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

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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