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Perth remembers Trailblazing Aboriginal Strikers

Sarah Smit -

Please note: This story may contain references to people who has died.

The 75th anniversary one of Australia's most significant Aboriginal strikes is being celebrated in Fremantle and Perth this month.

From October 18, the Pilbara Strike will be commemorated with documentary screenings around the city and a one-night-only collaborative music and theatre performance.

Seventy-five years ago, on May 1, 1946, hundreds of Aboriginal workers walked off pastoral stations across the Pilbara to fight for wages and better living conditions â€" so beginning the Pilbara Strike.

The strike was organised by Aboriginal Law men Dooley Bin Bin and Clancy McKenna with white unionist Don McLeod.

For months, Aboriginal organisers had secretly travelled to stations all over the Pilbara to alert Indigenous workers to the strike.

The strike continued for three years, ending only when strikers received promises of a minimum wage and better working conditions.

After the strike, many workers refused to return to the stations, and instead pooled their funds to buy or lease stations to run as cooperatives

Nyamal and Pitjakarli woman Doris Eaton is a respected Lore woman and a deputy co-chair on board of the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation.

She said it's important that Aboriginal people remember the strike.

"Aboriginal people have to find a way to how can we celebrate the first of May [and] that walk off," she said.

"But because it's never been taught anywhere like in schools, so we would like to promote it in the schools."

Mrs Eaton's father Ernie Mitchell was among those who walked off the stations in 1946. Mrs Eaton said despite the threat of imprisonment, her father fought to make life better for their children.

"They were afraid that ... the government department will stop them going and doing them things, because every time they want to do things, they end up in jail locked up with the chains," she said.

"[My father] used to say it [was] so hard. Them Old People was fighting for the next generation, so we don't suffer like they did."

Mrs Eaton is travelling to Perth for the festivities and says there is much we can learn from the story of the strikers.

"We want to teach our young people how it was in them days. These days everybody got hands on the plate. Them days as a whole people struggled, worked for what they wanted to get and to feed their children."

Event Coordinator Ross McCallum said the industrial action is "too important a story not to be part of our whole historical landscape".

"It really is so significant in the sense that in 1946, Aboriginal people were not even counted as citizens or even people and the scheme of things and so they were used as slave labor," he said.

"So, to actually win a strike and win what was 30 bob [shillling] minimum wage was really significant in many, many ways."

Festivities for the anniversary include screenings of the documentary How the West was Lost, which tells the story of the 1946 strike through photos and interviews with strikers and supporters.

The film showed on October 18 at Fremantle's Fibonacci Centre and is scheduled to show at Perth's Backlot Cinema on November 10.

Fremantle Park Sport and Community Centre hosted Remembering the Strike: an evening of songs and stories on Saturday October 23.

The event was be a one-night live show featuring performances by David Milroy, Dave Johnson, Naomi Pigram, David Hyams, and Roebourne singer-songwriter Tyson Mowarian, plus a performance of an excerpt from Yandy, play about the strike by writer Jolly Read.

By Sarah Smit

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