By Peter Boyle, Sydney
March 31, 2010 -- Indigenous
and trade union activist Chicka "The Fox" Dixon (1928-2010) was
farewelled by more than a thousand people in a state funeral in Sydney
Town Hall today. Chicka was from the Yuin
people whose traditional lands stretch along the south coast of New
South Wales, from the Shoalhaven down to the Victorian border.
In the last of many tributes, fellow Black Power activist and 1972
Aboriginal Tent Embassy veteran Gary Foley noted the sweet irony of
this official send off. "ASIO
investigated the Fox for alleged 'communist' connections and
alleged 'terrorist' connections and now the government is giving him a
state funeral. I reckon Brother Fox is having the last laugh today."
With an eye to the many politicians ("I think all politicians are
bastards", said Gary) in the hall, including NSW Labor Party Premier Kristina
Keneally and federal Labor government Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin, Foley
earned a thundering acclamation when he shouted out: "End the NT
intervention! Free Lex Wotton!"
There were many moving tributes from family members, other Indigenous
activists like Michael Anderson and Bob Morgan, Maritime Union of
Australia leader Paddy Crumlin, but also an unconvincing tribute from
In her tribute, Keneally suggested that all rights that had once been fought for had now been won and so all that was left for us was
to acknowledge the contributions of activists like Chicka. But Gary
Foley revealed that in a conversation he had with Chicka before his
death, they had agreed that things had actually got worse for Aboriginal
people and so there was still much to fight for.
"Native title is not land rights", said Gary. "Reconciliation is not
Gary Foley was speaking the simple truth. How dare Keneally pretend that the
fight for Indigenous people's rights is over when Indigenous youth in Australia
today are 28 times more likely to be jailed and the life expectancy gap
between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population is as high as 20
years in some parts of Australia.
Just a few days before, the Christian
Science Monitor had reminded the world of this shameful state of
Aboriginal adults are six times more likely to be arrested than other
Australians and 13 times more likely to be jailed. In the Northern
Territory, they make up 80 percent of the prison population although
only one-third of the territory’s residents are indigenous.
The CSM article quoted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social
Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda:
One of the biggest problems we have
in this country is denial of racism. I keep saying to people: Come and
live in my world for a while and you might change your opinion.
Gary Foley's fighting call was a fitting end to Chicka's state
funeral. It reminded everyone of the freedom
fighter whose life was being celebrated. This activist spirit is
what Chicka Dixon will always represent to all those still struggling
for Indigenous and working people's rights.
[Peter Boyle in national convenor of the Socialist Alliance of Australia. Visit Gary Foley's web page at http://www.kooriweb.org for a wealth of resources on the struggle of Australia's Indigenous people. The Socialist Alliance has produced a Charter
of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights.]
Vale 'Chicka' Dixon: wharfie and Aboriginal activist
March 27, 2010 -- Waterside worker
and long-time Aboriginal activist Charles "Chicka" Dixon died in
Sydney on March 20, aged 81 — struck down by asbestosis he contracted while working
on the wharves.
Chicka Dixon — Aboriginal of the Year, Tent Embassy activist, builders’
labourer, wharfie, university lecturer, recovered alcoholic and former
chair of the Aboriginal Arts Board, a man who represented his people
around the world, studied with the Canadian Native Americans, did a bit
of jail, was mates with prime ministers Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke and
addressed 10,000 Chinese people in the Great Hall of the People — has
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) national secretary Paddy Crumlin paid
tribute to Chicka, a political and labour warrior.
“The MUA adds their sympathies and condolences to the many voices in our
national and the international labour movement on Chicka's passing”, he
said. “A man of character, substance and unwavering courage, he
reflected the finer traits Australians aspire to and seek after for a
society that is decent, inclusive and fair to all.
“Chicka was a worker, leader and activist who was determined to turn
around racism and elitism and gain proper recognition for the
extraordinary culture and character of his people and the great
injustice done to them.
“His asbestosis-related death brings into even clearer focus this great
injustice to working men and women in this country and the long campaign
led by the MUA in many ways to find remedy and restitution.
“Our membership officials and staff in particular farewell one of our
own. Vale comrade.”
In an interview with the union's journal in 2001, “White plague strikes Black
elder”, Chicka recalled his exposure to asbestos on the Sydney wharves
in the 1960s. “It would fly all over the place”, he said. “Heaps of it. My gang, we'd
sit on the bags and eat our lunch. Bags and bags of asbestos. No one
knew. We usen't to take any notice. Forty years down the road, in 1997, I
“When they examined me, they said ‘you've got dusty lungs’. All those
years, I'd never been sick in my life. I've been 12 times in hospital in
the last two years. Seven days to pump my lungs out.”
Dixon left the Wallaga mission on the NSW south coast for the city in 1945.
By 1946, Chicka told the Maritime Workers’ Journal, ``I was
sneaking off to meetings of the Aboriginal Progressive Association at
the Ironworkers’ Hall [the FIA at the time was controlled by the Communist Party of Australia]. `Oh Chicka, don’t go down there, they’ll call you Red’, my mother
said. `Well, I said, they’ve been calling me black for years'.’‘ After a
stint as builders’ labourer, he got a job as a wharfie and was a militant with the CPA-led Waterside Workers Federation.
