From Ngukurr to Newcastle: Surprising discoveries in the Copley Archive

 

“Aborigines 1970” Folder in the Merv and Janet Copley Archive

 

This work is conducted in memory and respectfully honours the First Australian People,
the Aboriginal People of this land.

 

From Ngukurr to Newcastle: Surprising material in the Copley Archive
By Associate Professor Kate Senior, School of Humanities and Social Science

In late 2020, I made a surprising discovery; in a file marked ‘Aborigines 1970’ I found multiple newspaper clippings about people from the community of Ngukurr, where I have worked as an anthropologist for the past 23 years. Ngukurr is a very remote Indigenous community in Arnhem Land, and is home to about 1000 people.  It seems very distant from the Cultural Collections (now Special Collections) room at the University of Newcastle.

The clippings predominately focused on the work of Dexter Daniels, the great uncle of my closest friend and research associate Daphne Daniels. Dexter was the organiser of the North Australian Workers Union and was instrumental in organising the Wave Hill Walk off in 1966. But his significant influence was not confined to the Northern Territory. Dexter became active in the unions movement across Australia and was supported by the unions to speak at meetings and attend rallies. Dexter was a member of the Australian Communist Party and his activities were closely monitored by ASIO.

“200 Aborigines Walk Off N.T. Property” SMH, 27 August 1966. (Click image for a larger copy)
“Aborigines’ strike spreads in NT. They Won’t Wait Three Years for Wage Justice” Tribune, 31 August, 1966. (Click image for a larger copy)

 

“NT Aborigines Strike for firm title to tribal land” Tribune, 18 March 1970. (Click image for a larger copy)

Dexter was supported by the unions in Newcastle, who raised money through the Aboriginal Advancement Committee to support strike action in the Northern Territory. He visited Newcastle several times (the latest date we could find in the archive was in 1970). Although Ngukurr people know the story of Dexter going to the World Youth Conference in Bulgaria in 1968, it is less widely known that he attended as a guest of the Communist Party of Australia. The story of Dexter’s influence in the southern states of Australia is also not well known.

Ngukurr Elder Daphne Daniels examining one of the Copley Archive news clippings with Associate Professor Kate Senior, 22nd April 2021.

In April 2021, Two descendants  of Dexter Daniels (Daphne Daniels and Karen Rogers) were able to visit the library and see the material first hand. They were able to do this as part of a collaborative project between UON and the University of Melbourne entitled “The Living Archive of Aboriginal Knowledge”. This project aims to re-engage the community with material from the archives, both from museums and libraries.

Two descendants of Dexter Daniels, Elders Daphne Daniels and Karen Rogers, on their research visit speaking with visiting Indigenous school students (Yakka), 22nd April 2021. (Click image for a larger copy)

 

Two descendants of Dexter Daniels, Elders Daphne Daniels and Karen Rogers, on their research visit, speaking with visiting Indigenous school students (Yakka), 22nd April 2021. (Click image for a larger copy)

Daphne and Karen found the visit exciting, but emotionally draining as they had to comprehend what had been a largely hidden history of their relative. Karen Rogers is a prominent artist in Ngukurr and she plans to work with the Ngukurr Art Centre to re-tell the Dexter Daniels story through paintings and sculpture. Daphne Daniels is working with the Newcastle Trade Unions in a collaboration to create an exhibition on the life and impact of Dexter.   As Karen said:

“No one in Ngukurr knows about this story, but it’s a strong story and we need to tell it”

“Gurindji Mining Lease and Cattle Station. Tug of war in the wilderness”. The Australian, 15 June 1970 (Click image for a larger copy)

 

“Here we go carrying banners in May…” The Australian, 3 May 1971 (Click image for a larger copy)

Digital Copy of selected newsclippings relating to Dexter Daniels 1964-1971 in the Copley Archive (123.4MB)

 

Associate Professor Kate Senior
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and the Arts
University of Newcastle (Australia)


May 2021 Update

Associate Professor Kate Senior has since located further clippings dating back to 1964, which were digitised, date ordered, OCRed and made text searchable and incorporated in the PDF above.

All news clippings digitised, date ordered, and posting compiled by Gionni Di Gravio, OAM, 28-30 April -May 2021.


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