I remember a long long time ago – in fact it was nearly fifty years ago I went with my family on a three week trip to Alice Springs and the Northern Territory. Dad didn’t spend much time with us as he was working while Mum, David and I tried to enjoy ourselves. Mum located a riding school and we went riding quite a few days. We went to the rock, where Mum, famous ever after in family culture, took one look at the climbing face of the rock and decided that if we stumbled and fell and lost hold of the single chain going up the rock, we might easily die. So we were forbidden from climbing the rock.
We were scandalised. In any event I still remember the trip quite well. Dad’s work meant nothing to me then but it was quite historic. It was work with two other academics – I think Colin Tatz and Sol Encel – on the likely consequences of giving aborigines equal pay. The next year they got it of course, though it was never about their interests. They were not heard in the case and remained unrepresented. The white unions didn’t like competing against cut price labour.
In his part of the report focusing on economics, Dad concluded firstly that aborigines should be given equal pay, but also that demand for aboriginal labour would fall and so recommend support for aboriginal stockmen (I don’t know what kind, presumably the original documents can be located, but I don’t know where they’d be and I’ve not looked.) In the upshot Dad was (I expect) quite shocked to be attacked quite stridently as a racist. His saying that some aboriginal stockmen would lose their jobs was racist apparently.
Anyway, racist or not, he was right.
No support was offered and a social catastrophe unfolded over the next decade or so as the rudimentary aboriginal society around the outstations collapsed into a Hobbesian nightmare (though I don’t know enough to know how important equal pay was in bringing this about – my guess is it was a pretty big story. This is what Wikipedia says “Mass layoffs across northern Australia followed the Federal Pastoral Industry Award of 1968, which required the payment of a minimum wage to Aboriginal station workers. . . Many of the workers and their families became refugees or fringe dwellers, living in camps on the outskirts of towns and cities”.)
When he was dying he said to me that he never did any aboriginal economics ever again. “Too hard” he said. Then after a long pause, “Too hard”. Anyway a couple of weeks ago someone I’d known as a kid and probably saw for the last time over thirty years ago – Greg Law – contacted Jacques as the Webmeister of Troppo sending me his phone number. After some phone tag we spoke and he told me he was ringing because he’d just come across a postcard I’d sent him from that time in Alice. It was a postcard shaped bit of Kangaroo pelt. As he said there’d probably be laws against buying or sending such a thing now. In any event, he wanted my address. I gave it to him and it turned up today.
It’s got an old, 1968 stamp on it. I remember them (kind of). White background with a Green oval in which the Queen’s head reposes in white relief. Surprisingly small. And I’d written.
yesterday we went to Stanley chasm which is a big rock – with a huge split in it.
So there you have it. Thanks Greg.
I wonder if others out there have similar strange stories?
POSTSCRIPT: Here’s the article that Dad wrote from the trip – see discussion below. It may explode various myths set out above – I’m posting it before reading it, though I certainly intend to do that. FH_Gruen_1966_Aborigines_and_the_NT_Cattle_Industry