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Ex-wharfie turned First Nations rights advocate: Thomas Mayor takes Voice campaign to Australian Geographic

Giovanni Torre -

Growing up immersed in a bitter battle for workers' rights, Thomas Mayor's life was one inevitably drawn to standing up for First Nations people.

The Torres Strait Islander man born in Garramilla (Darwin) worked as a wharfie from a young age and became a passionate advocate for workers' rights.

Mr Mayor started work on the docks as a 17-year-old and was a wharfie during the 1998 Patrick Stevedores dispute.

"I witnessed the very purposeful tactics the Prime Minister, John Howard, used to soften up the Australian public before doing that reprehensible act, an attempt to destroy the workers' voice," he said.

"His aim was to go after the whole union movement."

At a young age Mr Mayor learned about the history of the workers' struggle and the philosophy and skills of organised labour.

As an official with the Maritime Union he developed negotiating and organising skills which he soon applied to fighting for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, ultimately becoming a signatory to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Following the Uluru Convention, Mr Mayor carried the sacred canvas of the Uluru Statement and embarked on an eighteen-month journey around the country to build support for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations voice, and a Makarrata Commission for truth-telling and treaties.

"I transferred that advocacy for my own people and it helped me to see this great deficiency in our advocacy was that we have been purposely divided and lacking a structure from which to practice unity," he said.

"My inspiration in supporting the Uluru Statement and referendum, is the knowledge of the history of First Nations struggle and the history of representative bodies that have been silenced, and statements and petitions that have been ignored.

"If you understand structure and unity, you see the importance for us to seek a constitutionally enshrined voice."

Mr Mayor, author of Finding the Heart of the Nation â€" the Journey of the Uluru Statement towards Voice, Treaty and Truth and lifelong advocate for justice, will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Australian Geographic Society's 2022 Awards.

"Australian Geographic is a very widely read magazine and an important platform," he said.

"It was a logical place to inform people about Uluru Statement and the opportunity that the referendum can provide the nation."

The Australian Geographic Society Awards, to be held in Eora (Sydney) on October 28, are back after a two-year hiatus and recognise conservation and adventure achievements.

Mr Mayor is also the author of Dear Son and the children's books Finding Our Heart and Freedom Day.

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