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Australian Indigenous Stockmen, The men who opened up the outback

WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Indigenous stockman, the men who opened up the outback.

We can see them, in our history, the voices and images of the Australian Indigenous Stockman. The Ringers, the stockman, the jackeroo’s, the camp cooks, the drover, the fencer, the shearer and the saddler. They are a part of Australia’s soul, when we think of these Indigenous men and women we think of huge cattle stations, blistering hot shearing sheds, hard gut breaking work, how they opened up our country.

We also see their unique oneness with our land and animals, their indelible spirit and their fortitude of life as a stockman and those big musters. To all Indigenous men and women who were and are gave service to the Australian Pastoral Industry, Tea&Belle want to celebrate and honour you.

Across all of Australia there are legendary stock routes from the Canning Stock route in WA, to Murranji, Birdsville and Strzelecki tracks. Ethnologist, Walter Roth in 1897 studied the lines of Aboriginal trade. What he would be documenting was what we would now know as Stock Routes. Describing how the routes followed major watercourses crossing over into vast plains that would then meet with another river were what Aboriginal people had used since millennia to do their own farming albeit hunting and gathering.

These Aboriginal trading lines, white fulla’s soon recognised the value of these routes and went about establishing valuable sheep & cattle Industries along these routes. We have all heard of the famous pastoralists such as Sir Sydney Kidman, Lord Vesty and John Macarthur but these men and their dynasties were built off the skills and resourcefulness of Indigenous men and women and their knowledge of country and skills of living and working with the land. “The exploitation or in rare occasions fair treatment of Indigenous Stock people were invaluable across Australia” (McGrath 1997) stated station owners, conceding they could not survive without aboriginal knowledge and labour. So much so that pastoralist were willing to pay more for acreage which came with an Aboriginal workforce.

In Queensland on 1886 over 55% of the pastoral workforce were Indigenous and in 1937. 3000 Indigenous people were employed on cattle stations in the Northern territory. With these stock routes or trading lines Indigenous Stockmen worked the land all over Australia, we often think of the Indigenous Stockman as those men and women on large cattle stations in NT and Western Australia but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stockmen and women worked all over Australia from those working the vast open spaces of the Big Cattle stations, to shearing 200 sheep a day in the Riverina, or to the dairymen of the south coast of NSW and the Atherton tablelands in QLD.

When curating our collection we looked at items that highlighted and celebrated Indigenous Stockman.

With too many to mention we would like to pay our respects to all Indigenous stockman and women, from those today who are renewing age old aboriginal farming practices in a modern world to our forefathers who opened up Australia, who gave freely of their knowledge of the land and whereby Australia’s agriculture industry became integral to the nation’s economy, we thank you.

We have collated a list of Aboriginal Stockman who we think ROCK!

Vincent Lingiarri

Vincent Lingiarri. Proud and Strong Aboriginal Stockman

Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody can tell his story better then I ever could

From Little Things Big Things Grow

by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody

Gather round people I’ll tell you a story

An eight year long story of power and pride

’Bout British Lord Vestey and Vincent Lingiarri

They were opposite men on opposite sides

Vestey was fat with money and muscle

Beef was his business, broad was his door

Vincent was lean and spoke very little

He had no bank balance, hard dirt was his floor

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Gurindji were working for nothing but rations

Where once they had gathered the wealth of the land

Daily the oppression got tighter and tighter

Gurindji decided they must make a stand

They picked up their swags and started off walking

At Wattie Creek they sat themselves down

Now it don’t sound like much but it sure got tongues talking

Back at the homestead and then in the town

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Vestey man said I’ll double your wages

Seven quid a week you’ll have in your hand

Vincent said uhuh we’re not talking about wages

We’re sitting right here till we get our land

Vestey man roared and Vestey man thundered

You don’t stand the chance of a cinder in snow

Vince said if we fall others are rising

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Then Vincent Lingiarri boarded an aeroplane

Landed in Sydney, big city of lights

And daily he went round softly speaking his story

To all kinds of men from all walks of life

And Vincent sat down with big politicians

This affair they told him is a matter of state

Let us sort it out, your people are hungry

Vincent said no thanks, we know how to wait

From little things big things grow

From little things big things grow

Then Vincent Lingiarri returned in an aeroplane

Back to his country once more to sit down