there, about 10,000 of us marched, white people with Aborigines, and we blocked off the streets. And you know there ... there's lots of occasions like that and there's like street marches when there was lots of people involved. It could have turned really violent. All I had to do something and it would have gone right off, I can tell you that. On a number of occasions it could have happened. We could have stormed Parliament House on a dozen or so occasions, smashed every window in the place. Some people wanted to do that: smash all the windows and throw Molotov cocktails inside. You know, this is the trouble with this country. They don't fucking well appreciate how close we've been to all of those things. They are just ... they are very lucky people.
So there were always Aboriginal leaders who prevented it?
Absolutely. Not necessarily me, other people did the same in other places. And we played our role and just, let's stick ... let's work it out as Australians, you know. Let's just try and be what everybody likes to call democracy. Let's be democratic about these things. Let's not have any great violence. Let ... let's ... If we're going to have a revolution, let's not have it to the point it gets to that level.
What led you to be suspended for a year without pay and sent off to Alice Springs?
Yeah, I was suspended a lot of times but and, you know, I always accepted that that's part and parcel of what I do, but on this occasion it hurt a bit because I was ... I had three children and all I did was call the Western Australian Government at that time racist and rednecked, which the week before, Senator Cavanagh called them in Parliament. And I just said, 'I reckon they are a bunch of racist, rednecks over there'. I said that on television, national television. Well, he just flipped and he demanded again ... and he pressured Barry. He pressured Barry Dexter and Barry Dexter had to do something so he called me in and he said, 'Look, mate, I got to suspend you. You just got to leave. You got to get out of here'. He said, 'You just can't carry on like ... you're not listening to what I'm telling you'. I said, 'I can't Barry'. I said, 'I can't'. I said, 'I know you're a good bloke and you got good intentions but I've got my obligations too. So do whatever you like'. So he said, 'Look, what if you go away for a bit. Go away somewhere else and let things simmer down, calm down'. I said, 'What? Because of stupid Cavanagh? What does he know about Aboriginal Affairs? The dope said the same thing in Parliament himself'. And he said, 'No, no. It just got beyond it. That is not the only occasion. On occasions before you've said things. It's all built up to this now. Well you've got to go'. I said, 'Well, what do you want me to do?' He said, 'Just go away for a couple of months, six months, a year'. I said, 'Where do I go, Barry?' I said, 'Will you pay me?' He said, 'No, I can't pay you'. I said, 'I got three children'. He said, 'That's the way it is'. So I said, 'All right, I'll go back to Alice Springs where I come from', so I just ... He suspended me for a year without pay and I got in my car and drove to Alice Springs with my three children, where I cleaned toilets, mowed lawns, picked up rubbish, got you know a few bob here and there, made a few bob. But on that occasion when we started ... We started the Land Rights movement in Alice Springs. I think it was meant to be.
How did you do that?
Well, we just called everybody into Alice Springs and we're going to have a march down the streets of Alice Springs. And nobody has ever done that. Nobody marched down the streets of Alice Springs, especially black fellows. You know, nobody does that. And you know, when everybody heard there was going to be a march, well they said, 'Oh the coons are going to march. All the niggers are going to march'. And you know, they didn't want that at all so he ... we called them all in from all over the place. We finished up, it was there, the feeling was there. People walked in from many miles out, come in broken down old trucks and cars from settlements and reserves - come into Alice Springs ... and for the day before ... and we said, 'We're going to have the big march', but we didn't know what the bloody hell we were doing. It was early days. It's new things you see. Didn't know how to handle it. We said, 'Oh, what are we going to do?' So everybody said, 'Oh, let's ...', and I said, 'Well as far as I'm concerned, why don't we march down the street, down Todd Street'. Well Todd Street is the main street and then what will we do. They said, 'Oh, we'll just have a barbecue or something and we'll have a bit of a ... and everybody can make speeches'. And literally the people, who were marching, were in rags. They had nothing: hadn't had a feed before they came - nothing to feed them with, no money to give them, no petrol money, nothing. And it finished up, 1000 or more people, mostly Aborigines marched. We got up the end of Todd Street. To picture 1970s, early 1970s, to see a march down Todd Street is an amazing thing. It's like in Alabama, you know, with Martin Luther King's mob marching through some of those streets - the same. And we sort of ... we're sort of stunned by what we we're going to do and we thought, oh well, away we go. And so, they said, 'Well we're going to march'. I said ... well ... we [were told to] get on the footpath, the police saying, 'You've got to get on the footpath', and we said, 'No, no we're not going to go on the footpath. We're going down the main ... straight down the bitumen', so we ... we all lined up right along then, and down the bitumen we went. It was an amazing scene. The scene was amazing for a number of reasons. One was the look on the faces of the marchers. That was the best! They realised then that they were making their effort in terms of their own problems and I think that's the greatest benefit and it always is the best benefit in Aboriginal Affairs. They were realising we were making this: it's us, for us, you know. Not white people do something for us - missionaries or government. We're doing this and we're saying what we think, like artists who produce paintings as a means of their protest or their expression of what they think is important in their life or in somebody else's. As it is with marches. They were expressing themselves, you know, and their needs, and their sort of disappointments and their frustrations and their lifestyles in the march. And I could see it in the faces around me. I was watching and it was just so ... that's what inspired me. Then the other was the town's people, the white town's people. They just couldn't believe it, that this was happening in Alice Springs. How dare we? Oh there's white people saying, 'Good luck'. 'Good on ya'. 'Get into it!' but they were just confused by it all. And then the other was the white ... the Aboriginal people on the side, who didn't want to be Aborigines. The instant coffee types, you know, who became an Aborigine over night, some of those type. They were all on the sidelines saying, yelling out to us, telling us why are we marching for, making us ashamed. 'Go away!' and yelling out real rude comments to us ... [these people] who now are very very strong in the Aboriginal movement and receiving the benefits of what other people did. Good luck to them I suppose. And I know who they are because I watched them and I remember their faces. I remember where they stood as well. And you know, didn't want to know anything about Aboriginal Affairs, nothing about Aboriginal culture. They were married to white people in some cases or they wanted to be somebody else. They were living an imitation of life. And so we marched down the street and it was just tremendous and that was really something. And after that the Land Rights Act became a reality with Gough Whitlam in 1976 and, you know, and I think that sort of thing started it all off. Then they got the Central Land Council established and all the land councils and all the land councils around Australia. But that group of raggally scraggly, desperate, frustrated looking people I think was the beginning of it all.
[end of tape]