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Transcript
I'm Julie Marcus. I'm an anthropologist. I've written a biography of Olive Pink whom I first came across in 1984 and it was the stories circulating around the town of Alice Springs that really attracted me to her. And then I discovered she was an anthropologist and, as I hadn't heard of her, I thought I'd better have a look and see who this amazing woman was.

In 1930 she came here at the age of 46 for the first time, and she really lost her heart to Central Australia, to the people who lived here and to the Aboriginal people who were really struggling with the first impact of colonisation at that time.

Her first understanding of herself was an artist so she really loved painting the Australia wildflowers. And it was very fortunate for her and perhaps for us that in the year after her mother died and Olive Pink inherited a small legacy she was also able to get cheap rail tickets from the Railway Commission where she worked, and to have a holiday to recover from losing her mother.

And that tour brought her up from Adelaide on the Ghan, from Adelaide to Alice Springs. And she stopped at the railway sidings and hopped on and off that train and she sketched the whole way and she met Aboriginal people as she came along the track, talked to them. And she hopped up on a camel and off she did, she rode off with three Aboriginal men into the desert.

A lone white woman was a rarity in those times and Olive Pink dressed in the clothing of her youth, at the turn of the century. She wore long skirts, long sleeved blouses with high-buttoned necks. She often wore a cravat around her neck and, of course, a hat and often gloves, and so there were lots of stories about this old woman who was a witch and who haunted the streets of Alice Springs.

As an anthropologist - she did some anthropological training - she came to Alice Springs which is right in the centre of Australia and did two lots of field work. One time she was at Junction Waterhole, just north of Alice Springs, about 30 miles out of the town. Her other field work was done among the Warlpiri people of the Tanami Desert which is north west of Alice Springs and she lived for four years at a place called Thompson's Rockhole, which is close to The Granites.

She wanted to try to find out what Aboriginal people wanted for themselves and she tried to browbeat and harass the government into giving them the sorts of policies and the sorts of choices that other Australians have.

So, really, the most extraordinary thing about her is her hardiness in the face of real opposition and her determination. I think almost every day of her life she would have written to someone.
Now she also, she wrote to friends and family, long newsy letters, about her life up here but the other letters that she wrote were the fierce letters she wrote to politicians over party and in every jurisdiction, asking them to take action on behalf of Aboriginal people.

She had a magnificent Victorian era hand which was very expressive and large letters and they were full of information and instructions and directions but they were often quite hard to follow because she was the queen of the digression. So if she thought a point she was making wasn't quite clear she'd throw in a bracket and it would repeat it and then she'd have a couple of dashes and a few exclamation marks, and then she'd put it in a different way just in case they didn't understand it.

And the important points were underlined three or four times and then she'd get out the coloured crayons and she'd.. the really important points would be in green or blue or red or orange, and the end of a particularly damning statement would have four or five exclamation marks and then perhaps a couple of question marks and then the red underlining.

She lived until she was 90. She was still writing letters to politicians saying 'You Devil, you've done the wrong thing. Why are you doing that?' and they just hated it.

Just after her 90th birthday she died and that was in 1975, and at that time she had been living for many years in a corrugated iron shed. She was living in very reduced circumstances. All her money had been spent on her anthropological research and on the Aboriginal people that she wanted to help. And she really lived on the sniff of an oily rag.

She absolutely loved the Central Australian landscape and that love sustained her for the rest of her life. She just loved to sit in the bush and look up at the McDonnell Ranges and see Mt Gillan, and then she'd have a sweet sherry at the end of the day and go to bed.
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