Speeches

Constituency Statement Condolence Statement Yami Lester

Mr RAMSEY (GreyGovernment Whip) (11:00): Last week, Mr Kunmanara Lester was buried on his ancestral homelands on the APY Lands in South Australia. I am very sorry to have missed the occasion—I was here in parliament. I do express my deepest condolences to his family. I only met Mr Lester twice. I was elected to this place in 2007 and, by that time, he had largely retired from public life. But, when I did meet him, I found him very considered and respectful. He spoke quietly, but I also sensed a great inner strength.

Mr Lester's life was changed irrevocably when, as a child, a black mist drifted into his home community on the APY lands as a result of the British nuclear tests. It made much of his group and his family sick, and eventually led to Mr Lester losing his eyesight—he became blind.

Mr Lester was, by any measure, one of the most significant Aboriginal public figures of his generation. And I say, of his blindness that maybe it was the making of Kunmanara. It certainly changed his life in a substantial way but, for a man who would have been a crack stockman, like his forebears and his uncles, as a blind leader of his nation, he became an impassioned and reasoned campaigner for the rights of his people.

His resolute advocacy was indispensable in gaining recognition and compensation for his people for the damage caused from the British atomic tests and, also, he comfortably sits amongst the legendary Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara leaders who negotiated the handback of the APY Lands under the Tonkin administration in South Australia in 1991.

He didn't rant and rave. He stood strongly with his people. He was instrumental in the creation the Uluru-Kata Tjuta Park at Uluru, and I think he probably bridged the divide between white and black Australia in many ways. He just bargained and spoke powerfully for a better deal for his people. He will be missed by many but, most notably, by his family, and I wish them all the very best in this time of sadness. He has contributed greatly to this nation.

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