|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.
In that year you were in Alice Springs, 1975, were there any other big demonstrations that you were involved in there?
Yes there was one concerning Joh Bjelke-Petersen, then Premier of Queensland. And he was coming up there to rally a lot of his supporters, you know, who believe in what he believed in, you know, which was as we all know was very racist ideology and practice as well. Not only towards Aboriginal people. So he was coming up there to set them on fire and and get his particular brand of politics rolling. And so we said, 'Right we're going to demonstrate against him', so we all got organised in the town together and we were ... we were going to stop him coming into town. We felt we couldn't do it at the airport so we'd block him just down between the airport and Alice Springs township, just before the Evertree Gap. A row of trees were there on one side of the road, trees on the other, so he had to go down the road, so we lined up across there, several lines of people because ... but it was pretty dangerous because some of the people, some of the rednecks up in Alice are really dangerous characters. They'd do just anything and Bjelke, you know, he's just got the same attitude as well. So we were worried about the cars ramming into us but we managed to stop them and slow them down and Everingham, I think was the Chief Minister at that time, Paul Everingham and he was ... he was pretty bad on Aboriginal Affairs. But he's been like every Country Party or Coalition Premier or Chief Minister in the Northern Territory. [They] have all been pretty racist in their attitudes towards Aboriginal practices and they always played the race card at election so Bjelke coming up was just like meeting a brother, a political brother. And so we said, 'Right, we're going to block 'em'. So we all stood there and stood our ground and the cars all stopped, the whole convoy of cars, and he couldn't get through. And we walked up to the car and I walked up to the car and I called him all sorts of names, which are unmentionable and then I spat on him, you know, spat on the screen, so did everybody spat all over the screen, spat on his side. Well, he was utterly disgusted and so were all the passengers in the car. So he backed off and he tried to come through onto the highway around us through the trees. There was only opening. It was enough for a car and he sped for that opening. Well, I foolishly jumped in front of that - myself and a couple of others - and he just kept going and he would have literally run us over but we jumped up and I jumped up in the end. The others took off the other way. They dived out of the road and I couldn't, so I had to jump up in the air to avoid the car hitting me and as I jumped up I punched the bonnet of the car. (Laughs) It happened to belong one of the ... belonged to one of the blokes in town, his car, you know, his nice beautiful car that he had polished up and made it nice and clean for Joe Bjelke. It was covered in spit and rubbish and horse manure and sand and everything. It was just a disaster. And then on top of that, I smashed a dent right in the bonnet as I was coming down. I hit ... I punched a dent and then got rolled over on the side and tossed over and they sped on then but I made my mark on the car, that is. I said ... My fingers on my fist were very sore for a couple of weeks and they got through. And when they got into town ... We never let it rest there. He went to visit one of the high schools to make a big speech. It was in Hartley Street, the old school that I went to, the primary school. So we blocked off that as well until he had to go through one entrance and one entrance only, a little gate, and I was right on that gate myself and a lot of other Aboriginal people, people like Owen Coles and Tracker Tilmouth and quite a few other people. So when he came up, he was coming through and all these big burly guards were coming before him and we told them to piss off. We said, 'Your nothing here bud. You're ... In Queensland you can bash all the blacks, [but] you're outnumbered here and we'll bash you, never mind you bash us. This is not your territory. You don't belong here'. And they, the guards, they knew that, these big burly ... so we pushed them, physically pushed them around and Bjelke ... Bjelke come along then and he was arguing, telling us off, you know, so I spat in his face. And he didn't like that very much. And nobody would, I suppose, but I felt ... I was so angry with the man: his racism, you know, over the years, you know; his policies and his practices just caused people to die unnecessarily and all the rest of it. And all ... it culminated in saying, well, I'm going to spit on him, so I spat on him and of course all hell broke loose then again and he took off inside with his body guards. And the next occasion I was there - that night, late at night - he was having dinner at one of the big meat houses there, a barbecue place, so we surrounded the place, all in the front of it actually, on the street. We blocked off the street, sat on the street and we sung him and we sung him for illness, for unhappiness, and for frustration and everything. We wanted him to have an unhappy life and we sung him that way. All the tribal elders were there and we were singing, the didgeridoos were going, the sticks, the clap sticks and the boomerangs and we sung him on the footpath and inside he said, 'Oh, I take no notice of that', you know, but we did that anyhow. And so we made his ... his stay in Alice Springs the most uncomfortable and he left a day early. He was supposed to stay another couple of days, [but] he took off and we were very pleased.
