In Defence of the Aborigines

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Letter sent to the Illawarra Mercury on 30 January 2012 after a band of unhappy Aborigines disrupted Australia Day celebrations.

Dear Editor

In the justifiable anger over the burning of our flag by an unhappy Australia citizen on Australia Day, I must ask for a bit of thoughtful calm.

To justify my call I will tell you a true story about Australia.

During my time as a student at the University of Western Australia in 1959 I decided to join a mustering team at Hamelin Pool Station for work during the summer holidays.  I packed my sleeping bag and the complete works of Shakespeare and hitch-hiked north to Shark Bay.

When I arrived I joined a team composed of two Aboriginal stockmen, Len Kelly and Clary Draidge, plus one white bloke who was running away from his wife, an old age pensioner, and myself.

Len and Clary were undoubted gentlemen.  Their dignity and self assurance was visible.  They also knew what they were doing.  The rest of us were less impressive, and being a university student, I was the least impressive of them all.

The Overseer of the Station appointed the wife-deserter as Head Stockman and gave us our riding orders.

The next day we set out to round up all the sheep in a 10,000 hectare paddock.

When the Head Stockman was satisfied that we had them all rounded up Len Kelly approached him and said that he would “bet a box of Swan Lager that if he and Clary could go back into the paddock for an hour he would come back with another 200 head”.  The Head Stockmen laughed and said “you’re on”.

Len and Clary went back into the paddock and came back with well over 200 head.

After the muster the Head Stockman, the pensioner and myself went into Shark Bay for Christmas.  Len and Clary stayed behind at the Station.  Len said “All that will happen in town is plenty of fights.  We already have a box of beer, so we will stay behind”.

Len Kelly and Clary Draidge would have been devastated by what happened in Canberra on Australia Day.  My memory of them is that they were absolute gentlemen.  I don’t know what happened to Len Kelly.  Clary Draidge died at Useless Loop in the 1970s.

So before you make up your mind that they are all the same, just remember this.  They are not all the same.  In fact most of them are like us.

Giles Pickford


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