ABC ALICE SPRINGS WITH STEWART BRASH IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 2021
SUBJECTS: Loss of community leader Jakamara Nelson and Lingiari Pre-selection.
STEWART BRASH, HOST: Now, we’ve spoken a bit about this already this morning and also heard a lot in the news since yesterday with the news of the death of senior Warlpiri elder Jakamara Nelson, one of the early giants of the land rights movement, but also a teacher, cross-cultural person who walked in both worlds. And Mr. Nelson was still on the executive of the Central Land Council at the time of his passing. It was in his 80s and he was out at Yuendumu when this happened on Sunday night, surrounded by family and friends, Warren Snowdon had known Jakamara Nelson for decades, Warren Snowdon, the Member for Lingiari. Good morning.
WARREN SNOWDON MP, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR NORTHERN AUSTRALIA, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS,
MEMBER FOR LINGIARI: Good morning.
BRASH: Now, for those who didn’t know Mr Nelson, just paint me a picture of how important a figure he was in Central Australia.
SNOWDON: I think you need to recognise his long engagement with public discourse and involvement with his community and engaging with issues around land rights and justice for Aboriginal people, education, housing, the whole range of issues that confront Aboriginal communities across northern Australia. But he was significant, had been an advocate for his community and a great leader. He was a person, I think, of an uncommon ability, really one of a kind.
BRASH: And because Tom Fleming, I remember who was a Baptist missionary out of Yuendumu, because I think full time schooling finished for Yuendumu kids in grade four or five.
BRASH: And he was tutored by Tom Fleming, I think was Joel Fleming’s father at Yuendumu, after hours, because he obviously saw there was a great promise in Mr Nelson.
SNOWDON: And that’s recorded in Harry’s contribution to Every Hill Got A Story, the CLC’s oral history, where he recounts the white fella missionary teaching him after hours to give him extra education. And he attributes that to his great command of English. I mean, he was highly literate person and highly engaged. He was a man who acquired learning. He was a person of learning and great intelligence and would be at home in any community. And he could walk. You know, he understood white fellas. But he was a great advocate for Aboriginal culture and a leader in that domain.
BRASH: Now, you’ve known him or had known him for 35 years or so. So what was your first meeting with Mr Nelson?
SNOWDON: It would have been in the early 1980s. I can’t remember exactly the time, but I do remember when I was campaigning for my first election in 1987. He was quite capable of giving me very critical advice, but I was critical I mean he’d say listen mate pull your socks up or whatever. He had remained a very close friend for me and was never afraid to voice an opinion and call you to account, which I think is really very important. And he didn’t suffer fools, but he was a very polite person, very polite.
BRASH: Because you mentioned that he gave you advice, was he a confidant all the way through your political career so far?
SNOWDON: Absolutely. And indeed, there are times and we differ, he strayed from the fold for a little while.
BRASH: Or did you stray?
SNOWDON: Well that may have been. But we’re always very close. And, you know, he would come into our office and did regularly just for a chat, you know, how’s the world, what are you doing, and this is what’s happening in Yuendumu. I need your help with this space. You need to be thinking about these sorts of issues. He was a great host when people visited the community. He was always willing, always willing in my experience, to facilitate engagement with Warlpiri people. And he was able to articulate their issues because of his own command of English and be able to interpret what was needed to be interpreted in terms of passing messages on to those people who were seeking information. And, you know, it’s as I say, he’s a man of uncommon ability and of great intellect. And he will leave a huge vacuum, in my view. And he was one of a kind, one of a kind.
BRASH: You point to a very clear and very sort of salient fact. I think the fact that he walked in both worlds, his literacy in English as well as obviously his knowledge of the Warlpiri world, put him in a great position. What do you think he thought about where contemporary Warlpiri politics and people, and especially when it came to things like education and people’s future and being able to actually navigate a future?
SNOWDON: I think he was very concerned, and this was one of the things I spoke to him about when I visited him in hospital on a number of occasions over the last few months and we spoke about those sorts of things and the need to ensure that there are leaders in the Warlpiri communities who are able to take up the case, he’d expressed concern about the future of kids and their job opportunities, education opportunities, the need for infrastructure, appropriate housing in his community and other Warlpiri communities. He understood and knew what the needs and demands of the Warlpiri were and he was always able to express them. And now it’s really up to others, those who are going to follow behind to step into his footsteps. But he also had great cultural knowledge. He was a leader, cultural leader of great significance. And so there’s those dual roles that need to be fulfilled now that he’s gone.
