IN MEMORY OF JOSEPH ROBINSON ROPEYARN
8 October 2019
St Michaels and All Angels Church
Robbie was there from the beginning of our movement as Pama of Cape York Peninsula. Together with David Byrne Robbie supported this community’s great leader, old man Dan. Robbie was the backroom organiser and administrator for the old leader. Like me he served as the Council Clerk of the Injinoo Community Council in the era of self-management, inaugurated by then minister Bob Katter.
Injinoo was a vibrant, active community on the move under the chairmanship of the old man. A leading community of Cape York with developing enterprises and increasing capabilities in building infrastructure for their people, and lobbying government for better services and funding.
So when we started the Cape York Land Council at Lockhart River in 1990, Robbie was there, the old man’s most faithful worker and follower. When we held the second Land Summit here is Injinoo in November 1990, it was clear Injinoo Council was the most supportive of all of the councils on the Cape of our new political movement on behalf of traditional ownership. Without old man Dan, Robbie and their Council, the fledgling Land Council could never have succeeded as it did.
Every people and every great community has a defining leader in their history. The old man, Dan Ropeyarn, was that very leader. And the man we come to say farewell to today was his most diligent, relentless and faithful lieutenant. No nephew honoured their uncle and his legacy more than Robbie.
Robbie saw as his mission the job of taking Dan’s vision for this community and the vision he shared with the other elders of Cape York, out into the wider world of politics. He would do so for three decades, never deviating one inch from the old man’s dreams for his people. The cultural and moral legacy he carried was one that had been handed to him when his uncle died.
As a member of the Regional Council of ATSIC, he was elected to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, whilst also serving on the board of the Land Council and contributing to the work of our organisations. He fought for the land rights of his people starting with the campaign for the forced relinquishment by Australian Airlines of the Pajinka Wilderness Lodge. He was there with Dan, the late chairman of the Land Council, Bob Holroyd, and other Cape York leaders making the case in Parliament House for the return of Pajinka.
Robbie fought for justice for the traditional owners of this Northern Peninsula, and he fought for justice and greater autonomy for the Injinoo Community. The decision to amalgamate the previously independent community councils of this region into the Regional Council, distressed him, and seems to me to have been a grave mistake, manipulated by the State Government.
We have less independence and self management under the mainstream model of local government imposed upon our communities. Rather than Council Clerks coming from our communities, almost all of them are ex-pats from the local government system down south. Old man Dan would never have supported the mainstream shire model that was put in place in the Northern Peninsula.
Rather than a Regional Council, a joint local government authority should perhaps have been considered involving some shared services and facilities, whilst retaining the distinct governance of each community in the hands of local community councils. The loss of independence, self management and self determination is a tremendous step backwards.
We say goodbye today to a stalwart leader who was a very young man when we first met, who steadily fell to the terrible disease that afflicts our people, but who never lost his voice or his determination to fight. He grew up to be a fearless and principled leader of this community and the Pama of Cape York, to whom a great debt of gratitude is owed. Who will carry the legacy that he and his uncle left for your people?