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Australian Biography -

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(generated from captions) Good advice my mother gave me. the cook and be a good listener. When you go Teddy, keep sweet with That's me. has ranged from working Ted Egan's career with remote Aboriginal communities, to songwriter, historian, entertainer of Administrator. and the Northern Territory's top job eventually five children. My mum was at home with ah, And I was her delivery boy. And she used to take in ironing. of washed clothes I'd ride to get the big box "What's in the box?" You know, and if kids would say I'd say "My mum breeds canaries. I'd have the box.

to the, to so and so" "I'm just taking some canaries "Oh, my mum takes in ironing." I wasn't capable of saying she was striving so hard to make I should have been very proud that she never spent it on herself. a few extra bob for her family, affect your parents? In what way did the Depression victims of the Depression. Ah... I always felt they were had no job, no permanent job, All of a sudden my father

oh as I recall, about 1938. and that lasted till, about my dad is The most telling story when he was about 57, I think. that he had his first glass of beer and he said And he went on a holiday to Hobart

wanted to have a glass of beer, "You know, I've always one before this "but I've never been able to afford "but I'm going to have one now." to contribute at all? With money so tight, were you asked

the papers after school. I used to sell and "Get your Herald..." I got the bundle of papers and it was such an exciting time and leap onto the tram because the war was on. in news terms

advance on Stalingrad" or whatever So you'd get the headline "Germans and I knew I had to be fast. and you'd be shouting this out

for the Herald. Head down for a fast sale and had the change in the hands Tuppence each

and suddenly realised and sold a couple

two fellas singing. that there were New Zealanders in the jungle greens, And I looked up and here are two and so on were wearing. that people who were in New Guinea songs, which I didn't understand And they're singing only Maori but the harmonies were just superb. at the first tram stop but I stayed. And I'm supposed to be off Stood there like this. was just listening to them. And the whole tram They were so good. And I never forgot it. Melbourne was full of Americans. And I remember And the Marine's Hymn goes to the shores of Tripoli" "From the halls of Montezuma rewrote it to and the Melbournians to St Kilda by the sea. "From the streets of Melbourne City just how stupid they can be. "All the Aussie girls are showing us

before the war, "In the good old days "all the Aussie girls were gay. on the twerps from the USA." "But now they've gone completely mad how do you like that? The twerps eh, when the war was on, These were your school days, at the time? what school were you going to that I'd go to the Brothers, It was decreed early on as it was called, The Brothers. because I could pass the exams. I was such a stupid show-off but as we went into school They were so easy, all these nubile young girls each day on the tram, for the various schools. would be getting on the minute she'd get on And one in particular, and oh my god. I'd have this roaring erection, The mortification of it all, what in the hell to do. and crossing your legs and wondering And the answer was nothing, to touch your penis, because you weren't allowed sinful to touch your private parts. because that was that was very was just about a mortal sin. And... and things like masturbation how I endured puberty, And so ah, I don't know

but it was a dreadful time. when you left school? What did your parents want you to do I had to A, pass all the exams, and C, get a secure job to last me B, get into the Public Service which time I'd be a good Catholic for the rest of my life, during reasonably affluent and I'd finish up and eventually go to heaven. with a superannuation was going to be life. And that when you left school? What did you do who was in my class at school, Ronnie Smith "Do you know what I'm doing?" he said, He said "I'm going to Brazil." I said "No." I said "I'll come with you." Alice Springs, went on to Darwin And we caught the Ghan to and lobbed in Darwin in the rickety old bus of the time, 12 months, save up and go to Brazil. where we were going to work for and so am I. But he's still in Darwin What happened when you got to Darwin?

the Department of Works and Jerks, We went to this officer at can you play cricket? and his first question was,

because the personnel man And we both signed up Department of Works cricket team. was the Captain of the was just something in between sport So the period at the office first beer at that time and ah and drinking and ah, I'd had my liked it and kept at it. what was called Belsen Camp. That day moved into During the war,

it had been a camp for nurses fence around it to protect them. and there was a big barbed wire So the local name for it was Belsen. isn't it? "It's like a racial fruit salad, On the first day I said to Ronnie "So many different people." that expression to this day. And I constantly use "There's every race And I wrote a song, the earth, "and colour that ever walked if you want to prove your worth. "but you cop no strife in Darwin and don't stack on a blue, "Just learn to hold your grog down, mate, is an endless barbecue." "you'll find that life in Darwin, In the midst of this racial mix, a Tiwi Islander football team. you were asked to start How did it go? in our third year. We won our first premiership They were brilliant footballers. They must have adapted very well. They could speak simple English, on my life. Puantulura was a big influence but an old man called Aloysius

in the start of the footy team. He was very interested that didn't mean a thing to me. He used sing me songs, you know, And he'd sing, (sings in Aboriginal language) He'd sing that to me and say "Come on, you sing." (sings in Aboriginal language) He'd say "Yeah, you've got it." And I was proficient enough to give the pep talk at half time in the Tiwi language. And to the football one day came Paul Hasluck no less. He was Minister for Territories. He'd been in and out of Darwin a lot, because there was quite a bit of foment among mixed race Aboriginal people who were claiming that they should be exempted from all these discriminatory laws.

