Olive Pink

Olive Muriel Pink (1884-1975), Aboriginal rights activist, was born on 17 March 1884 at Hobart, daughter of Evelyn Fanny Margaret (born Kerr) and Robert Stuart Pink. She was also known as Injiamba or Abmoora. Olive was educated at Miss Ayton's school and at the Hobart Technical School where she studied art under Benjamin Sheppard and where she met Harold Southern, whose memory she cherished throughout her life. He was killed at Gallipoli.

She went to Sydney to study with Julian Ashton and returned to Hobart where she worked as a clerk and art teacher at the Technical School, and gave private lessons. In 1909 she was awarded a prize for a flower study in the annual exhibition of the Tasmanian Art Society. She taught in Perth in 1911-12 and later moved to Sydney where she worked as a tracer in the Public Works Department and for the Railways Commission, which she described as purgatory. A collection in Tasmania of her botanical drawings made between 1912 and 1960 indicates a continuing interest in art. She purchased two early paintings from her friend, Albert Namatjira.

Olive retired on a small pension in 1933 and began studying anthropology. She claimed she was inspired by Anne Lock's work among Aborigines. She attended Workers' Educational Association courses and enrolled at the University of Sydney (1932-34) where her initial enthusiasm was dampened by being required to take supplementary examinations. In vacations she did fieldwork in Central Australia, at first financing herself and later funded by the Australian National Research Council. Initially her work conformed to the academic model and she contributed the term 'ritual estate' to the literature of anthropology. She became an outspoken critic of government policies for Aborigines, which brought her into conflict with A. P. Elkin who was increasingly influential in policy-making, and she became isolated from academic anthropology. She advocated recognition of tribal rights in direct opposition to Elkin's 'civilising' program. In 1935 with support of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science she approached the federal government to make traditional Ilpirra hunting ground an Aboriginal reserve. She also demanded the appointment of women in native affairs administration to combat the 'strong sex solidarity' of government officials and missionaries, which she alleged was obscuring the impact of 'white civilisation' on Aboriginal society. She maintained a vigorous campaign, writing thousands of letters, for recognition of Aboriginal rights including right of ownership of 'country'. Between 1942-46 with Quaker and trade union support, she tried to establish a communal cooperative among the Wailbri. In 1946 she came in from the desert to live in Alice Springs. She continued denouncing government policy, opposing vigorously a pro-visional lease for her friend Namatjira because it was in Wailbri tribal territory, and he was not Wailbri. She repeatedly stressed that Aborigines had a right to their 'own territory'; from the Aboriginal point of view this lease was 'stealing . . . things not in their just power to give to other tribes' people'. Evicted from her ex-army hut in 1955 she rented some land at Alice Springs which at her suggestion was declared the Australian Arid Regions Native Flora Reserve. She accepted honorary curatorship of the reserve conditional on being allowed to continue campaigning. In her old age, her eccentric behaviour and long old-fashioned dresses were laughed at, by Aborigines among others. Yet in the 1940s few were as forward as Olive Pink in enunciating the principles of justice in Aboriginal land rights. She died in 1975 on the reserve amidst the peace and the beauty which she had created there.

Vicki Pearce