What do you think was the value of that kind of demonstration, Charlie?
Well, to show that he wasn't a god, you know. He was just a stupid, silly old politician, a silly old man out of his date, out of time and, you know, like a time warp in Queensland - like Queensland usually is anyhow, with most things. And he was, you know, epitomised all of that and that, you know, his practices towards Aboriginal people in the State were really very bad. We wanted him to know that that's not acceptable; that, you know, the world is not like that and there's a lot of people that disagree with him and who can demonstrate against him without getting bashed by the police. Because every time our people demonstrated in Queensland they all got bashed by the coppers, or charged later on for offences they never committed, you know, imprisoned and all sorts for years. And they talk about South Africa and he did that. His police were well known for that: putting people in prison for years for no offences committed, trumped up charges whether it be drugs or sex offenders, or breaking and entering, and all that. Innocent people. And there were enough blacks in goals anyhow. So we wanted to show him that we disliked him for what he's done. One as a politician and secondly as a person. As far as we were concerned he is no god and whatever he says is not the truth at all. In fact, most of it is, you know, not the truth.
At a private level you are in a situation where you had no salary to support your kids on and you were working at labouring jobs to get money. You also during that year discovered, you and Eileen, some entrepreneurial flare, didn't you? You started understanding how to go about dealing in property. Could you tell me about that?
Well, we had ... we were forced into it, you know. We had no resources really but we said, 'We'll buy some old places, do 'em up', because everybody else seemed to be doing it around Australia, why not us try it. So it wasn't any great new ... new way of doing things. It was rather old fashioned and standard practice for lots of people and we thought we'd do that as well. So we got ... got an old place, bought it at a reasonable price and got a deposit you know, got the deposit together. We had some money stashed away from previous savings. And we did it up and sold it, you know, and that was the beginning and from then we moved on. We ... we've been doing that all our life then - all our lives I should say.
And that stood you in good stead as you've gone along?
Yeah, that's where most of our money has come from, is buying old houses, doing them up and then selling 'em and then buying another one and perhaps buying one or two, you know. We weren't really in the big time but we were ... enough to make us enough money but it was terribly inconvenient. It sounds good but it's bloody hard work, rather delicately balanced in time, in terms of do you make a profit or don't you make a profit. And then, really it was hard living in these conditions. I mean I've slept with paint tins for the last thirty years either [at the] bottom of the bed, underneath the bed, in the shelves or all around us. Plus torn down walls and ripped up floor boards. I mean it's not pleasant. You sometimes wonder if it's worth it.
Now, in 1975, of course the big event was the change of government and the new Prime Minister when you returned after your year of suspension, of punishment, to Canberra, there was a new Prime Minister in Malcolm Fraser. How did you find that period, that long period, of the Fraser Government?
