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Some People Want To Shoot Me: new book tells gripping tale of tension in Western Australia's far north

David Prestipino -

Wayne Bergmann has traversed two very different worlds and cultures more than most, managing contrasting ethical and enterprising complexities that have earned much admiration, and a few enemies.

He's spent the majority of his life fighting for the rights of Traditional Owners, which has inevitably put him - and at times his family - in the firing line. 

"I chose this job, I chose this political path. My family did not," Mr Bergmann said.

The former Kimberley Land Council CEO's fascinating and pioneering journey full of compromise, tragedy and triumph is detailed in the upcoming book published by Fremantle Press ‘Some People Want To Shoot Me’, co-written by Madelaine Dickie, mostly from a series of interviews the pair conducted 2020-2022.

"Some People Want To Shoot Me comes from my work to do good for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley," Mr Bergmann, who is the co-owner of the National Indigenous Times, said.

"That meant not accepting the status quo ... Traditional Owners should expect the best possible service and economic outcomes, and at times that meant confronting government, industry, environmental groups, and also some Traditional Owners."

That fiery mix came into sharp focus when Mr Bergmann became CEO of the Kimberley Land Council at just 33, where his nous for battling mining titans and the big end of town was quickly put into practice at the turn of the century.

A boilermaker by trade, and then a lawyer, Mr Bergmann negotiated the $1.5 billion James Price Point gas hub negotiations that ripped the Broome community apart while leading the KLC. 

"It was a roller-coaster ride, a pressure cooker; there was no support, no training," he said of his time at the KLC. 

"You were literally thrown out in the deep end ... and it was sink or swim.

"The people who had my back, and believed and mentored me, were the senior cultural leadership of the Kimberley, made up the senior men, senior women... who had the most incredible knowledge of culture, and of life.

"Even though they didn't have a western education, when complicated issues were described they had a piercing sense of right and wrong and justice and fairness.

"So, I had to use every bit of process and technicality to create a lever of strength, to be able to negotiate the best possible commercial deals you could."

Mr Bergmann's story starts on Nyikina country and encompasses backbreaking station work, buried treasure, a Swedish bone thief and traditional magic love songs. 

It is a pulsating story of resilience, determination and optimism, and lays bare what it takes to be an Aboriginal person walking in two worlds and cultures in a country where racism runs deep.

Mr Bergmann joined the KLC four months before his third and youngest daughter was born and his eldest was just four years old. He would be at work by 6am and often not leave until 6 or 7pm that evening.

"My wife carried the load," he says of juggling three kids under four and the rights of Traditional Owners simultaneously during WA's first mining boom, not to mention the death threats and deadly stares his wife and kids would cop.

"I feel very honoured and privileged to be able to reflect, and it's important that more Aboriginal people get to tell their story," said Mr Bergmann.

"And as tough as it's been, and the tragedies I've seen, I think it's a positive story about struggle and resilience and survival."

Professor Wayne Bergmann is the Executive Chair of the National Indigenous Times.

Some People Want To Shoot Me will be launched by WA Premier Roger Cook on April 11.

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