Biraban Co op helps establish Link Up with Peter Read and Coral (Oomera) Edwards.

Percy Haslam becomes official historian for the Central Aboriginal Sites Committee covering the area from the Hawkesbury to the upper Hunter Valley. The Awabakal Co-op works with Haslam to gain access to his deep knowledge of Aboriginal sites of significance throughout the region and to protect them: Percy “made acquaintances with a lot of property owners…In the late 1970s there was a genuine concern among the non-Indigenous community with our cries for land rights. There was a worry that a blackfella was going to come up and claim the farm…Perc was often a conduit with the non-Indigenous community. We took him into our confidence…and we worked alongside him to gain some of that knowledge”. The Aboriginal community opposes mining and land development that threatens Aboriginal sites of significance. They stop a proposed dam. Uncle Bert Marr, Zac Martin and Uncle Guboo Ted Thomas work with Haslam. (Maynard, Awabakal voices, p86-88)

Push to identify and protect Aboriginal sites. During the 1980s, Indigenous people work to identify and struggle to protect significant Aboriginal sites across the Hunter, Lake Macquarie and Wollombi regions. This includes efforts by George Griffiths, Awabakal cultural officer, to protect sites in Wollombi and Singleton, Glen Yarnold with the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies at Devil’s Rock, an old burial ground once described by Threlkeld at Swansea Heads, and Bungurra.

Bill Jonas, Worimi man from Kuruah River area, is awarded a PhD by the University of Papua New Guinea for research into Papua New Guinea's timber industry. Four years later, Bill is appointed Royal Commissioner on the British Nuclear Tests in Australia. He is also at this time chairperson of the Awabakal Co-op. Bill later becomes Chair of the Joint Ministerial Taskforce on Aboriginal Heritage and Culture in NSW, Director of Aboriginal Education at Newcastle University (1990), Principal of the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra (1991-1996), receives the Order of Australia (1993), Director of the National Museum of Australia (1997-1998), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and Acting Race Discrimination Commissioner (1999-2004).

Newcastle Aboriginal Support Group is formed. Nine Newcastle citizens meet in a school classroom to discuss local Aboriginal disadvantage. Together they found the Newcastle Support Group. It is open to all citizens, black and white. John P. (Jack) Doherty is President.

Biraban Co-op commences.

First Report of NSW Legislative Assembly Select Committee: Extract. “Today the citizens of New South Wales live on aboriginal land in affluence while the Aborigines live in poverty. Aboriginal children die because of this. Elderly Aborigines are a rarity. Their housing is often sub-standard and overcrowded. Their unemployment rate is high, their health and educational standards low”. The report is instrumental in the development of the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 and a number of other state government programs set up to help address Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander disadvantage. These include the NSW Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.

Bill Smith records: the company is not just a “money making concern but…a firm providing job and training skills for Aborigines…Hundreds and probably thousands of Aboriginals from all over Australia have worked for us and [have] been able to show that Aboriginal people when given a chance can be skilled workers…Men we have trained have become leading hands and foremen elsewhere”.

Robert and Bill Smith fight to keep their company but are “put out the back door”. The Aboriginal Development Commission sells the company “leaving the founders with little more than the clothes they stood in”. (ABC radio, “The Smith’s Legacy”, 1 April, 2010)


World Council of Churches Report on Aborigines released

Smiths General Contracting enterprise is established at Lambton in Newcastle. From the 1950s to 1980s, Smiths bring Aboriginal men and women from all over Australia to Newcastle and provide them with regular employment and opportunities to acquire specialised job skills in railway engineering and large industry, especially with BHP. During its heyday, Smiths employs over 130 men: seventy per cent are Aboriginal. The company plans to sponsor Aboriginal workers through technical college and university. Smith Brothers become the largest private employer of Aboriginal labour in Australia. They receive funding through the Aboriginal Loans Commission from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. This is its undoing. The Department becomes increasingly involved in decision-making and strategic planning. Robert and Bill Smith win contracts and complete jobs unaware that they are losing control of their own company. Without any warning, Smiths is placed in receivership during 1981.


The NSW Aboriginal Lands Trust is set up prior to the handing over of reserves to communities through the NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act. 1983. George Griffiths is a member of the Lands Trust.

“Awabakal Voices” radio show goes to air 2NURFM.

Brisbane Commonwealth Games

Launch of NSW Aboriginal Education Policy.

Reburial of Aboriginal remains at Darlington Estate, Singleton Heights. Singleton Shire Council gives permission for an Aboriginal skeleton to be reburied in a recreation reserve near the building site where it was uncovered. After discussion with the Newcastle Awabakal Aboriginal Co-operative and Singleton Aborigines, the National Parks and Wildlife Service recommends that the skeleton be reburied and that a stone monument be erected. The reburial takes place in a rare and moving Aboriginal burial ceremony held in front of 200 children and adults. The remains are prepared in traditional style: wrapped in a cylinder of ti-tree bark bound in a spiral with leaves” (Newcastle Herald, 10 August 1982)


Second Biennial NSW AECG Conference held in Newcastle.

