Lasting Legacy of a Great Man

Lasting Legacy of a Great Man

Statement on behalf of NSW Aboriginal Land Council Chairman Stephen Ryan

June 14, 2012

The Aboriginal Land Rights movement of New South Wales is mourning the sad passing of former federal and NSW state MP Frank Walker.

Mr Walker was the state Attorney General during Neville Wran's government, and fought ferociously for Aboriginal land rights in the early eighties.

He passed away in Sydney on Tuesday, June 12. He was 69.

Frank's passion for social justice and human rights began in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

His father was stationed there for work for some time, with the family living a traditional tribal life alongside local people.

It's in this unique environment that Frank learnt to respect and admire Indigenous peoples and cultures as a young boy.

When he came to live in Australia, Frank's family wound up at Sawtell, south of Coffs Harbour.

Living in and around the Coffs region in the 50s, Frank was instantly struck by the levels of hatred and discrimination directed towards Aboriginal people, especially in relation to the theft of Aboriginal land.

As a teen, he soon became involved in 'sit-ins' throughout the region including protests at the notoriously segregated Bowraville Theatre as well as out west in Moree and Walgett.

As a law clerk, Frank was also heavily involved in the famous 'Freedom Rides' of the mid sixties. It was during one such protest outside the segregated Moree Baths that saw Frank savagely beaten by police, resulting in three broken ribs and an uncomfortable journey back to Sydney on the train, known then as the 'Moree Mail.'

His passion for Aboriginal rights lead to varied work in the legal sector where Frank went on to be appointed Queens Counsel in 1981 and later a judge in the District Court.

Although perhaps Mr Walker's greatest legacy for Aboriginal people in NSW was his integral work putting together the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (ALRA) of 1983 in his role as the first ever Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

Faced with ferocious opposition from both sides of the house and parts of the Aboriginal lobby, Frank worked closely with other Aboriginal groups and key decision makers to ensure the bill would pass.

Sure enough, the ALRA eventually passed in 83...by just one vote.

During a broad-ranging interview with NSWALC last year, Frank fingered the ALRA as perhaps his greatest achievement in politics, but said it wasn't just about money or compensation for Aboriginal people, it was about creating a movement.

"It was about politicising the Aboriginal community, about giving them a political base around the state to organise themselves and their own interests," he said.

And create a movement it did. The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has blossomed into one of the largest member based organisations in the country.

Frank always held great hope for the future of land rights too. He said that after 30 years he'd seen great progress.

"I think its now a very efficient, very well run organisation, staffed by intelligent and capable people. I think that's now flowing across to the local land councils too.

"For the conservatives in the community it really represents a terrible challenge. It's there confronting, getting bigger, better and stronger."

But Frank was a realist too. He predicted trouble ahead for the land rights movement in NSW, but sounded a warning of his own.

"Developers have never been happy with land rights, so I think there'll be pressures from them on governments," Frank said.

"I only hope that as soon as any real move starts, the streets of Sydney will be full of demonstrators again fighting the good fight - because they'll win it."

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council extends its deepest sympathies to the Walker family.

Aboriginal people across this state have lost a good friend and a true fighter.

ENDS

An extended video interview with Frank Walker can be viewed on the Tracker website:

http://tracker.org.au/2012/06/nsw-land-rights-network-mourns-passing-of-frank-walker/