Barrie Pittock OAM, Victoria Regional Meeting
Barrie is now 81 years old and has a little memory loss. However, here is brief account of why he received an OAM award for his work on Indigenous matters. He is probably better known for his climate science work, but he also has had a long and ongoing interest in Indigenous affairs. He writes:
“it developed gradually in my high school years when I took seriously Jesus’s words ‘Love your enemies’ and became a conscientious objector to doing military training at the time of the Suez Crisis in 1956. At the court hearing the magistrate told me to serve my country in other ways, and I took that seriously.
“At Melbourne University in the late 1950s I joined the Aboriginal Scholarship Scheme and found that no Aborigines had completed high school. I went on a hitch-hiking tour of outback NSW and Queensland, where the issues were evident. Aborigines living in fringe communities on the other side of the railway or river, in crowded huts with ten or more in each bark hut and no electricity and only one cold water tap. No wonder the kids dropped out of school!
“I went on to be associated with the Aboriginal Advancement League of Victoria, where I supported, together with Doug Nichols, that only Aborigines and Islanders be on its executive.
“From 1965 to 1970 I was on the executive of the Federal Council for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) where I was convener of the Lands Rights Committee. In 1967 I was the newly appointed chair of the FCAATSI Legislative Reform Committee which in 1967 worked for the referendum to change the Australian Constitution, to establish that Indigenous people be counted in the census. The Prime Minister on the referendum’s 50th anniversary on 27 May 2017 named in Parliament ten of we original campaigners who were able to attend.
“In 1970 I moved an amendment to the FCAATSI constitution that only the Indigenous members should control FCAATSI policy. The 1970 FCAATSI conference rejected this motion at their Easter conference in Canberra, and I resigned and became a non-voting executive member of the newly formed, but short-lived National Tribal Council (NTC). Unfortunately, the NTC folded within a couple of years due to lack of finance. I played a minor role in various groups supporting Indigenous rights after that, but I became more involved in my scientific work.
“After my PhD on atmospheric ozone measurements in 1963, I spent a couple of years in USA at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and spent my last 2 months touring USA looking mainly at American Indian affairs. Then, in 1965, I was appointed to the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research and worked first on observing and saving the ozone layer, later on the environmental effects of nuclear war, and then climate change science from the 1980s until my official retirement in 1999.
“I kept an eye on Indigenous affairs and in my post-retirement days I spent a lot of time advocating renewable energy, noting particularly its advantages for remote Indigenous communities in providing electricity for them instead of diesel fuel. Also, via solar powered hydrogen and ammonia production it could be an economic resource, both for them and to export to the rest of Australia and overseas. I advocated this with the Cooperative Research Centre for Remote Economic Participation in Alice Springs, around the late 2000s and early 2010s, but they did not then take it up except as a local power source.
“I did follow this up with a paper in the Rangelands Journal in 2011, and a follow up document on the development of ammonia as a renewable energy medium. Later in the 2010s this was taken up somewhat by a company (Yara) that is building an ammonia export business in the Pilbara region, with solar power from Aboriginal land used to generate hydrogen and ammonia from sea-water. I joined the new Australia Ammonia Association, which is going strong in the late 2010s with much new research by CSIRO and at Monash University. But now in the late 2010s I find it difficult to keep up with the new research and the cheaper and more efficient technology, which is growing rapidly, and hopefully will provide power and income for remote Indigenous communities. But it is up to younger people to follow up on this, and especially the state and federal governments.
“The technological revolution is happening and it will provide income and employment in many remote Indigenous communities. I am pleased to have helped towards bringing this about.
“Now I advocate for action on the Uluru Statement, and for Australia Day to be moved to the anniversary of the Aboriginal Recognition Referendum on 27 May 1967, or some other more suitable date than that of the Captain Phillip landing. Indigenous views should be the guide.
“I am grateful that my work re Indigenous affairs has been acknowledged.”
Barrie’s wife, Diana adds:
I’ve sent a photo of Barrie with Dr Liesa Clague, friend, an educator in Indigenous health and her mother, Joyce Clague MBE. Joyce has been a good friend of Barrie and mine since 1965 when she and Barrie were on the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. (I had met Joyce at the Asian Christian Youth Assembly in the Philippines in December 1964.) Joyce and Colin became social workers in the Northern Territory and added /cared for many Aboriginal children to their family as the children arrived in Darwin for health treatment. She, a Yaegl woman, reclaimed Ullagundie Island in the Clarence River, NSW from the government. Joyce was born on the mission there. It was now recognised as Yaegl native title. Joyce and Colin have built strong community centres there in the Maclean area of the lower Clarence River, NSW. (behind the camera is Karla, Liesa’s daughter!)
Barrie and Diana at the unveiling of the statue of Pastor Sir Douglas Nichols and Lady Gladys Nichols (they preferred ‘Doug and Gladys’, or Uncle Doug and Aunty Gladys) in the Parliament Gardens, Melbourne in 2007. Doug respected Barrie a great deal. When in his late 20’s I think, Barrie went to stand at the back of the meeting of the Aborigines Advancement League (AAL) special meeting. It was to decide on “Aboriginal only” leadership of the AAL. The current secretary was an non-Aboriginal, good man, respected by many. But it was the era of Black Power in the USA which was having an influence here towards strong Aboriginal leadership. Doug saw Barrie standing at the back of the room and said, Barrie, we need an independent chair, would you chair the meeting? Which he did, on the spot, with Doug by his side, indicating who should speak each time – one for, one against. Doug knew the people and which way they would vote and wanted a balance in the voices heard. I am still amazed that Barrie did this; he was so able, aware and knowledgeable to be able to do it. Respect from the Aboriginal community apparently was evident. Doug was a great Elder here and Barrie helped a little in Doug’s campaign to save Lake Tyres Aboriginal community in East Gippsland.