In March 2010, documentary filmmaker Lara Damiani met Alyawarr elder from central Australia, 82 year old Banjo Morton - a man with an intriguing story. It was Lara’s first visit to a remote Indigenous community.
In 1949, Banjo Morton and a small handful of Aboriginal stockmen walked off from the vast Lake Nash cattle station, demanding pay in wages instead of rations. While the walk-off was only short lived, their success was etched into history.
It’s a part of history that has remained relatively unknown beyond the stories told by Banjo and the others but it was recorded forever in the 1949 Lake Nash Police Journal by Police Constable Jack Mahony.
In 2016, Karen Downs, the daughter of Banjo’s nephew Richard, makes the journey back to Banjo’s remote community of Ampilatwatja to find out more about the walk off. She also visits the archives in Alice Springs to see the original documentation by Constable Mahony that documented the 1949 Walk Off.
Karen was not bought up in Banjo’s community of Ampilatwatja but spent her years growing up in Alice Springs and most recently in Perth.
Karen’s father Richard also spent his younger days as a stock man and has worked around Australia. Richard tells his story of having to hide from the orange welfare trucks that would drive into the bush looking for half-caste children. Richard, who was raised by both his own Aboriginal family and the Hall family, has been successfully negotiating both the traditional Alyawarr way of life and the modern white way of life since he was a young child. Richard first bought Karen out to meet her family at Ampilatwatja when she was a young teenager where the women spoke to her in traditional language and they also used sign language.
This is more than just the story of Banjo’s walk-off in 1949. It’s a story about uncovering the past and trying to discover what place the past has in the present. It’s a story about families and their connections. It’s a story about finding out who we are by going back into history.