BRASH: Yeah, well, that begs the question. And I wonder who will take that mantle up, because, as you say, these are huge shoes which need to be filled. Because so many people who operate in the lands around Alice Springs are unknown to people in town. Are those leaders out there?
SNOWDON: They are. And I think they’re just being given an opportunity to be recognised. I mean, those of us who have spent many years sitting and talking to people understand that, you know, there’s a role for us to go and listen. And really, we need to open our ears and listen to what people are talking to us about and telling us. And we’ve had the person to convey those messages in Mr Nelson. Up until now, there are others who can do that. And I’ll be looking forward to meeting them to make sure that I understand what the aspirations of the Warlpiri people are and the people across the Northern Territory, for that matter. This bloke was a leader in any domain. I mean, he was a significant person in Northern Territory history.
BRASH: Will he get a state funeral because he’s someone worthy of someone like Wenten Rubuntja? Do you acknowledge, will there be a funeral of that of that sort of import for Mr Wilson?
SNOWDON: I’ve no idea, but I’d certainly support such a proposition. But I’ve got no idea. That’s a decision for the Northern Territory government. I’ve not canvassed that. But I mean, I think we are very lucky that we’ve had we have living amongst us real heroes in their own communities and we don’t often give them the credit that is their due. And that only comes at a time of their passing when we say, well, God, what a contribution that person made. I think it behoves all of us to be thinking of those people we know now who are doing the sorts of things that Mr Nelson might have done when he was a younger person and encourage him to continue.
BRASH: A lot of people will be noting his passing. I’ll go to something more prosaic. Warren Snowdon looking for a replacement for yourself as a candidate for the Labor Party, for the seat of Lingiari. Now, I understand preselection is underway. What can you tell us so far?
SNOWDON: Well the preselection process is just being finalised, but I anticipate that there’ll be a ballot. There’ll be a number of candidates who have put their names forward. There’ll be a ballot of eligible Labor Party members in the seat of Lingiari. I think they’re probably 170 – 180 of them. And what will happen will be that the candidates who put themselves forward will be canvassing votes over the next couple of weeks and there’ll be a postal ballot of all those members, which will be completed by the middle of March.
BRASH: Do you know who some of the preselected candidates are? Is there a shortlist out there?
SNOWDON: I know who the candidates are, who I’ve spoken to, but I’m not going to canvass those names here. I mean, that’s up to the individual candidates to put their names out there, not me. And but I can say that the people who have spoken to me are all very capable and any one of them could do the job.
BRASH: Would it be fair to say Labor would be looking to preselect an Aboriginal person in the seat of Lingiari?
SNOWDON: I think the people I’ve spoken to are all been Aboriginal people. So I suspect that we will have, well I know we’ll have an Aboriginal candidate.
BRASH: And when will that process be wound up? When will we know who will be running?
SNOWDON: Well, we’ll know who the candidate is by the middle of March.
BRASH: OK, key thing, because I know that there’d surely be lots of people in Darwin who think they can look after the seat of Lingiari, is it behoven on the person who does win the seat of Lindsay be it Labor or CLP at a future election that they live in the seat that they live, say, in Alice Springs or Katherine at the very least?
SNOWDON: Well, I don’t have to, but I’m saying to people I speak to that my expectation is that the successful candidate will live in Alice Springs.
BRASH: True, even if they are a Top End.
SNOWDON: True God. So we’ll see what happens.
BRASH: And Warren Snowdon, I know it’s a long way before the next election will happen, but does that mean what are your plans? Will you stay in Alice, will you move South?
SNOWDON: So that’s up in the air. I mean, we’ve got our families in Alice Springs. They’ve all come home. Which is fantastic, and we love the Centre, we’ve been there for a damn long time, nearly four decades for my own for my part, where I’ve been very, very fortunate to be very, very fortunate person, been very privileged and very honoured to be the Member of the Northern Territory for serving the people of the Northern Territory for now over three decades. This is my 34 years since my last my first election coming up this year. And now 30 over 31 years in the parliament. I mean, I’ve had an enormous opportunity, has been a great honour and a great privilege. Now it’s an opportunity for someone else. And what we’ve got to do is make sure we get behind them.
BRASH: Warren Snowdon, I’ll let you go but thank you.
SNOWDON: Thank you very much.