Crikey! It's Our Heritage

An old J Series Bedford truck belonging to union elder Brian Manning is to be listed as a heritage item by the Northern Territory government.

The news website described Brian as "one of the unsung heroes of the Land Rights movement" and said recognition his - and his truck's - role was long overdue.

Brian, who retired in 2002 after 35 years working on the wharves, is a former secretary of the Darwin MUA and the NT Labor Council. 

He was a prominent communist who co-founded the NT Council for Aboriginal Rights in 1961, an Aboriginal lobby group which helped sustain the Gurindji people during their famous strike and walk off from Wave Hill Station 600km south of Darwin in 1966.

As a casual wharfie between jobs Brian and his truck played a key role in the Gurindji strike for equal pay with white workers and land rights struggle.

Gurindji stockmen at Wave Hill made headlines all over Australia when they walked off the job demanding equal pay from the station owner Lord Vestey, the British beef baron.

The Gurindji set up camp some 30 kilometres from Wave Hill station at Wattie Creek (Daguragu), in the heart of their traditional land, near a site of cultural significance.   While the initial strike was about wages and living conditions it soon spread to include the more fundamental issue of land rights with the Gurindji demanding the return of some of their traditional lands occupied by Vestey's since the 19th Century.

Brian Manning organised a strike fund with Aboriginal actor Robert Tudawali and Roper River man and union organiser Dexter Daniels.  Brian loaded his truck with supplies, making up to 15 round-trips of 1600 kilometres from Darwin to Wave Hill.

The Northern Territory Heritage Advisory Council recommended to the NT Heritage Minister that Brian's old Bedford be declared a heritage item. The council said: "The Wave Hill Walk Off led by Vincent Lingiari with his Gurindji people and other Aboriginal groups in August 1966 was a significant act by those involved...Brian Manning, who is an Aboriginal rights campaigner and was one of the first to assist the Gurindji people, used his Bedford truck to regularly deliver supplies and correspondence to the strikers.  Brian Manning's support helped the Gurindji face their hardships and strengthen the resolve of the protesting Aboriginals."

In 2006 Brian told the ABC's Landline program that:

"I loaded up this little Bedford with about 3 tonne of stuff.  God, it took nearly two days.  I think we had to camp halfway. The roads were shocking - there were no bitumen roads, there were diversions around the place.  They were making the roads, you see, so it was terribly corrugated.  We managed to get there the second night about 9.30 and drove down into the bed of the river where they were all camped, you know.  And there was great exhilaration by these people that finally help had arrived in respect of food."

The Gurindji's seven-year struggle helped bring about the Commonwealth Land Rights Act (Northern Territory) 1976. This Act gave Indigenous Australians freehold title to traditional lands in the Northern Territory and, significantly, the power of veto over mining and development on those lands.

Brian's 30 cwt Bedford truck, registration number NT 29-776 was first owned by the Darwin Workers' Club.  And it wasn't just used to support the Wave Hill strikers.  In the early days of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor it played a role in keeping radio contact between the Fretilin underground resistance operation and Australian supporters such as Brian Manning.

Brian delivered the 6th Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture on the 36th anniversary of the Wave Hill walk-off in 2002.