House debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Constituency Statements

Nelson, Mr Tjakamarra

10:00 am

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great sadness that I speak today about the loss of a remarkable leader, a remarkable Territorian, in Mr Tjakamarra Nelson, who passed away, sadly, in November last year. He has been described as a thorough gentleman who walked with ease in two worlds. He was born on Mount Doreen Station. When he was six years old, his family left for Yuendumu, a welfare depot, around 1946. He was the fifth of nine siblings and his father had four wives. Even though he only attended the community school until grade 5, he benefited from additional tuition by a Baptist missionary, Tom Fleming. 'I was lucky,' he recalled:

The whitefella missionary used to teach me after hours … to give me extra education. That's where I managed to pick up my command of English.

He considered himself blessed to have had a two-way education, with regular breaks from settlement life. 'You'd go to church every Sunday, practise our culture every night if possible.'

After a mechanic apprenticeship Mr Nelson attended teachers college in Darwin and returned to Yuendumu school to teach, becoming one of the first Aboriginal teachers in Central Australia. After five years teaching, he joined the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to support the outstation movement as an assistant community adviser. 'He was an absolute champion of Aboriginal-led economic development, serving on the advisory committee of the Aboriginal Benefit Account and as a director of Yuendumu's Yapa-Kurlangu Ngurrara Aboriginal Corporation,' said Mr Martin-Jard, who was CEO of the Central Land Council. He was a lifelong advocate for truth-telling, and one of his last public appearances was as MC at the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the notorious Coniston massacre at Yurkurru in 2018.

Mr Nelson was a very close friend to me, a friend of over 35 years. He provided me with advice and support during the course of my many elections during that time. He was a true leader and a person of great intellect and knowledge. He was a strong voice and demanded to be heard. He was an absolute believer in and advocate for truth-telling, as I've already described, and the recognition of Aboriginal rights, and land rights in particular. We have lost a great friend, a great advocate and a true champion for his people, a leader of great passion and conviction. Vale, Tjakamarra.