A maverick social activist will be honoured in absentia today, writes Michael Dwyer.
"UNCLE Kevin" Buzzacott is unlikely to catch his own benefit concert today at the Northcote Uniting Church Hall. In fact, none of his Melbourne friends can say where he is, but that's not an unusual state of affairs.
They do know that the beloved elder of Lake Eyre's Arabunna tribe, a maverick social activist and self-styled "peacemaker", is somewhere in Adelaide,
convalescing after surgery for bladder cancer. In his absence, another tribe is preparing to gather in the bluestone hall on High Street to help pay his medical costs,
and to celebrate his work with lashings of music, film, art and, no doubt, the odd colourful story.
"Uncle Kevin is a very cheeky man," grins Marc Peckham of solar-powered hip-hop band, Combat Wombat, a nomadic musical
activist outfit that has known and worked with "Uncle Kev" since 1998. "He's full of charisma, great at motivating people. He's a sincere individual and, against great odds,
he's always managed to pull off what he needs to pull off."
At the upper end of Mr Buzzacott's remarkable social justice agenda is a suit in the Australian Supreme Court charging the Queen, the Governor-General
and Prime Minister John Howard with genocide in relation to his people. At the less controversial end is a highly regarded career in indigenous education, at Alice Springs'
Yipirinya School, which teaches black and white history and five indigenous languages, and in various drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.
He has also instigated several long peace walks.
Combat Wombat rapper Izzy Brown met Mr Buzzacott at the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra in 1996. "He told me many stories around the campfire about his land,
Lake Eyre," she says. "And how he wanted to bring his people back to the country to try and protect it from the Western Mining Corporation that owned Roxby Downs uranium mine."
(BHP Billiton took control of the mine in 2005.)
Uncle Kev's talk usually leads to action. A few years later, Peckham and Brown loaded up their vegetable oil-fuelled van to help him establish the Keepers of Lake Eyre camp on the
southern tip of Australia's greatest inland lake. Western Mining had bought the relevant pastoral leases, Peckham says, in order to extract up to 50 million litres of free water a day from the
artesian basin for ongoing uranium extraction operations. But as far as Mr Buzzacott was concerned, it was always Arabunna land.
"The water itself, in Arabunna belief, is the spirit of their grandfathers and grandmothers," Peckham explains. "If Roxby Downs takes the water, that means taking the spirits of their
ancestors. Those spirits are being used to create uranium, which is being used to . . . create havoc. This is why it's so disturbing for the Arabunna people."
Brown sees Uncle Kevin's power as a peace activist as a function of his unflinching belief in the sovereignty of indigenous lore. "He truly believes that white law has no jurisdiction," she says.
Peckham says "Uncle Kev" has both inspired and appeared on Combat Wombat's CDs - the first of which was made in a wind-powered recording studio during their three years together at the Lake Eyre camp.
"He'd just grab the mike and start rapping," he says. "Sometimes he'd say he was sick and tired of our music and put Creedence Clearwater Revival on. That's his favourite."
The Uncle Kevin Buzzacott Spectacular runs from 4pm today until midnight at Northcote Uniting Church Hall, 351 High Street, Northcote.