Convict Valley: The Bloodshed Behind the Hunter Valley’s Famous Vineyards

[by Yvette Gilfillan]

Prof Gracelyn Smallwood’s (pictured with author) late father Archie was rated by the author as one of the most courageous and effective activists in NQ during the land rights and native title era of the 1970s and 1980s. Image: supplied

A book released this month sensationally reveals that Ku Klux Klan affiliates were working behind the scenes in Australia in a desperate bid to block Mabo and the Indigenous land rights movement in the 1980s.

 Author and veteran journalist Elliot Hannay says his memoir “‘The Colt With no Regrets” contains details of an encounter with well-connected Klansmen that has been kept confidential for almost 40 years because of his commitment to an off-the record meeting with the group who feared the country was about to be taken over by black radicals.

“I was moved to go public after all these years because I’m now hearing echoes of the Klan in today’s so-called patriotic rallies and on the floor of The Senate. It would seem that the racist views expressed with such fear and hatred in my editor’s office of the Townsville Daily Bulletin two generations ago, have found new homes and new supporters in today’s society. History shows that bigots will often seek shelter under the banner of patriotism” he said.

“I did my best to get the Klan to come out from under their rock and be quoted but in the end had to reluctantly agree to their request for anonymity. They mainly wanted to complain about editorials I had written but stunned me when they actively sought my support in their clandestine campaign to silence Eddie Mabo and his supporters and stop land rights in its tracks.

“I will have to take their names to my grave, but with encouragement from old colleagues and some of the Aboriginal  and Islander activist families from that era, I have decided to write about how this sinister group with roots in the Southern States of America, gained a foothold in Australia.

“These were not your usual run of redneck ratbags… they were serious people from the commercial and political end of town.  That’s what made my encounter so disturbing and why I feel so relieved that this story will finally make the public record.”

While working for ABC News in North Queensland in the 1970’s Hannay broke a national story about the Indigenous Stolen Wages issue which was only recently settled by the Queensland  Government.

Hannay says that some readers of the memoir will be surprised by his revelation that the Ku Klux Klan supporters were also worried about the outspoken young Bob Katter, seeing him as a traitor to the far-right cause of white supremacy and forecasting that their contacts in government would soon end his political career.

“The Colt With no Regrets”  has been endorsed by prominent figures who were targets of the Ku Klux Klan including historian and author Professor Henry Reynolds, Professor Gracelyn Smallwood daughter of the late northern Indigenous activist Archie Smallwood, and Bob Katter who survived to become the second longest serving politician in Australia’s history and is still campaigning for the First Australians.

 

 “A joy to read”

Henry Reynolds

“What a thoroughly engaging memoir this is. Apart from anything else it is so well written. It is a joy to read. From beginning to end the prose is that of a true professional. It has a spare clarity, a directness and economy acquired in a long career of journalism and an ongoing engagement with words. We learn so much about the now lost world when newspapers dominated the media landscape and there were large newsrooms and hot type printers.

“The focus is on Elliot’s career in provincial Queensland, more specifically in Bundaberg where he learnt his trade and Townsville where he edited the Daily Bulletin. This regional focus enhances the book’s importance. There is a shortage of studies which outline the way that national themes played out in the country’s major provincial cities.

“Elliot’s time in Townsville saw the final years of the confrontation between the Communist Party and the DLP and of even greater significance the fundamental transformation of the country’s attitude to race. He was also a sympathetic and perceptive witness to the milieu which gave rise to the Mabo case which changed Australia for ever.   

“Let his musings remind us of what we are losing before it is entirely lost”

Phillip Adams                                                                  

As famous mastheads die, sadly defeated by ‘disruptive technology’ I feel a deep sadness for the decline of classic journalism. Perhaps something vibrant will replace it but, at the moment, this ancient practitioner can only regret its passing, the by-lines that, one by one, become fading memories. A recent example, the death of that valiant Queenslander, my old friend Evan Whitton.

So, it is a great pleasure to celebrate the fact that Elliot Hannay is still alive and kicking. Elliot’s autobiographical musings are a joy to read, full of insight and humour. His long and ongoing career will, I’m sure, attract the attention of the Media Hall of Fame. More importantly, it should attract a wide readership. Let his writings remind us of what we are losing before it is entirely lost.

“The Monster of Racism had been let out of the cage”

Bob Katter

“In the 1970s-80s there was a rising between First Australians and the European newcomers (who are now 95% of the population). Serious confrontation, rioting, jailings and ongoing soul-destroying court battles were constantly occurring.

There was, inevitably, the rise of the extremist groups which Elliot Hannay not only was threatened by, but rather courageously confronted. He makes light of this in his book, but it was a dangerous time.

“To quote but two examples – in my hometown Cloncurry and nearby Mt Isa, there were three First Australians bashed to death in jail cells. Two water police who were regulating fishing and the environment vanished without a trace when they were working between two First Australian settlements. The violence was real, these were registered deaths. In neither case were the probable culprits investigated. That is both the alleged white and black culprits. No-one in the three arms of Government was prepared to further inflame the monster of racism that had been let out of the cage.

“Hannay, one of his northern colleagues Max Tomlinson and the ABCs Steve Austin were three journalists who threw their great personal courage and extraordinary strong sense of justice into the cause and made Australia a much better place than it was. They are, like so many others of the truly courageous history makers – destined to go unheralded.

“It should anger us that these journalists, as a result of their natural humility, at that time failed to communicate the fear and rage which they had to confront and the inspirational heroism they exemplified.  But, those of us that were close to the action could see this so very clearly”.

 

“Finally, the truth can be told… the Ku Klux Klan was a reality”

Gracelyn Smallwood

Professor Smallwood PhD ‘First Australians’ Human Rights”, MSc. Public Health, RN/midwife and activist of 50 years identifies as a Birrigubba, Kalkadoon and South Sea Islander woman and received the Order of Australia in 1992 for services to public health and HIV AIDS education. She was a guest of the South African President, Nelson Mandela at his African AIDS Summit in 1997, and won the Deadly Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievements in Australian Indigenous Health in 2007. Professor Smallwood is also a member of the Harvard University FXB and Human Rights Consortium.

 

“This is a book that should be read by all Australians: black, white, young and old. Not just because it features my late activist father Archie Smallwood in one of the most powerful chapters of the Colt’s story, but because we all need to confront the insidious racism and bigotry from the land rights’ era which is still with us today in new forms, hidden in false agendas of nationalism.

“The author has been known to our family for almost 40 years as the newspaper editor who opened the door to our courageous father and other high-profile northern Indigenous activists. He writes in this memoir that he was just trying to do his job as an old-school journalist committed to providing his readers with both sides of an issue that had the potential to divide our nation. But not all editors were doing that in the 1970’s and 1980’s and I’m just glad that a young man like Elliot Hannay was in the chair at that time and was prepared to put the voices of my people into print.

“Finally, the full story can be told about how the Ku Klux Klan was a reality. Our homegrown white supremacists not only tried to block my father and other activists seeking justice for their people but were also out to destroy them”.

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