THE HISTORICAL connection of a Ngukurr activist to the Newcastle trade union movement is being explored by a Hunter anthropologist.
Dexter Daniels was born in the late 1930s in Ngukurr, south-east Arnhem Land. He was an instrumental figure in the 1966 walk-off from Wave Hill station, a prominent trades unionist and communist party voice.
Associate Professor Kate Senior is an anthropology professor from the University of Newcastle who has been involved with the Daniels family and the Ngukurr community since she started her PhD there more than 20 years ago.
Professor Senior said one of her closest friends is Mr Daniel's niece, Daphne, who will receive her honorary doctorate from the university at the end of this year.
"The first thing I did when I got to Ngukkur was go with Daphne to the funeral of Dexter Daniels," Professor Senior said. "I have always been involved in the activism and politics of the Daniels family but didn't really know about Dexter."
Working on an unrelated project with the Merv and Janet Copley collection in the university archives, Professor Senior was sorting through boxes of newspaper clippings when she found pictures of Mr Daniels.
This kicked off her research Ngukurr to Newcastle: Exploring the activism, impacts and legacy of Dexter Daniels, specifically looking at his connection to the Hunter.
"He was down here working with unions trying to lever support for what was going on in the Northern Territory," she said. "Nobody knew that story in Ngukkur and and nobody talks about that story down here.
"At least three occasions he came down and spoke for the Trades Hall. He got money from the Newcastle trade unions to support the Gurindji struggle at Wave Hill."
As part of the project, Professor Senior has been working with Boon Wurrung woman Kerri Clarke, who has lived in the Hunter for almost 20 years, to make a possum-skin cloak which will tell Dexter's story.
The cloak, made of 36 possum pelts, was cut and sewn by students from Newcastle High. Boon Wurrung artist Mitch Mahony - Ms Clarke's son - will take the cloak to Ngukurr where a final design, informed by art from the students, will be painted on a burnt into it.
"The project is about the continued cultural exchange between the community in Ngukkur and cultural communities in the South East," Ms Clarke said.
Mr Mahoney said possum-skin cloaks have always been an important part of storytelling for First Nations people in the south-east of Australia.
A cloak of three pelts, inscribed with images of significant meaning, would be given to the child at birth.
"As they grow from being a baby to a young adolescent the cloak has extra pelts added to it with imaginary that tells the story of them growing. All the way up until probably my age, about 25," Mr Mahoney said.
"The cloak is an extension of that individual and their story but is also something elders can use as visual imagery to tell stories."
Mr Mahony said cloaks were an important supplement to the largely oral nature of Aboriginal knowledge systems.
"The role of possum-skin cloaks in telling stories is to be a visual reference for those stories," he said.
"Being an oral history we don't have written knowledge systems. Cloaks for the south and south east region are a key part of that visual storytelling for our oral tradition."
Professor Senior and Ms Clarke will lead an event at the Happy Wombat Wednesday night to tell the story of Dexter Daniels and the cloak.
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