From Aboriginal stockman to stonemason

A photo taken of Lindsay and Milyika in 2007.
A photo taken of Lindsay and Milyika in 2007. Bob Hancock

ON A sunny Monday round an Alice Springs kitchen table, 81-year-old Margaret Hewitt boiled the jug and, with sure and steady hands, put out some biscuits.

Over a cuppa, her husband David started telling a few yarns.

David is a natural storyteller. In fact, I reckon he would have more stories to tell than hairs among the thick, snowy crop that still springs from his 75-year-old scalp.

With Margaret a nurse and David an electrician by trade, the pair has spent much of their lives together out bush, working on one Aboriginal community or another.

One of the stories concerns a young Aboriginal bloke named Lindsay Paddy, who first became a work companion to David, then a lifelong friend of the pair, until his death in 2007.

With David's permission, I relate Lindsay's story here, for what he got up to is plenty interesting, as well as busting more than a few wrong- headed myths about Aboriginal people.

But the story starts with David, who first met Lindsay in 1964 at Amata, a tiny remote Aboriginal community in the far north of South Australia.

David had been working for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority at Khancoban, when the project was still in full swing on the Murray River side of the system.

Deep and wide of David Hewitt.
Deep and wide of David Hewitt. Glenn Morrison

"I hadn't planned to leave (the Snowy),” David said. "But I came up to Alice Springs when they were building St Philip's College (in June that year).

"My father was a good friend of Fred McKay, who built it for the Australian Inland Mission.

"I thought: 'I wouldn't mind working out here'.”

Upon returning to the Snowy, David received a letter from John Miller, inviting him to work for the South Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

David had met Miller, director of the department, on his way through Adelaide the previous trip.

Things moved swiftly and by November David was at Amata, in those days called Musgrave Park, some 250 kilometres west of the Stuart Highway and 40 kilometres south of the NT/SA border at the base of the Musgrave Ranges.

Established in 1961 by the South Australian Government, the settlement aimed to accommodate population movements and growth and to provide work training.

Amata has grown since, but at the time there were only two staff houses, a small clinic where the doctor visited every six weeks, a workshop and store.

About 350 Aboriginal people lived in wiltjas, the local word for a wurley, or temporary Aboriginal shelter made from tree branches and spinifex.

With so few whites, it was not long before David met the clinic nurse, a woman named Margaret.

David slept on the verandah of the staff house of a married couple working there.

"Every evening we had plain steak,” David said. "Or steak and boiled potatoes, with Worcestershire sauce.”

But the desert landscape made up for the lack of modern conveniences.

Margaret recalls a "beautiful area ... in the midst of drought though, so there wasn't much green”.

David recalls a grand adventure: "A kilometre out of the community these mountains towered up: Mt Morris and Mt Woodward to the north, Mt Woodruffe to the south.

"There was very little vegetation: Mulga trees but nothing underneath.”

David also recalls feeling somewhat ill-prepared.

"I had no orientation for working in an Aboriginal community,” he said.

"They told me some of my responsibilities: One was carrying out windmill maintenance.

"I didn't have the heart to tell (the director) I had never seen a windmill close up before, let alone worked on one.”

Luckily for David, the Aboriginal men he had been sent to lead had seen one or two in their time.

"The main feature of that first year at Amata was that I learned so much from the Aboriginal fellows,” David said.

"The first windmill, I just said to the men: 'What do we need?'

"They took out the tools and I went with them and observed what they were doing.”

Amata had also aimed to train men to work in the cattle industry.

But according to David, the plan did not really work, because the cattle stations preferred to train their own stockmen and ringers.

"Young men working on the stations were generally sons of men previously working (there).

"Stations had a great suspicion of government- trained stockmen.

"But we had over 1000 head of cattle at Amata, and the men working there came from cattle stations at Tieyon Station, Mulga Park, Curtin Springs and Mt Cavanagh.”

David was allocated six men as workers by the Amata cattle overseer.

After a couple of weeks, however, one of the men told him there was another fellow who wanted to work.

David met the man: Lindsay, a tall, slim fellow about 25 years old.

"One of the first jobs I asked the men to do after Lindsay started with us was to dig a trench for the septic tank, which had blocked up at the house where I was staying.

"When I came back the trench was perfectly straight and the soil was neatly piled up on one side to allow easy laying of the new pipe.”

Lindsay (left) brick laying at Jay Creek.
Lindsay (left) brick laying at Jay Creek. Contributed

When David asked the men who had told them to put the dirt on one side, they all pointed to Lindsay.

Named after his father Old Paddy, Lindsay Paddy had been to school at Ernabella.

One day Curtin Springs Station owner Peter Severin came to the settlement looking for young men to work on his station.

"Lindsay was about 18 at the time. He went back (to Curtin Springs) with Peter and worked there for several years as a stockman,” David said.

During that time, wanting stone work for the front of the roadhouse at Curtin Springs, Severin hired a stonemason.

Lindsay volunteered to work with the stonemason on the roadhouse, which still stands today, and then worked with him on another, at Mt Ebenezer.

In stone work and masonry, Lindsay found his stride, and at Curtin Springs his bride, a girl named Milyika.

As it turned out, however, Lindsay and Milyika were of the wrong skin, according to Tribal Law.

Their families, who lived around Curtin Springs and Angus Downs, were therefore against the pairing.

So Lindsay and Milyika decided to leave, and set out to walk 90 kilometres south from Curtin Springs to Amata.

"By the time I met them, their baby had been born, Emily; and Lindsay became one of my key workers at Amata,” David said.

Lindsay and Milyika would have six children, sadly losing one to illness as a young man.

In all, Margaret and David spent three years together at Amata, before David left in November 1967 to work on the construction of Pine Gap.

By mid-1968, however, he was back at Ernabella, and it wasn't long before he and Margaret were married, in 1969.

But David and Lindsay's friendship wasn't over either, for there were more adventures ahead.

NEXT WEEK: David and Lindsay head north to Docker River, later meeting Bob Lasseter, son of the ill-fated adventurer Harold, and still keen to find his dad's famous "gold reef”.

Topics:  alice springs glenn morrison heartbeat northern territory

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