On 1 May 1946, 800 Aboriginal station workers walked off sheep stations in the north-west of Western Australia, marking the beginning of a carefully organised strike that was to last for at least three years, but never officially ended.
The strike was more than a demand for better wages and conditions. It was, in the words of Keith Connolly in the Melbourne Herald, 'a well- considered statement by a grievously exploited people, standing up for their rights and dignity'.
Aboriginal people employed on sheep stations were governed by the Native Administration Act. The Act denied them freedom of movement in their original lands and made it illegal for them to leave station employment, employment which was determined by the local ‘native protector’ who was often the local policeman. Housing conditions were dreadful and food had to be bought out of meagre wages. Their status was that of slaves.
In late 1942, a secret congress was organised by Pilbara Elders Dooley Bin Bin and Clancy McKenna, with many of the tribes in Western Australia attending - over a dozen interpreters were present to deal with 23 languages. The meeting, which lasted six weeks, was also attended by a long-time supporter of the desert people, prospector Don McLeod.
It was decided to organise a strike in the Pilbara region in order to demand better wages and conditions, and to draw attention to the treatment generally of Aboriginal people in Western Australia.
Tough action by the Police and Department of Native Affairs officials forced many strikers back to the stations. But this was short-lived and a month later, two major strike camps were permanently set up, joined by a railway line. To survive, the strikers collected and traded kangaroo and goat skins and, under Don McLeod’s direction initially, began alluvial mining operations. The mining was so successful it supported them for over 20 years, ironically drawing attention to the vast mineral wealth in the area.
“A FASCINATING BUT RARELY MENTIONED EPISODE IN AUSTRALIAN HISTORY.” - The Age.
WINNER! 1987 Human Rights Documentary Film Award.
NOMINATED FOR 5 AFI AWARDS.
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