And after the match which we won, he introduced himself. He said I'm interested in you. He said would you like to work among Aboriginal people? I said "Yeah, all right." And he said "Come and see me on Monday morning." So I did and within half an hour I was appointed as a cadet patrol officer in the Native Affairs Branch. So that took me into the next 20 something years working for them. What was the exact nature of the Discriminatory Laws that were causing the problem, could you sum them up? Any Aboriginal native of Australia was subject to the control of the Director of Native Affairs. And could be told to move anywhere within the Northern Territory at the discretion of the Director. Could not legally marry, could not engage in employment without the permission of the Director. Could not hold money or land in their own names without the control of the Department. Ah... and um... couldn't drink alcohol, which was the biggest single one in the thirsty frontier Northern Territory. What were your duties? Oh, my duties was to go to the court every morning to see who was in the cells. As a cadet I represented a fella named Bob Secretary in the Magistrate's Court here. And he was charged with being in a prohibited area between sunset and sunrise. What he was doing was walking the seven miles from the Bagot Reserve

to the army, where he was employed. And he was, he'd been put on evening shift, and he was going to work and this overzealous copper arrested him and had him charged.

And I made this big emotional plea in the court. I said this is a disgrace. I said, particularly as Bob Secretary is a Larrakia, and everybody knows that the Larrakia are the owners of Darwin. And that was a fairly outrageous statement to make in 1953, but I made it. And the old magistrate gave me a look that sort of said

"Will you ever learn, son?" And fortunately I never did. But he was fined five shillings for that misdemeanour.

Ted, when you were sent to establish a new settlement at Maningrida, what did you know about the Aboriginal people

of this very remote area? I did go in prepared to be taught things. I'd say, look I don't know anything about making baskets or fishing... teach me. I'd sit down and wherever possible take a swag and camp with the blackfellas.

Did they ever take you crocodile hunting? I'll never forget it. I'm not a great water bloke and all of a sudden there's one there, and there's that much free board on the dingy, and I thought oh my god. You could see he was a really big one. And so in we go and ah, old Jackie Nabalay is paddling just like this.

Shake the drops off. And old Harry's poised above me. And I'm trembling. And all of a sudden he let go with the harpoon and hits the croc in the neck. It was only three nails like that. Goes into the croc's neck, stays there. The stick falls in the water, pick it up later, but he's got the rope on the croc. I'd sharpened up a couple of skinning knives

and I've got this knife and he looked around at me and laughed and he said "What, you wanna jump in and kill 'im like a Tarzan?" I said "No, no." He said "You shoot 'im. No you argument. "You argument for the croc now." So I shot the croc easily enough and we skinned it but he'd tell the story. (Speaks Aboriginal)

And boss, boss! That's me. He knew I hated being called boss. And boss he bin torch 'im and he kill 'im that crocodile. He kill 'im like a Tarzan. And then he'd look around at me and say, boss you got any ngarali? Ngarali's tobacco, you see. (Laughs) You were just 21 when you married Rae in Darwin, how did you meet her? I got to know her at the basketball and used to give her a bit of cheek and one night at the basketball I plucked up the courage and asked would she like to go to the pictures. And she said "Yeah, I'd love to." And so we then got married in October '53. Greg Egan was born in '54. And Margaret Egan was born in '57. So by the time I went to Borroloola I've got two young kids who went with us. What was your role at Borroloola? I was required to just be the government man living in residence, in the old police station. I had to do the weather and the medical treatment of pensioners, and rationing the old pensioners and running the store.

And also being a bit of a presence for local white people

in that I had the radio.

And I certainly met my greatest ever character at Borroloola and wrote my first song, based on an old bloke named Roger Jose... # For Roger liked astrology, # history, anthropology, poetry, politics and theology # geography, philosophy, read up all of these # and likes to sit and argue underneath the shady trees. # For Roger like to drink a little metho with his dinner. # A spoonful of strychnine was certainly a winner. # A rum and a johnny cake served for his tea. # He said Borroloola is the place for me. # Ted, your next next postings took you to Groote Eylandt, and then to Yuendumu as District Superintendent. Now you were only 26, how did you approach that new, more senior role?

