Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fight for Justice and Growing up in Edmonton (Queensland)
Table of contents
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fight for Justice and Growing up in Edmonton (Queensland)
- Life on Main Street Edmonton (Queensland)
- A Career Change for Tom
- Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Fight for Justice
- Assimilation of First Peoples
- Joe McGinness: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Champion
- Gladys O’Shane: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights Advocate
- First People and Good Memories
Life on Main Street Edmonton (Queensland)
Tom Pyne of Edmonton (Queensland) had worked as a wood machinist for Queensland Rail, a car salesman for Advanx Toyota, and as a builder to fill in the gaps. In 1978 he decided to try his hand at private enterprise. Consequently, our family embarked on the adventure with him.
There were two petrol stations in Edmonton owned by George Lee: one at the south end he ran, and one at the north end leased to his brother Dennis. The brothers came to Australia from China many years previously. However, by the end of the 1970s Dennis decided that he wanted to move to Sydney.
Tom was great mates with George. When he found out from George that Dennis wanted to move, he decided this was an excellent opportunity. Consequently, he signed a three-year lease to run his business, which was registered as ‘Tin Sang & Co’. The shop was on the main street, the Bruce Highway. All businesses here received the benefit of passing traffic.
Our business, Tin Sang & Co., included two petrol bowsers out front and a small general store inside. There was a house out the back where we lived. Living in the heart of a small country town in Far North Queensland would have been dull for many, but I was excited to move into a house just behind the shops on the main street.
While it seems very small-time now, the increased activity and the movement of people in and out of the shop was a new and energising experience for me. However, the greatest thrill was finding what we called the “Lolly Cabinet” which stood in the corner of the shop. It held everything from freckles (small round pieces of chocolate covered in hundreds and thousands) to the one hundred-gram Cadbury chocolate bar. This was enough to make my 12-year old eyes pop out and my tummy rumble. I decided my future was in the service industry, the self-service industry!
It may be just me, or perhaps we all have a certain clarity about what happened when we were 12, yet have trouble remembering what happened last week. I remember the shops along the highway like it was yesterday. How they looked, how they smelt and the people who ran them. They were (from north to south):
- Neil Gill’s Butcher Shop
- Edmonton Post Office
- Tom’s Tin Sang & Co
- TAB (off track betting agency)
- Keith Auld’s Chemist Shop
- Terry O’Farrell’s Newsagency
- Jeff Donaghy Butcher Shop
- Chellimi’s Bakery; and
- Gus and Tina Slavik’s Fish and Chip Shop
That was my immediate ‘hood’. Then came The Grafton Hotel, The Hambledon Hotel and the two local general stores, Piccones and Cavallaros. Further south was the Police Station and George Lee’s petrol station.
Piccones was owned by the town’s most successful business-person, Lou Piccone. It was similar to the supermarket of today. Cavallaro’s was a more ramshackle old store, run by two Italian brothers, Dino and Alfie. It had a wide array of goods, with the smell of freshly ground coffee in the air. Shopping there was a real adventure.
The Floods of 1977
One summer’s night in 1977 we experienced rainfall the like of which I had never known. The rain was hitting our roof heavily when I went to bed and it just kept coming down throughout the night. By the morning the drain behind our house had burst its banks and a foot of water was flowing through our yard.
Thankfully the house was on cement stumps a foot and a half high. However, none of the shops were. My parents quickly opened their shop and moved as much of the stock as they could to higher shelves. I remember mum saying, “Tom, the pumpkins are floating out the door” and reflecting on the surreal nature of the comment, as dad sloshed towards the door to reclaim his floating pumpkins.
For us children it was an exciting adventure. I found my kayak and paddled up and down the drain at the front of all the shops. This drain had turned into a much bigger pool, lying to the west of the submerged Bruce Highway.
Making Trouble in Town
Anyone close to me during my pre-pubescent years probably knew I was a pyromaniac. Thankfully not an arsonist, but I was definitely a pyromaniac. Considering this, living behind a petrol station was probably not the safest place to grow up.
