Covering stories for this edition was an emotional but happy journey for me.
I was just a kid when my Dad, William Bates, the first Councillor for Western NSW, stood alongside and inspired others in the region to fight for Land.
There were many unsung leaders and elders who, like Dad, continue to play an important role in our communities back home like Uncle Badger Bates, Aunty Maureen O’Donnell, Aunty Dorrie Hunter, Elaine Ohlson, NSWALC Councillor Des Jones, William ‘Smiley’ Johnstone and William Murray to name a few. There are also many leaders and elders who have since passed on like Tombo Winters, Steve Gordon, the Queen of the bush, Essie Coffey, from Brewarrina, Aunty Alice Kelly from Balranald, and Roland Smith Senior from Dareton.
In the 80’s, like today, Local Land Councils ran on limited funds but through the Western Regional Land Council, the Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) pooled all their money and took turns buying land. Even back then, mob in the Far West were forward thinkers and entrepreneurial. Weinteriga, a sheep station, was the first to be purchased followed by Appin Station near Menindee and Auley Station near Balranald.
It has been years since I’d been to Weinteriga but when I got out of the car at the shearing shed, I could smell a mixture of bush scents that instantly took me back to my childhood. The smell of wool, the paddy melon weeds growing on the ground and other native vegetation. Stepping on 3 quarter jacks that punctured the entire bottom of my both my shoes, I walked around the old shearer’s quarters, which are boarded up now; it was once a hive of activity. As a kid, I remember exploring old dilapidated structure (I think it was once used as a class room) and finding dusty old books. But more significantly I remember Uncle Badger carving into a river red gum tree, the words, “Always Was, Always Will Be Aboriginal Land” in preparation for the opening of Weinteriga. Our mob were so proud of that moment, we made t-shirts and an iconic poster of Pop Jim Whyman, painted by Wilcannia artist Karen Donaldson, to commemorate the buyback.
Whether it was travelling to Weinteriga, Appin, Auley, Mutawintji National Park or meetings at the Menindee mission or hanging out at the Land Council office at Argent Street in Broken Hill, I was immersed in Land Rights as a kid; I just didn’t know the importance at the time. I remember feeling happy and wrapped up in cotton wool. I loved playing with the cousins as we made waterslides by pouring buckets of water down the river bank, while our parents and grandparents sat in meetings, discussing Land Rights, under a bough shed at the old Menindee mission. Everyone united for a great cause. “It’s amazing what we as a people are able to achieve when we all stand together.” Mutawintji, Weinteriga, Appin and Auley are all incredible examples.
It seemed natural for me to eventually get involved in my local land council. While I’ve always been a member, I decided only in 2012 to stand for the Board of Mutawintji Local Aboriginal Land Council and this year I was elected as Deputy Chairperson. I was also elected a Deputy representative on the Mutawintji Board of Management. It’s a good feeling to sit at the table and make decisions about the preservation of our cultural heritage but it’s also great to have a say in the economic direction of our LALC.
It’s a different era now. I’ve seen lots of division and in-house fighting, and this only sabotages or detracts from getting on with the real business of the day. There are too many missed opportunities and I’ve seen both young and old stay away from meetings for this reason. Despite this, I sense change in the air, I feel a new era is dawning.
There are more young people becoming involved in leadership roles like 25 year old Anthony O’Donnell who is training up to be the CEO of the Broken Hill LALC, Mutawintji LALC Chairperson Leroy Johnson, Eden Coughlan, one of three board members of Cobar LALC in their 20’s and Amanda Whitton who also sits on the Mutawintji LALC. There are many more across the state stepping up.
I also think it’s an exciting time because NSWALC has recently launched a $16 million Economic Development Policy to help boost the ability of LALCs to establish and run profitable and sustainable businesses.
LALCs can achieve amazing things and I hope we can all stand united like our fearless elders and leaders did in the 80’s, to continue to build on what they started.
I know I am just one of many land rights kids across NSW.
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Angela Bates is an award winning journalist with 15 years of experience in News and Current Affairs in Indigenous Media. Previously she has worked at CAAMA radio, Koori radio, Living Black, SBS TV and until recently, she was the Executive Producer of NITV News and Awaken and started both programs. Angela now works as a freelance journalist and is currently a consultant with NSWALC.