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Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Page: 4443

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:56): I heartily endorse the remarks made by the member for Bennelong, whose electorate is named after another great Aboriginal Australian. James Oswald Little was a phenomenal musician, captivating actor and inspirational teacher. He was perhaps the first Aboriginal person to be widely embraced by all Australians at a time of high discrimination and hardship for Indigenous people. He was recognised right across the nation for his talent, his teachings and his dedication especially to younger Aboriginal Australians.

Affectionately known as 'Jimmy', he was born into the Cummeragunja Mission on the Murray River in New South Wales, about 30 kilometres from Echuca in Victoria, on 1 March 1937. The eldest of seven children, he was born into a musical family. His mother, Frances, was a singer and yodeller and his father, James Senior, was a tap dancer, comedian, musician and singer who led his own vaudeville troupe along the Murray River during the 1930s and 1940s. Jimmy Little was born to perform. At the age of 13, not long after his mother had sadly passed away, Jimmy was handed a guitar and not long after was often seen playing at local concerts. In 1955, at the age of 18, Jimmy left home to live in Sydney and pursue a career in country music. A year after moving to the big smoke, Jimmy was signed to Regal Zonophone Records, where he released his first single Mysteries of Life/Heartbreak Waltz. In October 1963, eight years after his first single, Jimmy issued his biggest hit with the gospel song Royal Telephone. In November it peaked at No. 1 in Sydney and No. 3 in Melbourne. Jimmy was the first Aboriginal recording artist ever to make the top 10, and this famous song Royal Telephone sold 75,000 copies. In 1964, Jimmy was the Everybody's magazine Australian pop star of the year. From 1985 Jimmy taught and mentored Aboriginal musical students at the Eora Centre in Redfern and from 2002 he was an ambassador for literacy and numeracy for the Department of Education.

In 1990, Jimmy was diagnosed with kidney disease, something he blamed on not having a healthy lifestyle and not getting regular check-ups. Because of this, Jimmy became an avid campaigner for the health of Aboriginal people and in 2006 he began the Jimmy Little Foundation, to improve renal health across Indigenous communities in regional and remote Australia. On 2 April this year, Jimmy died from natural causes at his home in Dubbo, aged 75 years. He is survived by his daughter, Frances, and his beloved grandson, James Henry Little. In 2005, Jimmy told Peter Thompson, on the ABC TV program Talking Heads, how he would like to be remembered:

I just want people to remember me as a nice person who was fair-minded and had a bit of talent that put it to good use.

However, it seems Jimmy Little has left more of a mark on this world than just being fair-minded with a bit of talent. Jimmy was an ambassador for Aboriginal health and highlighted the importance of healthy living to all Australians. He was a true gentleman and a great Australian and has left behind an enduring legacy. Vale Jimmy Little.

Sitting suspended from 13:00 to 16:00