A 44-gallon drum of petrol with a hand pump was located at the back of the shop. Looking at it one day I reflected on how magical it was that fire would follow any pattern you drew, as long as you drew it in petrol. I took the nozzle out of the hand pump and drew a large figure 8 on the ground. Then I took a match and lit it up, watching as the flames followed the pattern I had drawn, just like a string of falling dominos.
Unfortunately, the flames did not stop at the end of what I had drawn. They followed the drips and drops all the way back up to the nozzle of the hand pump, which was now engulfed in flames.
Saved from Disaster
I heard mum screaming, and two of the store owners, Neil Gill and Joe Chellemi, arrived on the scene. With no thought to his own wellbeing, Chellemi grabbed a rag and held it firmly over the end of the nozzle. His logic was simple: a fire needs oxygen, so if I cut off the oxygen the fire will stop. I could not fault his logic. Nevertheless his walking up to a full drum of petrol with flames coming out the pump was one of the bravest things I had seen.
Behind the police station was a fenced lot where the police stored motor vehicles that had been confiscated for one reason or another. I jumped the fence a few times to play in the cars. On one occasion I realised many of the car batteries had nice clear marbles inside. I found as many as I could to make me ‘king of the kids’ the next day at school.
One day on such an escapade, I was in the back of an old car when I found a bag under a driver’s seat. When I pulled it out it was full of 10 and 20 cent pieces. Myself and my young mates felt like we had won the lotto. We scampered away from the police station and down to the shops to feast on chips and lollies purchased with our ill-gotten gains.
Rugby League Days
Politics was not my number one passion growing up – that place was reserved for rugby league. At this time, Edmonton had its own Junior Rugby League teams, and some of the local 11 and 12 year olds would tumble into the back of dad’s Toyota carrier van every Saturday and head into town to play the local rivals, Cairns Wests.
A group of 12-year old’s tumbling into a van without seat belts or even seats was something we thought nothing of doing back then. No parents expressed any concerns when dad called to take one of their precious children in the back of the van to the footy.
Rob The Stinker
One Saturday I was out exploring with friends, not far from the Hambledon Mill. There were great pools of stinking mess known as the mill ponds. These ponds consisted of liquid waste from the mill. As a result, they had a consistency of quick sand and stunk to high heaven.
I saw an island in the pond and I decided to jump onto it. The problem was that it was not an island at all, but a clump of grass growing on a crusty surface. I went straight through the surface and was fully submerged. Thankfully I did resurface and with help from my young comrades made it back onto the bank.
Realising it was Saturday, we returned home. We made it just in time to head into Cairns to play rugby league. The way I smelt on the way to the football was indescribable, but it was worth it. I had never played better in my life. I scored four tries that day, two without even having a hand laid on me. It did not occur to me at the time that the reluctance of defenders may have been due to the fact I smelled like a septic tank. It was not just my teammates who were reluctant to come near me!
Far North Queensland 40kg Team
The highlight of 1978 for me was the 40 kg rugby league tournament for Far North Queensland. Our coach of was an ambitious Gordonvale school teacher by the name of Warren Pitt. It was a joy to play with the other boys, many of whom were a year older than me and who I had looked up to over previous years.
I played in the same competition the following year and was named ‘Player of The Carnival’. I was very proud at what was to prove the highlight of my rugby league career. However, there is something depressing about peaking in your favourite sport at the age of 12.
My slow decline in the sport continued to the age of 22. I spent that year as a B grade player for Ivanhoe’s Club (a season I was unable to complete due to a bad back). I managed an A Grade game or two for Southern Suburbs and a Foley Shield Game for Cairns, but that is cold comfort when your childhood dream is to play for the mighty St. George Rugby League Club. I was captivated by the St George teams that won Premierships in 1977 and 1979.