The resource kit Aborigines of the Hunter Region is created for teachers and compiled for the Department of Education. It consists of 7 booklets, 10 prints with questions, 45 slides (most in colour), notes to audio visual materials and a sound cassette which features Percy Haslam speaking about the language of the local Aboriginal people. The overriding objective is to educate children of the Hunter Region (comprising many ethnic groups) and foster respect for and an understanding of local Australian people. Scholars who produce this work include: Percy Haslam (Visiting Scholar - Aboriginal Studies - Newcastle University), John Heath (Education Officer Aboriginal Grants and Member of Awabakal Co-op), Bob Jakes (Raymond Terrace High School), Bryce James (Science Consultant, Hunter Region), Bill Needham (Science Teacher, Cessnock High School), Boris Sokoloff (Primary Teacher, Cardiff North Primary School; Curriculum Perspective Consultant, Hunter Region), Helen Vaile (Social Studies Lecturer, Newcastle College of Advanced Education) and John West (Primary Teacher, Cessnock Primary School)

Kerabee Dam Survey conducted by Awabakal Co-op.

NSW Aboriginal Land Rights Act.

The second AECG NSW Conference is held at Newcastle.

NSW Land Rights Act grants Aborigines freehold title to the State’s reserves. (Rowse, Lives in Custody, 44).

First Everingham Family “Reunion” held at Hawkesbury in McQuade Park, Windsor. (Ford 279).

Wollotuka is established as a support program for Indigenous students on the campus of Newcastle College of Advanced Education (NCAE). It thrives. By the 1990s, Wollotuka commences the design and delivery of courses aimed at enhancing Indigenous participation and equity at the University of Newcastle. It offers the Aboriginal Bridging Program, the Indigenous Medical Students Program and produces its first graduates. By the late 1990s Wollotuka is a leading provider of Aboriginal Studies courses to Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at undergraduate and postgraduate levels of study. It becomes the first institution in NSW to introduce a mandatory Aboriginal Education unit within the Graduate Diploma of Education. In 1999, the University of Newcastle offers a Bachelor of Aboriginal Studies.


Red Earth, produced by Freewheels Theatre in Newcastle.

Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Service established under a 12 month Commonwealth Employment Program grant to promote the care and fostering of Aboriginal children in Aboriginal homes.

Local Aboriginal Land Councils. The many Goori organisations throughout the Lower Hunter Region, include eight Local Aboriginal Land Councils: Darkinjung LALC, Awabakal LALC, Karuah LALC, Bahtabah LALC, Mindaribba LALC, Biraban LALC, Worimi LALC, and Wanaruah LALC. They are formed under the NSW Land Rights Act 1983 which with its subsequent amendments provides some Goori communities with the opportunity to claim Crown land that is not required by government. Additionally the Act provides a source of funding to land councils through a percentage of the monies raised by the state government through land taxes over the 15 year period from 1983.

All of the Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALC) are successful in acquiring land. While the Awabakal LALC is the first formed (1 September), the Karuah L.A.L.C is the first to have a successful claim (December 1984). The Awabakal’s first successful claim is an allotment in Young St. Carrington in 1986. However, Koompahtoo, based around the western reaches of Lake Macquarie is perhaps the most successful in terms of area of land successfully claimed. Each council operates programs, including housing, for the benefit of members. They also work with developers to ensure minimum risk of destruction of Goori sites through economic development. Here is a sample of press reports on these developments:

Mt Druitt Local Aboriginal Land Council is established. It changes its name to Darug LALC in 1986 and to Deerubbin LALC in 1996.

Dave Schillings, Tod Maley and Dave Mathews work on site at the Aboriginal Co-op Ltd on the corner of Grey and Hannell Streets Wickham. Assistant Secretary Jackie Henderson works in the Co-op office.

Rick Griffiths holds the Alwyn (Sucker) Holten Memorial Trophy after rugby League match against Kempsey in the annual match.

Deidre Anderson works at Newcastle Aboriginal Legal Service as the office manager. Dallas Faulkner works as the Pay Clerk.

Wayne Nean is instrumental in setting up the Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services.


120 hectares of land in the Wolstoncroft National Fitness Centre on Lake Macquarie is among many land claims by Darkinjung Aboriginal Land Council. The local council does not object to 2 claims over land on Lake Munmorah. N H 8/6/85

Awabakal Co-op AGM votes to boycott Bi-centenary celebrations in 1988.

