On Red Earth Walking: The Pilbara Aboriginal Strike, Western Australia 1946-1949

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Monash University Publishing, 2020 - Aboriginal Australians - 540 pages
In 1946 Aboriginal people walked off pastoral stations in Western Australia's Pilbara region, withdrawing their labour from the economically-important wool industry to demand improvements in wages and conditions. Their strike lasted three years. On Red Earth Walking is the first comprehensive account of this significant, unique, and understudied episode of Australian history.Using extensive and previously unsourced archival evidence, Anne Scrimgeour interrogates earlier historical accounts of the strike, delving beneath the strike's mythology to uncover the rich complexity of its history. The use of Aboriginal oral history places Aboriginal actors at the centre of these events, foregrounding their agency and their experiences. Scrimgeour provides a lucid examination of the system of colonial control that existed in the Pilbara prior to the strike, and a fascinating and detailed account of how these mechanisms were gradually broken down by three years of striker activism. Amid Cold-war fears of communist subversion in the north, the prominence of communists among southern supporters and the involvement of a non-Aboriginal activist, Don McLeod, complicated settler responses to the strike. This history raises provocative ideas around racial tensions in a pastoral settler economy and examines political concerns that influenced settler responses to the strike to create a nuanced and engaging account of this pivotal event in Australian Indigenous and labour histories.

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This is a most amazing work combining extensive interviews with indigenous participants in the strike with detailed accounts of the complex legal and social controls over the indigenous people of the Pilbara. This is a blow- by- blow account of the three years of the strike with all its difficulties and setbacks as well as its ultimate success. While giving the leadership role of Don McLeod its due the author is able to demonstrate the vital force of the indigenous networks in achieving the strike against all odds. And her writing skill makes the drama so clear and concise in spite of the complexity. I am reading it for the second time, this work should be regarded as a national treasure. As a footnote, I’m intrigued that the author uses the term “Aboriginal” throughout as I have been told by Luke Pearson that we should only ever refer to “indigenous people” from now on, though this is somewhat cumbersome. Would be glad of the author’s advice .
Caroline Graham
Retired academic

About the author (2020)

Dr. Anne Scrimgeour has worked with Pilbara Aboriginal people over many years and has undertaken extensive research into their history. She worked with Monty Hale on his bilingual autobiography, Kurlumarniny: We Come from the Desert and has publishing articles on the Pilbara strike and the Aboriginal cooperative movement that developed from the strike.

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