Before Bentley Park
It feels a little strange these days when I am in Bentley Park and visit the massive Bentley Park College. It seems only yesterday that that area was little more than two short dirt roads, Robert Road and McLaughlin Road. I knew the area well, as there were two local families with rugby league loving sons living there, the Stones and the McLeods. The McLaughlin Road I remember was no more than a few hundred metres long, and two well-known residents were Ron Macleod and Dr. McLaughlin.
Dr. McLaughlin lived in a large property opposite where Bentley Park School is now. He lovingly referred to it as ‘Mango Park’. The property was appropriately named, with mature mango trees growing at regular intervals along the long driveway into the property. Doctors had no forced retirement age, and Dr McLaughlin spent many of his years in semi-retirement. He even wrote the occasional script at the bar of the Hambledon Hotel.
The Enraged Cane Cutter
Dr. McLaughlin told a good yarn. I remember him telling me and my good friend Allan (Dick) Whittington one yarn while we were painting rooms in his house at Mango Park.
Dr. McLaughlin had given advice to a non-English speaking cane cutter, who complained of getting insects in his ear. His suggested treatment involved shining a light into the ear. The insect then makes its way towards the light, thus vacating the ear-drum.
The good doctor was unaware his patient did not have a torch, preferring to use candles for additional light. So when a small beetle found its way into his ear, he had his wife hold a candle over his ear to attract the beetle. Holding the base of the candle near the ear, the man’s wife did what may have seemed helpful. She turned the candle on its side to let in more light. Instantly hot molten wax flowed from the candle and filled her husband’s ear.
Dr McLaughlin roared with laughter as he described the enraged cane cutter chasing his wife down the road, swearing in a foreign tongue, cane-knife in one hand, holding his ear with the other. Listening I felt horror at the thought of a woman being chased like this. However I was assured no damage was done.
Dr. McLaughlin certainly was a local character, as was another local known as ‘Chairman Tom’. This was how my father was referred to following his election to head up our local council.
A Career Change for Tom
My father’s work as a service station owner and jolly grocer had been enjoyable to him and the whole family. However it was his work as a Councillor on Mulgrave Shire Council that was most satisfying to him. He had a great relationship with the mayor and other Councillors, but it was engaging with the community he enjoyed then most.
Dad was far too generous to be a big success in private enterprise. I can still recall how he would give away fruit and vegetables to customers and extend credit to people. However, he was a man with an optimistic attitude who would always land on his feet.
During the 70’s he served as a local Councillor for the Edmonton area which was in a municipality then known as the Mulgrave Shire. His passion for Council saw him make a transition from private sector survival, to a highly successful career in public service. Regional Council’s at this time were headed by Chairman rather than Mayors. In 1979 my father replaced the retiring top man Ken Alley, and soon became known as Chairman Tom.
Dad’s transition to public service was a good career move, as his outgoing nature and ability to communicate made him perfect for local politics. However, the years spent running ‘the shop’ were without question our favourite time as a family.
What I remember about those days in Edmonton (Queensland) was a powerful sense of community. My memories were of driving with dad every Saturday in winter and picking up young friends like Marcel McLeod, Robert Stone, Nicky Bromley and other local kids and taking them in to play rugby league. Those years were as innocent as they were fun. How sad it is that to do this today you need insurance cover, a blue card and even a coaching licence. We were blessed to live in such carefree times.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
Our lease expired in 1980 and we moved back to our home at 88 Mt Peter Road. The move coincided with my dad’s increasing obligations to local government and my transition to high school. The closest high school was Gordonvale State High.
What I remember most about those days was the carefree feeling. Not being under pressure from the clock. Not needing to urgently complete tasks or feeling pressure to perform.
At this time there was an egalitarian ethos throughout the nation. Class was a notion that never crossed my mind, unless it related to England, usually received through BBC TV shows, re-broadcast by the ABC.
However, one group was often excluded from the seemingly boundless opportunities in the region, our First People. I came to develop a passion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, their culture and their fight for justice. I was inspired by many of their leaders, who were indignant about the oppression of their people, and championed the fight for human rights.
