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Over seven decades ago, a monumental event in Australian history unfolded in the heart of the Western Australian outback – the Pilbara strike of 1946. This watershed movement was the first of its kind, marked by the unity and determination of the Indigenous community to fight for their rights.
The 1946 Pilbara strike had both immediate and lasting outcomes, which continue to shape conversations around Indigenous rights in Australia.
Often referred to as the Aboriginal strike Pilbara 1946, this was the first ever industrial action undertaken by Aboriginal Australians. The walk-off began on May 1, 1946, initiated by over 800 Aboriginal pastoral workers across 27 stations in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The workers, disheartened by years of oppressive conditions, inequality, and denial of their basic rights, staged this strike to demand better wages, improved working conditions, and overall fair treatment.
In order to understand why the Pilbara strike occurred, it’s crucial to delve into the historical context. Indigenous Australians in the Pilbara, during the mid-20th Century, worked under near-slavery conditions. They were offered meagre rations instead of regular wages and endured long working hours under harsh, sometimes brutal, conditions.
The strike was incited by Indigenous leaders like Dooley Bin Bin and Clancy McKenna, who, driven by the spirit of self-determination, advocated for their people’s rights. They demanded a fair wage of 30 shillings a week and the right to control their own communities and lands. These leaders played a significant role in mobilising the workers, negotiating with the government, and maintaining morale during the strike that lasted for years.
The Pilbara strike outcomes are far-reaching and profound – although the strikers did not achieve all their demands immediately, the strike initiated a long process of gradual change. It sparked an intensified focus on Indigenous rights and led to broader awareness and discussions on social justice issues in Australia.
In the immediate aftermath, the workers established their own independent mining cooperatives, despite considerable resistance from government and non-government agencies. This was a remarkable accomplishment, underpinning the strikers’ resolve for economic self-sufficiency.
The strike also played a significant role in shaping Australia’s legislative landscape, leading to major reforms in the conditions of Aboriginal workers in the pastoral industry. The basic wage for Aboriginal pastoral workers, which was a key demand of the strikers, was finally introduced in 1968, more than two decades after the strike.
The lasting legacy of the Pilbara strike is its role in laying the groundwork for further Aboriginal rights movements in Australia, such as the landmark 1967 Referendum, which finally recognised Aboriginal people as citizens in their own country.
In conclusion, the 1946 Pilbara strike was an act of courage and determination, a turning point that paved the way for significant change in the lives of Aboriginal Australians. As we remember this significant chapter in Australia’s history, it’s essential to reflect on the ongoing struggles and the continued pursuit for justice, equality, and recognition of First Nations peoples in Australia.
Children’s Ground is working towards First Nations justice by privileging community-led opportunities across health, education, economic empowerment and more. We are seeing incredible changes in First Nations communities and system change at a national level. For more information, visit Children’s Ground. We are creating a new future for our next generations. A future full of opportunity and hope. Walk with us.