Well let me just say first of all, I came back to Canberra at the ... at the ... on the wishes of Barry Dexter on the basis that I would help you know in the formulation of the 1976 Land Rights Act, for the Northern Territory and I thought, well, I'll come back for that you know. I wanted to come back anyhow but that was a good incentive for me to come back and Barry proposed that to me and I thought I'd like to be involved in that. But when Fraser got elected, well I didn't know how to take him, because I always ring up politicians, Prime Ministers and the lot, you know. I always ring them all up. And if feel that, you know, I'm obliged to as an Australian that I ... I should have access to anybody, you know, any Australian. Ring up anybody providing you're not a loony tune. Just ring up anybody and have a yarn with them, you know. They're not beyond us all. Nobody is. Everybody rings me up, talks to me about everything, and then I like that. I think it's good. So I used to ring Prime Ministers up and not always successfully, and Ministers and other people. And I got to know Fraser. I don't know how it was that we got to know each other, but then I found him really good. I though oh, what a, you know ... what a dour, sullen person he looks, but then I found out on Aboriginal Affairs he was absolutely A-1. He was tops. He was the best of them all on Aboriginal Affairs. And Gough is good but you know the problem with Gough, he ... sometimes he thinks he started everything and, you know, it didn't ... he didn't. Fraser was very good on Aboriginal Affairs and he produced the goods. Something came out of all the discussion and rhetoric, and I was able to relate to him really well. But you know he lost his patience with me as well, you know, because I spoke out often when he asked me not to. But I ... I got to know him and I used to go up and have a cup of tea with him, and you know, in the Prime Minister's office and talk about Aboriginal Affairs and he used to call his Ministers in if there's a problem. He used to just ring 'em up, 'Hey get down here, I want to talk to you'. And he'd roll 'em up and I was able to talk to the Ministers and settle the problem and away they'd go. And he'd say, 'Anybody else?' I'd say, 'No, that's about it!' So he'd say, 'Let's get on with our cup of tea then'. It was that ... It was that sort of a relationship which is a bit unusual and, you know, why should he take any notice of me is another matter. He didn't have to. And ... and you know, why I was able to relate to him is a bit unusual too because he's not ... he's not from that background of mixing with, you know, grass roots people, and certainly not Aboriginal people but he was very good.
What did you have in common with him do you think?
I think we had in common a desire to do sort of good for other people and to protect these human rights and particularly, you know, indigenous groups but anybody. You know, he's good on the human rights question. On the economics and you know anything else that ... that you name, that a Prime Minister must consider, well, I don't argue about that. That's not my area but people hated him in certain areas with ... beyond belief. But on Aboriginal Affairs I don't think anybody could fault him, he was very good. And I always said to all the blacks, I said, 'You got to support this bloke because he's good. He wants to do something, you know. Back him'. And you know, I used to say that all the time and they used to, you know ... not everybody used to be happy with me saying that because a lot of them were Labor supporters. You know most Aboriginal people are Labor supporters and the unions were behind that as well and they hated me for saying that. And ... but I just said, 'No, you can get stuffed, you know, that's what I believe the man is'.
Did you have similar respect for all the Ministers he appointed to the portfolio?
No, some of them were real dodos. Oh, [a] real dope - that Wilson from South Australia. I forget his name ...
Ian Wilson, he was a real dope. He'd ... he'd ... he was a ... he got ... had all the academic qualifications but he didn't have any brains. I don't know how he could ... how I could say that but he just didn't seem to have any common sense about what he was doing. Same with this Minister, Heron. They're both the same. You know, very smart men in their own ways but do ... but it's nothing to do with human beings, you know.
You had some good Ministers too, didn't you?
Yeah there were some good ministers there. Ian Viner was very good, very good. And be ... Chaney was really excellent. So those two were beaut. They were good. Ian Viner was a bit more conservative but he ... when he saw what the extent of the depth of the problem was, he ... he really wanted to do sort of ... and he was very good with Fraser. And same with Viner, Ian ... not Viner, (interviewer says 'Chaney') Chaney, Fred Chaney. Chaney was excellent. And ah ...
So what was achieved under the good Ministers?
Well, I think like all was achieved in ... All that was achieved under them is what was achieved under good Ministers in the Labor Government. You know it's a sort of progressional thing, an evolutionary thing, you know. It doesn't happen overnight because you're dealing with policies of governments that are a little bit behind the times and don't really hit the spots and don't spend enough money, you know. It's all ... A lot of it's band-aid stuff. Instead of getting to the cause of the problem they deal with symptoms. So most governments have been like that whatever political party is in power. But with Chaney and Viner, they really, you know, tried to do something but they never got the support all the time with the Cabinet so they couldn't do all that they wanted to do. So they'd come back and compromised and apologised in some cases for lack of expenditure, or a policy change. But they ... But despite that Aboriginal Affairs went ahead because of their efforts, you know.
