Heroes in The Struggle for Justice

Important People in the Political Struggle for Aboriginal Rights

Ken Brindle
1931 - 1987

Kenneth (Ken) Brindle

Community leader and Aboriginal rights campaigner, was born on 19 October 1931 in Sydney, son of Mary Brindle, who was born in New South Wales. Ken was raised from infancy in the United Aborigines Mission children’s home, Bomaderry, and then in the brutal Kinchela Boys’ Home, Kempsey (194244). Not allowed to attend high school, he worked `about 80 hours a week’ for a farmer near Tamworth. He ran away, picking up casual work and moving between Aboriginal reserves and stations, where his own people took him in. He said later `in this business of helping one another along we [Aborigines] reckon we’ve got something pretty valuable that the white feller hasn’t got’.

On 28 July 1952 Brindle enlisted in the Australian Regular Army. He served in the Republic of (South) Korea with the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, in 1954-55 and was discharged on 27 July 1955. In the army he noticed that `for the first time in my life white people were treating me as an equal. It made me realise that aborigines don’t have to be inferior’. After living at Bega, New South Wales, and Dandenong and Lake Tyers Reserve, Victoria, he bought a house at Redfern, Sydney, where he lived with Mavis Goode, née Jacky, and their children. Young Aboriginal men from the country stayed there while adjusting to city life. Brindle worked for Peter’s Ice Cream (New South Wales) Pty Ltd, the Metropolitan Water Sewerage & Drainage Board, the Foundation for Aboriginal Affairs and the Aboriginal section of the Department of Adult Education, University of Sydney.

In 1960 Brindle helped to re-establish the Redfern All Blacks Rugby League Club, seeking assistance with fund-raising from the Aboriginal-Australian Fellowship. Though initially suspicious of the AAF, which had both Aboriginal and white members, he became an executive member (1962-69). He participated in its ongoing campaigns against the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Act, 1909-1943, and the discriminatory police practices targeted at Aboriginal youths. Most of Brindle’s involvement with the police was as an advocate for others, but occasionally he was prosecuted and fought the charges in court and won.

On 4 June 1963 a railway detective fatally shot an Aborigine running away from an attempted robbery. Brindle went to the Newtown police station seeking information; an exchange followed which ended with Detective-Constable Robert Armour charging Brindle with using insulting words. Brindle’s claim that he was assaulted by Armour was not recorded. In court in January 1964 six prosecution witnesses supported Armour’s evidence that Brindle was abusive and drunk but Rev. James Downing said that when he had inspected a wound on the inside of Brindle’s mouth on his release there was not a trace of alcohol on his breath. This testimony, together with other inconsistencies in the prosecution case, led to Brindle’s acquittal. The Council for Civil Liberties (New South Wales) supported a civil action against Constable Armour; the jury found in favour of Armour on the question of assault but awarded Brindle £400 damages plus costs for malicious prosecution. It was a significant victory for the Aboriginal community, which had rarely obtained redress through the legal system.

Brindle was of average height and build with a pleasant open face and striking blue eyes. As State secretary (1968-72) of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, he made an important contribution to the many campaigns and conferences that led to the removal of constitutional and legislative discrimination. With a philosophy of `no charity, no handouts’, he was particularly committed to providing educational opportunities for young Aborigines through the establishment of city hostels. He served (1969-74) as a trustee of the Aboriginal Children’s Advancement Society. His activism was characterised by an infectious energy and enthusiasm underpinned by intelligence, cunning and a sense of humour and he drew many converts to the Aboriginal cause. Those campaigning for Aboriginal civil rights were often branded as communists, but when Brindle was accused of being a `red’ he would laughingly reply, `are you blind mate, I’m black’.

When Brindle considered writing a book on the lives of his Kinchela contemporaries, he found that the records of the Aborigines Protection (Welfare) Board were not easily accessible, so he indexed them to enable other Aborigines to research their past more easily. Soon after completing this task, he died of myocardial infarction on 10 April 1987 at his home at Waterloo, Sydney, survived by Mavis and their three daughters and two sons. He had been a foundation member (1963) and vice-president of the Aboriginal Education Council (New South Wales), which in 1989 created the Ken Brindle Memorial scholarships. The KBH Ken Brindle Memorial Shield is presented to the most promising player in the grand final of the annual New South Wales People’s Knockout Rugby league competition. .

Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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