Shane Howard's formidable and epic song about the Aboriginal strike in the Pilbara pays tribute union support for Aboriginal rights
"We defend the right of our native brothers to equal wages too" - the Maritime Union crew call as "the sound of freedom, was ringin' in the wind."
You can hear the song and read the words at Mark Gregory's Union Songs website
Shane Howard researched the strike before writing the song noting the exploitation of Aboriginal workers leading to the Western Australian Aboriginal Pastoral Workers Strike of 1946 as follows:
"In 1942, on the western side of the Pilbara, Western Australia, a great meeting of the Aboriginal desert law men was organised by Dooley Bin Bin and Clancey McKenna. Over 200 people attended, some travelling thousands of kilometres, from as far away as Halls Creek, Darwin and Alice Springs. There, at Skull Springs, they sat in council to discuss the shameful conditions that their people were living under, all through that central and western desert country.
The meeting lasted for six weeks. There were 23 languages spoken and 16 interpreters.
One whitefella, the prospector Don Mcleod, was invited to that meeting. McLeod was one of the first whitefella's to be born in Marble Bar, one of the most remote towns in Australia. He'd been invited because of the help he'd once given an Aboriginal elder who needed to be taken to hospital.
Aboriginal people were under the Native Administration Act and they were slaves in their own country. No wages, no housing, no freedom of movement and meagre rations.
On 1 May 1946,800 Aboriginal workers went on strike and walked off sheep stations inthe north-west of Western Australia.
The strike was well organised and initially stunned the authorities. All three were arrested and jailed and persecuted.
Although the strike effectively lasted for at least three years, it never officially ended.
But the strike was about much more than 30/- a week wages and better conditions. They began agitating for rights, dignity and proper entitlements in their own country.
In order to survive away from the stations, The Mob established their own camps and traded kangaroo and goat skins. Initially under Don McLeod's direction, they began alluvial mining with yandys until they could afford equpment. Ironically, their succesful mining operations drew attention to the mineral wealth of the Pilbara. They supported themselves this way for over 20 years, acquired three stations, established schools and began developing a way of life based on Aboriginal communal organisation.
The Mob had solid supporters like the Communist Party, some of the churches, womens groups and a small group of artists.
The Fremantle branch of the Seamen's Union refused to load the squatters wool on boats while the strike was on and eventually the Australian Workers Union supported the Mobs claims for wages and better conditions.
At one level the strike collapsed, but like the Eureka Stockade, it was a victory won from a battle lost. Many gains were made. So many more heroes of this struggle and they can take credit for giving birth to the Aboriginal Land Rights movement and inspiring the Gurindji walk off at Wave Hill in the 1960's.
In the foreword to Max Brown's book, Black Eureka, the writer Dorothy Hewett wrote, "A little mob of Nor'-West Aborigines without status, funds, or human rights, challenged the feudal strongholds of squatters, missions, courts, newspaper barons and governments, all the way up to the United Nations. It is a classic story of the underdog and his uncountable resources. It records the birth of the militant Aboriginal movement and it is part of Australian history now."
Read more about how waterside workers and seafarers have supported Aboriginal land rights and equal wages for the Gurindji strikers at Wattle Creek and Wave Hill in the sixties.
1. The Gurindji strikers at Wattie Creek led by Vincent Lingiari in 1967 - Possession and Batman's Treaty
Picture copyright Brian Manning Mon-Thur 10pm. Search the ABC ABC Home Radio Television News Your Local ABC More Subjects Shop Late Night Live.
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/latenightlive/galleries/2009/2593259/image.htm- 14 Jul 2009
This year is the 40th anniversary of one of Australias most significant industrial actions the Wave Hill walk off In 1966 Aboriginal stockmen walked off the job and set up camp about 20 kilometres
http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/nt/content/2006/s1637526.htm - 12 May 2006
Message Stick is a half hour TV program about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lifestyles, culture and issues.