What did you think were the fundamental causes of the problems that they could have dealt with and didn't always?
Well I think the problem in Aboriginal Affairs is governments have only got one responsibility. They don't have to try and be black, which some of them try to be. Don't try and be an Aborigine, which some white people try to be, just be yourself and do what you can to help an Aboriginal person. But the first thing they've got to do - the governments - is to spend money on the physical things, infrastructure for example: sewage, water, housing, roads, electricity. Do all of that; provide money for medical services, legal services and all of that. That's all those basic things they do, but don't try and get into the cultural or psychological part of Aboriginal Affairs. That's for Aboriginal people to handle. If the Government did that in sufficient depth and to the greatest extent possible, and not what they're spending at the present time, then Aboriginal people will then play their part because the opportunities is therefore created. You've lost ... you've lessened the extent of bad health. You've increased the educational level of Aboriginal people. You've increased the employment skills of Aboriginal people. So it opens a whole new world. But the cultural, psychological, social side, that's the Aboriginals' problem and that's where we've got to get off our black asses and then we've got to move. But if the Government doesn't create the physical environment for us to do that, it's very difficult. You can't be out in the middle of the Nullarbor Plains in a pair of shorts and somebody tells you to go to Sydney University. How the bloody hell can ya? Even if Sydney University's there, you ... you can't. You got to ... you might have bad health, like me. I lost my kidneys, I reckon because I'm an Aboriginal, you know. I know a lot of white people have lost their kidneys but we've lost ours a lot, to a more greater extent, percentage-wise, than white people because diabetes and all of the ... our poor nutrition in early years and exposure to colds and coughs and all that because of the clothing we don't have and the blankets we don't have. So if the Government does all that, we'll then play our part. There will be more employment opportunities, better educational levels, so we'll be able to do what we should do then.
Is it just a question of more money? Is that what you were always arguing for?
You've got to have money. Some people said to me like in a debate the other week, one lady said to me, 'Well, look, we're not going to throw money at Aboriginal Affairs, that's not the answer to Aboriginal Affairs. We got to worry about outcomes'. I said, 'Well, what are you going to use for money? Monopoly money? Monopoly? Or you going to have good wishes and great rhetoric?' I said, 'Because that won't produce outcomes. If you're looking for outcomes you got to spend the money to get it. If you want people to have good health, then provide the circumstances under which people can have good health: decent sewage, clean water, no dust on the roads so you don't get trachoma, a nice house you can live in without [it just] being cement on the floor. They sleep on the cement floor and get colds and coughs and pneumonia, all of those things. You can't expect an Aboriginal to come from that environment physically - no education, no employment skills - and survive in Australian society. It's not possible. Nobody can do that, black or white', but that's what they expect us to do. But to get that, to change that physical environment, you've got to spend money but you see, Australians, you know, governments have been piss weak over the years and a lot of people, they don't mind helping Aboriginal people providing it doesn't cost anything. They love the United Nation's Charter because that's just so wonderful. You can pin it up on the wall but you don't have to do anything about it. Fair go, equality for all - providing it doesn't happen.
During the period that you were in Canberra running up to the end of the Fraser Government if there is one theme that seemed to cause you more trouble than any other within the Department, it was the argument that Aboriginals should have control over their own affairs. Could you tell me about the way in which that evolved from the moment you arrived in Canberra, where there so few Aborigines employed and all the senior positions were by whites, to your efforts to try to get more control of Aborigines of their own affairs. Could you trace that through for me?
