Daisy Bindi

Daisy Bindi, Aboriginal activist, also known as Mumaring, a Nungamurda, was born probably around 1904 near Jigalong, 220 km south of Nullagine, on the Western Australian edge of the Gibson Desert. As a child she worked on 'Ethel Creek' station where she learned to wash, iron and do general housework and also to ride and manage horses. She did not learn to read and write and remained functionally illiterate until her death.

In 1945, visiting Marble Bar with her husband, Daisy heard Don McLeod speak on the injustices suffered by Aboriginal station hands. He urged them to strike. They were ill-paid, poorly accommodated and harassed by the police who shot their dogs which they needed when hunting kangaroos to supplement station diet. Daisy determined to organise Aboriginal workers on the stations near her. When she called a meeting at 'Roy Hill' station which most Aboriginal and some white workers attended, the manager contacted the police and Native Welfare Department and threatened to have her removed from the area. Under the Western Australian Native Administration Act, the enticing or persuading of a native to leave his place of employment was an offence. Strike leaders knew they risked imprisonment but the organisers went ahead. When the strike began in May l946 Daisy wired Port Hedland for a truck to pick them up and on the way in gathered more supporters; she talked their way through a hostile police reception. Her initiative was largely responsible for spreading the strike to the further inland Pilbara stations.

The strike changed the structure of labour relations in the north of the State. It left some stations permanently without Aboriginal workers and forced others to accept the fact that wages would have to be raised. For those who did not return to station work, McLeod found alternative employment in mining. In the 1950s Daisy lived with others in a well-ordered collective, the Pindan Cooperative. It was the first Aboriginal cooperative formed in Western Australia. When she visited Perth for the first time in October 1959, she spent much time lobbying for a school for Pindan. She had been mustering with her husband to save money for a new truck and had injured her left foot. Daisy was a diabetic and when the injury became gangrenous, the leg had been amputated below the knee; she went to Perth to have an artificial leg fitted.

Her stay in Perth was punctuated by visits to the club room of the Union of Australian Women, where she met other women whose sympathies lay with the Aboriginal cause. When she returned to Port Hedland she found a split had occurred between Aborigines who endorsed McLeod's management and those who did not. She went with those who did not. McLeod had an abrasive personality. Through his work they had learnt many of the realities of politics and power: those who left thought his expensive fights with powerful state interests were counter-productive and harmful to the cause of Aboriginal rights.

Daisy Bindi was a determined woman who learned the value of organised political action and remained a committed worker for her people while her health permitted. In her own words 'That strike, and Co-operative, mek new life for us'.

Michal Bosworth

Katharine Susannah Prichard, Straight Left 1982 pp 25-63.