Country, Culture, People, Future

Pilbara strike

The 1946 Pilbara Strike featured in ABC Northwest News Article

Posted: September 8th, 2015

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In a recent article by ABC Northwest WA, the 1946 Pilbara Strike was featured. Aboriginal pastoral workers in the Pilbara walked off their jobs against the oppressive work conditions they were facing.

In our Celebrating 20 Years of YMAC, the story of the 1946 strike was shared in the Aboriginal Leadership chapter. The 1946 strike was the first strike by the Aboriginal People and the longest in Australian History.

The reason behind the strike was in protest to the low pay, or in some instances rations instead of pay. The strike was planned by about 200 elders from 23 different groups and more than 800 workers left stations. Some were forced to return to work while others formed new occupations. Many of them formed strike camps and gathered bush tucker, skins and engaged in mining activities to provide food and money for the people there.

Two of the key leaders in the movement were Ernie Mitchell and Peter Coppin. During the course of the strike, they re-gained the lease of the Yandeyarra Station in 1967 and set up an Aboriginal-run community and a community and pastoral enterprise.

YMAC’s Co-Chair Doris Eaton and Deputy Regional Manager Nyaparu Rose are the daughters of Ernie Mitchell and Peter Coppin. This tangible connection provides YMAC with a strong connection to the history of social justice and leadership.

YMAC News issue 26 is available now

Posted: February 13th, 2015

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YMAC News issue 26 front coverThe latest issue of YMAC News is now available. Our cover story is about the delegation of over 70 Traditional Owners from all over the state who converged on Parliament to send a message about protecting Aboriginal heritage. Over 1600 signatures were collected and presented on the day. We have been disappointed with the Government’s response so far, with the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament just one week later without any of the changes that would make heritage protection stronger.

This issue includes some good news stories, about an agreement between the Wajarri Yamatji people and Sinosteel Midwest that was several years in the making, and some Carnarvon students who are benefiting from an earlier native title agreement.

We are also taking some time to look back on our achievements as YMAC celebrates 20 years as a land council. We have included an excerpt from the commemorative book about the brave men and women of the Pilbara strike in the 1940s and how their legacy resonates today.

Click here to read these stories and more.

You can send your feedback to editor@ymac.org.au. Thank you for reading this issue of YMAC News!

 

YMAC attends launch of ‘Kurlumarniny- We come from the desert’

Posted: May 4th, 2012

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At the book launch in Warralong yesterday 

Yesterday YMAC representatives attended the launch of Monty Hale’s bilingual book ‘Kurlumarniny – We come from the desert’ at the Warralong community.

Monty Hale is one of the quiet achievers of Indigenous Australia , and one of its greatest intellectuals. A senior Nguliparti man from the Pilbara region, his book tells of his family’s migration from the desert to the station country in the eastern Pilbara, his childhood growing up on Mt Edgar Station, witnessing Australia’s engagement in World War two and the famous Pilbara station-workers strike of 1946. The remarkable bilingual publication, written in Nyangumarta and English, tells Monty’s experiences though his vast cultural knowledge and his strong desire to leave a record of his life.

The book will soon be available to purchase from Wangka Maya Language Centre and is a remarkable record of Aboriginal life in the Pilbara.  

Visit http://www.wangkamaya.org.au/ for more Indigenous publications from the Pilbara.

NAIDOC profile: the Pilbara pastoral workers’ strike

Posted: July 8th, 2011

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Njamal country

In 1946, Aboriginal pastoral workers embarked on the longest strike in Australian history, which was also the first industrial action by Indigenous Australians. They demanded better pay and working conditions, in a time when many Aboriginal stock workers received no cash wages at all, and were not free to leave their employment when they chose.

The strike began on May 1, 1946, at the beginning of shearing season, when the pastoralists were most vulnerable to a loss in Aboriginal labour. It had been planned years earlier by Aboriginal leaders Clancy McKenna, Dooley Bin Bin and Nyaparu Coppin, with white prospector Don McLeod. A group of about 200 elders from 23 different Aboriginal groups met and decided on a strike in 1942, but agreed to wait until the War ended before commencing action.

Hundreds of people walked off more than 20 stations, affecting about 10,000 square kilometres of sheep farming country in the Pilbara. Many of them gathered at different strike camps where they hunted, gathered bush tucker, gathered skins and pearl shell and engaged in mining activities to provide food and money for supplies for all those people in the camps.

For many of the strikers, this was their first experience of economic independence, and it proved life-changing. Many of them never went back to the stations, and instead pursued these money-making activities until some families saved enough to purchase their own stations in the 1950s. Strelley Station, in Njamal country, was one of those, and is still Aboriginal owned today.

Many Aboriginal people were put in chains or jailed for their participation in the strike. Despite the danger they were in and the pressure they faced, the strike continued on until 1949, making it the longest strike in Australian history. Don McLeod said of his fellow organiser Dooley Bin Bin,

It is difficult to exaggerate the intelligence and courage of men like Dooley. He was a highly motivated man who dedicated himself utterly to his task. What he may have lacked in knowledge of the white man’s system he made up for by his absolute resolve and fearlessness.” (McLeod, D. How the West was Lost, self published, Port Hedland (WA), 1984. p.51)

The Pilbara strike paved the way for later protests and industrial action such as the 1966 Gurindji strike that led to equal wages for Aboriginal Australians. The courage and determination of the men and women of the Pilbara who stood up for their human rights in 1946-49 is an inspiration today to the many people who continue to pursue justice on their traditional homelands.

Across Australia every July, NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In honour of NAIDOC 2011 YMAC is featuring a series of Aboriginal people, organisations and events that contribute to the vibrant Aboriginal culture of the Midwest and Pilbara. For more information on NAIDOC including its history and events happening near you, visit http://www.naidoc.org.au/.