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Indigenous Workers Strike - Darwin (1950 - 1951)

Alternative Names
  • Aboriginal Workers Strike - Darwin


On 27th November 1950, Aboriginal workers in Darwin stage "the biggest and best organised native strike ever conducted in Darwin". The Aboriginal workers had organised the strike themselves and then sought advice from the North Australia Workers Union (NAWU). The two strike leaders were identified as a man named "Lawrence" and a striking Police tracker named Billy Palata. In mid-January 1951 Darwin Police 'dispersed' an armed group of more than 50 Aboriginal strikers who were, in their own words, "marching on Darwin". Lawrence and Billy Palata are arrested and police refuse to bail the two men to NAWU officials saying that as Aborigines the men can only be bailed to the Native Affairs Department or their employers.
Secretary of the NAWU, Mr.T. Peel, remarks, "It is obvious that the arrest of the two Aboriginal strike leaders is a deliberate attempt to cut of the leadership of the strike and intimidate these people who are standing up for their rights both as workers and human beings."
Lawrence and Palata remained in gaol as Native Affairs Department officials claim that "Communists" were behind the strike. Lawrence appeared in Court on Australia day 1951 and was sentenced to four months imprisonment with hard labour. After Lawrence is gaoled his place as strike leader is taken by a quietly spoken Larrikia man called Fred Waters. On 11th February 1951 Fred Waters organises a 'lighting strike' of Aborigines at the Bagot compound in Darwin. The Director of Native Affairs, Mr Frank Moy, responds by using his administrative power to banish Waters to Haarsts Bluff in Central Australia some 1200 miles from Darwin.
The conservative position on the strike was expressed by Federal minister for the Interior, Mr. Anthony, who said that the whole episode had been a "Communist-inspired plan for general industrial disturbance". He stated that, "I am not prepared to allow natives, who are wards of the Commonwealth, to be used for this purpose."

[Gary Foley]