Vale Comrade: Chicka Dixon

MUA guard of honour alongside Rabbitos for todays state funeral, Town Hall, Sydney where MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin paid tribute to former wharfie and Aboriginal activist Chicka Dixon struck down by asbestos



Delivered by Paddy Crumlin,

National Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia

I'd like to pay my respects and acknowledge the traditional and sovereign owners of the land in recognising country and honouring the First Nations People of Australia.

Our condolences to Chicka's family here today. Your Excellency, the Premier, you and your government have done a wonderful thing in recognising Chicka and getting this great mob together under one roof.  

Jenny, Linda -  and I'd better acknowledge Warren Snowdon because we wouldn't want anyone to think it's Warrens Truss sitting in the front row - sisters, brothers and comrades.

Charles "Chicka" Dixon was a worker, leader and activist who was determined to turn around racism and elitism in our country and elsewhere and gain proper recognition for the extraordinary culture and character of his people and the great injustices done to them.

He rose to political prominence as a member of the Waterside Workers' Federation.

He worked as a wharfie at a critical time when the union was an active and outspoken supporter of equal rights for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.

Chicka through his union formed a great partnership - gaining political leverage through joint action without compromising individual choice and freedom.

The union was privileged to have in its ranks this man of courage, intellect and compassion.

Chicka said he learnt a lot from the union about organising and getting a result. He often spoke of the comrades he worked with at the time such as Tom Nelson Sydney Branch Secretary, John Coombs, former National Secretary of the MUA, Jim Donovan former Sydney Branch Secretary and President of the MUA, Harry Black, MUA Veterans Association, Ken Smith WWF Vigilance Officer and Barry Robson, former MUA Sydney Branch official now President of the Asbestos Foundation. 

Chicka was a union delegate and popular with the rank and file, particularly off the grog.

Chicka was always known to like a good time and the story goes that in his first weeks on the waterfront one of the wharfies was going around asking for donations for the party. After about 4-5 weeks of putting in Chicka asked when and where was the party going to be held to which he got the response -  "Not that sort of party, mate, the Communist Party".

Chicka represented the union at various Annual Conferences of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) during the 1960s and early 1970s and in many other WWF delegations and actions in support of the advancement of his people. He later became convenor of that council.

Chicka and the union campaigned tirelessly for a 'Yes' vote in the 1967 Referendum to give indigenous people the vote and was an active participant at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972. He was also an active member of the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs.

In 1972 he was a part of a delegation of Aboriginal Australians invited to visit China to tell the Chinese about the Aboriginal struggle for justice while at the same time shaming the federal government.  

When the Whitlam Labor Government was elected the Prime Minister encouraged him to go to the USA and Canada to study alcohol rehabilitation programs especially among Amerindian and Afro-American people, and he represented his people in many international forums.

He provided leadership and guidance to a generation of Aboriginal and non Aboriginal Australians determined to find truth and proper justice as well as reconcilation.

I am one of those.

He strived and lived for our society to be decent, inclusive and fair for all.

During his seventies, he had to deal with asbestos poisoning, a legacy from his working days on the wharves. The union was in the forefront of agitating for recognition and reparation for the criminal negligence visited upon workers exposed to that toxic and fatal material.  This campaign provided a strong, wider and more pervasive platform for finding material solace for those victims and their families.  Chicka and the Dixon family would appreciate the irony.

Chicka is remembered in our union as a leader and a worker. He was a man of family, a man of character and substance, a man of unwavering courage and compassion and a man of great good humour reflecting all of the finer traits Australians and human beings generally aspire to.

He was a true Australian in every sense.  Like everyone here today we are proud to be part of his great and important life's journey and to have shared in his footprints.

To his family; please accept the deepest sympathies and condolences from the members, officers, staff and veterans of the Maritime Union of Australia. Sympathies and condolences are also conveyed by the many workers, trade unionists and indigenous activists in this country and internationally who were his borthers and sisters.

Vale Comrade

Chicka Dixon now at peace

Download speech by The Hon Linda Burney, MP below