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Fight for Justice
Assimilation of First Peoples
Children taken from their parents (the Stolen Generations) were taught to reject their Indigenous heritage, and forced to adopt white culture. Often their names were changed. In addition they were forbidden to speak their traditional languages. Some children were adopted by white families, and others were placed in institutions where abuse and neglect were commonplace.
Legislation and policies excluded Indigenous people from participation as equal citizens. This saw the removal of many Indigenous people from their homes to missions and cattle stations. Consequently, their lives were lived under regimes of surveillance and control, with a distinct lack of personal liberty.
Just as Aboriginal people had resisted invasion during the frontier wars, there was also a strong and concerted resistance during the 1950s and 60s. It was non-violent, but very passionate in nature.
The resistance came not through electoral politics, but through Aboriginal people themselves taking leadership and agitating for change. One area of resistance where Aboriginal leaders took on strong leadership roles was the trade union movement.
Joe McGinness: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Champion
Born in 1914, around 50 kilometres south of Darwin, Joe McGinness was the youngest of five children born to Irish immigrant, Stephen McGinness and his wife Alyandabu, a Kungarakan woman also known as Lucy.
McGinness worked as a truck driver in the 20s and 30s, and joined the army after the bombing of Darwin. He served with the field ambulance in Darwin, Morotai and Borneo.
During the 1930’s Joe became known throughout the north of Queensland as a fighter for the rights of Australia’s First People.  However, it was after the war that ‘Uncle Joe’, as he became known, focused on this struggle. Most notably he took on the protection laws that gave state governments almost total control over the movements of Aboriginal people. Therefore, Joe dedicated much of his time to campaigning for the 1967 amendment to the Australian Constitution. Above all, this amendment gave constitutional capacity to the federal government to legislate in favour of Aboriginal people. Further, it allowed indigenous Australians to be counted in the census.
Joe moves to Cairns and joins the Union
Like most Australian towns of the day, Cairns had sharp racial divides. Most Aboriginal people lived on the outskirts of town, surviving on intermittent, underpaid work. However, McGinness was determined to fight the discrimination and abuse directed at the local Indigenous community, largely by employers and police.
After joining the Waterside Workers’ Federation while working on the wharves on Thursday Island, McGinness’ expanded his activism. In Cairns his involvement with the union grew, culminating in his election to its executive committee.
In 1958, The Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Advancement League was formed with McGinness as its secretary. The league worked closely with the local Trades and Labour Council which McGinness described as ‘the only white organisation that showed concern over reported cases of injustice’.
Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
Increased activism by the Cairns League coincided with an emerging national movement in support of Indigenous rights. The Federal Council for the Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, commonly known as FCAATSI, was formed after a coalition of rights groups met in Adelaide in 1958. McGinness became FCAATSI’s first Indigenous president. He held the position for 17 years between 1961 to 1973 and 1975 to 1979.
Before long FCAATSI won its first victory of national significance. A young Indigenous man at the Hope Vale Mission who had consorted with his girlfriend, was flogged by the mission’s pastor and ordered to be moved to Palm Island. McGinness campaigned long and hard against the pastor’s actions.
McGinness and his comrades forced the government to hold an inquiry into the incident. It found that the pastor’s behaviour was ‘inexcusable’. It was the first time this type of misconduct by a mission had been successfully challenged. The win triggered a range of protests against similar incidences of abuse across the country.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders: 1967 Referendum
The Hope Vale case was McGinness’ first major victory, and there would be many more. FCAATSI pursued important law reform, including wage equity cases and the early push for land rights. However, McGinness is best remembered for his role as joint national campaign director during the lead-up to the 1967 referendum.
Driving from town hall meeting to town hall meeting, he was part of a grassroots campaign across the nation. The referendum was FCAATSI’s strongest and most successful campaign. Supported by more than 90% of voters, it remains the strongest ‘yes’ vote of any Australian referendum.
