Daisy Bindi was a catalyst for freeing her people from enslavement in Australia.

Daisy Bindi was born in 1904 on a cattle station in Western Australia. Her parents, known only as Jimmy and Milly, gave her the indigenous name of Mumaring. For the purposes of clarity, I will use both of her names in this article. As was the case with most Australian aboriginals at the time, Mumaring worked from early childhood doing household labour and then in the stables, becoming a skilled horsewoman.

A proud Nyangumarta woman, Daisy lived and worked on various cattle stations, witnessing and experiencing first-hand the terrible injustice and cruelty meted out upon her people by the white community. The police regularly raided the Aboriginal camps, shooting dogs the tribe relied on for their kangaroo hunts, the meat of which was a vital supplement to the community’s diet as it was customary for the cattle stations to only pay their aboriginal workers with commodities such as flour, sugar, soap, tobacco and alcohol. Needless to say, the white workers doing the same jobs earned money.

In 1945, white abolitionist Don McLeod was working on behalf of Aboriginal workers, encouraging them to go on strike for better working and living conditions, and to receive wages equal to the white people they worked alongside. Despite having received no formal education, Mumaring was highly articulate, and she spoke at meetings inspiring workers to strike. She demanded wages from her white employer and then used her money to hire a truck to collect the workers for the strike which began May 1, 1946.

Employers brought in the police and the ironically named Native Welfare Department to quell the walkout, but 800 men, women and child workers left the stations in what became known as the Pilbara Strike. Daisy personally led 96 people in a walk off from Roy Hill station and her efforts spread the strike further inland. When confronted by the police, she talked her way through and safely escorted her group to join the others.

Despite threats, incarceration and sometimes murder by government authorities, the Pilbara strike lasted 3 years, one of the longest in Australian history. It succeeded in changing the structure of labour laws in Western Australia. As a result of this courageous political activism, cattle and sheep stations reluctantly began to pay equal wages to its aboriginal workers.

Daisy never returned to the stations but was instrumental in forming an independent Aboriginal Co-operative organisation which engaged in mining ventures in the 1950’s. She was now living in the Pindan Cooperative settlement in Port Hedland, WA., one of the first Aboriginal cooperatives formed in Western Australia. Residents worked in the mining industry and received equal pay. This was a profound and important breakthrough, but there was still a long way to go before equal rights were granted.

In 1959, while in Perth being fitted with an artificial limb having lost her leg in a riding accident, Mumaring successfully lobbied Parliament for a school in the Pindan Cooperative settlement. She also spoke at meetings of the WA branch of the Union of Australian Women, a group supporting the cause of Aboriginal rights. Daisy died in late 1962 of a kidney disease.

The account of the plight of the Aboriginal people in Australia from the time of the British penal colony settlement, is harrowing. In 1835, their subjugation was set in stone with Governor Bourke’s proclamation implementing the rule of terra nullius, which means the land of Australia belonged to no one prior to the British taking possession of it. Yet archaeological history shows that when the British invaded in 1788 there were over 750,000 Aboriginal inhabitants nurturing the land and its flora and fauna. The term terra nullius automatically designated non-human status to the indigenous population. Aboriginal people were not counted in any official census until after 1962 when they were allowed to vote.

This history highlights the astonishing feats of leadership shown by Daisy Bindi. In a time when indigenous people were considered non-human (selah) and forced to a lifetime of unpaid labour, Daisy led almost 100 people to rebel against unjust laws, walking off their place of enslavement and into a strike. This was during a time when it was not unusual for gangs of indigenous people to be chained together for not other reason than forced unpaid labour. Children were regularly rounded up, snatched from loving parents and taken to white institutions to be trained as domestic servants. The courage and leadership capacity Mumaring showed is astonishing… and yet very few know her name.

In 1996, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, (who deserves an article all of her own as a child stolen from her family and in domestic service at the age of 13. She became an international activist and a poet of great renown) known as Kath Walker, wrote a poem celebrating Daisy Bindi.

Daisy Bindi

By Kath Walker
(Oodgeroo Noonuccal)

Slavery at Roy Hill, to our shame profound,
Wages for the blacks, nil, all year round,
Slavers given free hand by police consent,
Winked at obligingly by Government.
But a woman warrior where aid there was none
Led her dark people till the fight was won.

Salute to a spirit fine,
Daisy of Nullagine,
Who unaided, resolutely,
Dared to challenge slavery.

Tall Daisy Bindi, she rode like a man,
Mustering and stockwork from when dawn began,
And long chores indoors that made life bleak
Year after weary year for ‘nothing a week’.
Till Daisy of the stout heart organised her clan
To strike for native justice and the plain rights of man.

High Praise and honour to
Daisy of the Noongahs who
Fought and routed tyranny,
Dared to challenge slavery.

Oh, the boss men threatened, and the boss men swore
They called the police in to help break the law.
And dark men and women were forced and assailed,
For fighting degradation, they were bashed and jailed,
But Daisy the militant, no man subdued,
Who championed her people out of servitude.

(1966), Kath Walker from – My People: A Kath Walker Collection

If you would like to share this story with your daughters and sons, this is an excellent piece about Daisy Bindi recited by Christina Anu, an indigenous singer, actor and writer.