``That’s where I
learned the politics. The Communist Party Moscow liners were masters of
organising. And I learned a lot about other people’s struggles... I was
in a bit of a shell before that. I thought we were the only people in
the world discriminated against. Then I started to hear about Greek
political prisoners (we walked off on that issue), the Vietnam War
(repeatedly walked off on that) and South Africa (walked off on that,
too)... That was my political education ... They taught me how to
organise. We’d be talking politics all the time. It was second nature’‘.
Harry Black, from MUA Veterans, worked alongside Chicka at Darling
Harbour. “Chicka was very active as an Aboriginal activist and as a unionist”, he
said. “He played a very significant role on wharves continually putting
forward the Aboriginal cause and working closely with the union to
bring about support. Under his influence, quite a few Aborigines came to
the waterfront and became members of the waterfront. Chicka was dedicated to the struggle for betterment of his people."
Through Chicka's and other Indigensous activists' direct involvement with the left and labour movement, the Indigenous
people’s rights movement could call on the power of working-class
action in many situations. An example was provided by Chicka Dixon:
I was in bed
and three young Aborigines knocked on the door about nine o’clock at
night. They told me that a very dignified hotel down in George Street
[in Sydney] wouldn’t serve Aborigines. I decided to go down and find
out. I took the blackest fella with me, walked in, and asked for a
schooner of beer for my friend and schooner of lemonade for myself. The
bartender said: `I’m sorry... We won’t serve Aborigines.’ `Well that’s
quite all right, [Chicka replied], tomorrow evening I’ll have 300
waterside workers up outside your joint here. Nobody is going to get in
because we are going to blacklist this hotel. Then I’ll go to the Trades
and Labour Council and the Liquor Trades Union to pull the barmaids
out.’ Well, he did complete [about] face. It’s a remarkable thing,
blacks are welcome down there now!’‘ -- in Tatz, Colin (ed.) 1975, Black
Viewpoints: The Aboriginal Experience, Sydney: Australian and New
Zealand Book Company, pp. 35-6.
Chicka was one of the central campaigners for the 1967 referendum, an
participant of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in the 1970s and a founder
of the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Federal Council for the
Advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI). Chicka Dixon provided a key link between the earlier generations of working-class
Indigenous activists and the post-1967 young ``Black Power" Indigenous
These young firebrands’ first stop in Sydney
was the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs, an organisation with a social
and cultural focus, which ``grew out of’‘ the Aboriginal Australian
Fellowship (Barani Indigenous History of Sydney City 2002,
``Aboriginal Organisations in Sydney’‘). According
to Chicka Dixon, the Foundation, as it was known, came into being 1964
and ``grew out of a discussion between myself, a fellow called Charles
Perkins and Professor Bill Geddes of the Anthropology Department, Sydney
University. We felt that black people in Sydney needed a centre where
they could get advice about jobs, meals, places where they could have
social activities, legal advice if necessary... Our general policy was
to help Aborigines to help themselves... We would hold a Saturday dance
night and a Sunday night concert’‘ (in Tatz 1975, pp. 36-7). At the
Foundation, the new activists mixed with the older generation of
militant leaders, such as Chicka Dixon and Ken Brindle. They ``came to
sense themselves as the inheritors of a long tradition of political
struggle as they met and conversed with aging legends of the indigenous
struggle such as Bill Onus, Jack Patten, Bert Groves’‘ (Foley 2001).
On January 25, 1972, Liberal PM Billy McMahon announced that his
government would not grant land rights. In response, young Indigenous
radicals from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane planned, established and
ran the most famous of all Aboriginal protests, the long-running
Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Gary Foley described the origins of the protest:
``Indigenous leaders meeting in Sydney that night were outraged at what
they regarded as stonewalling. By that time the core of the Redfern
group comprised of Paul Coe and sister Isobel from Cowra, brilliant Qld
writer and theorist John Newfong, Bob, Kaye and Sol Bellear, Tony Coorie
from Lismore, Alana and Samantha Doolan from Townsville, Gary Wiliams
and Gary Foley from Nambucca, Lyn Craigie and her brother Billy from
Moree... One of the group’s mentors, Chicka Dixon, was keen on
replicating the Native American's takeover of Alcatraz. He urged that
they take over Pinchgut Island (Fort Denison) in Sydney harbour. `Not
just take it over, defend it!’, he said, because when the Indians had
taken over Alcatraz they had placed their peoples plight into `the eyes
of the world’." In the it was decided to go to Canberra and establish the Tent Embassy.
Under the Whitlam government, Chicka was sent to Canada to study,
employed alongside Charles Perkins in the Department of Aboriginal
Affairs, established by Whitlam in 1973. Hawke appointed him chair of the Aboriginal Arts Board in 1983. The
following year he was made Aboriginal of the Year.
He is survived by his two daughters, Rhonda and Christine, and a large
[Based on information from http://www.labor.net.au/news/1269249966_3698.html, http://www.kooriweb.org, Green Left Weekly and The
Aboriginal Struggle and the Left.]