By Jahna Cedar
I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land in which we meet today. I cherish and respect their connection to land, cultural heritage and belief systems. As a first nations woman from the Pilbara region, I value these ancient systems and understand that they are thriving, evolving and will empower and enhance all of Australia.
My name is Jahna Cedar and I am a proud Nyiyaparli and Yindjibarndi woman from the Pilbara region of Western Australia, with family connection to Beagle Bay and Turkey Creek.
As a young woman from Marble Bar and Port Hedland, I have been fortunate to be raised and surrounded by strong Indigenous men and woman who have advocated for the rights and acknowledgement of our people. It is due to the strength of my ancestors and their fight for justice and equality that I can live the life I have. I am eternally grateful.
One of the biggest legacies, was that of the 1946 Pilbara Pastoralist strike.
On 1 May 1945, 800 Aboriginal Pastoral workers from 27 Stations in WA walked off their job for better pay and conditions. This was the first industrial action by Indigenous Australians since colonisation in 1788, and predates the famous Wave Hill Strike in the Northern Territory by twenty years; no longer would payment of wages in tobacco, flour and tea be accepted.
On the stations, there were no phones or radios, and the Aboriginal workers could not read or write English. Clancy McKenna, Dooley Binbin, Peter Coppin, Don McLeod and Ernie Mitchell were among the strike leaders. Whilst they have now passed, I note that these courageous trailblazers have left a legacy, a legacy which many of their descendants still carry today through ongoing calls for justice. One of these activists is Mrs. Doris Eaton. A strong matriarch with cultural authority, knowledge, skills and commitment who has endured many battles, yet remains steadfast in her quest for unity and accountability.
Their innovative approach to spreading the word of the strike over 10,000 square kms is inspirational. Although the strike ended in 1949 with the agreement of award rates, many of the strikers never returned to the stations, crippling the industry.
This knowledge of my history and the innovation of our people for economic independence demonstrated through their ability to communicate over vast distances, regardless of having all odds against them, has given me a fire and passion to want to learn and give back to my community.
I urge you all to watch “How the West was Lost” directed by David Noakes, which documents this significant event. Or attend the many events that are being held in commemoration of the event around WA.
Today, I pay respects to those leaders who stood up for social justice, equity and equality. Thank you for showing true selfless leadership.
Thank you also to those who come behind these heroes to ensure history is not forgotten, to educate and chart a new path for our people and who enable us to stand on their shoulders in activism.