Well, if Aboriginal people don't have control to a large extent, or total extent, but to a large extent of their own affairs well, then, nothing's changed from the mission days when the missionaries decided when you eat and when you sleep and who you marry, or governments. So in the natural progression from that is that a person should be in charge of their own destiny, individually or collectively, and Aboriginal people have always felt this in the air that we got to run our own affairs to the best of our ability considering our weaknesses, you know, like in lack of education and all that. And that's ... that's the movement that we've ... that's the objective we've gone towards, control of our affairs. Not so much individuals like me should be in control of Aboriginal Affairs but that we all control our respective areas that ... but we as individuals, in the final analysis, have to realise the ... the destiny of ours, you know, of family or ourselves is in our own hands and can't keep blaming government, crying in our beer all the time. So we were always moved in that direction and it became more focused with the establishment of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, with the establishment of a consequence of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs in 1968, from eight organisations around Australia to, to now two-and-a-half to 3000 and a budget going from eight million dollars to 1.4 billion. So we've always tried to say, with all this development let's try to control some policy, the direction we're going in and, you know, some of the organisations. And we've done that pretty well. But what we've got to do in 1998 is move on from that. That's past now. Now the ... the ... We've played the game, now the next game is, we're going to get some results.
We'll get to that. Just looking back historically, how important was the setting up of the Aboriginal Development Commission for you? After you'd had that period in the Department where you were always having to tow the line to white Heads, when the Aboriginal Development Commission was set up, was that a very important initiative? Could you tell me what the idea was behind it?
Well, it just you know one of the strategies that ... that had to be implemented like Housing Commission for Aboriginal people specifically; a black bank for Aboriginal people; the development of an economic base and that's where the ADC come in. And we're lacking that. Our economic base is at the ... base is at the discretion of the whims and fancies of politicians. What we wanted is an economic base that ... that empowered the people at the base-grade, local level in terms of them having control of assets whether they be fixed or otherwise, so they can then determine what they want to do and the decision making process. We've come this, this question about Aborigines being in control, in real control - when you make the decision about expenditure of funds that you are responsible for, but Aboriginal people have never been responsible for expenditure of funds that they own themselves. It's always been owned by somebody else. It's always been held in trust, like it is today, all held in trust. The establishment of the Aboriginal Development Commission was the high point in Aboriginal Affairs in an economic sense. The legislation enabled the Aboriginal Development Commission to make a grant to an Aboriginal community for them to buy assets and then turn the assets over to them freehold and unencumbered. And that's what we did to the best of our ability. And that's what this society, these governments didn't like. They didn't like that because when people get control of their own assets and they are able to determine just their expenditure of those assets in whatever direction, that's when things get out of control and Aborigines are not under control, they are in control. So, you know, this is what the Aboriginal Development Commission was. It was a means of economic empowerment of the Aboriginal people and most Aborigines, including the so-called leaders, didn't understand that. They didn't understand that ... what that was all about, that, you know, you can't have all these assets everywhere and then somebody else is running 'em, in control of 'em. So that was a real beauty of it, and they've destroyed the Aboriginal Development Commission now and took that away. And we don't know what we've lost. [INTERRUPTION]
In the work, in Canberra, in Aboriginal Affairs, there was a great deal of agreement about the need for health, education and those sorts of things among white and black, who are working for those causes. Was there anything that you often found yourself in disagreement with about the white people working in the same cause?
Well, you know, most of the white people had good intentions, you know. They really wanted to do the right thing and they wanted to help Aboriginal people. But when it come ... [INTERRUPTION]
I'll let you just start, you've had the question.
