Territory Stories

Debates Day 3 - Thursday 21 October 2010



Debates Day 3 - Thursday 21 October 2010

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Parliamentary Record 15


Debates for 11th Assembly 2008 - 2012; ParliamentNT; Parliamentary Record; 11th Assembly 2008 - 2012




Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory





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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory

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Attribution International 4.0 (CC BY 4.0)

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Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory



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DEBATES - Thursday 21 October 2010 those skills in a time where Aboriginal people were not encouraged to have those skills or that world view. I note from the Chambers Pillar Historical Reserve - and whilst I realise it is not strictly within his traditional Country it is on Arrernte land - a quote in this report worth reading out in context of Gus Williams life: By the 1950s in the South-Central region, Aboriginal people were encouraged to leave pastoral stations and, apart from the people who have remained in the area as residents of Titjikala and nearby outstations, visits by Aboriginal people to Chambers Pillar became increasingly rare during the 1960s and 1970s. At this time, many Aboriginal station workers were made redundant. They had to move their families into state settlements, missions or Alice Springs. Consequently, many members of Traditional Owner groups have grown up and lived elsewhere, and their visits to the Chambers Pillar area have been infrequent. Many younger people have not been there at all. That paints a picture of change and dislocation for Aboriginal people which took them off their lands. Gus was no exception to this, and there were policies being driven independently of Aboriginal people which had profound effects on them. Gus understood that instinctively from a very early age. His work ethic is unquestionable. You heard about his work ethic today, and his work in Ali Curung and Ntaria demonstrates he has consistently applied that work ethic with a complete sense of confidence in self. That is what is sadly missing from so many Aboriginal people today, and is a little like the observation Steve Biko, a South African freedom fighter once made - the hardest part he had in convincing people apartheid was wrong was because he could not convince Africans they were good enough to govern themselves. Gus Williams understood he was good enough to govern himself and the families he represented and he challenged those authorities, not with outright defiance, but with what the member for Macdonnell described, a consistent and relentless approach like water dripping on a rock - eventually the rock loses given enough time. That is what struck me about Gus Williams. When we were being a pack of ratbags at the police station we did not intend to have a gun fight at the OK Corral - it is the way it worked out because someone could not shoot straight - but he was prepared to challenge the authority and was not screaming and yelling. He just said: Not on. It should not be happening that way. Too right! He challenged that authority in an appropriate, quiet fashion. That is the thing I liked about Gus. When I was a policeman he was often grizzly at me on the occasions I had anything to do with him. More importantly, when I was member for Macdonnell, Gus was not always nice to me. He would growl me - the expression most people down there use. He would growl me quite regularly for several reasons, often because of a faux pas. The difference was after he finished growling me he would stick his arm around me and say: All right, now I will show you how to do it properly. Gus shared with me things and information, and took me to places I only afterwards realised I was profoundly privileged to have heard or be shown. The eight years I spent as the member for Macdonnell, only sometimes now do I appreciate the rare and extraordinary opportunity afforded to me and what a great and wonderful privilege it was because of people like Gus. I am unsure if the people of Ntaria are capable of filling the vacuum he left. I hope someone steps up to the mark. I hope several people step up to the mark. Gus was also a great, passionate defender of his own way of life, his own culture. I remember a time when he complained to me bitterly about a successful land claim over the Palm Valley area. I thought: What are you whingeing about? You have won. However, he made a very important distinction, and it was one of the great flaws in the Land Rights Act - one of his great critiques of the Land Rights Act. The Palm Valley traditional owners were listed in alphabetical order - that is the system by which it is done; no recognition of traditional law at all. Because Ntjalkas last name was Williams, he was near the bottom of the list. There was no recognition of the fact he was a very senior player over that country, and listing someone in alphabetical order offends the concept of traditional ownership, how stories and songs rest with individuals, and who should be identified as the primary owner of those land trusts. We have an instrument built in the rather paternalistic 1970s which said Aboriginal people are a homogenous blot of people, and we will list them by name when, in fact, ownership rights - as I would recognise them under the common law of England back in the 1200s and 1300s - were not dissimilar to what ownership rights in traditional systems are in Central Australia today. Ownership should rest with specific individuals rather than, necessarily, the whole group. 6495

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