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Tuesday, 8 August 2017
Page: 7645

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:09): I rise to acknowledge the passing on 21 July of Mr Kunmanara Lester. An extraordinary Australian, his courageous life will be remembered forever. I want to place on record our respect for his tireless activism for Aboriginal rights and extend our sincere sympathy to his family and all Anangu people at this time of grieving.

Kunmanara was a Yankunytjatjara man born at Walytjatjata in the far north of South Australia in the early 1940s. One morning, as he and the other children were playing together, they saw a cloud of black smoke moving up from the south. The black mist was nuclear fallout from the weapons tests being conducted by the British at Maralinga, about 160 kilometres away. It struck him and his community with vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes and even death, and it left him permanently blind before he was out of his teens. Many hundreds of Aboriginal people were left seriously ill and injured, their land destroyed and poisoned, their suffering ignored. As Paul Kelly would sing of those people some 30 years later, the cloud left a boulder on their backs all their lives.

To Kunmanara, that devastation was a call he answered, overcoming his own loss to devote his life to seeking justice and restoration for his people and their land. For decades he worked as an antinuclear campaigner and land rights activist. His advocacy led in the mid-1980s to the McClelland royal commission into the British nuclear tests and eventually to a long-term clean-up operation and historic handback of the APY Lands and Uluru to their traditional owners. He also worked as an organiser, administrator, educator and court translator and was involved in the land council and the united mission in Alice Springs, and he helped to establish the Institute for Aboriginal Development in South Australia. His service earned him a Medal of the Order of Australia in 1981 and wide recognition as one of the most significant Aboriginal leaders our country has known.

He will be remembered as a man of wonderful intelligence and insight, as an elder of great standing and as a champion of Aboriginal rights and dignity. The Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator Nigel Scullion, will represent the Australian government at his state funeral today. So I offer on behalf of the House and the Australian people our sincere condolences to his family, friends, colleagues, all who knew this great man. The Anangu have lost a beloved leader. Tjamu Katja Lester will be dearly missed by his three children, his 12 grandchildren and his two great-grandchildren, and above all he will be revered for rising from personal tragedy to serve his community and to lead his people to ensure that they were recognised and their wrongs addressed.