Well there was a lot of good white people in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs and then in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and in Aboriginal organisations, who wanted to do the right thing by Aboriginal people and were committed, you know, but in the final analysis, when it came to the crunch, it had to be Aboriginal people that had to make the decisions about themselves, their organisations or the community or on national questions and issues. And sometimes they felt when we wanted to assert ... exert more control in whatever fashion, in terms of going up in the Department, or taking bigger responsibilities in an organisation and so on, or speaking out on issues, they felt a bit threatened because they felt well, we're making a commitment, why are we being shoved aside? We're not shoving them aside, we're saying, 'Hey the time has come to let go. People have to stand on their feet, got to do their own thing', you know. and one of the things Aboriginal people never had is the experience in running organisations or conducting economic affairs or in terms of purchases of properties and things like that or houses and so on. And what we had to do was give Aboriginal people the opportunity for that and you ... it's ... it's quite true that you can't buy experience like you can cornflakes in Woolworths. You got to go and live it. And and people didn't understand that too much, Aboriginal people have to live the experience to be able to make the best decisions in the most difficult of circumstances. And that's what empowerment means, that's what control of Aboriginal Affairs is all about. You know, we run it and, you know, and Aboriginal ... white people can sort of stand aside and then come back and help us. And that's what a lot of them have done. But it was a bit difficult to start with because they didn't accept the concept. And you know that's why the ADC, the Aboriginal Development Commission was all about; that's what we thought the Aboriginal ... Department of Aboriginal Affairs and all these other organisations we established like the legal service, the medical services, they were all an expression of that.
And yet you were the first Aborigine to be made head of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. All the original ones were led by white men. When were you made the head of the Department and how did it come about?
Well, the person who decided I should be head of the Department ... because at the time I was the Deputy Secretary to Tony Ayres, who was a great bureaucrat, a very hum ... a great humanitarian, a compassionate person but a smart bureaucrat too and he's just ... He rose to the highest levels in the bureaucracy in Canberra when it was difficult to become a Department Head and he was Catholic and that made it even more difficult, but he was really good, Tony, and he sort of pushed that I become the Head of the Department and [that] I was able to do the job as well. It wasn't only because I was an Aboriginal, I was able to do the job, which I think a lot of people were ... were unhappy about. They wanted me to sort of grovel or, you know, get it through on sympathy or be paternalistic towards me. No, I got it on my ... on my merit. But then, really, I wouldn't have got it anyhow if it wasn't for people like Clyde Holding, who was the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, recently made, who wanted me to be the Head of Department because I was an Aboriginal person, who could do the job, and being an Aboriginal it was good. The time was right and Tony Ayres pushed that as well and so that's really why I got that position at that time. You know, everything was pointing to that, in that direction.
Tell me about your relationship with Clyde Holding. That was a particularly close, wasn't it?
Yeah, Clyde and I were really good friends. You know I ... I was good friends with him and also Kim Wilson, his principle private secretary. They were good people and they've remained friends ever since. I didn't know Clyde from a bar of soap before that time. I knew he was tied up with the centre left or whatever it was, the various categories they have down in Victoria which ebb and flow. But he came to me as a type of person that was, well, I, you know, he looked like a hard man and he looked like a person that really, you know, would sort of put you down, would stand over you and so on and he was the exact opposite. He believed in certain principles and he actually ... he actually believed in them you know which surprised me a bit and I couldn't get over it. He spoke about human rights and and he really meant it, and he spoke about freedom of expression and similarly so, and he ... and when he ... when he made a friend of you, you were his friend and he wouldn't let you down. He'd never back bite you, he'd never undermine you. And if he wanted to tell you anything, he'd tell you to your face which is the sort of person I like, even if it was bad news, you know. Most Aboriginal people - we like being told it and then we can get on with it. Well, Clyde was of that nature. He was a very compassionate person but he was smart also in politics, because to get me as a Head of Department was an exercise of the highest order, considering the racism that existed in the Labor Cabinet against me. You know, Bill Hayden and quite a few others didn't want me. Even the Prime Minister, Hawkie, didn't want me.
Well, I think they just thought I wouldn't be able to do the job and oh, I'd cause too much trouble for them and they weren't able to handle me. They wanted to have somebody in there, an Aboriginal yes, but an Aboriginal they could handle much better.
Do you mean handle or control?
Control, both - the same thing. You know, they wanted to have somebody that you know was providing the symbol of it all but not somebody that had too much of an independent mind, would do as they're told.
