The Western Australian Aboriginal Pastoral Workers Strike of 1946
The people discussed what they could do to improve the future for their children. Work and iiving conditions were appalling for all Aboriginal people at the time but in the Pilbara, being so remote, it was particularly harsh and ‘out of sight and out of mind’. Aboriginal people were under the Native Administration Act and they were slaves in their own country. No wages, no housing, no freedom of movement and meagre rations. McLeod was appointed executor and the group became known as The Mob.
The people waited until the World War II ended, but on 1 May 1946, 800 Aboriginal workers went on strike and walked off sheep stations in the north-west of Western Australia. Under the guidance of McLeod, Bin Bin (left) and McKenna, the strike was well organised and initially stunned the authorities. All three were arrested and jailed and persecuted. Although the strike effectively lasted for at least three years, it never officially ended.
The Mob had solid supporters like the Communist Party, some of the churches, womens groups and a small group of artists. The Fremantle branch of the Seamen's Union refused to load the squatters wool on boats while the strike was on and eventually the Australian Workers Union supported the Mobs claims for wages and better conditions.
When Western Australia was first established as a State by the settlers, the constitution made provision for a small percentage of State revenue to be allocated for Aboriginal people. McLeod turned bush lawyer and went on to argue that this had been illegally changed and continued to agitate for restitution for the West’s Aboriginal population.
He also went on to support other actions for justice for Aboriginal people, including the fight against oil drilling on Aboriginal land at Noonkanbah in the Kimberley region of WA in the late 1970s.
At one level the strike collapsed, but like the Eureka Stockade, it was a victory won from a battle lost. Many gains were made. There are so many characters in this heroic story that this song is not enough to give a full picture of the remarkable efforts by a small group of disempowered people. There was Peter Coppin, the songman Donald Norman, Daisy Bindi, Ernie Mitchell and so many more heroes of this struggle and they can take credit for giving birth to the Aboriginal Land Rights movement and inspiring the Gurindji walk off at Wave Hill in the 1960’s.
Defying the racist Howard (ie John) Government's dismissal of progressive histories that revealed the truth of the violent colonial dispossession of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a "black armband" view of history, Howard (ie Shane) created the Black Arm Band Ensemble, travelling to world festivals, most of Australia’s major arts festivals and into remote and regional Aboriginal communities, helping to take the ensemble’s musical message of hope. He produced Archie Roach’s last studio album, Journey and collaborated with the young Street Warriors and Shannon Noll for a new, Hip Hop version of Solid Rock. For 30 years Howard has eloquently pleaded the case for Aboriginal justice.