Death of Sarah Alice Roberts in Cessnock.

Aboriginal Education Unit established at Tighes Hill TAFE.

NAIDOC Inaugural NSW Aboriginal Artist of the Year.

Koori: A Will To Win is published. It is the first major work by a Wonnarua Koori. James Miller focuses on the heroic resistance, survival and triumph of “Black Australia”, and especially Hunter Valley Aboriginal groups.

Uluru Handover to traditional owners.


NSW Aboriginal Rugby League Junior Coaching Clinic held.

College of Advanced Education accepts Bi-Centenary Grant to build Wollotuka Centre.

Paris Fashion Parade, Mini Heath is one of five Aboriginal designers to exhibit in Paris.

Reburial of “Charlie” Goori human remains. Newcastle Herald.

Aboriginal land claim by Mandaribba Aboriginal Land Council, 90 sites in Crown land in the greater Cessnock area.

Awabakal language revitalisation project begins at Gateshead High School. Percy Haslam is instrumental in and a driving force behind it. The University of Newcastle supports the project. It seeks to restore the Awabakal mother tongue to persons of Aboriginal descent residing in the Hunter region. John Heath recalls how the Awabakal Co-Op in conjunction with Percy Haslam sows the seeds of the Awabakal cultural revival: “We set the seeds of an Awabakal language program. Because Perc[y] was white and an older person he wasn’t a good teacher in the sense for the young kids so I became a teacher alongside him. My involvement was to learn the lesson the week before the kids. So together we started an elementary language program. We often had fifteen or twenty people mainly kids but we had older people as well” (Maynard, Awabakal voices, 89).

Percy Haslam conducts a weekly program of language lessons on radio station 2NUR called “Awabakal Voices”. (Maynard, Awabakal voices, 89).

Aboriginal inmates at Cessnock gaol learn Awabakal language and culture from Percy Haslam. One reports that this gave him a sense of pride and understanding he had not felt before and that “the things I am learning here will mean that I won’t be back”. Haslam later conducts regular Aboriginal history, language and culture lessons in Long Bay gaol to Aboriginal inmates. (Maynard, Awabakal voices, 90).


Hawke Government announces Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

N.T Aboriginal Women compulsorily sterilised.

PM Hawke announces a National Compact.

September 17. Aboriginal people go to listen to a talk in Maitland by Percy Haslam. They learn he has died earlier that same day. When Deirdre Heitmeyer arrives, she notes a great sadness and that “everyone had tears in their eyes”. (Maynard, Awabakal voices, 90).


Bi-Centenary, Wollotuka Centre, is completed in 1986 and officially opens with no Gooris in attendance.

Awabakal Co-op organises demonstrations for Queen’s visit.

Newcastle Gooris join in Sydney protests. Michael Davison protests at the launch of Bi-Centennial celebrations at Tighes Hill in Newcastle. With 30 Aboriginal people and white supporters, Davison announces it is Time for Truth Awareness day, for talking about dispossession of Aboriginal people.

Norm Newlin publishes Where There’s Life There’s Spirit, first Worimi published work of prose.

Article published “Aboriginals unaware of ancient treasures” Newcastle Herald.

Anne Ross, “Tribal and Linguistic Boundaries: A Reassessment of the Evidence”: archaeologist, concludes Hawkesbury “inland” people and “coastal” people were completely separate tribal groups. (Ford p176)


Kevin Morgan is appointed as the new Aboriginal liaison officer at the Department of Social Security at Charlestown. He says that “his job will be to improve relations between the Aboriginal community and the department. About 50% of the Aboriginal people in the area are unemployed.” He says that he will try to make sure they know what they are entitled to. He will try to set up training courses to teach Aboriginal people work skills and job interview presentation. He says “race relations are never any good without someone like myself to ease the situation” (Newcastle Herald, 2 August 1989)

Coastal sites are recognised as places of Aboriginal significance in Tourism Awards. Bahtabah LALC’s tour to historic sites on Lake Macquarie wins an award. Tour leader Mark Sutton with dancers Leslie Saxby, Neil Edwards and William Morgan attend and perform ceremonies to recognise sites.

Get Up and Dance- Freewheels Theatre production of Ray Kelly’s work wins CONDA Award.

Marilyn Kong, of the Worimi people is Dux of Nelson Bay High School, along with her twin sister and brother, she is later to graduate in Medicine.

Sandra Eades from W.A and Louis Peachey from Qld. become the first graduates from Newcastle University’s Aboriginal Students Medical Program which commences in 1985.

Death of Clem Ritchie. He is the last of the “Fighting Sands” brothers at the time of his passing. Younger generations of the family are still actively involved in community activities within the Hunter Valley. (Arwarbukarl Cultural Resource Association, ACRA)