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Nov 5, 2013

Vale Brian Manning - The Communist Party, Bedford 29-776 and "fucking hairy blowouts"

Aww, fucking blowouts. Blowouts are fucking hairy, getting pushed off the road almost into a bloody table drain by a bloody road-train. They were some hairy experiences you know. Fortunately I had a good bull-bar and good brakes and wasn’t travelling all that fast and those really, really terrible diversions whilst they were building the new road [the Buntine Highway.]

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This is a tribute to a man that I never met in person other than on the phone or on the internet but whom I respected like an older brother. 

Brian Manning arrived in Darwin in 1956. He became friends with an Aboriginal man from Elcho Island who made him aware of the extent of discrimination suffered by Aboriginal people, especially with regard to wages. He joined the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in 1959, impressed by the fact that the CPA had a progressive Aboriginal policy at a time when other political parties had no policy of any kind.

In 1961 Brian attended the 19th National Congress of the CPA as a delegate and spoke about the plight of Aborigines in the Northern Territory. Shirley Andrews, secretary of the Council for Aboriginal Rights (CAR) in Victoria, asked Manning if he could detour via Melbourne to meet Barry Christophers, president of CAR, who was passionately concerned about legalised economic exploitation of Aboriginal Territorians and their wholesale listing as wards of the state under insulting nicknames such as ‘Hunchback Willy’ or ‘Ruby Yaws’. Brian agreed to go to Melbourne to meet Barry.

Armed with a copy of the CAR constitution, Manning returned to Darwin where he was instrumental in the formation of the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal Rights. It was Manning who inserted clauses in the proposed constitution of the new body requiring that people of Aboriginal descent comprise 75 per cent of the executive. At a meeting at Lee Point near Darwin late in 1961 attended by 26 Aboriginal people and two others, the draft constitution was adopted. Brian played an important supportive role when the Gurindji strikers walked off Wave Hill in 1966. In 2002 he gave the sixth Vincent Lingiari memorial lecture in which he recounted his experiences supporting the strikers.

That is the text his biography from the cover page to the 6th Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture that Brian delivered on Friday 23rd August 2002 at the Northern Territory University in Darwin. You can read the full transcript of that speech (and you should) at the National Museum of Australia site here.

What follows is is the transcript of an interview I conducted with Brian Manning in 2010.

Bob Gosford: This is a truck that all Australians can love…

Brian Manning: Yes it is. NT Registration 29-776 was the original rego number.   I’ve got a soft spot for it because of all that it has done – not just in relation to the Gurindji at Wave Hill but also because there are a lot of other struggles that it was involved in.

BG: How did you get it in the first place?

BM: It was first owned by the Darwin Workers Club by the manager prior to me. We didn’t need a bloody truck so the committee decided to sell it. All our brewery supplies were delivered anyway. We put it up for tender and didn’t get a bloody bite on it and it had only done less than 3,000 miles so we decided to auction it and we didn’t get up to the reserve price.

I’d only just purchased a brand new bloody Valiant Safari and I decided that I prefer to have a truck than a Safari because I could see the writing was on the wall – the coppers were giving me a bad time at the club.   They told me, a Detective who later became an Inspector, he told me in no uncertain terms – straight out. “We aren’t gonna tolerate having a Communist running a place like this. We’ll have you out of here in 12 months.”   The writing was on the wall so I swapped over and I bought the Bedford for the reserve price and I’ve had it ever since.

BG: And now it is in the Qantas hangar in Parap …

BM: Yes, pending a decision on restoration. Been trying myself to mount this but I don’t have the funds. I have a fellow who is amenable to reconditioning the engine – which is in good nick. He reconditioned it not long before I took it off the road so it doesn’t need major work but it has been off the road for twenty years. We would strip it and do it again.

BG:  You did 15 or so trips from Darwin to Wave Hill and back. Any highlights … or lowlights?

BM; Aww, fucking blowouts. Blowouts are fucking hairy, getting pushed off the road almost into a bloody table drain by a bloody road-train. They were some hairy experiences you know.  There was the odd occasion where a bloody bullock would jump out onto the road in the dark. Fortunately I had a good bull-bar and good brakes and wasn’t travelling all that fast and those really, really terrible diversions whilst they were building the new road [the Buntine Highway.]

That is what did all the damage to the truck was the chattering over all of these corrugated diversions. It had a wooden tray and not long after that the bloody tray fell off. In the wet and dry conditions and shaking up and down on those roads the bloody heads of the bolts pulled right through.  I had it off the road for a few years and then managed to afford to put a steel tray on it.

We used the truck with the Labor Council. They had it rigged for sound, with speakers and an amplifier, used it as a stump. I rigged it for sound myself installing a 12 volt Amplifier and mounted speakers on the backing board. I used it when I was Secretary of the TLC [the Trades and Labor Council] at rallies when required. I have a photo of it being used in the “rest and recreation” strikes after Cyclone Tracy. The blue collar workers didn’t get “R & R” airfares out and there was a strike.  

I also used it in the early days of radio contact with East Timor. I used to drive Tony Belo around with a radio. He used to do it on his own until he lost the bloody radio because he didn’t do what he was told. I had another transmitter so I used to pick him up and go out to various different places – a different place each time and we managed to maintain that until we set up another underground operation.

