LOOKING BACK: BENNETT WALKER
Local Yalanji man, Bennett Walker is a self-taught musician, car collector, teacher and mentor and shared his story with Moya Stevens
Bennett Walker’s first few years were spent in the Daintree Mission, where he learned some very valuable lessons, mainly from his parents, Norman and Wilma.
“I learned very early that hard work was essential. I learned to play the guitar and that, although we were forbidden to speak our language (Yalanji), all parts of our culture were precious,” Bennett said.
His love of music came from his parents, his father being Bennett’s first guitar teacher.
“He loved country music and he learned to play old country songs and I would learn to play them from listening to his records.”
Bennett was one of 12 children, six boys and six girls.
Their parents shared many stories around the fireplace at night, and his father once confided in Bennett that he was saving up to buy the land on which he was born – Jankiba Bubu.
“Dad worked very hard in the mission’s fields where they grew pineapples and bananas,” Bennett said, “and he eventually saved up enough to buy the land but he wasn’t allowed to under ‘The Act’.”
The Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897, known to locals as ‘The Act’, gave the Chief Protector of Aboriginals enormous control over almost all aspect of the lives of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland.
By the late ’60s, the mission’s inhabitants were “set free” and the family ended up in Mossman where Bennett went to Mossman High School. By then his father was working at an abattoir in Daintree.
“I ended up leaving school to help my father in the meat works and when that closed down, clearing land for farmers in the Daintree with him.”
When Bennett was about 19 he and some other locals travelled to Western Australia to help build a railway line between Mt Tom Price and Paraburdoo.
“When we were half-way into the job, they decided I had some leadership skills so they made me the supervisor.
“I worked there for two years but by then I was really homesick.”
Bennett returned to Mossman, worked for 10 years on a cane farm on Syndicate Road and started repairing and restoring cars, mainly for the locals needing an inexpensive vehicle. He met Cooya girl Louise Thorburn and the two were married in 1973.
“By the mid ’80s I was made Ranger in Charge of the construction of the walking trails around the Mossman Gorge and helped in the construction of the Rex Creek Suspension Bridge with the Australian Army.”
Bennett soon became the first, albeit unofficial, tour guide at the Gorge, telling the dozen or so daily visitors about the history, flora and fauna of the place.
There was one moment of extreme excitement whilst Bennett was working at the Gorge. A South Australian family were visiting and the young lad was swimming when he got caught up in the rapid water.
“I managed to get to him and bring him to safety, although I got into trouble with the authorities – apparently I should have driven into town to get someone to help me,” Bennett said.
“The family still keep in regular contact with me and the boy is about 30 now.
“By the time I finished at the Gorge in 2001, there were about 600,000 people each year visiting the place,” he said.
When Bennett was in his 20s he had purchased a block of land on the seafront at Cooya Beach and in 1980 the family home was built.
“It took a bit of saving up, but 14 years later we added a veranda and swimming pool,” he said.
Music remains a passion of Bennett’s and, learning from his father and later Silver Blanco and Graham Cockburn, he mastered all modern genres of music, Blues being his favourite.
“I’m happy to play any sort of music and when we get booked to play a gig, we (the Walker Brothers Connection) will play reggae, country, blues, rock but we usually finish the night off with some serious AC/DC.”
The Walker Brothers Connection band consists of one of Bennett’s sons, Brandon, his brother Percy and his son-inlaw Clayton.
Louise and Bennett have four children, Linc, Brandon, Larissa and Juan.
They have 22 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and on Monday evenings grandchildren and local kids gather at Bennett’s place for free music lessons on guitars, organs, drums and even the didgeridoo.
“The didge isn’t really our people’s instrument as it comes from the Sunset Yalanji – the Western Yalanji,” Bennett said, “but I teach it with respect to our neighbours over the Divide.”
Bennett Walker places great importance on his culture, his music and most of all, his family. His influence on the Douglas community continues to be positive, creative and inspirational.
Dad worked very hard in the mission’s fields where they grew pineapples and bananas, and he eventually saved up enough to buy the land but he wasn’t allowed to under ‘The Act’
Bennett Walker, never far from a guitar. Inset: with a boy he once rescued years ago at the Gorge