Dexter Daniels (Aboriginal activist)

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Dexter Daniels
Dexter Daniels addressing Sydney unionists, October 1966

Dexter Daniels (1938 – c.1990) was a pioneering activist in the struggle for Aboriginal rights and land rights in Australia during the 1960s and 1970s. Daniels came to public attention as the breakaway Aboriginal Organiser of the North Australian Workers' Union (NAWU) in 1966 and was integral in supporting the Wave Hill Walk-off.

Early life[edit]

Daniels was a Numadiddi man born at the Roper River Church Missionary Society mission at Roper River, in the Northern Territory of Australia. Established in 1908, it brought together the remaining fragments of groups previously occupying a wide area of the Roper basin and South East Arnhem Land. Daniels was one of many Indigenous activists from the Roper Mission who went on to become deeply involved in social and political struggles in the Northern Territory. They included the Roberts brothers, Clancy, Jacob and Phillip and Dexter Daniels and his brother Davis.[1] "That's not right" was a response of which Daniels was "very fond" when discussing injustices.[2]

The Wave Hill walk-off[edit]

Wave Hill Station is a pastoral station which was run by British Pastoral Company Vesteys. It employed many local Aboriginal people, mostly Gurindji. Conditions on the station for Aboriginal people were very poor. Their wages were not equal to those paid to non-Aboriginal employees and were often controlled. While an effort to introduce equal wages for Aboriginal workers was made in 1965, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission decided to delay the payment of award wages for Aboriginal people in the cattle industry until 1968.[3]

Spurred into action by this delay, Daniels sought backing from NAWU to support a strike by Aboriginal pastoral workers across the Northern Territory. His preliminary contact with workers in the Barkly Tablelands of the Territory resulted in Aboriginal workers leaving Newcastle Waters and Helen Springs cattle stations in April 1966.[4] NAWU's Northern Territory Secretary Paddy Carroll refused to support a Territory-wide strike on practical grounds, however. Daniels then sought and obtained backing from the Northern Territory Council of Aboriginal Rights, and traveled to Wave Hill Station with Communist and Waterside Worker Brian Manning and Tiwi actor Robert Tudawali. The support offered by Daniels and the NTCAR to Vincent Lingiari, leader of the Gurindji people, encouraged Lingiari to undertake he protest action that became known as the Wave Hill Walk-off on 23 August 1966. The 1973 documentary film 'The Unlucky Australians' by British director John Goldschmidt featured Dexter Daniels in a reconstruction of the Wave Hill Walk-Off. The film was narrated by Frank Hardy who had championed the Gurindji's cause.

General activism[edit]

After the Wave Hill Walk-off, Daniels traveled to Sydney on a speaking tour with Gurindji elder Lupngagiari (Captain Major). His advocacy and confidence quickly made Daniels a well-known and controversial figure among NT pastoralists and conservative politicians. In 1967, Daniels was arrested upon his return to his home community on a vagrancy charge. The charge was subsequently shown to have no basis and was dismissed.[5]

During the later 1960s and early 1970s, Daniels again traveled interstate, leading numerous demonstrations and speaking at rallies for Aboriginal Land Rights in Sydney and Melbourne. Daniels lobbied for the land rights of his own and neighbouring clans also.[6][7][8] Daniels lobbied for the land rights of his own and neighbouring clans also.

In April 1968, Daniels was arrested for vagrancy and sentenced to 14 days jail. He appealed the conviction and won.[9][10] In July the same year, Dexter attended the World Youth Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria as a guest of the Communist Party of Australia.[11][1]

After the award of a pastoral lease to the Gurindji people in 1973,[12] he lived among them at Kalkaringi in 1975–76. Land rights over his own country was awarded automatically as an existing Aboriginal reserve by the Whitlam Government.

Later life[edit]

Daniels died in the 1990s in Katherine.[13]


  1. ^ a b Kimber, Julie (2011). "'That's not right': Indigenous politics, Dexter Daniels and 1968". ASSLH conference. Australian Society for the Study of Labour History. Retrieved 5 July 2017. 
  2. ^ Hardy, Frank (1972). The unlucky Australians (2nd ed. rev. ed.). Hawthorn, Australia: Gold Star Publications. ISBN 978-0726000126. 
  3. ^ "The Wave Hill 'walk-off' – Fact sheet 224". National Archive of Australia. National Archive of Australia. Retrieved 5 July 2017. 
  4. ^ Ward, Charlie (Aug 2016). A Handful of Sand: the Gurindji Struggle After the Walk-off. Monash University Publishing. 
  5. ^ Kimber, Julie (2009). "A Right to be Troublesome: the Arrest of Dexter Daniels and the Politics of Vagrancy Laws". Labour History in the New Century: 167–180. 
  6. ^ "You can help us get our land hack, says Daniels". Tribune (1565). Sydney. 3 July 1968. p. 12. Retrieved 12 July 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  7. ^ "Support for Roper River Land Fight". Northern Territory News. 24 February 1970. 
  8. ^ "Backed Aborigines on Sand rights". Tribune (1649). Sydney. 1 April 1970. p. 12. Retrieved 12 July 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  9. ^ "Dexter Daniels found not guilty". The Canberra Times. 42 (11,972). 11 April 1968. p. 3. Retrieved 12 July 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  10. ^ "Surprise move releases Dexter Daniels". The Canberra Times. 42 (11,866). 8 December 1967. p. 3. Retrieved 12 July 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  11. ^ "Dexter Daniels to attend festival". The Canberra Times. 42 (12,032). 20 June 1968. p. 16. Retrieved 12 July 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  12. ^ "Special lease granted to Gurindji". The Canberra Times. 47 (13,386). 19 March 1973. p. 3. Retrieved 12 July 2017 – via National Library of Australia. 
  13. ^ Gosford, Bob (19 August 2016). "Wave Hill, Communists and a Bedford two-tonner. An interview with Brian Manning". Crikey. Retrieved 11 July 2017.