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Aboriginal Law Bulletin

Aboriginal Law Bulletin (ALB)
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Nettheim, Garth --- "Book Review - Under the Act" [1981] AboriginalLawB 38; (1981) 1(2) Aboriginal Law Bulletin 12

Book Review - Under the Act

by Willie Thaiday

N.Q. Black Publishing Co., 1981 ($5.00).

Reviewed by Garth Nettheim

'This book is unique as it is the first book in Australia to be written and published fully by Aboriginal and Islander people'. So says a note on the cover page, and the book would be significant for this fact alone.

It is very brief - 50 pages. It is told very simply. It is Willie Thaiday's own story of how, as a teenage lad on Damley Island in the Torres Strait, he got into trouble. At a Christmas dance in 1931, one of his friends put his arm around a girl and kissed her. For that 'crime', three of the boys were put in gaol by the Protector and then sent to Palm Island off the coast from Townsville.

Thaiday tells about life on Palm Island in the 1930's. Some of his time he worked on loggers and was paid, but his earnings were held by the police and only small amounts were doled out to him. For work on the Island the people got no pay, only tobacco. He tells how, as a member of the first council in 1936, they negotiated for wages of four shillings a fortnight, but wages were cancelled when people were caught gambling. Wages were restored later and had risen to eight shillings a fortnight by the outbreak of World War Two. At that time Willie Thaiday left Palm Island and worked in various jobs on the mainland until he returned to Palm Island in 1950.

The book tells of the dependency of the Island residents. 'Everything on Palm Island is the idea of the superintendent and according to the superintendent we are the last people on earth. When they want anything they sing out: "Jack, Bill, Harry - come and get me them things; get the meat, get the flour, get this, get that". And the moment you refuse you go to gaol for twenty-one days'. He tells of the strike on Palm Island and how a number of the men were sent off the Island as a result. He was sent to Woorabinda. He ends with reflections on the deterioration of social life on Palm Island today.

This is one man's story. It reveals vividly how Aboriginal and Island people on Queensland's reserves were completely under the dominance of white offcials. The sad thing is that, essentially, the situation has not changed.

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