Staff Profile: Philip Mundine

“I’m inspired by the Land Rights campaigners from the late 1960s right through to the 1980s.”

My name is Philip Mundine. My father was a Malera Western Bundjalung man, from Baryugil of the NSW north-east coast. My mother was born in Nambucca Heads, the daughter of Yuin people of Wallaga Lake and Kiama of the NSW south-east Coast.

I was born in Grafton NSW and moved to Sydney at the age of ten. I’ve more or less lived in Sydney ever since.

I’m the Information Officer in the Media and Communications Unit at the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC). My work involves providing historical and cultural information to Council, Executive, staff and Local Aboriginal Land Councils and anyone interested in the culture and heritage of our people. I also act as a point of contact between NSWALC and the Local Aboriginal Land Councils.

July will mark my 19th year at NSWALC. Before starting here, I was pretty much a fringe dweller of the Land Rights movement with my older sisters and brothers being involved in the 1960s and 1970s and us younger siblings trailing along at some of the various functions. I wasn’t a participant in the main protests and debates at the time but I witnessed firsthand many of the events. Many close relatives and family friends were actively involved and relayed their reasons and results to us youngsters. We have been able to record both mentally and physically the fear, excitement, despair, joy and significance of what we saw and experienced.

Two of the most memorable highlights were the Protest March through Sydney in 1988 and the March across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000. It’s not directly related to Aboriginal Land Rights but they were the largest displays of Aboriginal solidarity I have had the good fortune to witness.

In relation to Land Rights, the successful land claim in Tweed Byron was the first on water frontage in eastern Australia. This was considered an impossible dream, as was the Dhughutti Native Title claim in Crescent Head on the NSW east coast. In Far Western NSW, the hand back of Mutawintji National Park was an inspiration, and it paved the way for things to come.

I’m inspired by the Land Rights campaigners from the late 1960s right through to the 1980s. They were under enormous public and private pressure to give up the chase and they put their good names and professional careers at risk to take the fight to the media and governments of the day as well as all the knockers who labeled them either stupid or crooked.

Two people at NSWALC who have inspired me are both former managers at NSWALC. The first being Steve Wright who as a Gubba must have been very much out of his social circles to campaign so ardently – sometimes in the face of the very people he worked for. He is now the Registrar of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983.

The other inspirational character was an old-fashioned public servant Clive Moulstone who stuck by his sense of public service standards.

There were times Clive, a non –Aboriginal man, was the sole representative of NSWALC at functions to promote Aboriginal Land Rights. There were some successful and sometime not-so-successful campaigns. But they were both always there.

As an older person (not to be confused with being an Elder, which I am not), I was bought up to respect the homelands of both my parents and have developed a deep emotional connection with both countries with a reasonable understanding of cultural and religious and family which were often discussed at home as much as Aboriginal political issues.

It’s often been discussed how we would react to attacks on our home countries despite not physically owning it or at least some of it. We have a dread of environmental damage to the homelands outside of essential development.

The era of the current Elders and early campaigners is fast coming to an end and the new generation is moving up through the ranks. We need them to embrace the old with the new and combine their modern skills with the wisdom and knowledge of past political and resistance battles and cultural awareness.

It’s now the time to prepare the next generations to fill the gaps as the current and future leaders advance to positions of leadership.