A persistent lobbyist on Aboriginal issues
David Robert Anderson was born in Swan Hill, 1 of 5 children of Ormond Anderson of Scottish/Irish heritage, and Nina Eleanor Stewart, a Wergaia woman. David grew up surrounded by a large Aboriginal family. His maternal grandparents were Eleanor Jessie (Nellie) (nee Pepper) Wergaia, and Jackson Stewart, Wamba Wamba, who lived in Swan Hill and were well regarded in the district.
David’s family moved to Mildura for medical treatment for 2 of his siblings. He attended primary schools at Nicholls Point and Irymple before attending Mildura Technical School. He left Technical School for an apprenticeship in sheet metalwork with the Victorian Railways but did not complete his apprenticeship due to a serious skin allergy being aggravated by the metalwork.
David became heavily involved in Aboriginal affairs and politics during the mid-1960s. His contribution to debate about land rights, education and self-determination is recognised as trailblazing work upon which much has been built. He was a persistent lobbyist of politicians and a prolific letter writer to government ministers, politicians and major newspapers on Aboriginal issues. He was always ready for a debate on land rights.
David’s contribution began when as a teenager he became involved with Pastor Doug Nicholls, Stewart Murray (his mother’s cousin) and Gordon Bryant, among many others. As a teenager in the 1960s he became an enthusiastic member of the Aborigines Advancement League in Thornbury. He soaked up knowledge from Nicholls, Murray, Bryant, Dr Bruce McGuinness, Merle Jackomos, and Geraldine Briggs, amongst others. During this time, David was a member of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, and he also attended the 1970 Inaugural Meeting of the National Tribal Council.
David was widely educated on how Indigenous people in other parts of the world were treated. He took great interest in Native Americans and became familiar with their land rights treaties and issues. He corresponded frequently with many overseas Indigenous land rights campaigners and built a large collection of resources on Indigenous issues.
After the Aborigines Welfare Board ceased in 1968, the Victorian Government established the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. In 1971 the Ministry established an Aboriginal Affairs Advisory Council to which David was elected. He served as Deputy Chair from 1971-73. His sister Eleanor recalls the frustration David expressed after many Council meetings because of the paternalism.
During 1973–77, as 1 of 3 elected Victorian Representatives on the Whitlam Government’s National Aboriginal Consultative Committee (NACC), David became an Executive Member and Information and Communications Officer. NACC was the first elected body representing Indigenous Australians nationally. It was composed of 41 representatives elected by Aboriginal people from regions across Australia. David was elected as the Western Victoria delegate for the Mallee, Wimmera and Western Districts. At 26 years of age, David was one of the youngest NACC members. In 1974 David was NACC representative to the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group for the Commonwealth Schools Commission, which went on to have a major impact on the direction of Aboriginal education.
During the years 1975-78, David represented NACC on the Victorian Aboriginal Land Council, and when the Council was succeeded by the South Eastern Land Council, he became a member. He was also a member of the Aboriginal Embassy, established in 1972 at Mugga Way, Red Hill, Canberra.
In the early 1970s David enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at Monash University and graduated in 1976. His university peers were Bruce McGuinness, Gary Murray and Mick Dodson. Sir Winton Turnbull CBE, former long serving Federal member for Wimmera, later Mallee, attended David’s graduation. Sir Winton lived in Bendigo and was one of the politicians David had long lobbied. David later became Lecturer in Aboriginal Studies at the State College of Victoria, the then coordinating body for teacher education in Victoria.
In 1976 David was hospitalised after a serious car accident. When visited by his sisters, his mind never still, he was talking about Aboriginal affairs articles in his coma.
David wrote many published articles and letters to all levels of government, politicians, academics, and the media on topics related to:
- land rights
- the Bicentenary
- compensation for dispossession
- social poverty
- why European Australian schools are inappropriate for Aboriginal Australians and their 20th Century descendants
- colonial violence or compensation and self-determination
- the Aboriginal and Islander Trade Training Scheme (Building Trades)
- the National Aboriginal Congress
David was passionate about recognition of sovereignty of Aboriginal rights and believed it was fundamental that all Australians should know the true history of Australia – about how the land was stolen by the colonisers and its impact on Aboriginal people and their way of life. In May 1982 his land rights activism was seen by all when he undertook a hunger strike in the Treasury Gardens, Melbourne, near government offices.
David was a tireless advocate for change. After a public meeting called to stop the transfer to the Victorian Government of a recreation camp bought with Federal Aboriginal Affairs funds, David and Bruce McGuinness leading some 90 community members supported transfer to Aboriginal ownership, and they succeeded. Camp Jungai was created from that meeting, its Cooperative was established in 1976 and it gained title to the site in the early 1980s.
Sadly, David’s life ended on 17 May 1995, aged 48 years. It is difficult to fully appreciate David’s contribution after his death. He was involved in foundational moments of Aboriginal history after Prime Minister Whitlam’s self-determination policy, particularly land rights.
A photograph by the Swan Hill Guardian in 1970 records him speaking with his grandmother about the then “controversial” Little Desert Park. The Little Desert is Wergaia Country and is within the boundaries of the 2005 Wotjobaluk native title determination. Archibald Pepper, David’s great grandfather is the Wergaia apical ancestor for the claim.
David’s legacy of contributions on behalf of Aboriginal communities is seen in the progression for treaty in this 21st Century, in Victoria and across Australia.
Reviewed 30 April 2021