McGinness Remembered as Champion of First People
In North Queensland, Joe McGinness became the regional manager of Aboriginal Hostels in Cairns, and was instrumental in the establishment of many of the major Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. He became a key figure in the early days of the development of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. Patrick Dodson later wrote of Uncle Joe:
“This grand old man has been the inspiration to many of us who have joined in the battle for justice. He has provided wisdom and advice, guidance and correction, humour and hope. His interest, enthusiasm and point of view on the continuing challenges we face against the ignorant and arrogant who professed to know what is best for us. He was always present and available as he encouraged us on.”
Gladys O’Shane: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights Advocate
Born in Mossman in Far North Queensland in 1919, Gladys O’Shane obtained her first job working at the Mossman Hospital Laundry. There she met Irish immigrant Patrick O’Shane and they fell in love. The pair were married in October 1940.
Gladys and Patrick moved to Cairns where Patrick became known as ‘Tiger’ O’Shane. A moniker he earned for his fighting ability when taunted for his marriage to an Aboriginal woman.
Tiger worked as a wharfie on the Cairns Waterfront, joined the union, and became politically active. Gladys commenced her political life during the 1954 national Waterside Workers’ strike, supporting Cairns wharfies during the dispute. Four years later she showed her passion for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, addressing the Waterside Workers’ Federation Women’s Committee national conference in Sydney.
Gladys O’Shane: Champion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and a Communist
Gladys O’Shane informed the audience that the Queensland Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act was ‘as vicious as any Crimes Act’ and that it was the Director of Native Welfare – not the parents – who was the legal guardian of every Aboriginal child in the state. Therefore, she urged the women to ‘join with us in our struggle for a better way of life’.
Gladys was elected as the inaugural president of the Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Advancement League in 1960. The Cairns league took on cases involving abuse of Aboriginal people.
An alliance of the Cairns Trades and Labour Council and the Cairns League often succeeded in publicising these cases and bringing the offenders to justice. O’Shane had a wider influence through the Cairns League’s affiliation with the national body, the Federal Council for Aboriginal Advancement.
O’Shane joined the Communist Party (CPA) in 1960. She attended Party summer schools where she developed her public speaking skills. In 1964 she was elected to the North Queensland District Committee of the CPA. When she died of a heart attack in 1965, Gladys O’Shane was mourned as a champion of our First People.
Communist Fred Paterson
Born in 1897, Fred Paterson was politicised by the First World War. Fred saw workers on each side of the front line massacring each other for no reason, at the behest of a wealthy ruling class.
A prize-winning student, Paterson was awarded a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford and could easily have become a wealthy barrister. However, Fred’s only goal in life was to improve the lives of working people and advance the cause of socialism.
Paterson explained in his memoir that, for him, practising law was always a part-time pursuit. Most of his time was spent working for the Party: “Between cases I did an enormous amount of work for the Communist Party, addressing meetings all over North Queensland, from the coast to the Northern Territory border.” Two of Fred’s many clients were Joe McGinness and Tiger O’Shane. Fred was a strong ally of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Fighting Racism and Fascism
Fred Paterson’s work in the fight against fascism and in defending unemployed migrants forged his reputation. During the Great Depression, Queensland had the highest number of Italian immigrants of any state. New arrivals, having escaped Mussolini’s fascist regime, often moved north from Brisbane looking for work. As a result, Australia’s first anti-fascist march was held in the Far North Queensland town of Halifax in 1925. While the government cracked down on these radical protestors, Fred stood in solidarity with them.
AWU ‘sells out’ as CPA ‘stands up’
Anti-migrant racism resurfaced in 1931 when cane farmers and the conservative Australian Workers Union (AWU) made a deal to give British subjects farm work ahead of Italians. Paterson contested the legality of the deal. In 1933 a deadly epidemic of Weil’s disease broke out in the sugar cane farms and the cutters went on strike.