BG: Darwin has all sorts of listening posts – the British, American the Australians they were all listening to all of the radio traffic in Indonesia and all through south-east Asia out of Darwin …

BM: Oh yeah. And they were listening to us too. I know that they at one stage. This is quite funny. I think one of the reasons why they took so long to get to us was not because they couldn’t find our transmitter but because they wanted to listen in.  We were generating activity from Fretilin and I think that they appreciated the information they were getting, you know. I really think that was one of the reasons why we didn’t lose the transmitter (laughs).

But the truck was also used after Cyclone Tracy. The Federal Police commandeered it. I was overseas on holiday and it was at a mate’s service station in Smith Street and the Police commandeered the garage and the truck.   They took the truck and used it to collect dead bodies after the cyclone. That was yet another use for it. When my mate finally recovered from the police compound they’d wrecked it my mate got it back on the road but they’d caused some major damage to it. We tried to hit them up for money to fix it but they denied everything.

It was the only vehicle that we had on hand that we had control of so we had to use it. I was willing to use it for the Gurindji. I think it would be good for the Gurindji to be able to use the truck in their annual Freedom Day celebrations. They do have an affinity with the truck and back in those days people were pleased when they saw the truck, bringing supplies and mail and all that. That was their lifeline.

BG: What colour was 29-776. Was it red?

BM: No, it was never red. I don’t know how people got that idea. I think they are confusing it with my politics! (laughs) It was only ever that lovely British Green – like British Racing Green. Which is a colour I rather like.

First gear was very strong. I used that a lot. If ever I was bogged that first gear was so strong. I put another tank on it and I could go from Darwin to just past the Willeroo turn-off. We’d camp for the night and then re-fill with fuel the next morning. We always used to carry 3 big drums of fuel – there were no fuel stations out there in those days.

I tried to convince the waterside workers in Sydney, they were very active in helping the Gurindji. I told them to buy a Bedford.

What did they fucking do?  They bought a [Toyota] Dyna – I said  “Oh, for fucks sake, that’s a useless fucking thing. Why don’t you look around and get a fucking good Bedford?”

Bandy, one of the Gurindji mob, he had a 5 ton Bedford. He could do all the maintenance and there were plenty of other Bedfords that they could pirate parts and tyres etc.  The trouble with the Dyna was the air scoop. That is what fucked it. It scooped up all the grass seeds as you drove along the bush tracks and fucking cracked the head. They sent the truck off to Katherine and put another head on it and what happened?

BG – You have any tales about Robert Tudawali?

BM: There are a few more photos of him that I took on the way down. He had such an iconic figure, most likely because of his experience in front of the camera. I never knew what profile was best. I was a good friend of his. I was a pall-bearer at his funeral and we were close friends.   He had a down period after a few films and he hit the piss and during that wages struggle he became the Vice-President of the Rights Council and he wanted to be intimately involved in the struggle. It was intended that he would go down with Dexter Daniels to raise funds.

His expenses were being picked up by Actors Equity. Frank Hardy had organized that. They snatched him up here because he tested positive for Tuberculosis and they put him in isolation. Anyway he was quite keen to be involved and he went down on that first trip and he was a very solid supporter of the Gurindji.

BG: And Dexter Daniels was also very involved as well?

BM: Oh, Dexter Daniels. Now that was a very tragic story. He died down at Kalano (community) at Katherine. He was absolutely bloody dejected. He got into a bit of strife and he and I had some arguments after Sydney. There was one day in Sydney and we both happened to be there at the same time.

I was at a Communist Party congress and he had come down.   Dexter was invited to speak at the congress and he raised the issues about land rights for the Roper River people. And the Party actually donated $200 to start off a Roper River Land Claim fund.  Anyway Dexter went off to Roper River and about two weeks later he was arrested for being a shit-stirrer. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this but he was urging the people down there to support him and walk off the Mission station. He’d left the Union – or rather Paddy had put him off and he’d asked for jobs down there because they saw him as a stirrer.

Somewhere along the line he was arrested by the cops – from my knowledge – I didn’t know about all the business down at Roper River but I did know that the Don Hotel had pressed charges because Dexter had bounced some cheques – what had happened was that when he got control of the cheque book – he got a couple of cartons of piss and he was wasting money so it wouldn’t take long for him to use all the money we had.

What happened was that the Rights Council intervened and we prevailed on the manager of the Don Hotel to drop the charges and we reimbursed him for the money and we ripped up the fucking chequebook and closed the account. Dexter couldn’t handle it and he couldn’t get any support from the people of Groote Eylandt and Roper Mission.   I think that some of the people down there resented him taking this position of leadership and he might not have been entitled to it.

Dexter died unrecognized and unsung. I learnt that he died on fucking Christmas day the year before.

I went down to a Freedom Day at Dagaragu and I wrote out an obituary at that was published in the Land Council’s paper – the Land Rights News

I was pissed off that they had put in a double-page spread for Charlie Perkins and they never said a fucking word about Dexter.   In terms of achievement I reckon that Dexter Daniels achieved a fucking good sight more than Charlie Perkins … in the sense that Charlie looked after his family – they all went to University but he didn’t solve anything working for the government.

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One thought on “Vale Brian Manning – The Communist Party, Bedford 29-776 and “fucking hairy blowouts”

  1. James Paterson

    I had one of those green bedfords. Had low miles too .Lots of them had low miles cause no one could afford to. You could watch the fuel guage moving down but it carried a load no wuckin furries and could pull the bend out of a river.
    Brian, seeya bloke.
    Like we’re getting or past the real Australia.

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