Gurindji leader dies

December 6, 2006

Mick "Hoppy" Rangiari, one of the last surviving members of the historic 1966 strike by Aboriginal pastoral workers at Wave Hill Station in the Northern Territory, died on November 12.

What started out as a strike for equal wages became a land rights' struggle as the striking workers and their families launched an ultimately successful campaign to regain ownership of their traditional lands. At the time, the strike was described by an ASIO agent as a "dismal failure". It is now credited with giving birth to the modern land rights movement.

Rangiari was beside the most well-known leader of the strike, Vincent Lingiari, when one evening in March 1967, the Gurindji decided to leave the strike camp and move back to their ancestral lands at Wattie Creek (now Dagaragu). Author Frank Hardy was present at the time, and he heard a "finely chiseled" and "impressively proud" Rangiari declare with the "eloquence" of a "practiced orator" that Wattie Creek was Gurindji's "own country".

It was not the last time Rangiari would be called in to give a speech. Brian Manning, one of the main non-Aboriginal supporters of the strike, told Green Left Weekly that Lingiari "recognised Mick's talents of speaking out. Mick became the MC, the man on the microphone". Manning was a Communist Party member and waterside worker at the time of the walk-off and one of only two non-Aboriginal people on the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal Rights. This body and the Communist Party and the North Australian Workers Union were the main groups providing support for the strike. Manning also organised the regular trucking of supplies to the strike camp in his Bedford truck (which is still sitting in his backyard because of its "unofficial" heritage value).

Earlier this year, at the 40th anniversary celebrations, Rangiari was on the microphone again. A journalist from the Age described how a frail Rangiari was led to the microphone in a wheelchair and reminded those present that the strike started because the employers "treated us like dogs". On that day he also proudly received the official notice from NT Chief Minister Claire Martin listing the walk-off area as a Heritage Site.

Manning, a member of the Maritime Workers Union, who knew Rangiari for more then 40 years, told Green Left: "Mick Rangiari was a living example of the indifference employers paid to Aboriginal workers. When he was a young man, he broke his pelvis following a fall from his horse whilst collecting the mail for the Wave Hill Police. He lay beside a gate for three days before being found by an Aboriginal man walking that way. He was taken to the Wave Hill station and lay on the verandah for days until the flying doctor examined him and found he had a serious injury. He was flown to hospital but his pelvis had set crooked. He was never compensated but learned to live with his disability."

In the years following the strike, Rangiari continued to be a leader of his community. According to Manning, "He was never afraid to speak out and support the Gurindji struggle. He became the Gurindji nominee on the Aboriginal Consultative Council, served on the Dagaragu Community Council and the Central Land Council."

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