By August 1935, 2 000 workers had shut down the sugar mills. When the state government refused relief to laid-off workers, the CPA in the unions organised fundraising, communal kitchens and accommodation. Although the strike had only limited success, it raised the profile of the CPA in Queensland Politics and fuelled resentment towards the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Paterson’s support for the cane cutters helped him win election to the Townsville local council in 1939.
Working with allies from a left wing split within the ALP, Paterson had enough influence on the council to make real improvements for local people. This including providing cheap stoves for Townsville workers, as well as establishing public libraries, a swimming pool and a public ice works when the military took over the existing one during the war.
Fighting ‘The Ban’ and Winning Bowen
The Communist Party was banned in 1940 and so it became an offence for Patterson to publicly address a crowd. During a visit to Cairns at this time, Patterson used his legal experience and creativity to work around this problem. He addressed a meeting of locals while standing on a table, metres off the Cairns Esplanade. He knew the local constabulary could not enforce the Communist ban on him, because he was beyond the high-water mark, so outside their territorial jurisdiction.
In the campaign for the seat of Bowen in the 1944 state election, Paterson defeated the ALP incumbent Dick Riordan. Paterson declared in one of his first speeches to parliament in 1944, “Socialism is in accordance with the highest and noblest traditions and ideals of mankind. But socialism cannot be imposed upon the people by a minority. It is a movement in the interests of the vast majority and will come into existence only when a majority of the people want it and are organised sufficiently to obtain and maintain it”.
The biggest test for Paterson came in 1947 and 1948 with the Queensland rail strike. Rail unions applied for a flow-on of a pay rise won by metal workers under federal awards. The ALP Hanlon government – despite Hanlon being a former railway worker himself – refused their claims. Workers struck in response.
Determined to defeat the strike, the State Government launched a propaganda campaign against the rail workers. They accused them of being taken in by a Communist plot.
In support of the railway workers, Paterson took shifts on the picket line every morning, offering the strikers legal advice and using Parliament to publicly defend the strikers. On St Patrick’s Day 1948, while taking part in a rally of railway workers, Paterson was attacked by a plain clothes policeman. His skull was bashed in with a police baton. His injuries were so severe that he was not expected to survive.
ALP and capitalist press join forces
The day after the bashing, the Courier Mail quoted the ALP Premier expressing indignation at the demonstrators’ behaviour and admiration for the police. The article called the events “a deliberately provoked brawl by the communist element which saw defeat staring it in the face. I have reports of their [police] tolerance, patience and care in handling people during this difficult period”.
The violence marked the end of Paterson’s political career. He struggled to recover from his injuries. The ALP government also redrew the boundaries of his electorate, making it un-winnable for him.
Paterson’s story of struggle and resistance guarantees his place as the only Communist ever elected to Parliament in Australia.
First People and Good Memories
Many unfortunate experiences took place in the post war decades, most notably the unjustifiable treatment of our First Peoples. This included the theft of land and the tragic removal of children. Oppressed people themselves, with inspired leadership and good allies fought for change.
Whether it was McGinness and O’Shane fighting for the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, or Fred Patterson fighting for the rights of people starving during the depression, class struggle was the precursor to better days.
Thinking of growing up brings back memories of days spent out in the environment, swimming and adventuring with friends. It was a time of injustice for many, but that was not my story. For me those days in the seventies and early eighties really were the good old days.
- Far North Queensland
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Fight
- Queensland Politics
- Princess Alexandra Hospital
- People with Disabilities
- Cairns Regional Council
- Queensland Labor (ALP)
- Abortion Law
- Coal Mine and Climate Change
- Local Government Corruption
- Child Abuse, Lies and Vindication
- Champion of the Underdog
- Trial and Tribulation
- Loving and Letting Go
Notes and Pics
 Newsletter of the Federal Council for Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, January, 1967.
 Heroes in The Struggle for Justice. http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/heroes/biogs/joe_mcguinness.html
 As Above.
 Heroes in The Struggle for Justice. http://www.kooriweb.org/foley/heroes/biogs/joe_mcguinness.html
 As Above.
 Maritime Worker, 11 November 1958