I was doing everything differently from what I'd done in the top end. In the top end I'd been Ted Egan who sat down with the blackfellas and learnt songs, and didn't throw his weight around at all. And people say to me in retrospect, what did you do at Yuendumu? And I say, I was God. And I'm not that happy when I say it because I did wield such power. I didn't seek to abuse it, but ah...

I look back on a few instances where I probably did abuse the power, or used it unfairly. In what way? More often than not it was ah... based on the deaths of babies. There is not one Warlpiri child from Yuendumu born in 1957 that is still alive. Every single one of them died from gastroenteritis. And I used to say to the people, it's the dogs. You have these mangy bloody dogs.

You allow the dogs to eat out of the same billy can that you then give to the baby to have a feed or a drink. And you wonder why your children get sick. And so whenever a baby would die, which was about one a week,

I would say, the ration store will open after you allow me an hour to go and I'll shoot 50 dogs down in the camp. And then I'd go back and we'd serve the rations. But Ted, the record shows that this was a flourishing time with market gardens, cattle, you had building projects, and all the children in school. How did you take the people with you to get all this to happen? They were going along with the ideas, because the crazy white man always has the key to the ration store. I said, we're going to run cattle on this place because we had 1000 square miles. The day after I left, they ah stopped really working the cattle. They started eating the cattle, and the next white man had strengths in other areas, in mining. So he got all these blokes who'd worked cattle under me, they all went prospecting under him, because that was the end of that white man and here comes another. What does this new white man want? And you were sent off to Yirrkala as intermediary between the Aboriginals and the new bauxite mining company, how did that experience affect you? I started to get a lot of dilemmas in my own life while I was there

because I'd previously taken the same stance as my superiors on the question of Aboriginal land. It was held to be Crown Land, administered by the organisation that I worked for in a benign way for the benefit of Aboriginal people. And that was the government attitude, that Aboriginals stay out of it. We control the land, so that was where I was supposed to come in. I was suppose to do all these deals with the mining company ah... to make them all safe and secure. NEWSREEL: Regular monthly meetings between the Aborigines, Nabalco, the mission and the District Welfare Officer began last November. And I'm thinking, now hang on, the Aboriginals are my clients, and ah, certain that they owned the land.

They said they were happy to make white people welcome. We'd be happy to have mining here, as long as you acknowledge that it's our land and that we help make the rules. And I thought that was terribly reasonable.

I was really disenchanted with my own people and I thought, gee, they're just using me because they know I get on well with Aboriginals. And I'd be told...

I'd get a phone call, "Ted, run this past the Aboriginals. "See if you can get away with this" and I'm sort of saying you're talking to the right bloke.

How did you come to meet Nugget Coombs, the chair of the newly formed Federal Council of Aboriginal Affairs? I had to show him around the entire operation. He'd never met any the Aboriginals before. He said "I don't know anything about this. I'm here to learn" but he said "I definitely taking a note of what I hear." And he said "I'm hearing loud and clear that they feel "they own the land."

He said "I think I'm on their side." Every single thing he said I thought, gee I agree with you on that. And so you left your job in the Northern Territory and went to work with Nugget in Canberra, how did you come to write the song 'The Gurindji Blues' which you wrote at that time? I wrote that on the night after I heard the Minister for the Interior in parliament saying, if these Gurindji want some land why don't they do what any decent Australian would do, save up the money and buy some. And I went, hang on. And I thought to myself. You weren't there, but I was there at Wave Hill Station way back in 1953,

and there'd been white fellas in the area since 1883. So 70 years later, the Gurindji stockmen, who all that time they, and their fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers, had worked for the white man in one capacity or another.

They were all lined up, and they were given the first touch of money ever. Each one was given a five pound note. And ah..

I thought to myself, Minister, how dare you say that, because even if they should save up their money to buy some property, how in the hell could they on wages like that? So I wrote my song. It went like this, Poor bugger me. Gurindji. Maybe sit down this country. Long time before the Lord Vestey, all about land belong 'em to we. Oh poor bugger me, Gurindji.

# Poor bugger black fellas Gurindji. # Suppose we buy him back country. # What you reckon proper fee? # Might be flour and sugar and tea from the Gurindji to Lord Vestey. # Oh poor bugger me... # (Speaks Aboriginal) #

Poor bugger me... (Speaks Aboriginal) And we sold I think about 15,000 copies at $2 a copy. And it financed the Aboriginal tent embassy for the first 12 months. A fact not widely known.

In 1973, you decided to leave the Public Service altogether. Why did you resign?

