The Town of Port Hedland’s Leap Park has been renamed ‘Strike Park’ in honour of the Pilbara Station Workers Strike, one of the most significant industrial strikes in Western Australia’s history.
The Port Hedland community gathered to open the newly renamed park on May 1, the 75th anniversary of the 1946 industrial action that saw more than 800 Aboriginal pastoral worker walk off the job.
Nyamal and Pitjakarli woman Doris Eaton from Nyamal Aboriginal Corporation organised a march of the Nyamal people through Port Hedland to the opening of the newly renamed park.
She said the new name was a bittersweet recognition of the strikers.
“I was sad and I was happy [at the ceremony],” Eaton said.
“Much didn’t change until 1965. [The strike] changed some things, but much didn’t change for native people.”
Ms Eaton said the legacy of the strikers will continue in the fight for a Voice to Parliament.
“The next generation after me, they’re going to fight for our rights and for our voice,” she said.
Port Hedland Mayor Peter Carter said it was an honour to open the park under the new name.
“What they did 75 years ago was pivotal in advocating Aboriginal workers and their rights across the country,” he said.
“This park is named in honour of those who participated in the strike and its place in history.”
The landmark 1946 Pilbara Aboriginal station workers strike lasted three years and paved the way for Aboriginal and workers’ rights across Australia.
The Native Administration Act (1905-1947) made it illegal for Aboriginal workers to leave their place of work without their employer’s consent; any Indigenous station worker who left would be hunted down by police and taken back to the station they had left.
Nyangumarta man Dooley Bin Bin, Nyamal man Clancy McKenna, and communist organiser Don McLeod led the industrial action for over seven years.
Plans began at a 1942 meeting at Skull Creek with over 200 senior Aboriginal leaders from 23 languages groups, but the initial strike date was deferred until the end of World War Two.
In 1945, Bin Bin began travelling to pastoral camps, delivering calendars that marked the date of the strike.
On May 1, 1946 hundreds of Aboriginal workers walked off the job and set up strike camps, including Twelve Mile camp outside of Port Hedland and Moolyella camp near Marble Bar.
The strike camps remained until 1949 when the Deputy Commissioner for Native Affairs told organisers that wage standards for pastoral workers would be implemented.
The Deputy Commissioner did not keep that promise after the strikers went back to work.
By Sarah Smit