Thinking about how much trouble you caused ... were you ... could you really blame them Charlie, in the sense that from the political point of view when you ... every time you spoke up, they had to sort of deal with it?
No, I don't blame them at all. I quite understand their position, you know. They weren't Aborigines and they could never understand my position either. They could try. Clyde Holding came the closest to any white person in Australia understanding what an Aboriginal person feels like and what the situation is for Aborigines. Hawkie was pretty ... pretty good too but he wasn't as good as Clyde. But some of the others in the ... in the Cabinet couldn't care less. They were just political animals, whether it's black issue[s] or anything else, foreign policy or something. They didn't want any trouble. They didn't want any problems. They didn't want anyone causing problems for them but particularly not a Head of Department because to be a Head of Department at that time was a very important position. You were a secretary of the Department of State and as such, twenty-seven of us would gather to sort of talk together about what's happening around Australia. And that was a very powerful club and I became a member of that club by virtue of being secretary to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. And I had my say outside as well as inside that club on a number of issues. For example, women's issues. I suppose I was the only one speaking out on it, which nobody knows, and ... and about more women being secretaries of Department and more women getting, you know, equality in the work place. And a lot of the others were just bullshit. They wouldn't talk about it where it mattered most, which was inside the club. They talked about it outside where it really didn't matter. Nobody had to do anything about it. But then on Aboriginal Affairs, you know, with myself being appointed, it was a very goo ... a very difficult pill for that Cabinet to swallow but they did at their ... with Clyde Holding, with the support of Hawke. Hawke had to back Clyde in a political sense, you know, in Melbourne and so on. He needed Clyde's support for all sorts of things and he got it, and the quid pro quo was that I become secretary. And Clyde was that sort of a person that demanded that deal. Now most people would say, 'Well, look, thanks for the Ministry, I'm now going to enjoy it'. But [with] Clyde, you know, I was his cross on his back in a sense.
What kind of a Head of Department were you? You were a member of a club as you say, a very very high flying one, and you were very senior in the whole Canberra bureaucracy. A lot of people in those circumstances would never leave their big office. What did you do as the secretary of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs that was a bit different?
Well, governments make policy and we administer it. I tried to influence that policy making situation with the Government and so I lobbied everybody I could in the Government and, you know, you're not supposed to do that but I used to say well, I'll just go up and ring 'em up and go up and see 'em, you know: Treasurer, Minister for Foreign Affairs, the lot and get them to sort of be more understanding of Aboriginal Affairs. And that was my role I felt I had to make ... make them more aware. The second thing was to get through Cabinet submissions in the Government that were helpful to Aboriginal people in terms of funding. The third thing was, as a different sort of person as a ... as a secretary, I was not like most of them were. They were sort of a bit reluctant to do that, they got a bit hesitant and a bit frightened you know, but I didn't quite frankly give a stuff. I think mainly in ... because I wanted to do it but then par ... partially because of pure ignorance. I wasn't aware of the great pitfalls and protocols. And the other thing I did was to get out amongst the community. I always left ... I travelled extensively. I went to lots of Aboriginal organisations everywhere and to communities, missions, settlements ... I travelled more than anybody but I really stayed there as well and talked to people, you know. I held big meetings there were a thousand or more Aboriginal people in some places and they were pretty ... pretty tough meetings. There was a lot of talking and a lot of wild language but that's ... I felt that was my responsibility to go into these meetings. I did. And you know ... and as secretary I ... I tried to break new grounds in other areas, you know, like in relationship to other secretaries, got them to meet us more frequently and our offices, so we could can co-ordinate things better. I fought for more funding for Aboriginal people, in terms of the budget and in terms of more organisations being established. Like before I was secretary, even: legal services, medical services, fought for them to be established and expanded, put into other areas. And no Aborigine ... Hardly any Aboriginal people know about that. They don't even know a tenth of what I did as Head of Department or before that.
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