It was always on my mind that one day you've got to go, and make room for Aboriginals, because they are the only ones who can sort out their lives. And anyone else who thinks they can do it better, is deluded. And various things that I had fought for over a lot of years and demonstrated about and written about, came to reality. The recognition of the principle of traditional land rights. The removal of all discriminatory laws. That was achieved by 1973. I was driving from Wave Hill into Katherine and I just pulled up and wrote the letter and posted it at the Katherine post office and never went back. And that was it. And about that same time, you also decided to leave your marriage that was a big thing for a Catholic couple. Well, it was and particularly me because I did the walking.

She didn't. And she's probably still bewildered to this day. But I ah..

But I've got to live with that, and I live with that. I don't lose any sleep over it because I had to lead my life.

It's the classic mid life change, of course. But I went to Alice Springs to become the fella who did the Ted Egan Outback Show for the next 28 years.

Let me take you to the outback to a place called Alice Springs. And once you're there I bet you'll want to stay. Where were you living? At the pub. And when did you move out? When I teamed up with Nerys. How did you meet Nerys? I met Nerys at a folk festival. We were in the bar. I said "Have you ever tried Bundy rum and dry ginger?" And she said "What's that like?" I said "It's like kissing a sailor." I said "It's lovely." So she said "I'll try it." She was a beautiful singer herself. We had so much in common, that was the start of a beautiful friendship. One of your own best known songs is the Drover's Boy, how did you come to write that one? In the early '50s, when I was a cadet patrol officer,

go to places like Wave Hill and there would be these old women with the big hats smoking their pipes and just looking off into the distance.

A few of them used to insist that they'd been droving. And I'd say "How come?" Because I said "There's been a law ever since 1911 "that prevented Aboriginal women from working as drovers." She said "Our bosses used to present us as boys. "We'd have our hair cut short, we were wearing trousers and shirts "and hats the same as the men." "And we were called Tommy and Billy and Paddy "because they knew it was against the law, "but we'd have to work the cattle all day "and work in the swag with them all night." And that was life, and so I wrote the song. # And he told of the massacre in the West. # Barest detail, guess the rest. # Shoot the bucks, grab a gin. # Cut her hair, break her in. # Call her a boy. The drover's boy. # Call her a boy, the drover's boy. # His Honour Mr Ted Egan, Administrator of the Northern Territory and Ms Nerys Evans. Good afternoon everyone, welcome to the launch of Legacy Badge Week, but first of all we always like to pay tribute to the Larrikia, the first Australians of this region, they are still among us and we cherish their ongoing presence, and wisdom and dignity. Ah, for some of you, it is your first visit to Government House... How did the public react to your appointment as Administrator of the Northern Territory? I don't think anyone could believe it really. You know, a beer cartin' player as Administrator. Get serious, government. But quite a few other letters to the editor said pretty good choice really. He's a knockabout bushy and will probably surprise you all. Do you feel restricted by the job? A little, but I understand that I must be restricted by the job, keeping right away from political matters. I made a very provocative speech about Aboriginal health in my first year, and there were a lot of people who said how dare he utter a political comment like that.

And I said "This is not a political speech, this is a cry for help. "This is a sociological comment from someone "who knows what he's talking about." So I didn't back off in any way. In my public life I've got the hide of a rhinoceros and the energy of a working bullock. You've had your own TV series, you've been a writer, a teacher... Is there any other life you would have liked to have lived?

I had my tattoos done when I was 13, because I was going to be a sailor, and so there they are. They cost seven and sixpence each, and it hurt like anything getting them done. Don't let people tell you it doesn't hurt. It did hurt. But it didn't hurt anywhere as much as the bloody hiding my mother gave me when I got home with two tattoos on my arms. Also there was no doubt in my mind from age eight, until about 15, that I would finish up a priest. But at about that point, I realised that what I was looking for was not the sanctity and the holy life. I was looking for an audience. And I love having an audience. So I've enjoyed this little chat very much.

# Oh, talk about a mob of characters in the outback.

# Well you meet 'em as you're travelling through the bush. # There's bagmen, shearers, drovers, cooks

# and I reckon you could write a thousand books in the outback, # in the outback of Australia. # I asked an old Aboriginal bloke why they called him Galloping Jack. one day on the Jim Jim Track.

# The lowest limb on the only tree was 14 foot from the ground. # Jack jumped for the branch and missed # but he caught it on the way down. Captions (c) SBS Australia 2008

This program is captioned live.

We've still got more to do to finalise it

but I think we're there. A breakthrough in moves towards a multi-billion-dollar bailout for Wall Street. Americans assess their options after the first presidential debate. Are you crazy, the fall will probably kill you.

The death of Hollywood nice guy Paul Newman. And a red card for Socceroo Tim Cahill in a fiery Merseyside derby. Good evening, and welcome to SBS World News Australia. I'm Lee Lin Chin. And I'm Craig Foster.