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The Pilbara farewells a giant

Respected and much loved Banjima Elder Maitland Parker was farewelled at a graveside service in Onslow on March 17 by his wife of 54 years Marjorie, Daughters Coreen, Carmel and Renira and more than 1500 family, friends and colleagues.

The service was emceed by Rick Callaghan, a long term friend and adviser, with a eulogy and heartfelt family tributes delivered by Dr Shaun Canning, friend and trusted cultural heritage advisor.

Guest speakers included representatives from FMG, Rio Tinto, BHP, Department of Parks and Wildlife plus friends, and close colleagues across seven decades who spoke of a life well lived and of Maitland's legacy.

Maitland Parker was born in Roebourne on the 1st of October 1952 to parents Herbert and Ivy. One of eight siblings, Maitland was given the traditional name Djadjiling.

His father worked as a station hand, horse breaker, fencer, and stockman while his mother usually worked as a station domestic and looked after their children.

He started his education in 1960 aged seven. Deciding school wasn't for him after two years at Derby High School, he returned to his family on Nanutarra Station, and in the words of his father he had to "'work like a man".

Maitland worked as a stockman, growing to love it as he worked alongside his father and older brother Trevor, working as fencers, on windmill runs, mustering sheep on horseback and cleaning out troughs. Maitlands first great love was for horses and he competed in events as a young man and then as an adult, winning many competitions.

A love of horses became a lifelong passion for Maitland who was described as a brilliant horseman. In recent years he became the proud owner of racehorse Karijini Aurora. His trainer Summer Dickson spoke with fondness of their time talking about the horse and she remarked that until recently she wasn't aware of failing health. When he talked about his horse; that was his whole focus.

In 1968 Maitland met his future wife Marjorie Hughes at the Onslow Races. They remained inseparable for the next 54 years. Described as a beautiful marriage, they welcomed three daughters and grew a family for four generations. Marjorie describes them as only having eyes for each other from the start and of memories of learning one another's languages and the Balgabi songs they sang as they travelled many roads together. He kept his family safe and secure and was a dedicated family man. Marjorie's said of him: "You're simply the best".

In 1980 Maitland, in the first hint of political activism, walked off Nanutarra Station because he was being underpaid. He broke new ground as the first male health worker in Onslow and the first Aboriginal Justice of the peace in the Pilbara.

In 1984, Maitland was selected to join the first Aboriginal Ranger Trainee Program at Millstream National Park with the Department of Conservation and Land Management, graduating in 1986.

Maitland became a central figure in the formation of the Karijini Park Council and due to his tireless campaigning the park was renamed Karijini National Park in 1991. Karijini National Park was a central part of Maitland's working and family life over the next few decades. He was appointed a National Park Rangers in the (former) Hamersley Ranges National Park with his cousin-brother Johnny, on a land the family calls their forever home.

Maitland became a familiar face in Karijini, welcoming and impressing visitors to Country - politicians, mining executives, local and international tourists as well as supermodels - with his vast knowledge. He was an integral part of the Karijini Experience up to 2023.

Maitland became the first Aboriginal senior ranger of the park, a position he held for nearly ten years.

Mr Maitland Parker at the Rio Tinto Gudai Darri mine opening with his brother, respected Elder Trevor Parker. Image: Kylie Stirk.

In 1998 Maitland was one of the original signatories for the Martidja Banjima people in their native title claim. The case would take sixteen years, millions of dollars and a steadfast determination. Mourners heard of Maitland's central importance to this fight along side many Banjima brothers, sisters, cousins and many old people no longer here. Expertly legally guided by Paul Sheiner and Greg McIntyre, and after significant work, advocacy and bravery – Native Title was awarded to the Banjima people in 2014.

Maitland had a pivotal role in negotiating land use and heritage agreements with mining companies over the last 20 years of his life often, described as David and Goliath battles. Maitland was part of a 'bush lawyer' team with other important Banjima men. Their persistence culminating in the claim-wide land use agreements with BHP and Rio Tinto.

In 2016, Maitland was diagnosed with mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos fibres from the unrehabilitated Wittenoom asbestos mine. Maitland was a willing participant in trials of experimental treatments not knowing if they would prolong his life but knowing that it would certainly help others.

His strength and determination defied the initial bleak prognosis and Maitland regularly spoke out about his illness to national and international media and the contamination of the land, labelling it "poison country".

In the eulogy, Maitland's family described how infuriated he was that there has been no effort to rehabilitate Nambiggunha (Wittenoom), describing it as a national disgrace.

As each year passes, there is evidence the tailings continue to spread and the cost of fixing the problem estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars looms larger.

In the last few years, Maitland worked with filmmakers to record his life story, a story of his culture and Country and his journey with mesothelioma. His hope was that the release of the film will echo around the world and keep the spotlight on the need for the abandoned contaminated minesites to be cleaned up.

Despite failing health, Maitland continued to be a key figure in a range of organisations to achieve outcomes for Banjima people, including in negotiations with mining companies. He is described by brother Slim as a "formidable team player" and having a "professional gambler's face", never giving anything away when at the table. Maitland possessed a deep knowledge and practice of culture and Lore combined with a thorough knowledge of Native Title and corporations law, and a clear vision of what was possible.

Former CEO of the Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, and friend, Johanna Ramsay - who worked closely with Maitland for three years - described him as having the resilience of a warrior who tirelessly fought for his people and Country and left a lasting legacy.

Maitland continued to pass his cultural knowledge onto younger Banjima by hunting, yarns around the fire, and through dance and song, the Bulgarbi which he and brother, Elder Trevor Parker, were determined to keep being shared.

His many Grannies and Great Grannies loved and respected Maitland as a leader, a teacher and friend and talk of wonderful memories at Peedamulla, Cane River and Karijini where he shared culture, Lore and yarning stories.

He is remembered as a hugely determined man, full of grace, humility and dedication to Country and his people. Described as charismatic, warm, a true gentleman, with a smile that lit up a room, sometimes cheeky, dedicated to family and a fierce advocate and negotiator for his culture and heritage. Maitland walked with captains of industry, politicians, high court judges, stars and tourists alike with humility and grace. He was a man who truly walked in two worlds.

Maitland defied the original shattering prognosis and lived for eight years in which time he achieved so much for his people, continued to share culture and heritage with the young people, and saw precious new family members born. His sheer determination left others in awe. Sadly, and well before his time, Maitland Parker's journey ended on January 25 as he passed away surrounded by loved ones.

Maitland leaves behind his beloved wife of 54 years Marjorie, Daughters: Coreen, Carmel and Renira, grandchildren: Zaharakis, Xania, Latonya, Jasmine, Teehani, Curtis, Cody, Peta, Tara, Heidi and Shekira; and great-grandchildren: Brent, Ocean, Helena, Louis Jnr, Dean, Renesmae, Tyra, Tama, Phoenix, Nadia, Ezaylee, Lavinia and Avianna. In the cultural way Maitland was also dad, pop, brother, uncle, cousin and son to many other family members.

National Indigenous Times offers our sincere condolences to all who loved Maitland.

Information for this article has been drawn from the eulogy for Mr Parker and tributes provided by family and compiled by Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation on behalf of the Parker family. National Indigenous Times has been advised it was Mr Parker's wish that his name be used to keep his message and his story alive.

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