I am a Kamilaroi and Ngemba man, born and raised on the Balonne River, St George in south west Queensland. I am second youngest of five boys and the eldest surviving member of my birth family. My father was a drover, shearer and ring barker and my brothers and I worked in the shearing sheds before moving to the regional centre of Toowoomba on the Darling Downs where I attended college, studying performing and visual arts. I then worked briefly as an actor with Black Theatre, Redfern. From the age of 16, I played drums in various bands and have now formed my own country folk band, Old Dog Soup.
My adult life has mostly been spent in Brisbane and Toowoomba. I am married to Robyn and have two children and five grandchildren
Work and/or community experience:
Working for Qld Health within Aboriginal communities in the 1970s, I experienced the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms under the draconian laws (Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander Acts) that governed Aboriginal people living on missions and state government reserves. Since then, my main objective has always been to work with Aboriginal community representatives and Land Councils to identify communities’ needs and aspirations beyond the repeal of the Acts and to encourage all levels of government to establish non-discriminatory policies. The primary focus has been campaigning for Aboriginal rights of self-determination, human rights, land rights, cultural rights and cultural survival. I have been instrumental on a local, regional, national and international level with all levels of government, museums, universities and collecting institutions, including the UK Working Group, in formulating policy to expedite the return of Aboriginal ancestral human remains and cultural property to Aboriginal ownership, care and management. In 2011-12 I conducted two stages of a pilot study on the Repatriation of ancestral remains in south west Qld which involved working with south west Qld traditional owners to identify their barriers and build their capacity to take primary responsibility to lay their ancestors to rest in accordance with their customs, traditions and belief systems. Through a holistic repatriation program we successfully returned 32 ancestral remains from the collections of the Qld Museum, University of Qld Anatomy Department and Police Forensics to the Kamilaroi burial ground in St George.
I was CEO of FAIRA (Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action) from 1980 to 1994 and Co-ordinator, National/International Repatriation FAIRA 2002-2004.
In 1994 I moved to Toowoomba to set up the Goolburri Land Council, servicing south-west Queensland Aboriginal communities. Since my return to Brisbane in 2002, my main focus has been the repatriation of Aboriginal ancestral human remains and cultural property to Aboriginal ownership care and management. I set up the Centre for Indigenous Cultural Policy Ltd in 2006 to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in exercising their inherent rights and cultural autonomy in protecting, preserving, practicing and promoting their cultures, with a philosophy of Put Culture First to address the underlying issues of Indigenous disadvantage, mend the circle and establish Healthy Cultural Communities and sustainable ecosystems.
I have served on many national bodies, represented Aboriginal people at national and international fora (including the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples on the drafting of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and was Chair of the Aboriginal Provisional Government from 1991 to 2015. I am Chair of the Kamilaroi land Trust, St George and an Authorised Gomeroi Native Title Applicant.
Reasons for interest in the project:
When I met the crew from Ashington in Brisbane, it sparked my interest and empathy at the similar trials the Ashington community faces. Perhaps we can learn from each other and discover different ways of achieving our goals.
Areas to explore during the project:
The importance of culture and caring for country in empowerment and community development and exploration of culture, history and struggle through storytelling and song.